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Shaving is tiresome enough without having to worry about pesky side effects like ingrown hairs. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to avoid this beauty mishap before it rears its ugly head.
TODAY Style consulted top dermatologists to find out the most common causes of ingrown hairs, and help determine the best course of action for getting rid of them. Oh, and they've also shared some shaving tips to help prevent ingrown hairs in the first place!
What is an ingrown hair?
If you’ve never had an ingrown hair, you might not know how to spot one. But they’re pretty easy to recognize.
“Ingrown hairs can closely resemble pimples: They are red, raised bumps on the skin that may also have white dots of pus. You may also be able to visualize hair within the bumps,” said Dr. Hooman Khorasani, chief of the Division of Dermatological and Cosmetic Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Hair typically grows upward from the follicle and through the skin, but ingrown hairs grow sideways or under the skin.
“Dead skin cells can accumulate on the surface of the skin and block the hair follicle, preventing its normal growth up and out of the skin,” said Dr. Maral Skelsey, director of the Dermatologic Surgery Center of Washington and clinical associate professor of dermatology at Georgetown University.
On their own, ingrown hairs don’t typically hurt, but when they become inflamed they can cause irritation.
“When ingrown hairs cause an infection in the hair follicles (folliculitis) and resemble an acne pustule, they can be painful,” said Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologist.
What causes ingrown hairs?
Ingrown hairs are more prevalent in folks with coarse or curly hair since these hair types are prone to growing sideways or into the skin. For instance, when curly hair is cut too close to the skin’s surface, the sharp end of the hair burrows its way back into the skin, according to Khorasani.
Ingrown hairs are also more likely to appear in areas of the body with thicker hair, such as the legs, underarms, the pubic area and in beards, according to Dr. Noelani González, director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West in New York City. It’s also not unusual to find them on the face or the back of the neck.
Last but not least, the way you shave may also be causing ingrown hairs.
“When shaving, hair can get cut at an angle, and this causes it to grow into the skin. Very close shaves can cause this too since once the hair is shaved, skin goes over it and traps it,” González said.
How to prevent ingrown hairs
While there’s no fail-proof method, you can typically prevent ingrown hairs by following these good skin care practices before, during and after shaving.
1. Prep the skin.
“Prior to shaving, use warm water to rinse the skin followed by a moisturizing shaving cream or gel,” Khorasani said. González also suggests exfoliating often before shaving.
2. Use the right tools.
“Remember to change your blades often. A dull blade can cause more inflammation and increase risk of infections,” González said.
3. Follow shaving best practices.
“Use as few strokes as possible and try to avoid shaving too closely,” Khorasani said. González also recommends shaving in the direction of hair growth.
4. Help skin recover.
“Moisturize right after you've shaved. Try moisturizers with salicylic or glycolic acid, and a toner with anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe or tea tree oil,” González said. If need be, you can also apply cool compresses after showering to calm any irritation.
You can also avoid shaving entirely by using alternate hair removal methods.
“Laser hair removal is the best way to permanently avoid ingrown hairs. Electrolysis, another hair removal method, has a greater risk of ingrown hairs. However, for patients with very light hair, laser hair removal may not work and electrolysis is the best option,” Khorasani said.
In general, Engelman suggests avoiding waxing if you're hoping to prevent ingrown hairs. "It disrupts the superficial epidermis when the hair is pulled from the follicle. When the skin regrows it can grow over the follicular opening and cause hairs to grow underneath the skin. This can manifest as red bumps and can get infected, causing a flare-up," she said.
How to get rid of ingrown hairs
Unless you’re a pro like Dr. Pimple Popper, you know you should never pick at your acne. And the same rule of thumb applies to ingrown hairs.
“Avoid picking at it! I don't recommend attempting to remove it at home because it can potentially cause an infection, scarring or discoloration,” González said.
Luckily, ingrown hairs typically resolve on their own, but if you simply can’t resist speeding up the process, here are a few ways to get rid of that pesky ingrown hair:
Try a chemical exfoliant like apple cider vinegar, acetic acid or retinol to break down skin cells above the hair.
Use a topical antibiotic lotion or a short course of topical steroid cream to reduce inflammation.
And as always, the best solution is to check in with your dermatologist.
“Your (dermatologist) will use a sterile needle or scalpel to make a tiny incision in the skin to free the hair from the skin that is trapping it beneath the surface," Khorasani said. "After releasing the hair, your provider may give you a steroid cream or a retinoid to reduce swelling, irritation or pigment changes. If the ingrown hair was infected, your provider may also prescribe you an antibiotic."
Must-Have Preshave Products
1. First Aid Beauty Cleansing Body Polish with Active Charcoal, $13, Amazon
Regular exfoliation can help prevent and treat ingrown hairs, so reach for a refreshing body polish like this one from First Aid Beauty every few showers.
2. Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment, $13 (usually $15), Amazon
This acne-specific treatment is also great at preventing and treating ingrown hairs, and exfoliates the top layer of the skin, the epidermis, to help loosen skin over the ingrown hair.
Must-Have Shaving Products
1. Flamingo 5-blade Razor, $10, Target
Get an even, safe shave with the help of this razor that features a weighted, ergonomic handle. It's also got an aloe vera hydrating strip to help prevent irritation.
2. Gillette Venus Extra Smooth Sensitive Razor, $10, Amazon
Sensitive skin, rejoice! One of Venus' latest innovations is a razor targeted specifically toward easily irritated skin. And when it comes to preventing ingrown hairs, you need all the help you can get!
3. Eos Ultra Moisturizing Shave Cream, $3 (usually $6),Amazon
Don't forget the shaving cream, ladies! Help lubricate and protect your skin with a moisturizing formula like this one from Eos.
Must-Have Post-Shave Products
1. Lalicious Sugar Coconut Velour Body Melt, $38, Amazon
Right after shaving, treat your skin to some much-needed moisture to prevent irritation. This indulgent formula melts right into the skin!
2. Bacitracin First aid Antibiotic Ointment, $4, Amazon
If your attempts to prevent an ingrown hair fail, reach for a topical antibiotic lotion like Bacitracin to reduce inflammation.
3. Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength, $15 (Pack of 2), Amazon
A topical steroid cream like Cortizone 10 will also do the trick and help calm down any inflammation.
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