Ingrown hairs are not only a cosmetic problem - they can be painful too. These unruly hairs can occur on any part of the body but are most common in areas that are tweezed, epilated, shaved or waxed, leading to bumps that are often itchy or painful. The surrounding skin may be discolored, and, in some cases, the bumps become infected. When this happens, they fill with pus and may require antibiotic treatment.
What Causes Them?
Ingrown hairs are so closely linked with shaving that they’re often referred to as razor bumps. Shaving a hair can create a sharp edge on the tip that curls around and re-enters the hair follicle. This causes an inflammatory reaction that leads to pain and itching, which commonly occurs with razor bumps. They’re more common in people with curly hair since they have a curved hair follicle that makes it easier for the hair to grow back into the follicle.
Improper shaving techniques also contributes to ingrown hairs. Shaving with a double-edged razor, using a dull blade, applying too much force, shaving in the direction opposite to hair growth and pulling the skin too tight during a shave increases the risk. Sometimes despite your best efforts at preventing them, you end up with razor bumps. What can you do about them?
First, you need to un-root the ingrown hair. Apply warm compresses, and use a sterile needle or pair of tweezers to gently lift out the portion of the hair that’s growing into the skin. Place warm compresses on the area once you’ve lifted out the wayward hair. If you have trouble removing the ingrown tip, use jojoba oil to soften the skin and unclog the pore. Another option is to use a product that contains glycolic or salicylic acid to help exfoliate dead skin cells and release the trapped hair. Once removed, apply warm compresses and then a moisturizer to soften the area.
There is a variety of products available to treat ingrown hairs. They usually contain a combination of weak acids that exfoliate the skin and help to release the ingrown hair tip. Once the tip of the hair is removed from the follicle, the remainder of the hair will usually dislodge over time.
How to Prevent Future Razor Bumps
Always shave in the direction of hair growth using a sharp razor with a single blade. Use a shaving cream or gel to lubricate the area before shaving to reduce skin irritation. For people who are prone towards razor bumps, an electric shaver may be a better option.
Another way to prevent future problems is to regularly exfoliate skin prior to shaving by using an exfoliating scrub or an exfoliating pad. It may also be helpful to use a product containing glycolic acid regularly to remove dead skin cells that make it easier for hairs to become trapped.
For people with persistent problems, dermatologists sometimes prescribe retinoids in products like Retin-A to increase skin cell turnover and reduce the build-up of dead skin cells that can make the problem worse. In cases where ingrown hairs cause skin discoloration, there are creams available containing hydroquinone or kojic acid to fade the discoloration. If the area becomes infected, antibiotics may be needed.
For people who develop razor bumps frequently from shaving, another method for hair removal may be better. Chemical depilatories are one option, but they can cause skin irritation. Other options are electrolysis or laser hair removal. These treatment options are permanent, but they require more than one treatment and can be expensive.
The Bottom Line?
Ingrown hairs are a common problem, particularly among people with curly hair who shave a lot. Fortunately, good shaving technique and exfoliation can help to prevent this problem.