What is an ingrown hair?
An ingrown hair occurs when you cut a hair and it grows back into the skin, causing inflammation. It can happen anywhere on the body that hair is removed from, such as through shaving, tweezing, waxing or using hair removal cream.
Sometimes an ingrown hair can cause an infection around the hair follicle, known as folliculitis.
Common places for ingrown hairs are:
- men’s chins, cheeks and necks
- women’s legs, pubic areas and armpits
What are the symptoms of an ingrown hair?
The area around the ingrown hair can become swollen, red and itchy. It can become inflamed so that it is painful and looks like a pimple with pus. Ingrown hairs can form cysts (sacs of fluid beneath the skin) which can range from a small painless lump to a large, infected swelling.
What causes an ingrown hair?
There are 2 causes of ingrown hair.
- Cutting a hair can force it back into its follicle.
- Dead skin can clog the follicle, causing 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 the skin.
You are 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 area.
How is an ingrown hair treated?
Ingrown hairs often improve without treatment. It may help to stop shaving, tweezing, waxing or using hair removal cream 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.
If the ingrown hair becomes infected, you may need an antibiotic cream from the doctor. In severe cases, oral antibiotics may be needed.
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.
Can ingrown hair be prevented?
You might be able to prevent ingrown hairs by:
- 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 of the hairs
- using shaving creams to cleanse the area
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Last reviewed: August 2021