Ingrown hairs (think: the sometimes painful bump that forms when the hair fails to grow through the skin) can be an annoying but an inevitable part of life if you shave or wax. And getting rid of them isn’t always easy. There are a few things you should — and shouldn’t — do when you get one.
We turned to Dr. Mona Gohara, board-certified dermatologist, associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine, and president of the Women’s Dermatologic Society, to help us break down how to get rid of ingrown hairs.
What is an ingrown hair?
A hair that gets trapped under or curls back into the skin. They’re also called razor bumps. It often happens after someone experiences irritation from hair removal (think: waxing or shaving). “The hair has a home in the follicle, and whenever we remove it, we're basically forcefully removing it from its home and it doesn't like that,” Dr. Gohara said. “It creates a bump to protect itself.”
Ingrown hairs can happen to anyone, but they’re most common for people with coarse and curly hair. And they often show up on the underarms and in pubic areas, Dr. Gohara said.
Can you pull out ingrown hairs?
Dermatologists don’t recommend it. Because digging at or pulling out an ingrown hair with tweezers (or your fingers) can potentially cause inflammation, infection or scarring. Read: the opposite of what you want.
How do you get rid of ingrown hairs?
Ingrown hairs will typically resolve on their own by eventually growing through the skin. But if you’re dealing with a particularly painful or inflamed one, you can treat it by:
Avoiding shaving or waxing the affected area until it heals.
Applying a warm, wet cloth to soften the skin, which might help open up the follicle to allow the hair to come out on its own.
And if the skin around the ingrown hair gets infected, a dermatologist can prescribe antibiotics to treat it.
How do you prevent ingrown hairs?
There are a few practices you can implement in your hair-removal routine to help prevent ingrown hairs. Try:
Exfoliating before shaving or waxing.
Shaving in the direction that hair grows to minimize irritation.
Using skincare products with exfoliating ingredients like glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid.
Cooling the skin before and after waxing with a cold compress to help reduce inflammation.
Applying an over-the-counter cortisone cream to soothe any soreness after waxing, said Dr. Gohara.
Getting laser hair removal or electrolysis. Especially for people who get ingrown hairs frequently but still want to remove their hair, Dr. Gohara said. Both methods can “permanently remove the hair that can potentially ingrow and create bumps,” she said.
Switching to depilatory creams (think: Nair or Veet) to remove hair, which dissolve the hair instead of cutting or pulling it out. But they “can be irritating in other ways,” Dr. Gohara said (think: burning from the chemicals), especially if you have sensitive skin.
Ingrown hairs can be annoying, painful, and can sometimes become — dare we say — a hairy situation. To prevent them, exfoliate and moisturize your skin regularly (especially after shaving and waxing). And if you get an ingrown hair, resist the temptation to tweeze it out yourself. We believe in you.