Ingrown Hair – What is it? What Causes it? And How to Treat it
Do you ever get red bumps on your arms, legs, face, or other areas of your body and can’t figure out what they are? They don’t appear to be pimples or bug bites, but they are still very irritating and sometimes cause redness, itching, and pain.
You may have an ingrown hair and not know it.
What Causes Ingrown Hairs?
Ingrown hairs are caused when a hair grows back into the skin instead of straight outward. As the hair grows back into the skin it can cause redness, bumps, discoloration, itching, and pain. In more severe cases you can even seen pus-filled, blister-like lesions appear on the skin.
In most cases, ingrown hairs are typically found in an area with more curly, thick hair. A hair follicle that is curved is more likely to grow in an angular direction which can cause it to curl back into the skin or get stuck by a clogged pore as it’s trying to emerge through the epidermis.
It is also more prevalent in areas that are shaved, plucked or waxed frequently. This would include facial hair, legs, and pubic regions. But ingrown hairs can occur anywhere on the body, it’s not just limited to those areas.
When the hair is removed via shaving, waxing or even tweezing the skin is traumatized. Even small amounts of trauma can create ingrown hairs. In fact, some people get ingrown hairs simply from clothing rubbing on the skin. Friction from clothing rubbing on hair follicles can irritate the hairs and the pores and create the same situation causing painful, itchy, red bumps in the affected area. And in some cases, if these ingrown hairs are not treated, they can become infected and lead to further issues.
How Does Shaving, Plucking or Waxing Cause Ingrown Hairs?
Hair removal, whether it’s shaving, plucking, or waxing, is usually the culprit behind ingrown hairs. Yes, the type of hair you have plays a role as well, but hair that is more frequently removed using these methods is generally where you are going to run into problems with ingrown hairs. When you remove hair using these methods you’re traumatizing the skin which causes the epidermis around the hair follicle to be inflamed, even if it’s on microscopic level.
Shaving cuts the hair extremely close to the skin. When you shave, you create a blunt coarse end to the hairs that are now level with your skin rather than a soft tapered tip of a newly growing hair. As the hairs grow back with a sharper end it can turn grow back into the skin. Especially if that blunt end encounters inflammation blocking it’s path of exit from the skin.
Waxing or tweezing forces a growing hair out in a traumatic manner, just as if you were to yank a hair from your head. Though perhaps unwanted, those growing hairs are attached by a bulb to the deep layers of your skin, the dermis and subcuits. That trauma irritates the skin surrounding the hair follicle that you just removed. So as the hair begins to regrow from scratch, even though it will have a softer tapered end, it may encounter an inflamed epidermis and get stuck on the way out and end up curling back in.
In most cases your hair will grow back normally and without issue, but in some cases you’ll start to notice itchy red bumps in the area that can become painful.
To help prevent this from happening, ensure you’re using a sharp blade when shaving (no dull blades). Wash the area thoroughly before shaving, moisten the skin with warm water and use a moisturizing shaving cream or gel to help reduce the friction. After waxing or tweezing you will want to keep your skin calm by keeping it well hydrated with a gentle moisturizer.
How to Treat Ingrown Hairs?
In most cases ingrown hairs will heal and go away on their own, but there are circumstances where you may need to intervene or seek medical treatment.
If you can’t wait for the issue to resolve on its own, there are a few things you can do at home in order to help relieve the pain or swelling caused by ingrown hairs.
Use of an anti-inflammatory cream can help reduce the pain and redness that you may see from an ingrown hair. There are options available over the counter like hydrocortisone, but if you suspect that it may be more serious, your doctor can prescribe stronger topical steroids to help reduce the inflammation.
Applying a warm compress (a towel soaked in hot water) can help open up your pores and help adjust the ingrown hair. By putting the compress over the affected area and moving it around in a circular motion, you can sometimes help move the ingrown hair out of the skin and help ensure that it grows in the proper direction.
If possible, you may be able to dislodge the ingrown hair using a tweezers, but this will only work if you can see the hair. If you can see the hair, you can carefully take a tweezers and try to coax it out of the skin. Just make sure that you don’t pluck the hair completely out as then you could end up right back where you started when it begins to grow back.
Also, try to avoid damaging the skin around the area or digging into the skin. This can cause more issues and possibly lead to infection. No picking, scratching or “popping” what looks like pimples on your skin. This will only make matters worse.
If you think that the issue is more than just an ingrown hair, or it happens more frequently that you would like, a doctor’s visit may be able to help. Your doctor will be able to give you advice on what you can do to help prevent these ingrown hairs or what you can do to try and help reduce the impact they have on your every day life.