What are ingrown hairs?
Ingrown hairs are quite common and very annoying; they occur when the hair has been broken/cut unevenly which causes the hair to curl back and grow down/sideways into the neighbouring skin. In response the body usually has a ‘foreign body’ reaction, and the immune system will attack the hair resulting in either small, raised areas of skin or painful raised red or dark spots. They usually occur in people with thick, curly or coily hair, but it can happen with anyone. Ingrown hairs are often mistaken as acne due to its similar appearance but if you have acne after removing hair or in areas where you shave a lot like the beard or bikini area, it’s more likely to be ingrown hairs. These spots can become infected which only worsens the condition. They can also cause hyperpigmentation, scarring and hair loss, so although for many people ingrown hairs are a small annoyance, it can become a huge problem. If you suffer from any of the severe symptoms that I just listed, I advise you to talk to your GP.
How to prevent ingrown hairs
There are several ways to prevent ingrown hairs from forming:
- Exfoliate to remove dead skin cells and stop hairs from potentially getting trapped to help prevent the hairs from curling back into the skin. Also consider washing the area you’re going to remove hair from with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to soften and lift hairs.
- Do not dry shave – make sure to use some sort of lubricant to help the blade cleanly cut hairs like shaving cream or oil.
- If you shave, use sharp blades and preferably disposable ones as they are cleaner and sharper.
- Consider not waxing – waxing cleanly removes the hair from the follicle but that’s exactly the problem for people who have ingrown hairs. Because you’re pulling the hair out from the root it has more skin around it and blocking it increasing the chances of it piercing neighbouring skin and growing the wrong way. But there is a lack of research in whether waxing causes more ingrown hairs and some people even say that it helped prevent it. So, if you have ingrown hairs and are waxing you may want to consider switching to shaving or a different hair removal method to see if it that helps.
- Try hair removal cream – unlike waxing, hair removal cream does not remove hair from the follicle, and it prevents the blunt, sharp ends that results from shaving. This lowers the chances of ingrown hairs forming.
How to get rid of ingrown hairs
- Plucking – If you can see the hair looping back into the skin (the hair is still visible) one of the most effective ways to deal with the ingrown hair is to take a needle or tweezer, sterilise it with a solution and lift the hair out. Do be cautious with this method and don’t dig too deeply into the skin as you can cause infection, damage and/or scarring.
- Benzoyl peroxide – with its inflammatory antibacterial properties, benzoyl peroxide is not only effective on acne but is also effective with ingrown hairs. It reduces signs of irritation, but it also helps to lift the hair out of the skin.
- Laser hair removal – This is the most effective but most costly method of getting rid of ingrown hairs as you’re just getting rid of the hair long-term. The drawbacks are its price, the irritation it can cause to the skin and the fact that it can cause hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones (make sure you go to someone who has the right equipment and experience with darker skin tones).
Once again if you have severe inflammation and boils from ingrown hairs that effect your self-esteem, it is best to see a GP that can refer you to a dermatologist. They will have treatments and ointments available that you would not have access to otherwise which can effectively treat your ingrown hair issues.