Sometimes dead skin can clog up a hair follicle. That forces the hair inside it to grow sideways under the skin, rather than upward and outward.
Ingrown hairs aren't serious. But they can be irritating and embarrassing.
What Does an Ingrown Hair Look Like?
An ingrown hair irritates the skin. It produces a raised, red bump (or group of bumps) that looks like a little pimple. Sometimes an ingrown hair can form a painful, boil-like sore.
Ingrown hairs can be itchy and uncomfortable, especially if you've got a lot of them. You may notice pus inside the bumps. Or you may see the hair that's causing the problem.
In men, ingrown hairs often pop up as a bunch of little bumps on the chin, cheeks, or neck after they've shaved.
In women, ingrown hairs are common on the legs, as well as in the pubic area and armpits. You can also get ingrown hairs around your buttocks.
Ingrown Hair Causes
Anyone can get an ingrown hair. But the problem is more common in people who have very curly or coarse hair. Curly hair is more likely to bend back and re-enter the skin, especially after it's been shaved or cut.
Also, people with high levels of certain sex hormones can have excessive hair growth, which makes it more likely to get ingrown hairs.
Many African-Americans, Hispanics, and people with thick or curly hair develop a type of ingrown hair called pseudofolliculitis. More commonly known as "razor bumps," this collection of little bumps is common on the beard area after you've shaved, waxed, or tweezed to remove unwanted hair. The hair that grows back in has a sharper edge, so it can more easily poke back through the skin and get trapped under the surface.
Ingrown Hair Treatment
Often an ingrown hair will go away on its own. If it doesn't go away, an ingrown hair can become infected, permanently darken the skin, or leave behind a scar, especially if you've been scratching or picking at it.
If an ingrown hair is bothering you or has become infected, your doctor can make a small cut in your skin with a sterile needle or scalpel to release it. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine such as:
Steroid medicine that you rub on your skin to bring down the swelling
Retinoids (Retin A) to remove dead skin cells and reduce the skin pigment changes that can occur from ingrown hairs
Antibiotic that you take by mouth or rub onto your skin to treat an ingrown hair infection
There isn't any real treatment for ingrown hair other than to grow out your beard. Longer hairs aren't as sharp at the ends, so they won't be as likely to curl around and break through the skin. But for men who prefer a clean shave -- or women -- avoiding the razor may not be an option.