I like to think of an ingrown hair as a sign that my hair and skin are battling like a couple of rivals of MTV's The Challenge, thus causing friction and discomfort to the hair and skin (or cast members) around it. The last thing anyone wants is to further aggravate the situation, but many find that the fastest relief is to pluck an ingrown hair. However, as we've all seen, removing a volatile cast members often leads to more disruption — and that goes for your ingrowns as well.
Since the internet can often be a source of confusion regarding many skin issues, I spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry for some much needed clarification. Let's start with what exactly causes those painful ingrowns: According to Dr. Henry, an ingrown hair occurs whenever the hair is broken or cut below the surface of the skin. "As it grows it can cure into the wall of the follicle before exiting and become a deep ingrown or it can curl back into the skin as it exits the follicle causing a more superficial ingrown bump. Even new hairs that are growing in (after old hairs were shed) can become ingrown hairs," Dr. Henry explains.
Sound familiar? While it is possible to get rid of ingrowns by plucking, Dr. Henry has some tips for doing so in a way that won't damage your skin in the process.
1. Consider The Area Around The Hair
Ingrown hairs can wreak havoc on the area around it by creating painful inflammation which can be filled with fluid. When the hair becomes ingrown, you shouldn't just consider the hair as the culprit that needs to be removed. The only way to remove the hair with tweezers is to break the skin around it and, according to Dr. Henry, when the hair is released this way, there is damage to the follicle as well as the skin around it. That traumatized skin is prone to infection and scarring, so it's best to leave inflamed hairs alone.
2. Plucking The Ingrown Hair Provides Relief
I've found that plucking an ingrown hair is the quickest way to reduce the sensitivity of the area. Dr. Henry says that this is because removing the hair can reduce the inflammation. "The body is treating the hair like a foreign object (sort of like a splinter) and once it is removed the skin is much happier," she explains. While plucking hairs that aren't inflamed can be a more aggressive form of hair removal, the fact that the body is rejecting this hair means it's fair game to remove.
3. Try Naturally Removing Hair Before Plucking
Reducing the swelling of an ingrown hair can help the skin to encourage the release of the hair on its own, but honestly, I've rarely been able to rely on just heat. Dr. Henry advises that there are topical medications with antibiotics that can help release the hair on its own. Once the end is sticking out of your skin, you can pluck it to get rid of the hair completely.
4. Using Clean, Sterile Tweezers Will Reduce Infection
Whenever there is broken skin or inflammation, you'll want to use clean tools and sterilize the area because the last thing you want is to get relief from the ingrown hair and then irritate the area with an infection. Dr. Henry advises that cleaning your tweezers with alcohol prior to using should make removing hairs on any part of the body more safe and effective.
5. Know That Some Ingrown Hairs Should Not Be Plucked
Unfortunately, not all ingrown hairs can be safely removed with tweezers in the comfort of your own home. Dr. Henry explains that when ingrown hairs become very deep, a professional should remove them to avoid infection. Anyone with with recurrent ingrown hairs may benefit more from laser hair removal or electrolysis. According to Dr. Henry, "One way to tell [if the hair is too deep to be tweezed] is that if the area has a wide red area around it and producing pus it should be looked at by a professional. It is likely a more aggressive infection. If the area is small, it is OK to drain it first then remove the hair." Using a warm compress or topical medications can help drain the area.
6. Follow The Proper Tweezing Process
Should you choose to pluck, first apply a warm compress with a dollop of tea tree oil onto the affected area. Get a visual of where the hair exits and re-enters the skin before slipping the tip of a pair of clean, sterilized tweezers under the loop and gently pull the hair up and away from the skin. As long as you don't tweeze with reckless abandon, your skin should be just fine.
Image: Ashley Batz (3), Andrew Zaeh (1) /Bustle; Amy Humphries/Unsplash; Kristin Collins Jackson