Ingrown Hair

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on September 18, 2023
5 min read

An ingrown hair is one that's grown back into your skin instead of rising up from it. Ingrown hairs are also known as razor bumps, shave bumps, ingrown hair bumps, or barber bumps.

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

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.

Ingrown hairs often pop up in areas where you shave, but they can happen in other areas too. Common places include your:

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

If you shave, tweeze, or wax your hair, you can develop ingrown hairs. If you shave often, you're more likely to have ingrown hairs. You're also more likely to have them if you have skin of color or your hair is thick, coarse, or curly. Curly hair is more likely to bend back and reenter 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 you more likely to get ingrown hairs, especially after shaving.

When you have thick or curly hair, you can get a type of ingrown hair called pseudofolliculitis. These bumps are common on your beard area. 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.

In most cases, ingrown hair will go away on its own within 1-2 weeks. But if it doesn't, you could have:

  • An infection (which can cause pus to form)
  • Darkened skin
  • Scarring
  • Pain
  • Itching

It's not common, but you can develop a staph infection from ingrown hairs if they're not treated. Symptoms include a pimple at your ingrown hair's follicle, warmth or swelling around your ingrown hair, fever, or a general feeling of illness. If you see signs of infection, contact your doctor.

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.

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

Home care for ingrown hairs

You can remove ingrown hairs at home. Start by gently exfoliating your skin. This removes a dead layer of skin cells and helps release ingrown hairs. Use warm (not hot) water. Make small, circular motions to wash the affected areas with a washcloth, exfoliating brush, exfoliating gel, or scrub.

If your ingrown hair has looped or curled back into your skin, you can remove it by gently pulling it out with a sterile needle, pin, or tweezers. Use rubbing alcohol on the area to prevent an infection. Thread the sterile needle, pin, or tweezers through the exposed hair loop. Then lift the hair loop until it releases from your skin.

If home care for ingrown hairs isn't working, see your doctor for their help with removal.

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.
  • Apply a shaving gel or cream to your skin.
  • 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.

  • An ingrown hair is one that's grown back into your skin instead of rising up from it.
  • Ingrown hairs are also known as a razor bumps, shave bumps, ingrown hair bumps, or barber bumps.
  • Ingrown hairs can affect anyone, but they're more common if you have skin of color or hair that's curly or coarse.
  • Ingrown hairs are easy to treat and prevent.
  • Complications like infectioncan happen with ingrown hairs, but they aren't common.

Is it OK to pop an ingrown hair?

No, this can do more harm than good. Popping an ingrown hair can increase you chance of it becoming infected.

How do you tell if a bump is an ingrown hair?

You might have small bumps with hairs in the middle of your face and neck or on other hairy places on your body. They can be small, swollen bumps where you shave, tweeze, or wax.

Should I remove an ingrown hair or leave it?

Experts recommend you stop shaving, tweezing, plucking, or waxing the area where you have ingrown hairs because they usually go away on their own in a couple of weeks. Severe cases may take several weeks. Trying to remove them can sometimes interfere with the healing process and cause them to last longer. But if you have signs of infection, see your doctor.