How to Prevent and Treat Ingrown Hairs
Red bumps, be gone.
An ingrown hair is one that turns back underneath your skin and gets stuck there rather than rising up from the pore as it's supposed to. The result of shaving on dry or taut skin or tweezing, ingrown hairs leave painful inflammation and red bumps in their wake (men usually experience them after shaving their necks, while women typically see them in the bikini area).
Luckily, there are several ways to treat these nuisances. First and foremost, don't pick or pop them (this could lead to a bacterial infection, hyperpigmentation, or permanent scarring). Ingrown hairs and the cysts they create typically go away without treatment, but there are a few steps you can take to speed the process along. And if our tips don't help? Consult a doctor, who might be able to prescribe antibiotics or remove the trapped hair. Here, Dr. Theodore J. Alkousakis, M.D., F.A.A.D from the Colorado Center for Dermatology and Skin Surgery shares how to prevent and treat ingrown hairs.
Attempt an at-home remedy.
Dr. Alkousakis says preventing these bumps starts with gentle exfoliation; use a wet cloth in circular motions to free the hairs and then apply an over-the-counter cortisone cream to calm your irritated skin. You can also make your own gentle scrub, he says, using ingredients you have at home, like sugar or baking soda mixed with olive oil or honey. Other readily available ingredients that treat ingrown hairs and reduce swelling include ice, witch hazel, tea tree oil, aloe vera, and apple cider vinegar.
Know when to seek treatment.
If your ingrown hairs are too severe for at-home therapy, it might be time to see a doctor. "A dermatologist may be able to help with prescription strength creams to exfoliate, like retinoids, or topical antibiotics if there is concern of infection," Dr. Alkousakis says. "A health professional can also use sterile instruments to remove larger ingrown hairs or treat localized infected follicles." Your doctor might also prescribe oral antibiotics to clear up an underlying infection, or, in severe situations, offer to perform a surgical removal of the ingrown hair.
Prevention is key.
Preventing ingrown hairs begins with a strong shaving routine, says Dr. Alkousakis, who recommends wetting and warming the skin before, using a lubricating gel and sharp razor during, and moisturizing cream immediately after you shave to keep the skin soft and allow the sharp hairs to eventually grow through. If you experience these bumps often, however, you might need to switch razors: "A single blade might be better, mainly because the multi-blade razors cut closer to the skin and increase the chance of ingrowns," he explains. Or, consider buying a bump-protection iteration. "They leave the hair a little longer than a perfect smooth shave, but cut down on the revenge of the hairs," he says.