The Best Way To Get Rid Of Your Ingrown Hairs
There’s nothing like a smooth shave to make yourself look put together. But sometimes, your razor work can backfire, leaving you with painful, unsightly red bumps that make you look like you’ve hit acne-fueled puberty all over again.
They’re called ingrown hairs, and they’re extremely common, especially among guys who are required to have a close shave for every day for work, says Bruce A. Brod, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Sometimes, dermatologists even have to provide medical excuses so guys have a legit excuse to avoid shaving, he says.
But why do ingrown hairs become such an issue? Here’s everything you need to know about why they tend to pop up, how to get rid of them, and what you can do to prevent them so you can achieve smooth skin for good.
What Is an Ingrown Hair?
While ingrown hairs may look a lot like pimples, they’re actually “foreign body reactions” that occur when something goes wonky in your hair follicle, explains Dr. Brod.
“If the hairs are cut very short, instead of exiting the skin and growing out of the skin normally, the hairs sort of make a U-turn and grow into the skin,” says Dr. Brod. “It’s almost like the hair is acting like a little splinter.”
Your body sees that trapped hair shaft as a foreign invader, so it sends off white blood cells to fight it off. That's where the inflammation comes from, which causes the painful, tender, red bump.
While any guy can get an ingrown hair, those with thicker, curlier strands are particularly prone to them, he says. And you can blame your razor for the bump, especially if it has more than one blade.
“It shaves the hair so very close, that it cuts the hair off beneath the surface of the skin, and that’s where it has the chance, if it’s a bit curly, to not be able to exit the skin and instead grow inside of it,” explains Dr. Brod.
That’s why ingrown hairs typically form around your beard area and beneath your jawline. “There’s a tendency of men to stretch the skin when they’re shaving there which creates a very very close shave,” he adds. But ingrown hairs can develop in any area you groom—yes, even below the belt.
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How to Get Rid Of an Ingrown Hair
You can try putting a warm compress on the bump to see if that can help un-trap the hair. No luck? If your ingrown hair isn’t too bothersome, there are over-the-counter treatments, like Tend Skin Liquid, that encourage your hair to grow up and out of your skin’s surface.
If that doesn't work for you, look for products that contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or hydrocortisone to help exfoliate your skin and reduce the inflammation, says Dr. Brod.
But if your ingrown hair is especially painful or persistent, you should connect with your dermatologist. Digging into your skin to tweeze the hair is not only painful, but it can also make things worse. Same goes for trying to pop it open like a pimple. This can cause small tears in your skin’s barrier, making it a breeding ground for bacteria, which can potentially lead to an infection, scarring, or even set you up for another ingrown hair in that same spot, says Dr. Brod.
Once you go to your dermatologist, he or she will typically use a sterile needle or a sharp blade to slightly nick your skin and release the hair. In more severe cases, they may prescribe topical cortisone creams or even oral antibiotics to reduce the inflammation or cure any infection that may have developed.
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How to Prevent Ingrown Hairs
If you’re constantly dealing with ingrown hairs, there are steps you can take to prevent them, so you won't have to head to your dermatologist to get them removed after the fact, says Dr. Brod. Here are his top four tips:
- Soften your facial hair with a warm washcloth for five to 10 minutes before you shave and use a more lubricating shaving gel, like Jack Black Beard Lube Conditioning Shave.
- When you do shave, opt for a single-blade razor if you can, and shave along the grain of your hair. Shaving against the grain results in too close of a cut and can irritate your skin.
- When you hair first starts growing in after shaving, massage your beard area for five minutes before bed, using a warm washcloth in circular motions. This will help loosen any hairs that are staring to grow into your skin.
- Exfoliate your skin once or twice a week with a gentle scrub. Topical retinoids can also help if you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation or scarring due to your ingrown hairs. This will remove dead skin cells and help bring your hairs forward by thinning the top layer of your skin.