Ingrown Hair

What Is an Ingrown Hair?

An ingrown hair is one that’s grown back into your skin instead of rising up from it.

Sometimes, dead skin can clog a hair follicle. That forces the hair to grow sideways under your skin, rather than up and out. Or if you cut naturally curly hair too short, the sharpened end of the hair can pierce your skin, causing an ingrown hair.

Ingrown Hair Symptoms

An ingrown hair irritates your skin. You might notice:

  • A raised red bump (or group of bumps) that’s like a little pimple
  • A boil-like sore
  • Itching
  • Discomfort

You may have pus inside the bumps. Or you may see the hair under the skin that's causing the problem.

Common Areas for Ingrown Hairs

Ingrown hairs often pop up in areas where you shave, including your:

  • Face and neck
  • Scalp
  • Legs
  • Armpits
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Pubic area

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 your skin, especially after it's been shaved or cut.

People with high levels of certain sex hormones can have more hair than usual. This can make them more likely to get ingrown hairs, especially after shaving.

Many people who have thick or curly hair get a type of ingrown hair called pseudofolliculitis. More commonly known as "razor bumps," this group of little bumps is common on the beard area after you've shaved, waxed, or tweezed to remove hair. The hair that grows back has a sharper edge, so it can more easily poke back through your skin and get trapped under the surface.

Ingrown Hair Complications

Often, an ingrown hair will go away on its own. But if it doesn’t, you could have:

  • An infection
  • Darkened skin
  • Scarring

Some doctors believe that ingrown hairs also cause pilonidal cysts. These pockets of hair and skin debris usually happen at the base of your tailbone, between your buttocks. They can be swollen and painful. You might need surgery to treat them.

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Ingrown Hair Treatment

If an ingrown hair is bothering you or gets infected, your doctor can make a small cut with a sterile needle or scalpel to release it. They may also prescribe medicine such as:

  • A steroid that you put on your skin to ease the swelling and irritation
  • Retinoids (Retin-A) to remove dead skin cells and reduce skin pigment changes
  • Antibiotics that you take by mouth or rub onto your skin to treat an infection

Ingrown Hair Prevention

To prevent ingrown hairs, try these tips when you shave:

  • Rub your face in a circular motion every day using a wet washcloth or an exfoliating scrub to tease out ingrown hairs.
  • Shave with a sharp single-blade razor.
  • Wet your skin with warm water before shaving, and use a lubricating gel.
  • Shave in the same direction your hair is growing.
  • Use as few strokes of the razor as possible. That lessens the chance of a hair slipping back into your skin.
  • Rinse the blade with water after every stroke.
  • Don't shave too closely to your skin. Leave a little bit of stubble if you can.
  • If you're using an electric razor, hold it slightly above the surface of your skin.
  • Apply a cool washcloth to your skin after you shave to soothe your skin.

You can also try other hair removal methods that are less likely to lead to ingrown hairs. Those include creams that dissolve hair and a laser or electric current (electrolysis) to remove the hair follicle for good.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on February 07, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Komaroff, A. L. Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Blume-Peytavi, U. Hair Growth and Disorders, Springer, 2008.

Chamlin, S. Living with Skin Conditions, Infobase Publishing, 2010.

Hall, B. J. Sauer's Manual of Skin Diseases, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2010.

Merck Manuals: "Ingrown Beard Hairs."

Mayo Clinic: “Ingrown hair.”

National Health Service (U.K.): “Ingrown hairs.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Pilonidal Cyst.”

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