Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Solving the Problem of Ingrown Hairs

By Madeline Vann, MPH
Medically reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH

Hair normally grows out of a pore called a follicle. An ingrown hair occurs when the tip of the hair is caught in the follicle, but the hair continues to grow. This can cause inflammation, pain, irritation, and infection in some instances. A technical term you might hear your doctor use for one type of ingrown hair-related condition is pseudofolliculitis barbae, which affects some men in the beard area.

Ingrown hairs are commonly linked to “razor bumps” or “shaving bumps” — irritation that occurs after shaving. People with curly hair who shave often, such as African American men who shave their beard area, are particularly at risk for frequent ingrown hairs. Experts estimate that up to 60 percent of African American men who shave have experienced ingrown hairs. But anyone can have an ingrown hair almost anywhere on the body. Chins, legs, armpits, and bikini lines are all places where ingrown hairs frequently occur in women and men.

Ingrown Hair: How to Treat and Prevent

Treating ingrown hairs may be the only way to get some relief from the associated pain and aggravation, since most will not go away on their own. You may need to visit your family doctor or dermatologist to have the ingrown hair removed by releasing it from under the skin with a needle. Some aestheticians (beauty experts trained in services including facials and waxing) can do this too. If the ingrown hairs become infected, you might need an antibiotic cream or a prescription antibiotic as well.

Prescription remedies for ingrown hair include glycolic acid creams and cortisone creams, but laser hair removal is the best choice for treating and preventing ingrown hairs, says Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, of the University of Miami Cosmetic Center.

Laser Hair Removal and Other Methods of Reducing Ingrown Hair

Laser hair removal helps reduce the number of hairs that can become ingrown. Laser hair removal does not permanently remove hair, but it can provide relief for months and, for some people, years.

The best way to avoid ingrown hairs is to let them grow. However, since not all men want a beard and many women dislike hair on their legs or under their arms, this might not be an option. Since shaving is linked to the development of ingrown hairs, Dr. Woolery-Lloyd advises, "If you have to shave, look for razors [such as electric razors] that are designed to prevent bumps."

When shaving, she says:

* Shave in the direction of hair growth (downward).
* Shave after a warm shower so that it's easier to remove hair from the follicles.
* “Avoid a very close shave. This makes the problem worse.”

Other approaches to managing ingrown hairs include:

* Shave less often.
* Do not tug or pull when you shave.
* Avoid shaving the same area repeatedly.
* Use a lubricating shaving gel or prescription shaving foam.
* Use an electric razor, as these are easier on the skin and don’t cut hair as close as a regular razor.
* Try depilatories, or creams that remove hair. Make sure to test on a small patch of skin to find out if you are sensitive to these chemical hair removal systems.

If you still find yourself struggling with ingrown hair, review your ingrown hair removal strategy with your health and beauty team (your family doctor, dermatologist, and/or your aesthetician) to see what further tweaks might be recommended for you.