Ingrown hairs are a common problem typically caused by waxing or shaving. Hairs that are cut or removed below the follicular orifice, or pore, can curl and grow back at an angle into the skin surrounding the hair follicle. This creates an opportunity for bacteria to invade, leading to infection.
Ingrown hairs can occur anywhere on the body where there is hair growth. The condition is most common in the pubic region, face, legs, neck and armpits. Individuals with coarse, curly hair are more prone to developing ingrown hairs.
Common signs and symptoms of an ingrown hair include itching, tenderness and irritation. After shaving or waxing, a bump develops and may become red or inflamed. If infection is present, a pimple-like pustule may also form.
Most ingrown hairs can be treated at home without medical intervention. Start by softening the skin over the hair by applying a warm, moist compress. Hold the compress over the affected area for a few minutes to allow the hair to erupt through the skin. Use a mild exfoliating cleanser to remove dead skin cells from the top layer of skin. If the ingrown hair shows signs of infection, apply an over-the-counter acne preparation, such as benzoyl peroxide.
Although dermatologists don’t consider most ingrown hairs to be harmful, they can lead to cosmetic complications, such as scarring or discoloration. Ingrown hairs that do not resolve on their own may require treatment by a dermatologist. This includes depilatories for hair removal, topical antibiotics, topical creams, laser therapy and/or medical removal of the ingrown hair.
To prevent ingrown hairs, soften hair with water before shaving and avoid shaving too closely. Stick to a single- or double-edge blade and don’t stretch the skin tautly while shaving. Use a moisturizing shaving cream and always shave in the direction of hair growth.