Ingrown Hairs 101: What Are They, Where Do They Come From And How To Rid Of Them

May 18, 2015 by Lisa Fogarty
shefinds | beauty

Ingrown hairs–they’re painful, itchy, ugly and seemingly impossible to destroy. If you’ve never experienced one, consider yourself insanely lucky. For those of us who have suffered, however, you know just how awful they can be, showing up unannounced to torment you on your bikini line before a pool party or under your arm on the day you were dying to wear a strapless dress.

So just what the heck are these hairy annoyances? “An ingrown hair is a hair that curls around and goes back into the skin instead of growing out of the skin,” says board certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman. “It causes irritation to the skin and usually makes a red bump or sometimes a painful pus filled bump that looks like a pimple.” Becky Sturm of StormSister Spatique adds, “The pore becomes aggravated by the hair trapped inside and the trapped sebaceous gland doesn’t get a chance to drain properly because there is dirt and bacteria trapped inside and a plug seals it all in.”

Gross, right? Sadly, women with coarse hair are more prone to getting ingrown hairs. If you were blessed with a head full of curly hair, your trade-off for having gorgeous locks that we all envy is usually more ingrown hairs, Jaliman explains.

Now the good news: you don’t just have to suffer with these painful bumps in silence. Here are 3 ways you can prevent ingrown hairs:

– Exfoliate. Also known as the solution to 98 percent of skin problems. “Exfoliate the body 2-3 times per week and the facial skin 1-2 times per week using a cleanser that is non-comedogenic (i.e. doesn’t clog pores)” Sturm says. Better yet, look for plant-based products that are water-soluble like Shea Moisture’s Lemongrass & Ginger Body Scrub. If you want to go the extra mile, invest in Earth Therapeutics Exfoliating Hydro Gloves.

Jaliman also recommends sonic cleansing systems to help get rid of dead skin cells, which is good news for all of you Clarisonic loyalists because you can purchase a specific body brush head to use on your legs and bikini area.

– Shave well. Never, ever shave your legs, bikini area, or underarms without a moisturizing shaving gel or cream. We know it’s Saturday night and you’re in a rush, but that’s still no excuse for splashing water on your poor legs and going to town. Also, Jaliman reminds us to follow a few basic shaving rules to reduce the risk of getting ingrown hairs: “Shave in the same direction as the hair is growing as opposed to against the grain. This will not give as close a shave, but it will help prevent get ingrown hairs,” she explains. “Also, use a new razor every time you shave so the razor is sharp.”

– Consider laser treatments. They’re more expensive than shaving, more painful, and more time-consuming, but, if you truly want to ensure you never have to see another ingrown hair on your body, Katrina Fadda from Bona Fide Skin Care says one of the only ways to truly prevent them is to remove them permanently with a series of laser treatments.

Despite your best efforts, sometimes an ingrown hair is inevitable. What do you do to get rid of them fast? Try these tricks:

– Use a salicylic or glycolic acid product. Fadda recommends applying a product with salicylic or glycolic acid onto the infected area and being consistent with your application. “This prevents dead skin build up and can help ‘release’ any growing hairs,” she says. “Manual ‘scrubs’ don’t do much, so you need the chemical action of the acids. They are also able to penetrate the skin and pore, so they are more effective.” Bliss Ingrown Eliminating Pads contain glycolic and salicylic acids, as well as nourishing lavender oil and green tea.

– Tweeze away. A little at-home “surgery” may be necessary to remove the hair. “Take an alcohol swab and clean the area,” Jaliman explains. “Then take a sharp tweezer and try to remove the hair that is embedded in the area. Then apply a topical antibiotic to the skin.” I’ve long adored Tweezerman, which is perfectly slanted and never makes me work too hard to yank out an unruly hair.

– Consult a skincare professional. If your ingrown hair shows no signs of breaking through the skin, it may need to be lanced by a skincare professional or dermatologist, Sturm says. While you wait for your doc appointment, Sturm suggests trying a natural treatment: “I treat the wound with tea tree oil,” she says. “It’s a fantastic natural anti-bacterial that kills germs and speeds healing.”

For more beauty tips, check out how to make your underarm shave last longer and 4 ways every woman should switch up her skincare routine for summer.


Lisa Fogarty is a lifestyle writer and reporter based in New York who covers health, wellness, relationships, sex, beauty, and parenting.

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