Grooming has been touted as a feel-good form of self-care, but let’s be honest: It can also be sort of painful — especially when it comes to hair removal. Waxing and razor burn aside, when those pesky hairs start to grow back you might develop ingrown hairs. These inflamed bumps can occur in one of two ways. Either the growing hair is unable to escape the follicle and gets trapped underneath the skin, or the hair does initially escape but then circles around and grows back into the skin, piercing it. And both situations are uncomfortable and annoying.
Ingrown hairs are more likely to occur in folks with curly or coarse hair, explains Minneapolis-based dermatologist Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D. Once they pop up, they can cause inflammation, acne-like bumps, and discoloration — or even lead to infection and scarring. On the upside, however, ingrown hairs are often preventable and treatable. But, with bikini season approaching, you may already be suffering and wondering, How long do ingrown hairs last? Scroll on for expert advice on the beauty woe.
What Causes Ingrown Hairs?
As Liu explains, when trauma to the follicle occurs during hair removal, this can lead to ingrown hair, or inflammation that occurs as the hair is growing back. This can happen whether you tweeze, wax, or shave. So, naturally, the resulting irritation tends to show up on the areas that get the most hair removal attention (and are covered with the thickest, coarsest strands). “For people with facial hair, this is commonly on the beard area and neck. For others, this is commonly in the armpits and groin,” says dermatologist Dr. Muneeb Shah, M.D., based in North Carolina. On a related note: Shah says to be mindful of chronic, painful bumps in the pits and around the bikini line, as these could be symptoms of a condition called hidradenitis suppurativa, an inflammatory disease he says is often mistaken for ingrown hairs.
If you’re confident that ingrown hairs are causing the inflammation, Pittsburgh-based dermatologist Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D. says prevention is possible with a few easy tips. For one, she recommends always shaving when the skin is damp and with a gel, cream, or lotion. Zubritsky also explains that it’s important to use a sharp razor every time (a single-blade razor is best because it results in less trauma) and to shave in the direction of the hair growth. “Avoid pulling the skin taut while shaving,” she adds.
For post-hair removal care, Liu says to immediately apply a moisturizer or even an anti-inflammatory cream such as hydrocortisone after shaving. Also, Shah recommends using a product that contains glycolic acid in the days after shaving, as this will help straighten curly hair and prevent it from turning back into the skin. If ingrown hairs continue to be a problem, Liu notes it may be beneficial to switch to laser hair removal or depilatory cream, a chemical formula that “melts” hair away (think Nair).
How Long Do Ingrown Hairs Last?
If you do end up getting an ingrown hair, you probably won’t have to suffer for too long. “In general, ingrown hairs self-resolve and last anywhere from a few days to a week or so,” Zubritsky tells Bustle. This happens when they grow out and eventually get released from your skin.
That said, an ingrown hair can last longer if it gets infected, which is why Zubritsky says it’s key to exfoliate in order to both treat and prevent them from forming. “I like using alpha and beta hydroxy acids a few times a week to remove dead skin cells,” Zubritsky says. If you do develop an infection, you’ll notice the bump is tender or painful, and it’s often a different color or filled with pus. “If there’s an infection, a physician may prescribe a topical antibiotic or a prescription steroid to reduce inflammation,” says Zubritsky.
To lower the risk of infection and scarring, Zubritsky advises that you never pick at or otherwise manipulate your ingrown hair. Instead, use warm compresses to help loosen the compacted hair, apply a specially formulated ingrown hair treatment, and avoid shaving again until it has fully healed.
Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D., board-certified dermatologist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Dr. Muneeb Shah, M.D., Buies Creek, North Carolina-based dermatologist
Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based board-certified dermatologist