How To Prevent And Cure Ingrown Hairs (Ouch!)

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laser hair removal

We all know what it's like to shave, wax, or tweeze, and experience the uncomfortable and unflattering ingrown hair (known as razor bumps).

Ingrown hairs are annoying and can really put a damper on your day. They can itch, burn, and even cause a tremendous amount of pain. But what exactly are ingrown hairs and why do we get them?

What causes ingrown hairs?

Ingrown hairs are follicles that grow back after being removed; instead of growing out, they embed themselves into the skin and never breach the surface. This can also occur due to hair growing sideways under the skin.

Ingrown hairs cause irritation and inflammation. And if not treated properly, they can become infected. When putting together our beauty, wellness and hair removal routines, we should make sure to account for ingrown hairs and try our best to prevent them.

Luckily, there are a handful of ways to treat ingrown hair and prevent them from growing in the first place.

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How To Prevent Ingrown Hairs

1. Let your hair grow out.

As self-conscious or scratchy as you may feel, it's always wise to let your hair grow out before shaving again. Many women shave every three days (and even some every day!), but this can cause irritation on the skin and increase the likelihood of producing ingrown hair.

Traditionally, it's recommended to wait until the hair is 1/4 of an inch long before shaving.

2. Change your razor head.

Not only does using a new razor blade cut hair precisely and leave your legs silky and smooth, it helps prevent the possibility of irritating the skin (which can happen with worn-down blades) and forming ingrown hairs.

Additionally, new razor heads prevent the spread of germs as they're cleaner than those used over longer periods of time.

Overused or dirty razor blades can cause infections like folliculitis if not cleaned properly. Knowing that razors can be expensive, keep your razor head lasting longer by rinsing between each stroke and patting it down with a dry towel after every use.

3. Use shaving cream.

Don't cut corners when it comes to purchasing shaving cream. Besides moisturizing the skin and leaving a clean shave, shaving cream creates a thin layer (or barrier) between your skin and the hair follicle to prevent the blade from rubbing up and irritating your skin (which can cause ingrown hairs).

The use of shaving cream can also decrease the chances of scrapes or cuts that can happen to the skin when simply using water or un-moisturized soap, which can decrease the risk of getting an infection.

4. Use a post-shaving treatment.

One of the most overlooked steps in our hair removal routine is applying after-shave. When we think about the act of shaving, we're actually taking a sharp blade and rubbing it against our skin, creating friction and irritation.

To restore any lost natural oils to the surface of the skin, we should apply an after-shave treatment to prevent our pores from becoming irritated. After-shave also helps prevent our pores from clogging and closing up, which eventually can lead to ingrown hairs.

5. Consider laser hair removal.

While many laser hair removal treatments come with a hefty price tag, there are now at-home hair removal devices to help weaken follicles and eliminate hair growth. With no hair growth, there's no need to worry about ingrown hairs.

Laser hair removal targets the melanin in the hair follicles to disable the hair's ability to regrow.

6. Remember to exfoliate.

Exfoliation is a key component to preventing ingrown hairs. The practice of exfoliating helps remove dead skin cells from the surface. By lifting these cells, you're avoiding potential pore-clogging residue to remain on the skin.

Additionally, by exfoliating you're lifting the hair further away from the skin which gives an overall better shave.

If you're looking for a cheap way to exfoliate the skin, try using ground coffee. Not only will the rough surface exfoliate your skin, but the caffeine in the grounds will invigorate your cells and reduce the appearance of cellulite. Be sure to use circular motions when exfoliating!

7. Shave with the grain.

This is an important step in preventing ingrown hairs, yet almost no one does it. Shave in the direction your hair grows, rather than going against the grain.

If you shave against the grain (the opposite way in which the hair grows), your hair follicle can get caught under the skin and create ingrown hairs.

