What Is ingrown hair?
Ingrown hairs are trapped hairs that create irritated, sensitive bumps. Although these bumps are fairly normal, you can still prevent and manage ingrown hairs. These lesions usually resolve themselves, but can also become infected if not treated properly.
An ingrown hair is a hair that doesn’t grow outward as it should. The hair reappears on your skin as a small, raised, inflamed bump. That’s because your hair is now trapped beneath the skin’s surface. These bumps can cause pain, irritation, and even become infected.
Ingrown hair happens when the hair is cut too short or removed improperly. They can happen anywhere hair grows, but most commonly develop on the facial area, underarms, pubic area, and legs. People who have curly or coarse hair are the most likely to develop these irritating bumps.
The main causes of ingrown hair are:
- Shaving, plucking, or waxing the hair
- Not removing hair in the direction of hair growth
- Pulling the skin taut before removing hair, which causes the remaining hair stub to sink underneath the skin’s surface
Each hair grows from its own follicle. Some people have a condition where many follicles are inflamed or infected at once called folliculitis. This can happen due to shaving, clogged pores, or external irritants like tight clothing. Folliculitis is a relatively common condition.
An ingrown hair can become infected when the hair follicle is blocked. This blockage can be due to dead skin cells, oil on the skin’s surface, or other reasons.
Signs and symptoms of a regular ingrown hair are:
- Small, round bumps on the skin (papules)
- Bumps that have a pus-filled head (pustules)
- Hair visible but embedded under the skin
- Moderate itching and sensitivity
Signs of an infected ingrown hair are:
- A warm feeling around or on the bump
- Redness and irritation
- Swelling and pain
Diagnosis for ingrown hair
A doctor will usually be able to diagnose an ingrown hair or infected ingrown hair by examining it. They may ask you about your symptoms and methods of hair removal.
Treatments for ingrown hair
If the ingrown hair is mild or not infected, your doctor may advise you to stop shaving or removing the hair until the condition resolves. If you have a more persistent form of ingrown hair issues such as folliculitis or ingrown hair cysts, your doctor may decide on another course of treatment.
A simple infected ingrown hair usually doesn’t require much treatment. A dermatologist may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics to fight the infection, in some cases.
Preventing ingrown hairs is the first step to preventing infections. Although people with certain hair types are more prone to ingrown hairs than others, you can help prevent and treat these unsightly bumps at home by using these tips:
- Keep the infected area clean. Try not to touch it. Mild cases clear up within 1–2 weeks while severe cases can take up to a month.
- Exfoliate and wash your skin before shaving. Doing so will remove the dead skin buildup that can trap hairs.
- Don’t dig for it. Put the tweezers down. Ingrown hairs usually resolve themselves, and fishing around an irritated area with tweezers will only promote infection and scarring.
- Use a sharp razor each time you shave. Avoiding dull razors is key to preventing ingrown hairs.
- Don’t stretch the skin while you shave or tweeze. Pulling the skin tight might result in a closer shave, but the newly cut hair will have a place to hide under the surface of your skin where they can then regrow.
- Shave in the direction of hair growth. Avoid irritating your skin by shaving with the direction of hair growth.
People who experience constant issues with ingrown hairs and aren’t able to let the hair grow out can consider permanent laser hair removal. This treatment uses high concentrations of light to zap the base of the hair follicle. This damages the follicle, preventing future hair growth over time.
Possible risks and complications
Infected ingrown hair can occasionally cause complications like:
- Staph infection. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can enter your body through a break in your skin. Picking at ingrown hairs can promote a staph infection.
- Ingrown hair cysts. These large pockets of infection run deep below the skin’s surface and can develop at the site of an ingrown hair, causing scarring.
- Permanent scarring. Digging at an infected ingrown hair can cause the lesion to expand, creating more potential for scars.
- Destruction of the hair follicle. Some invasive infections can destroy the hair follicle, causing hair loss and scarring.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Beacon Health System: "Ingrown hair."
Mayo Clinic: "Folliculitis."
National Health Service: "Ingrown hairs."
NI Direct: "Ingrown hairs."
Orland Dermatology: "Removal of Ingrown Hair Cysts."
Top How Do You Treat An Infected Ingrown Hair Related Articles
FolliculitisFolliculitis is a skin condition that causes small red bumps to form around the hair follicles. Skin bacteria such as Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas may infect the follicles. Treatment involves over-the-counter bacterial washes, topical antibiotics, and/or topical steroids.
Folliculitis PictureAn infection of the hair follicles of the skin. See a picture of Folliculitis and learn more about the health topic.
Ingrown HairIngrown hairs may be caused by improper shaving, waxing, or blockage of the hair follicle. Symptoms and signs of ingrown hairs include itching, tenderness, and small red pus bumps. Ingrown hairs usually heal on their own, but topical antibiotics, chemical depilatories, and hair-removal laser may be used in the treatment of ingrown hairs.
What Is an Ingrown Toenail (Onychocryptosis)?Ingrown toenails are caused by the growth of the toenail into the surrounding nail fold. Symptoms and signs include toe pain, swelling, redness, and yellow drainage. Treatment at home involves soaking the affected foot in diluted white vinegar or Epsom salts, elevating the foot, and trimming the nails straight across. Surgery is also an option for severe cases. Prevent ingrown toenails by wearing shoes with a wider toe box and avoiding repeated injury to the toenails. Avoid curving or cutting the nails short at the edges.
Skin Problems: Rosacea, Acne, Shingles, Covid-19 RashesLearn to spot and treat skin conditions commonly found in adults such as acne, Covid-19 rashes, eczema, shingles, psoriasis, rosacea, hives, cold sores, razor bumps, athlete's foot, and more dermatology details.
Surprising Reasons You're ItchyFind out some unexpected causes of your itchiness, such as thyroid problems, cancer treatments, pregnancy, diabetes, and more.
Skin Conditions Below the WaistSkin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and allergies may produce redness and other symptoms. See your dermatologist right away if you develop itchy skin, rashes, pimples, or other skin conditions. Dermatology experts are best if you suspect skin cancer or other serious skin disease.
Staph (Staphylococcus) Infection
Staphylococcus or staph is a group of bacteria that can cause a multitude of diseases. Staph infections can cause illness directly by infection or indirectly by the toxins they produce. Symptoms and signs of a staph infection include redness, swelling, pain, and drainage of pus. Minor skin infections are treated with an antibiotic ointment, while more serious infections are treated with intravenous antibiotics.
What Is a Staph Infection?Do you know what a staph infection is? What about golden staph? Learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of staph infections (Staphylococcus aureus) before they become dangerous Staphylococcus infection complications like endocarditis or toxic shock syndrome.
What Happens if Folliculitis Goes Untreated?What is folliculitis? Folliculitis is a common and usually minor skin condition. Learn the signs of folliculitis and what can happen if it goes untreated.