How to Get Rid of Ingrown Hairs

Ingrown hairs are something that just about everyone will experience at one time or another and often, left alone, will cause no problems and grow out eventually.

They are particularly common in those with naturally thick, curly hair or in areas of the body where hair is coarse or curly e.g. bikini area, underarms, male face.

Often hair removal by such methods as shaving, waxing or epilating will cause ingrown hairs.

Typically, symptoms of ingrown hairs include raised bumps, sometimes pus-filled and sore, itchy skin which, if it becomes infected leads to folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles).

Folliculitis is very common and can usually be effectively treated at home, however in severe cases where symptoms worsen over 3 or 4 days it will be necessary to seek medical advice, for treatment and to rule out other skin conditions.

What are the Options?

Firstly, whatever you do don't scratch them or try to pop them - tempting as it is, you may well cause infection and scarring.

Try to leave them alone, just treating with a soothing lotion such as aloe vera or witch hazel until the inflammation has abated.

Exfoliation

One of the reasons that ingrown hairs develop in the first place is if the hair has difficulty in breaking through to the surface.

If the hair is close to the surface, exfoliation may be all that is needed to help it along.

All you really need is a clean flannel, or you can use an exfoliation mitten, brush or sponge depending on the area.

Using a circular motion gently and thoroughly rub over the skin for a few minutes, repeating the process once or twice a day

After exfoliating, dab with witch hazel and use a light moisturizer to keep the skin soft and supple.

Once the hair has been freed and is showing through, don't be tempted to pluck it out, just leave it alone to grow out for a few days, giving the skin a chance to heal and minimizing the risk of recurrence.

There are a number of battery operated exfoliating brushes which are very effective.

These have round, soft bristle, rotating heads to make the whole dry exfoliation process very efficient, super quick and easy to do.

Product Choices
Evriholder soft weave home spa exfoliating face and body wash cloths, dual-sided

Pack of 3 washcloths - one side textured terrycloth for exfoliation the other soft weave for gentler cleansing 

Pixnor Facial Cleansing Brush with 7 Exfoliating Brush heads

Battery operated complete facial exfoliating and cleansing device - 7 brush heads, waterproof, includes pumice head.

Exfoliation plays an important part in helping to minimise ingrown hairs from developing in the first place and should be part of your regular skincare routine.

For more information see our Guide to Skin Exfoliation

Medication

Topical treatments available over the counter such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can be used  for ingrown hairs.

Both Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are often used to treat acne, and are chemical exfoliants which have a peeling effect on the skin to remove dead skin cells and open the follicles.

Product Choices
Humane Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Wash 10%

Maximum strength 10% Benzoyl Peroxide acne treatment.  8oz bottle.  Non-foaming, quickly absorbed, easy to use.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2%

A 30 ml bottle of 2% strength salicylic acid solution with witch hazel - use to treat and prevent ingrown hairs.

Another option you could try is using crushed aspirin in water to make a paste to apply to the skin.

Aspirin is high in salicylate, which is derived from salicylic acid, and so has a similarly beneficial effect for ingrown hairs.

Crush 2 or 3 aspirin and add to about 1 tsp water to make a paste, or you could also add honey (about 1 tsp) for its natural antibacterial and antiseptic properties.

Apply to the area, leave on for around 10 minutes and remove gently with warm water.

Be very cautious using any medical treatments if you have very sensitive skin.  Try on a small, unobtrusive area first and leave for 24 hours to test for adverse effects.  

Hot Compress

Using a hot compress on the ingrown hair will help to soften the skin and draw it to the surface in a similar way you may treat a splinter.

Exfoliate the area first to remove any build up of dead skin cells or bacteria.

Then simply use a wash flannel or towel steeped in hot water, as hot as you can comfortably bear without burning your skin.

Wring it out and hold it against the area until it cools, gently and without too much pressure, and then you can repeat as necessary. 

If the hair comes through, leave it to grow out for a few days before removing, or if you can see it just below the surface you may need to tease it out with the tips of some sharp, pointed tweezers.

