What causes an ingrown hair?
There are two causes of ingrown hair. Cutting a hair can force it back into its follicle, or dead skin clogging the follicle can cause the hair to grow under the skin or re-enter its follicle or one nearby.
The hair then grows inward instead of pushing through the surface of your skin.
Your body detects the ingrown hair as something foreign, as it would a splinter, and triggers an immune response that causes the area to become swollen, red and itchy. It can become inflamed so that it is painful and look like a pimple with pus.
Common places for ingrown hairs are:
- men’s chins, cheeks and necks
- women’s legs, pubic areas and armpits
You’re more likely to get ingrown hairs if you have very curly or coarse hair.
Cutting curly or coarse hair can lead to a type of ingrown hair called pseudofolliculitis or ‘razor bumps’ after shaving, tweezing or waxing hair in the beard area.
Ingrown hair treatment
Ingrown hairs often improve without treatment. It may help to stop shaving, tweezing or waxing until the condition improves.
Washing the area with a washcloth or soft toothbrush using a circular motion for several minutes can help release the hairs. You can also try inserting a sterile needle under the hair loop and pulling the ingrown end to the surface.
Talk to your doctor if you have a lot of ingrown hairs. There are medicines that can remove dead skin cells, reduce inflammation and treat infection.
Ingrown hair prevention
Try using creams that dissolve hair or laser hair removal, which are less likely to cause ingrown hairs than shaving, tweezing or waxing.
You might also prevent ingrown hairs by:
- washing your skin with warm water and a mild facial cleanser
- exfoliating before you shave
- using a sharp razor and rinsing after each stroke.
Last reviewed: May 2015