Shaving is tiresome enough without having to worry about pesky side effects like ingrown hairs. Causing irritation, redness, itchiness and more, it's an unpleasant experience that even the most cautious shavers may encounter. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to avoid this beauty mishap before it rears its ugly head.
We consulted top dermatologists to find out the most common causes of ingrown hairs, how to prevent them and the best ways to get rid of them when they do show up.
How to prevent ingrown hairs
While there’s no fail-proof method, you can typically prevent ingrown hairs by following good skin care practices before, during and after shaving.
To start, you want to make sure that your skin is well-prepped. “Prior to shaving, use warm water to rinse the skin, followed by a moisturizing shaving cream or gel,” says Dr. Hooman Khorasani, a quadruple board-certified dermatologist in New York City. Dr. Noelani González, a clinical instructor in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai, also suggests exfoliating often, not just before shaving.
You also shouldn't be using a weeks-old blade to shave (meaning, if you can't remember the last time you swapped yours out, it's definitely time for a change). “Remember to change your blades often," González says. "A dull blade can cause more inflammation and increase the risk of infections.”
Other notes from the experts include using as few strokes as possible to avoid shaving too closely and shaving in the direction of hair growth.
The process doesn't finish once you put the razor down. You also want to make sure that you're taking care of your skin post-shave. “Moisturize right after you've shaved," González says. "Try moisturizers with salicylic or glycolic acid, and a toner with anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe or tea tree oil.” 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 says.
In general, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy 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 explains.
How to get rid of ingrown hairs
Unless you’re a pro, 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 says.
Luckily, ingrown hairs typically resolve on their own, but if you simply can’t resist speeding up the process, you can get rid of that pesky ingrown hair by trying a chemical exfoliant like apple cider vinegar, acetic acid or retinol to break down skin cells above the hair. Or, you can 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 says. "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."
Products for preventing and treating ingrown hairs
Don't forget the shaving cream! Help lubricate and protect your skin with a moisturizing formula like this one from Eos. It previously went viral on TikTok after one user called it her "secret" for a bump-free bikini line.
Or, you can slather on this gel before you shave. It features moisturizing ingredients such as oatmeal and vitamin E, which the brand says will help you get a close, smooth shave without bumps, nicks or cuts.
This serum contains lactic acid which, according to the brand, helps reduce the buildup of dead skin cells which in turn helps reduce ingrowns. "I apply this stuff about two times a day and I swear my skin is softer, basically no chafing or ingrown hairs!" raved one five-star Target reviewer.
While shoppers rave about this Differin Gel as a way to get rid of acne, some reviewers have also noted that it can help diminish ingrown hairs. It contains a prescription-strength retinoid, so it could help loosen the skin over the ingrown hair.
Get an even, safe shave with the help of this razor that features a weighted, ergonomic handle. It also has an aloe vera hydrating strip, which the brand says helps to prevent irritation. It comes with four blade refills, too, so you'll have a few backups when it comes time to replace the blade.
While shaving can be a rather mundane task, your razor doesn't have to be! Rifle Paper Co. and Venus have partnered to create this floral print razor that will make a beautiful addition to your shower lineup. Each razor has five blades to give you the closest shave with as few passes as possible and has an ergonomic handle with a soft-touch grip. Plus, it comes with two replacement cartridges.
This bestselling skin care solution has more than 37,000 perfect five-star ratings from Amazon. Made to be applied after shaving or waxing, the brand says that it can help reduce the appearance of ingrown hairs, razor bumps and redness. "This stuff is magical," one reviewer wrote. "If you've ever struggled with razor burn or ingrown hair, this is your solution."
If you're looking for an easy option that you can stick in your gym bag or carry-on, this is it. Featuring ingredients like witch hazel, aloe, glycolic and salicylic acids, the brand says that the pads help to slough away those potentially follicle-blocking dead skin cells without stripping your skin.
Formulated with a blend of sugar and hydrating oils such as jojoba and tea tree, this body scrub is designed to exfoliate the skin so it's prepped and ready for shaving. According to the brand, it's safe for all skin types and can be used anywhere on the body, which means that you can address all your problem areas, from your bikini line to your pits.
Get ready for a smooth shave! Many reviewers say that this popular razor provides a "close shave," is "great for sensitive skin" and doesn't cause razor burn.
Fur creates products that are aimed at hydrating your skin and body hair — all while helping eradicate ingrowns. This bestseller from the brand is made to be used on "your most intimate areas" every day to help smooth and soothe skin. According to Fur, the oil is great for shavers, waxers and those who like to go au natural, too. Even better, the brand says that it can also double as a cuticle softener, split-end sealer and more.
While this exfoliating body lotion isn't specifically made to help target ingrown hairs, some reviewers have found it helpful for reducing irritation after hair removal. "It actually helped with shaving too," one Amazon shopper wrote. "I noticed a lot less ingrown hairs and my legs are so smooth after." One thing they did note, is that it's best not to use it after shaving. "It will sting like crazy," they said. Instead, they said it's better to use it in the days beforehand.
Who better to trust for an ingrown hair serum than a place that specializes in hair removal? These wipes are easy to stow in your carry-on when traveling or just keep on hand if you don't feel like dealing with a liquid serum. They're two-ply so you can split them in half to use on smaller areas, so they last twice as long!
This serum from European Wax Center contains ingredients such as glycolic acid, tea tree oil and lavender oil to prevent and treat ingrown hairs. They even have a version of the serum that also tackles discoloration.
Frequently asked questions
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,” says Khorasani.
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,” says Dr. Maral Skelsey, director of the Dermatologic Surgery Center of Washington.
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,” notes Engelman.
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, pubic area and beards, according González. It’s also not unusual to find them on the face or the back of the neck.
The way that you shave could also cause 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 explains.
Meet the experts
- Dr. Hooman Khorasani, MD, is a quadruple board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. His specialties are facial aesthetic surgery, eyelid surgery, face and body contouring and laser medicine.
- Dr. Noelani González, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai.
- Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologic surgeon and director of dermatologic surgery at New York Medical College.
- Dr. Maral Skelsey, MD, is the director of the Dermatologic Surgery Center of Washington.