Ingrown hair appears as a small bump on the skin that occurs after the hair has been shaved, waxed, or trimmed. When the new hair starts to grow from the hair follicle, it may curve back into the skin, creating a small bump or nodule. Ingrown hair is very common and often occurs frequently in people who shave or wax. It is more common among black people with curly hair. Ingrown hair can be avoided by not shaving or reducing the frequency. If that is difficult, other techniques to remove body hair can be used to prevent ingrown hair.
Removing your body hair by shaving, waxing, or tweezing can cause ingrown hair. Your hair grows from your hair follicles within a few days or weeks after removing them. Most hair removal methods that are commonly used only remove the hair, not the hair follicle. The shape, curve, and growth rate are mainly determined by your genetics. If you have naturally curly hair, there is a higher chance that your hair will curve back into the skin once they start growing back.
Shaving can create a sharp edge on hair, making it easier for them to reenter or pierce the skin if they curve back. In such cases, your skin treats this hair like a foreign object and may cause inflammation or irritation. Tweezing or waxing your hair may also have similar consequences.
Anyone who shaves, waxes, or pulls their body hair out with a tweezer is at risk of developing ingrown hair. The more you shave, the more likely you will have ingrown hair. In most scenarios, they occur in frequently shaved areas, such as arms, legs, armpits, and pubic regions. But they may appear anywhere else on the body as well. The likelihood of ingrown hair is more common if you have skin of color or thick, curly hairs since birth.
Ingrown hair can occur at any age, but they are most often observed during adulthood. It can affect both men and women, although most of the affected cases are women because they shave or wax more frequently than men.
You can notice the signs and symptoms of ingrown hair a few days after shaving, waxing, or tweezing your hair. Small bumps can be seen which appear darker in color, especially if you have dark hair. There may be a singular bump or multiple bumps present across the skin. These bumps can appear as fluid-filled blisters if there is active inflammation present. There is an itching or burning sensation in the affected skin region. The new hair will appear in the shape of a loop because it grows and pierces back into the skin. Ingrown hair can become infected in some cases, and you will notice the size of the bump increasing. The area may become painful and often requires treatment by a specialist.
You can diagnose ingrown hair yourself just by having a close look at them. If you removed your hair a few days or a week ago and see small, dark-colored bumps on your skin, it is likely an ingrown hair. It does not require a visit to a skincare specialist unless it becomes inflamed or infected. In that case, your doctor will ask for a brief history of your hair removal routine. They can diagnose ingrown hair based on its clinical presentation alone. No specific tests are required.
Ingrown hair may be confused with other skin diseases such as acne vulgaris, traumatic folliculitis, infectious folliculitis, epidermal inclusion cysts, miliaria rubra, and hidradenitis suppurativa. Differentiation between these conditions can be made on the basis of your history and clinical presentation. Diagnostic tests may be done in uncertain cases.
The easiest treatment option dermatologists recommend is to stop shaving, waxing, or tweezing your hair for 1 to six months until the condition improves. Shaving on skin with ingrown hair can increase the risk of infection. The procedures are avoided until the skin has cleared off and ingrown hair is no longer visible. If you have a beard, you can trim it with scissors or electric slippers. If you cannot avoid hair removal for that long, your doctor may prescribe some medications to ease your symptoms and reduce the risk of ingrown hair. You can also remove ingrown hair by gently pulling it out with a tweezer. Advanced techniques such as laser-assisted hair removal can be used to remove hair for much longer. Laser treatment targets the hair follicles instead of hair, which prevents hair regrowth. These techniques should be discussed with your doctor or dermatologist to learn possible consequences and side effects.
If you have inflammation associated with ingrown hair, topical steroids can be prescribed to reduce symptoms. Antibiotic creams are suggested in case of an infection. Retinoid creams can remove dead skin cells, which may help release trapped hair. Glycolic acid can also help reduce hair’s natural curvature to prevent it from reentering the skin.
Most ingrown hairs go away on their own within a few days or weeks if you avoid hair removal in that period. Medications can help speed up the process by removing dead skin cells and releasing the trapped hair.
Ingrown hair can be prevented by using proper hair removal techniques. Before removing your hair, it is better to wash the skin region thoroughly to eliminate debris and dead skin cells. Apply a gel or cream to your skin. For shaving, hair should be removed in the direction of its natural growth. Rinse your blade after every stroke and disinfect your blade afterward. Waxing or tweezing should also be done carefully.
Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on April 27th, 2023.