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Ingrown hair

6-minute read

Key facts

  • An ingrown hair is when a hair grows back into the skin.
  • Ingrown hairs often happen after hair on your body is removed, such as after shaving.
  • An ingrown hair will usually heal on its own, but you can visit a doctor if it is bothering you.
  • There are ways to help prevent ingrown hairs, such as by shaving in the direction of your hairs.

What is an ingrown hair?

An ingrown hair is when a hair grows back into your skin.

Common places for ingrown hairs are your:

  • chin, cheeks and neck
  • legs, pubic area and armpits
  • buttocks

An ingrown hair occurs when the hair grows back into your skin, causing the area to become red, swollen and itchy.

Sometimes an ingrown hair can cause an infection around the hair follicle, known as folliculitis.

Illustration of an ingrown hair compared to normal hair.

What are the symptoms of an ingrown hair?

The area around the ingrown hair can become:

  • swollen
  • red
  • itchy
  • painful

It may be a hard lump under your skin or look like a pimple with pus.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes an ingrown hair?

Ingrown hairs can happen after your body hair is removed, such as through:

  • shaving
  • tweezing
  • waxing
  • using hair removal cream

Removing hair makes it more likely to grow back into the skin.

Ingrown hairs can also be caused by wearing tight clothes that force hair to grow back into your skin.

You are also more likely to get ingrown hairs if you have very curly or coarse hair.

When should I see my doctor?

If your ingrown hair does not go away, or it is bothering you, visit your doctor.

If needed, your doctor can refer you to a dermatologist (skin doctor).

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is ingrown hair diagnosed?

To diagnose an ingrown hair, your doctor will examine the area.

If they are concerned that it’s infected, they may take a swab.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is an ingrown hair treated?

Ingrown hairs often improve without treatment.

Washing the area with a washcloth using a circular motion for several minutes can help release the hairs.

Until your skin heals, it may help to stop:

  • shaving
  • tweezing
  • waxing
  • using hair removal cream

If the ingrown hair becomes infected, you may need antibiotics.

Talk to your doctor if you have a lot of ingrown hairs. There are medicines and products that can:

  • remove dead skin cells
  • reduce inflammation
  • treat infection

A doctor can remove the ingrown hair by pulling the end to the surface using a sterile needle.

Can ingrown hairs be prevented?

You might be able to prevent ingrown hairs by:

  • letting your hair grow longer before shaving
  • not shaving too close to your skin
  • washing your skin with warm water and a mild facial cleanser
  • exfoliating before you shave
  • using a single blade or electric razor
  • shaving in the direction that the hair grows
  • moisturising after shaving

Complications of ingrown hairs

Ingrown hairs can sometimes turn into a hard lump under the skin. An abscess or cyst can form:

  • when an ingrown hair under the skin becomes infected
  • when a hair follicle becomes blocked

Abscesses can be treated with:

  • salt water baths
  • antibiotics
  • simple surgery

Chronic (ongoing) inflammation of the skin caused by ingrown hairs is called:

  • razor bumps
  • shave bumps
  • barber’s itch
  • pseudofolliculitis barbae

If a lump or bump is worrying you or causing you pain, visit your doctor.

If you often have ingrown hairs, this can cause scarring.

Resources and support

You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023

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