Ingrown hairs can be an annoying problem for both men and women. An ingrown hair commonly occurs when a hair is cut or broken, (usually by shaving or tweezing) and curls back into the skin. When the hair reenters the skin, it can often become embedded, and will continue to grow internally, resulting in the appearance of small round bumps on the skin. Blockages in the pores can also cause ingrown hairs.
This condition primarily affects people with curly or coarse hair. For men, ingrown hairs are most common on the front of the neck and under the chin, while for women, the bikini area, the armpits, or the front of the neck are the areas of concern. For those with sensitive skin, this can be a persistent problem. Ingrown hairs are often unsightly, but it can become more than a cosmetic problem. Severe cases of ingrown hair can become infected and inflamed, causing considerable pain.
Common features of ingrown hair include:
Embedded hair: Short hairs that become embedded near the surface of the skin.
Pustules: Small, hard, round bumps under surface of the skin. These bumps may also contain pus.
Inflammation: The bumps can become red and inflamed if infected
Irritation: Pain and itching, which can be severe at times
Skin discoloration: In certain cases, skin pigmentation may become darker in areas where ingrown hairs frequently occur
Ingrown hairs often occur when the hair is cut too close during shaving, resulting in thin tapered hairs that can curl back against the skin. When these sharpened hairs penetrate the skin, the body often reacts by treating the embedded hair like an infection, causing inflammation and redness. Alternative hair removal solutions such as waxing or plucking can also cause ingrown hairs. When hair has been pulled out, the new hair may not be able to find their way through the hair follicle, causing the hairs to continue growing under the surface of the skin. In some cases, blockages in pores caused by an accumulation of dead skin cells can trap hair under the skin, causing ingrown hairs.
Good skin care is essential when treating ingrown hairs. Keep the pores clean and clear by using a gentle cleanser. Use an exfoliating scrub to remove any excess dead skin cells, which may clog pores. Avoid harsh astringents or aftershaves that contain alcohol, which may dry out and irritate the skin. Make sure to keep the skin adequately hydrated with a quality moisturizer.
Proper shaving techniques are essential in reducing the chances of ingrown hair. The razor should be used to shave in the same direction that the grain of the hair is pointing towards.Shaving should be done after a shower or bath when the hair has been softened, and shaving gels should be used instead of soap. It is important that the hair is wet to allow for softening of the shafts, which makes it less traumatic to cut.Finally, you should never press a razor or an electric shaver against your skin with any force. It should be light to the touch. Electric shavers that have fine wires wrapped around the blades can also prevent the blades from coming too close to the skin.When tweezing or plucking unwanted hair, make sure to firmly grab the hair close to the surface of the skin and pull it out with a steady motion to avoid breaking the hair. Also make sure the tweezers you are using are clean to avoid transferring bacteria to the skin.
Over-the-counter moisturizing preparations that include a topical corticosteroid sometimes combined with antibiotics, have proven to be helpful in controlling inflammation caused by ingrown hairs.
A doctor may prescribe creams containing Retinoids, such as Tretinoin, to help remove excess dead skin cells, but have to used carefully to avoid inflammation.Antibiotics may be prescribed in the event that an ingrown hair becomes infected.
Laser hair removal, while more costly, can provide a long-term solution to ingrown hairs. With laser hair removal, the hair follicles are completely destroyed or minimized so that the hair becomes finer and lighter, minimizing the chance that it will ever develop into ingrown hair. Generally, laser treatment will require several sessions. Within six to twelve months, significant improvement can be seen, and old ingrown hairs will have faded away.