The ideal end result to shaving or waxing should be smooth, hairless skin — at least, that's what one hopes for. But if you're not careful, what could happen instead is a red, swollen, and utterly painful infected ingrown hair. So, what's a person to do when an ingrown hair gets infected? Most of the time, people feel empowered to take care of the hair themselves — but don't whip out those tweezers, dig into your skin, and pretend like you know what you're doing quite yet.
Dermatologist and Simple Skincare Advisory Board member Dr. Debra Luftman explains exactly why professional help might be necessary in the case of an nasty ingrown hair. "After shaving where a hair plugs up a follicle or pore and the skin heals over the hair," she says in an email to Bustle. "The [area] is a warm environment where bacteria tends to proliferate."
New York City based dermatologist Dr. Francesca Fusco concurs. "If it’s slightly red, and minimally tender, use warm compresses and topical antibiotic ointment 3 times a day," she says in an email to Bustle. If your infected ingrown hair is more severe, Dr. Fusco recommends seeing a pro before you go anywhere near the area. "If it becomes filled with pus or develops an expanding red ring, it may require the attention of a medical professional," she adds.
The reason dermatologists are so cautious about getting medical attention is because infected ingrown hairs can quickly develop into other problems — specifically, an abscess.
"[An abscess] is a true infection due to an ingrown hair," Dr. Luftman explains. According to her, it forms after the skin goes through the entire process of creating an ingrown: The hair plugs the pore, the skin debris and bacteria fill the pore, the area expands, and pus begins to collect at the point of origin. Yikes.
Both Dr. Fusco and Dr. Luftman recommend seeing a dermatologist, physician, or skincare professional to extract the infected ingrown hair if it becomes a full-blown abscess. And removal isn't the only step: A medical professional can also prescribe antibiotics to fight off infection from inside out, ensuring it won't get any worse.
If you're certain that your ingrown hair isn't infected, there are at-home remedies for the situation you can try. Dr. Luftman says that if a hair is plugging a pore, you can use clean tweezers to gently pull out the remaining hair — doing so ensures that there will be no remaining hair left in the skin to cause an infection. Additionally, Dr. Fusco says warm compresses and over-the-counter topical antibiotics can help.
But the best, most foolproof way to treat an infected ingrown hair? Avoid getting one in the first place.
Dr. Fusco recommends exfoliating skin regularly to lift the topmost layer of skin, as well as alternative hair removal methods like laser hair removal and electrolysis (since they both disable the root so the hair falls out).
If you're a razor and/or wax fan and lasers aren't your jam, keeping your skin clean prior to hair removal (use a cleansing wipe such as Simple Skincare Cleansing Facial Wipes both before and after waxing or shaving), as well as always using a clean razor definitely helps avoid unwanted ingrown hairs.
Yes, ingrown hairs are pesky, frustrating, and annoying. But as Drs. Luftan and Fusco have explained they're even worse when they get infected. If you catch an ingrown early, carefully take care of it with tweezers, exfoliation, and cleansing of the area.
And if things get out of control, don't hesitate to get an appointment with a professional to avoid getting a serious infection. Ingrown hairs are nasty business, but equipping yourself with the knowledge of how to take care of (and hopefully, prevent) them will leave you smooth and infection-free.
Images: Amy Humphries/Unsplash, Courtesy Brands