Most of us have had the misfortune of dealing with an annoying ingrown hair at one time or another. Bumps, redness, and infection are typically part of the package; causing discomfort and embarrassment for its victim.
Dark skin men and those with very curly hair frequently battle this unpleasant condition, particularly with facial hair, since it's more at risk of becoming ingrown due to shaving. Although facial hair is most susceptible, these nasty renegades can and do show up anywhere there's a hair follicle and hair, especially in areas of the body where hair gets removed.
Ingrown hair is basically hair that's lost direction – meaning it's unable to grow directly out of the follicle and onto the skin's surface, and, instead, turns and reverses its growth downward, literally curling back on itself. This problem occurs even more so with curly hair, due to the twists and turns curly hair naturally take. Hair removal, particularly when done with razor blades, is the #1 reason hair becomes ingrown. Blades pull and then release hair, causing it to drop below the skin's surface once it's cut. Pulling the skin taut while shaving also causes hair to draw back into the skin, resulting in the same problem. These make for a close shave, but hair can be at a disadvantage once it begins to grow. Blocked or clogged follicles are another common cause of ingrown hair. As it grows, hair literally hits a wall of dead skin cells and oil that clog the follicle's opening; disabling hair's emergence. And, sometimes, ingrowns just happen because they do, due to no fault of our own.
The body has a way of resolving ingrown hairs, and if given enough time, they usually come out on their own. However, if you don't care to wait it out, removal is your next option. Regardless of where or why these painful nuisances pop up, removing them safely is a priority in order to avoid further injury, infection, and discomfort. I wish there was a surefire method of removing ingrown hair, but there's not. However, there are some commonsense measures that help remove the hair safely and minimize removal repercussions, so read on and give these methods a try.
Cleanse skin. This removes surface dirt and sebum (oily secretion), which will make the hair more accessible for removal. Keeping ingrown skin clean also makes it easier for the hair to surface on its own. Use a mild skin wash to avoid further irritation. Daily cleansing, done at least twice a day, helps minimize ingrown hair occurrence and symptoms due to keeping the follicles clean and open.
Use moist heat. Apply warm water to the affected area for about five minutes, which will open pores, soften skin, and draw the hair to the surface. You can do this in the shower, at the sink, or with the use of a wet cloth/compress. Cleansing then applying moist heat can be combined in one-step, particularly when showering.
Exfoliate. Only include this step if the follicle is not infected. Regardless, always use a mild exfoliator to avoid irritating the skin more, which is usually red and unhappy even if it's not infected. Exfoliation will remove more debris than cleansing alone, so if you can, try it. However, make sure to scrub the hair follicle gently and briefly with fingertips in a circular motion. If you're lucky, the ingrown hair will surface on its own once there is less gunk in its way; however, it usually doesn't unless it's really close to the skin's surface. If you don't see the hair at this point, don't stress.
Attempt hair removal. This is a step some professionals suggest, which seems helpful. Grab a cotton ball or cotton swab (Q-Tip), and after pulling the skin taut, scrape the area in the opposite direction of the ingrown hair. Hopefully, the hair will present itself and your expedition is over. If not, go to the next step. This is a good time to mention that emerging hair should not be pulled out by the roots. Full removal will irritate the follicle more, so either let it be, or shave it if it's too long.
Grab your toolbox. Or, maybe just a pointy tweezers and needle. There are tweezers and other tools specifically designed for ingrown hair removal, which make the job a lot easier, so opt for one of these, especially if you get frequent ingrowns. A sharp needle or pin is ideal for breaking through the top layers of skin, which often permits hair to emerge. A needle can also be used to tug or dig the hair out if it's able to be seen; however, be gentle and use caution, or things could get worse. Regardless of the tool, sterilize it with alcohol, so bacteria and dirt are removed. If not, chances of infection are much greater.
Clean and disinfect again. Disinfecting the ingrown skin is necessary anytime you perform surgery or try removal – this includes squeezing. Like an injury, broken skin needs to be properly cleansed in order to avoid infection. The use of hydrogen peroxide or other skin disinfecting products, followed by an antibacterial ointment, should do the trick.
Hopefully, by this last step, your ingrown hair will be no more. If not, be patient and continue trying... it will eventually surface!
The following tips should help reduce the occurrence of ingrown hair:
- Always shave in the direction the hair grows, which is normally "down". Never shave against the hair growth.
- Do not pull skin while shaving.
- Do not shave dry with razor blades.
- Exfoliate daily or several times a week with a mild product.
- Avoid shaving and tweezing, by choosing other methods of hair removal like depilation.
- Ingrown hairs resemble pimples. Use of acne products containing benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, or salicylic acid reduce inflammation and help the hair to surface.
- Ingrown hair serums help eliminate and reduce ingrowns, so if you have a chronic problem, give them a try.
- Opt not to remove hair.
Everyone may have the occasional ingrown hair, but no one should have to suffer with them ongoing. If you have a serious problem and are unable to get things under control with home remedies, see a dermatologist for medical assistance. Good luck and we'd love to hear from you with any suggestions or ingrown hair solutions.
by Aaron Marino