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.
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