Ingrown hairs plague many, many people. They’re those coarse hairs that disguise themselves as inflamed bumps after what you thought was a safe, close shave. At their most mild, they are irritating and uncomfortable. At their worst, they can be hotbeds of bacteria and inflammation. This is all to say that knowing how to get rid of ingrown hairs is one of the most important things you can do for your skin.
These pesky hairs come from a strand that goes haywire when growing back. “When you remove hair, a new one generally grows in through the follicle and takes the previous occupants’ place above the skin surface,” says Dr. Ava Shamban, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of beauty subscription service The Box. “Some hairs may not follow the same pathway and end up growing underneath the skin, developing into an ingrown hair.” The hair oftentimes curls back inwards instead of coming out of a the follicle, then causes the associated inflammation and itchiness.
There are a number of ways this happens. Most frustratingly, it could be due to your hair type. “People with curly hair are more likely to get ingrown hairs,” says Karen Young, founder of personal care brand Oui The People. This has to do with the way curly hair grows: The twists and bends of the hair make it more prone to “diving back down into the skin rather than pushing through the follicle to the surface,” says Shamban.
Another contributing factor is spending a lot of time in your workout clothes, a habit that may have increased during COVID. Tight clothing and synthetic materials “compress the skin and hairs further as they’re trying to grow,” Young explains.
Really though, if hair removal is a consistent part of your grooming routine, chances are you will experience ingrowns, says Laura Schubert, co-founder of Fur skin and hair care brand. What can ya do? Make some tweaks in your body care regimen. “If you’re not prepping your skin before you remove hair, or treating your skin afterwards, you run a higher risk of skin irritation and ingrowns,” says Schubert. “Having a consistent routine that focuses on skin health, rather than just removal, is your best bet at minimizing that risk.”
The experts say that your ingrown hairs can be treated the same regardless of where they are on your body. With that in mind, here are ways to treat and prevent ingrown hairs.
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1. Exfoliate And Moisturize
Always remember to exfoliate: According to Shamban, gently exfoliating when the skin is soft and warm (aka when you’re in the shower) can help coax the trapped hair to the surface. You can physically exfoliate with a gentle washcloth or an exfoliating mitt, like Fur’s Mitt.
You can also use a chemical exfoliant for your body. “Poly-hydroxy acid, aka PHA, is a great ingredient for preventing and treating ingrown hairs because it gently exfoliates and is safe to use every day,” says Young. Shamban also recommends other common chemical exfoliants, like alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids. “Both AHAs and BHAs will help to treat and prevent future instances of ingrown hairs,” she explains.
All three experts also emphasize the importance of regularly moisturizing your body as well, an easily overlooked part of self-care. “Similarly to treating acne, your first instinct might be to dry out the skin and hit it with a strong toner — but it’s crucial to remember that hydrated skin heals faster and prevents any scarring,” says Schubert, who suggests avoiding any moisturizers that contain harsh alcohols, unnecessary chemicals, or fragrances, as they can cause irritation.
2. Be Picky About Your Razor
Your razor can make a huge impact in your shaving routine and affect the way your hair grows back. “Razors with a lot of blades use a combination of dull and sharp blades, which are supposed to reduce the risk of cutting yourself, but it actually increases irritation,” says Young. When you use duller blades you might find yourself applying more pressure in an attempt to get a close shave, and this process “tugs and pulls hair, as well as cuts it beneath the skin’s surface,” she explains. So when your hair finally grows back, it has a higher chance of becoming trapped under dead skin cells — causing ingrowns.
What to use instead? Young advocates for a single blade (aka safety) razor. “It cuts your hair at skin level, meaning there are fewer chances of hair regrowth getting trapped below the surface of the skin,” she tells Bustle.
If the prospect of a safety blade is daunting, use what you’re comfortable with — just remember to replace your blades often and “to use a cream that is going to create a protective barrier between your skin and your razor,” says Schubert.
3. Use Specially Formulated Products
These days, there are (thankfully) plenty of skin care products formulated specifically for treating and preventing ingrowns. Schubert suggests stocking up on one, as it can help soothe irritation while also getting rid of dirt and excess oil that’s clogging the pore or exacerbating the issue.
4. Apply Heat
Once you see the tip of the hair, you can use a hot compress to make the skin soft and open up pores to help the hair come out smoother. As Shamban noted, heat can help push follicles to the surface, which will make things much easier when you’re trying to get rid of the ingrown. Run a washcloth under hot water and press down on the location for about 10 minutes before attempting removal.
5. Use Caution With Tweezers
There is an undeniable urge to pop or squeeze ingrown bumps, but it’s important to avoid doing this as it can make things worse. “Breaking the skin can cause scarring and damage the pore, making ingrowns more likely to happen [in the future],” says Schubert. Whenever you are going at your ingrown, do not use dirty fingers or digging tools, Shamban advises. This can further irritate and damage the area.
And, before grabbing tweezers or an extraction tool, take note: “Only free the trapped hair if you can see the looped hair growing into your skin,” says Young. “If you can’t see the hair, don’t try to find it.” If the hair is at surface level, be sure to use very clean, pointed tweezers to extract it (though Shamban says it’s best to leave the extraction to a professional).
6. Bring Down The Inflammation
The most important step is the final step: Bring down the inflammation and cool down the area. For an OTC aftershave treatment, reach for something that has anti-inflammatory ingredients — think aloe vera, chamomile, and oatmeal extract — plus vitamin E to help speed up the healing process.
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Laura Schubert, co-founder of Fur
Karen Young, founder of Oui The People
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