What is ingrown hair?
Ingrown hairs are hairs that have curled around and grown back into your skin instead of rising up from it. It can cause inflammation, pain, and tiny bumps in the area where the hair was removed.
Ingrown hair is a common condition that results from hair removal. Ingrown hairs most commonly appear in males in the beard area, including the chin, cheeks, and especially the neck. They can appear on the scalp in males who shave their heads. In females, the most common areas for ingrown hairs are the armpits, pubic area, and legs.
Often, ingrown hairs aren’t a serious condition because it can improve without treatment. But they can be irritating and embarrassing. You can avoid ingrown hair by not removing hair. If that’s not your option, you can use hair removal methods that lessen the risk of developing ingrown hairs. However, chronic ingrown hairs can lead to:
- Bacterial infection (from scratching);
- Skin darkening (hyperpigmentation);
- Permanent scarring (keloids);
- Pseudofolliculitis barbae, also known as razor bumps.
How common is ingrown hair?
This health condition is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of ingrown hair?
The common symptoms of ingrown hair are:
- Small, solid, rounded bumps (papules);
- Small, pus-filled, blister-like lesions (pustules);
- Skin darkening (hyperpigmentation);
- Embedded hairs.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Ingrown hairs are a chronic condition. Your doctor can help you manage the condition.
- You’re a woman with ingrown hairs as a result of excessive unwanted hair growth (hirsutism). Your doctor can determine whether your excess hair is a result of treatable hormonal abnormalities, such as polycystic ovary syndrome.
What causes ingrown hair?
Anyone can get an ingrown hair. But the problem is more common in people who have very curly or coarse hair. 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.
Also, people with high levels of sex hormones can have excessive hair growth, which makes it more likely to get ingrown hairs, especially after shaving.
Many African-Americans, Latinos, 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.
You might also get an ingrown hair if you:
- Pull your skin taut during shaving — which allows the cut hair to draw back into the skin and re-enter the skin without first growing out.
- Tweeze — which can also leave a hair fragment under the skin surface.
When a hair penetrates your skin, your skin reacts as it would to a foreign body — it becomes inflamed.
What increases my risk for ingrown hair?
Having tightly curled hair is the main risk factor for ingrown hairs.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is ingrown hair diagnosed?
Your doctor is likely to diagnose ingrown hairs by looking at your skin and discussing with you about your hair removal habits.
How is ingrown hair treated?
If your hairs are at the deeper level and inhibit regrowth, laser treatment is considered. Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help manage your condition. They include:
- Drugs that help remove dead skin cells.Retinoids applied to your skin, such as tretinoin (Renova, Retin-A, others), help to clear dead cells from your skin (exfoliation). This can reduce the thickening and darkening of the skin that often occurs on dark skin prone to ingrown hairs.
- Creams to reduce inflammation.Your doctor may suggest a steroid cream.
- Creams or pills to control infection.For mild infections caused by scratching the affected area, your doctor may recommend an antibiotic ointment. For more severe infection, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage ingrown hair?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with ingrown hair:
- Wash the affected area by using a washcloth or soft-bristled toothbrush. Use a circular motion for several minutes. Do this before shaving and at bedtime.
- Use a sterile needle, inserting it under hair loops, to gently lift embedded hair tips.
- Shave with a sharp, single-bladed razor.
- Stop shaving, tweezing or waxing until the condition improves.
- Wet your skin with warm water before shaving and apply 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.
- 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 reduce irritation.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Ingrown hair. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/ingrown-hair-causes-symptoms-treatment#2. Accessed October 03, 2016.
Ingrown hair. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ingrown-hair/basics/treatment/con-20034717. Accessed October 03, 2016.
Review Date: November 3, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017