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Ingrown Hair

What Is It, Treatment, Prevention, and More

Author: Nikol Natalia Armata

Editors: Alyssa Haag, Ahaana Singh, Kelsey LaFayette, BAN, RN 

Illustrator: Abbey Richard

Copyeditor: Joy Mapes


What is an ingrown hair?

Ingrown hair, also known as pseudofolliculitis or razor bumps, refers to a common skin condition caused when hairs are trapped under the skin surface. Ingrown hairs usually appear in areas where hair has been recently removed (e.g., shaved or waxed), such as on the face, neck, legs, armpits, pubic area, and back. 

What causes ingrown hairs?

Ingrown hairs most frequently result from various hair removal methods. Shaving is a common cause because razors cut hairs at different angles. As a result, the ends of the hairs can curl inwards and grow back into the skin. Pulling the skin tightly while shaving can also increase the likelihood of developing razor bumps

Other hair removal techniques, such as waxing and tweezing, may also lead to ingrown hairs. While these methods usually remove the hair with its bulb, or root, in some cases they may break the hair, leaving fragments under the skin that can consequently grow sideways, resulting in an ingrown hair. 

Having tightly curled hair, especially on body areas where hair removal methods are commonly used (e.g., pubic area, face, neck, etc.), can also increase the likelihood of developing ingrown hairs. For example, individuals with dense, curly beards often present with pseudofolliculitis barbae, an inflammatory skin condition that occurs when persistent irritation, typically caused by shaving, traps curly hair under the skin, resulting in razor bumps. If bacteria, like Staphylococcus aureus, infects the tiny skin organ, or follicle, that contains an ingrown beard hair, the condition is called folliculitis barbae. 

Individuals with excessive hair growth who frequently use hair removal methods are also more likely to develop ingrown hairs. Additionally, the accumulation of dead skin cells in pores can result in the growth of ingrown hairs. This can occur in areas on the body that are not completely or consistently cleansed. 

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What does an ingrown hair look like?

Ingrown hairs typically present as small, red bumps in areas where hair has been recently removed. Sometimes, the hair under the surface of the skin can be seen inside the bump. The affected area is often itchy. Scratching and the continued growth of the ingrown hair can further irritate the overlying skin, causing persistent redness. Eventually, the ingrown hair may look similar to a pimple, and if left untreated, it can become infected and produce pus. Infected ingrown hairs may discolor the surrounding skin, and scratching can leave scars.

How do you treat an ingrown hair?

The initial treatment for ingrown hair consists of a healthcare provider removing the hair that is trapped under the skin. After making a very small incision with a needle or scalpel, the provider can free and remove the hair. An individual with an ingrown hair should avoid scratching, picking, or squeezing the bump, as these behaviors can cause further irritation and inflammation or infection. When the area around the ingrown hair is inflamed, additional treatment may be suggested. A clinician may prescribe topical steroids to reduce the redness and swelling around the hair. If infection occurs, topical antibiotic creams for application to the inflamed area may also be prescribed.

How do you prevent ingrown hairs?

It is typically advised to avoid shaving, waxing, and tweezing in order to prevent ingrown hairs. If hair removal by these methods cannot be avoided, there are many measures an individual can take to reduce the occurrence of ingrown hairs. If shaving, using a new razor each time and shaving in the direction of the hair’s growth can prevent inflammation of the hair follicles. Also, holding warm compresses to the skin before shaving and applying cool, wet towels after hair removal may reduce irritation. In areas that are prone to ingrown hairs, such as the pubic area, reducing how often one shaves, waxes, or tweezes can make razor burn less prevalent. Gently applying mild exfoliating scrubs in a circular motion before and after hair removal can help release trapped hairs and get rid of dead skin cells. 

Treating the skin in between hair removal sessions with creams that contain benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can also prevent ingrown hairs. These creams can penetrate deep into the pores of the skin and remove dead skin cells. Retinoid creams may also be prescribed, as they enhance exfoliation and promote skin turnover, and they may also treat the dark spots and small scars that ingrown hairs can leave behind. Retinoid creams are generally applied to the affected areas at night. 

Laser hair removal is another approach. Laser hair removal involves destroying the entire developing hair with a site-specific laser. After multiple sessions, the density of the targeted hair gradually reduces, subsequently lowering the risk of developing ingrown hairs.

Alternatively, one may avoid ingrown hairs by trimming hair shorter instead of removing it. 

What are the most important facts to know about ingrown hair?

Ingrown hair, also known as pseudofolliculitis or razor bumps, refers to a common skin condition in which hair grows back into the skin. Ingrown hairs usually appear in areas that are shaved, waxed, or tweezed frequently, such as the face, neck, legs, armpits, pubic area, and back. In addition, curly hair is more prone to becoming ingrown. To treat an ingrown hair, a healthcare professional can remove it, and topical steroids may relieve inflammation of any irritated skin. If the hair follicle becomes infected, antibiotic cream may be advised. There are several measures an individual can take to prevent razor bumps when shaving; however, alternative hair removal methods, such as laser hair removal, are generally more effective at preventing ingrown hairs. 

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Related links

Hair, skin, and nails
Skin anatomy and physiology
Skin histology

Resources for research and reference

Canadian Dermatology Association. (n.d.). Ingrown hair. In Canadian Dermatology Association: Public & patients, hair conditions. Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://dermatology.ca/public-patients/hair/ingrown-hair/ 

Luo, D.-Q., Liang, Y.-H., Li, X.-Q., Zhao, Y.-K., Wang, F., & Sarkar, R. (2016). Ingrowing hair: A case Report. Medicine, 95(19): e3660. DOI: 10.1097/MD.0000000000003660 

National Health Service. (2019, August 7). Ingrown hairs. In NHS: Health A-Z. Retrieved March 14, 2021, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ingrown-hairs/ 

NYU Langone skin expert offers practical advice and best practices for dealing with ingrown hair or "razor bumps." (2015, January 28). In NYU Langone Health NewsHub. Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://nyulangone.org/news/nyu-langone-skin-expert-offers-practical-advice-and-best-practices-dealing-ingrown-hair-or-razor-bumps