What is an ingrown hair? And what causes them? If you’re asking these questions, you’re not alone. The good news is that you’re in the right place. Read on to learn what ingrown hairs are and how to prevent them.


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Have an Ingrown Hair?

Graphic illustration of an ingrown hair wrapped up below the skin
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Are you experiencing red, painful, and itchy bumps on your skin and unsure what they are? If so, it’s possible you have ingrown hair. Ingrown hairs are experienced by many people, especially those who regularly shave their hair.

If you think you’re suffering from ingrown hairs, fear not – in this post, we’ll cover:

  • What an ingrown hair is and what it looks like
  • Areas where you might have them
  • Treating and preventing ingrown hair

There’s lots to cover, so let’s get to it!

What Is an Ingrown Hair?

Image of an ingrown hair illustrated in a side by side of that and a healthy follicle for a piece on what is an ingrown hair
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Ingrown hairs occur when you shave your skin, and the hair grows back incorrectly. Consequently, as the follicle develops, it grows back into your skin. The new hair might, for example, grow sideways and curl back into your skin. 

You can quickly identify whether you have ingrown hairs because you’ll notice red and itchy spots that are sometimes raised in appearance. Occasionally, these can become infected.

You’ll know if they’re infected because you might see pus in the spots. Some people with ingrown hair may also experience hyperpigmentation.

Here the skin darkens in the area where the hair has ingrown. Interestingly, people with coarse or curly hair are more likely to experience ingrown hair than those with more delicate hair types. 

Where You Might Have Ingrown Hair

Close up of a Caucasian leg with a bunch of razor bumps for a piece on what is an ingrown hair
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Given that we have hair on many parts of our bodies, it’s safe to say that any area you remove hair from, either by plucking, shaving, or threading, is potentially prone to ingrown hair. 

Typical areas include:

  • Head
  • Legs
  • Arms
  • Pubic area
  • Face – including eyebrows, cheeks, and chin
  • Armpits
  • Back

The good news is, it’s possible to treat and prevent ingrown hairs with a few simple steps.

How to Prevent Ingrown Hair

For a piece on how to prevent ingrown hair, a person brushing her leg with a wooden brush
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It’s possible to minimize the likelihood of ingrown hairs with a few simple steps. 

Let’s take a look:

  • Before shaving, apply a warm face towel to your skin to open up your pores.
  • When removing hair, use warm water on your skin and use proper shaving gel, not soap.
  • Leave the shaving gel or foam on your skin for a few minutes before starting to shave.
  • If you’re using a razor to shave, rinse it after each stroke and try not to pull your skin.
  • Remember to always shave in the direction your hair grows, don’t pull against it.
  • If you have trapped hairs, try to use a gentle antiseptic exfoliating scrub. This will help liberate any ingrown hairs.
  • Try removing hair using hair removal creams or some of the other methods we’ve already referred to, such as a laser or electrolysis. These hair removal methods are less likely to result in ingrown hairs.
  • Once you’ve removed unwanted hairs, grab a clean, cool, and wet cloth and gently press it against any shaved skin. This helps prevent any irritation to the skin.  
  • Rinse your skin, so it’s free of any lotions or gels, and apply a gentle post-shave balm to soothe any inflammation away.

There are also a few steps you really should avoid taking:

  • Try not to shave too close to your skin; razors can be super harsh and damage your skin, including cuts and shaving rashes.
  • If you have any ingrown hairs, avoid scratching them or bursting the spots if they have pus in them, as you’ll increase your chances of them becoming infected.
  • Never use a blunt razor. If you don’t have an electric razor and use disposable ones, only use them once before throwing them into your bathroom bin. Ideally, disposable razors should be single blades.

How to Treat Ingrown Hair

Lots of benzoyl peroxide treatments sitting on a shelf of a supermarket
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While it’s fair to say the easiest way to stop ingrown hair is not to pluck, shave or thread it, that may not be an option for you. After all, other types of hair removal such as laser, electrolysis, and waxing can be expensive and sometimes painful.

In light of that, here are a few ways you can treat your ingrown hair:

  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about topical solutions, such as a mild antiseptic. This should minimize the likelihood or even prevent the skin from becoming infected. They may also suggest lotions and creams that quell the itching, such as hydrocortisone. This helps your immune system positively respond to itching, swelling, and pain caused by ingrown hairs. 
  • Purchase over-the-counter solutions that contain retinoids and/or benzoyl peroxide. These ingredients can help minimize the inflamed area and reduce any bumps or ingrown hair pustules. Benzoyl peroxide is also a popular product used by anyone experiencing acne. This treatment removes dead skin cells that can clog up your pores, allowing your skin to breathe better.  
  • Don’t shave the affected area. This gives the ingrown hair a chance to grow out.

Read Next: How Much Does Laser Hair Removal Cost?

Can I Use Products to Reduce Hair Growth?

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The internet is littered with articles and ads for products that claim to reduce hair growth. Whichever ones you opt for, it’s always worth testing them on a small area of skin first to ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction. 

One often mentioned product is Vaniqa. Its medical name is Eflornithine and is available as prescribed by your doctor. It works to minimize hair growth when combined with other treatments such as lasers.

Suppose you do go down this route as a preventative. In that case, it’s always worth doing a bit of research into customer reviews before spending your money. Otherwise, you may well be wasting your time and cash on products that don’t hold up to scrutiny.

When to Consult a Doctor

For a piece on what is an ingrown hair, a woman with a white coat and stethoscope stands against a blue wall
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If your ingrown hairs aren’t going away and the pus spots are still there, you might need to see a dermatologist who can remove the offending hairs for you. Also, suppose you have an infection that isn’t clearing up, and you’ve tried the methods listed.

Again, in that case, it’s worth seeing a medical professional. This is especially true if the ingrown hairs are causing you pain, redness, and the pus begins to ooze. Remember, all’s not lost. While most ingrown hairs won’t disappear overnight, you can minimize your exposure to them.

Namely, if you’re prepared to change your regular shaving/hair removal routine to incorporate the tips mentioned above. Good luck!

Author: Rosie Greaves

Rosie Greaves is a professional content strategist who specializes in all things lifestyle, with a special passion for hair. In addition to You Probably Need a Haircut, you can find her published on Reader's Digest, G2, and Judicious Inc.