How to Prevent Ingrown Hairs — Once and For All
Over the years, I have developed a love/hate relationship with hair removal methods.
I've tried waxing, shaving, tweezing, and creams. The majority of the time, the results have been OK, but there are some occasions when I get ingrown hairs, then I'm reminded of how painful the hair removal process can be — from start to finish.
If you've ever had ingrown hairs, you'll know that they can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. And unfortunately anyone can get them, typically appearing after shaving, waxing, or tweezing.
However, the good news is that there are a few steps you can take to decrease the chances of experiencing the dreaded discomfort that comes along with the trapped hair.
Below, we speak with Dr. Adeline Kikam, dermatologist and creator of @brownskinderm to find out more about the nature of ingrown hairs and how to prevent them in the first place.
What Causes Ingrown Hairs?
Ingrown hair is a common condition that can result from hair removal. It typically occurs when the sharp tip of the hair curls back or grows sideways into the skin.
"When the hair strands are cut too short, they retract back and get trapped in the skin. Sometimes, the hair curls back into the skin and the hair follicle closes over the curled hair which causes the hair to grow underneath the skin," explains Dr. Kikam. "As the hair grows back, it can break into the wall of the hair follicle resulting in inflammation of the surrounding skin."
Dead skin cells can also cause ingrown hairs. This happens when there are too many on the surface of the skin. As a result, they inadvertently clog the hair follicles.
Are There Any Areas of the Body More Prone to Ingrown Hairs?
Ingrown hairs most commonly appear around the chin, pubic area, neck, armpits, and legs.
"Body areas where there are folds (groin and pubic area) are more prone to ingrown hairs as there is friction," explains Dr. Kikam. "Additionally, areas where the hair is coarse, curly, or high density."
Which Hair Removal Methods Cause Ingrown Hairs?
Shaving is more likely to cause ingrown hairs as it creates sharp edges. This encourages the hair to curl back into the skin once it is cut, especially if the hair is dry when shaved or the blade is dull. But razors aren't the only culprit.
"Tweezing and waxing can also cause ingrown hairs," says Dr. Kikam. "When the hair breaks it can cause sharp hair strands, as the strands are close to the surface of skin they can become ingrown."
Which Hair Removal Methods Prevent Ingrown Hairs?
Laser hair removal is one of the best methods for preventing ingrown hair as it targets the hair follicle to reduce hair growth over time. With each treatment, the follicle shrinks in size and the hair it produces becomes finer and lighter in color.
"Laser hair removal does not mean your hair will never grow back but the finer hairs do help to decrease ingrown hairs," explains Dr. Kikam.
Using depilatory cream to dissolve hair is another method that can help prevent sharp hair strands and ingrown hairs. To avoid irritation, Dr. Kikam recommends choosing creams that are formulated for specific areas like the face and pubic area.
Lastly, although waxing can cause ingrown hair, the risk is lower as it is less likely to cause sharp hair stubs that curl back into skin.
VIDEO: How To Banish Dry Skin
Tips for Preventing Ingrown Hairs
1. Change your approach to shaving. Shave in the direction of the hair growth instead of against it. While shaving the opposite direction of hair growth offers a closer shave, it can lead to more ingrown hairs.
2. Wash your skin with warm water and a mild facial cleanser before shaving to prevent bacterial infection.
3. Use a sharp razor every time you shave. Dull razors may not cut hair straight, which can cause the hairs to curl back into the skin.
4. Avoid stretching the skin taut for a closer shave; doing this encourages retraction of sharp hair tips into the skin and promotes ingrown hair.
5. Avoid tweezing hair, this can cause sharp breaks which can cause ingrown hair.
6. Reduce frequency of shaving as much as possible to decrease risk of ingrown hair and irritation to skin.
7. Prep your skin for shaving by using exfoliants such as BHA or AHA (glycolic and lactic acid) to unclog the hair follicles.
8. Apply lubricating shaving cream or gel a few minutes before shaving to soften the hair.
Tips for Treating Ingrown Hairs
1. If you have an inflamed ingrown hair, pause any hair removal to avoid aggravating the area.
2. Use a warm compresses to reduce inflammation and soften the area.
3. If the ingrown hair is not inflamed, try applying a retinoid or a gentle exfoliant to help soften and dissolve dead skin around the area.
4. If the ingrown hair is inflamed, you can apply over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to the area, but check with a dermatologist to make sure the follicle is not infected, as this may require an oral antibiotic.
5. If you are in excruciating discomfort, consult a dermatologist who can help remove stubborn ingrown hairs safely, and provide faster relief with a steroid shot to the area.
Dr. Kikam-Recommended Products for Treating Ingrown Hairs
Flamingo's Ingrown Spot Treatment
To shop: $12; target.com
Differin Adapalene Gel 1%
To shop: $14; target.com
To shop: $7; target.com