Tweezing

Tweezing is only really suitable as a last resort, if the hair is tantalizingly close to the surface and just needs the looped end to be helped out.

You should exfoliate first, then try the compress.

You will need a really good, sharp pair of point-tipped tweezers that have been sterilized with rubbing alcohol or the like, to avoid infection.

Product Choices
Tweezerman Ingrown Hair Splintertweeze

Stainless steel tweezers with tapered,sharp, pointed tips for removing ingrowns or splinters etc from just below the skin

Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol

A 16oz bottle of 70% rubbing alcohol ideal for use as an antiseptic, also as disinfectant for sterilizing tweezers etc.

With one tip of the tweezer, very gently tease  out the tip of the hair.  Don't dig around or attempt to use tweezers on deep hairs as you don't want to risk scarring.

Again, once the hair is through, don't be tempted to tweeze it out, but dab with antiseptic and leave for a few days to calm down first.

Can I stop Ingrown Hairs from Happening?

Unfortunately, the short answer to this is no - in normal circumstances, it is impossible to eliminate ingrown hairs completely.

In terms of hair removal, the two methods which do not cause ingrown hairs tend to be costly.  These are electrolysis (performed at a salon) or laser/IPL (either at a salon, or many home IPL devices now available).

Minimizing the Risk

There are, however, ways in which you can minimize the risk of creating them through the other more common hair removal methods:

  • Exfoliation - the most important and effective way to reduce the risk of ingrown hairs, no matter which hair removal method you use, is regular exfoliation, the reasons for which are outlined in more detail in our guide to skin exfoliation.  In a nutshell though, exfoliation removes the top layer of dead skin cells and build up of sebum, so that the hair has a clear exit from the hair follicle.
  • Safety Shaving - if you shave, you will reduce the risk of ingrowns by using a single blade safety razor.  You may need a little time to perfect the technique, but once you have done that you should see a marked improvement.  It is important to avoid dragging and breaking of the hair by ensuring that you always have a very sharp blade.  If the blade is sharp, then no pressure is required, you simply need to glide the blade across the skin for a smooth, efficient shave.  Always shave in the direction of the hair's natural growth.  Using a safety razor has many other advantages which we have detailed in our Safety Razors vs Cartridge Razors comparison guide.
  • Waxing Method - when waxing, make sure that the hair is long enough (at least ¼") so that the wax adheres to it properly and there is less chance of the hair being missed or breaking off.  Apply wax in the direction of hair growth and remove in the opposite direction.  When removing pull back across itself in a firm movement, not up and away from the skin.  Avoid going over the same area again and again.
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    Epilation - if using an epilator the hair length should be of a uniform, so shave first and then allow it to grow to the minimum recommended length, but not more than the maximum recommended length.   You need to use the epilator at a 90º angle to the skin, in the opposite direction to hair growth with minimal pressure and not repeatedly covering the same area.
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    Tweezing - when tweezing the most important thing is to have a well aligned, sharp pair of tweezers.  Grasp each hair individually, as close to the hair base near the skin as possible, and do not attempt to pull 2 or 3 at a time.  Pluck out in the direction of hair growth.
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     Aftercare - no matter which method you use, you will reduce risk of ingrowns if you follow a good routine, apply a soothing moisturizer after removing hair to keep the skin soft and hydrated and then moisturize and exfoliate regularly between sessions.
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    Depilatory Cream - if you have continual problems, switching to depilatory creams will reduce the risk of ingrown hair significantly, but do carry out a patch test first and do not use if you experience any adverse reactions.  You cannot use depilatory cream on irritated or broken skin.
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    Tight Clothing - wearing tight clothing immediately after a hair removal session can increase the likelihood of ingrowns, as well as irritation, especially likely around the bikini area.  If possible stick with loose cottons for at least a few hours.


Sue
 

For the past 12 months, I have been testing and playing with all sorts of hair removal products for Hair Free Life. My goal is to provide the most accurate and up-to-date hair removal consumer information on the internet. When I'm not photographing, reviewing and researching hair removal products I play the drums in a samba band and am a volunteer for the Swindon Lions! Got any questions? Write to us below:

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