8. Use a hair removal cream instead.

Rather than continuing to shave only to end up with red painful bumps, hair removal cream is just another way to get rid of those pesky hairs. Plus, it isn't nearly as costly as laser hair removal.

There are plenty of hair removal creams to try. Just pick one up at your local pharmacy or supercenter.

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So, it happens: you've got an ingrown hair. And now you're looking to get rid of it. While it does take time and patience, here's how to get rid of and treat ingrown hairs.

How To Get Rid Of And Treat Ingrown Hairs

1. Wash the area with warm water.

This helps open the area's pores. By washing or steaming your skin with warm or hot water, you're causing the pores to open and are giving the hair an outlet to breach the skin to the surface.

If it's difficult or you don't have access to a steam room, try opening your pores by using warm compresses with a wash towel or taking a hot bath.

For men that experience ingrown hairs on their face, try washing your face with warm water and a gentle cleanser to help remove impurities.

2. Don't touch it!

The worst thing to do when experiencing ingrown hairs is to try and pick, pop, or touch it. Not only can it push the hair follicle further back into the skin, but it can become infected.

Infected pores can cause folliculitis and spread to surrounding and nearby pores. Instead, continue to rinse with warm water. If pain or itchiness ever occurs, try reaching out to a dermatologist who will recommend steroid cream.

3. Invest in a good pair of tweezers.

When the hair has breached the skin (and only when) and the surrounding area is healed, it's okay to lightly pull away the hair follicle from its room (versus shaving).

Wait until the hair is fully visible and outside the skin's surface. If not, picking and breaking the skin can only increase the risk of infection.

4. Gentle exfoliate.

Gently exfoliate the skin to help shed a layer of dead skin cells. Refrain from scrubbing the area, as this can cause further irritation. Remember, the point is to free the trapped hairs beneath your skin.

5. Refrain from removing your hair.

While it may be unsightly, especially if it's hair you want removed on your legs, when you have an ingrown hair, the best thing to do is leave it alone. That means stop any hair removal techniques you use (shaving, waxing, tweezing) in that area.

If you keep removing the hair, it will continue to irritate the area and make it worse. Wait until the ingrown hair goes away to remove the hair again. But until then, stop shaving!

6. Try retinoids or prescribed creams.

This will require a trip to the dermatologist, who can provide a prescription for retinoids, steroid cream, or antibiotics, especially if the area is infected.

Using retinoids helps the process of removing dead skin cells; one possible treatment is Tretinoin (Renova, Retin-A). As a reminder, you should never use retinoids if you are pregnant.

7. Moisturize.

Moisturizing can help remove dead skin cells that clog your pores and make your ingrown hairs worse. Be sure to use a non-greasy, unscented moisturizer. You can easily pick one up at your local drugstore.

8. Use natural remedies.

A few natural at-home remedies to try include tea tree oil, sugar, or baking soda.

Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is a great way to get rid of bacteria around the ingrown hair. This can stop the hair from becoming infected and clear up faster. Be sure to dilute the oil with water before use.

Sugar: Sugar is a wonderful natural exfoliant. It can remove dead skin cells from the surface, allowing the hair to pop out from beneath the skin. Mix sugar with either olive oil or honey to smooth out the skin, as well as exfoliate it.

Baking soda: To reduce inflammation and alleviate itchiness, combine 1 cup of water with 1 tablespoon of baking soda, applying it to the ingrown hair with a cotton ball. Keep the mixture on for five minutes and then wash with cold water.

When to See a Doctor

If the area around the ingrown hair becomes swollen, red, hot or painful, it's time to take a visit to the doctor or dermatologist.

You should also see a professional if you have a fever or feel shivery. This can be a sign that the ingrown has become infected.

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Elizabeth Blasi is a New York-based lifestyle and travel writer who is often seen with a suitcase in hand, jet-setting to her next location. Her work has been featured on Elite Daily, Yahoo Lifestyle, Good Housekeeping, and more. Follow her on Instagram or visit her website.