Ingrowns are an unavoidable consequence of hair removal — but what’s the best way to manage them? While there’s a consensus that exfoliation is the key, social media is abuzz with debate about which active ingredient takes the top spot.
So which is better for preventing and treating ingrown hairs: alpha hydroxy acid, or beta hydroxy acid? We’ve got the answer.
What causes ingrown hairs?
Understanding the cause of ingrown hairs provides a clue about the most effective remedy. Also known as razor bumps, ingrown hairs are red bumps caused by hair that’s gotten trapped beneath the skin. They’re more common in people with curly hair, since it has a tendency to curve back into the skin — but can affect people of all skin and hair types. Shaving, waxing, threading or plucking hair increases the chances of developing ingrowns.
How do you treat ingrown hairs?
Minimising ingrown hairs involves two key strategies:
- Consistent skin care. Regular exfoliation and choosing non-occlusive products will help keep hairs free from becoming obstructed as they regrow.
- Proper shaving techniques. Shaving in the direction of hair with a single blade will help prevent hair from being cut beneath the skin’s surface.
What’s the best acid for treating ingrown hairs?
As we mentioned, keeping skin exfoliated is one of the best ways to minimise ingrown hairs. But how do you choose between alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic and lactic) and beta hydroxy acid (like salicylic)? It all comes down to the chemical differences between these active ingredients:
- Glycolic acid is a water soluble molecule that penetrates into skin’s dead, outer layers to loosen the cellular bonds.
- Salicylic acid is an oil soluble molecule capable of penetrating into sebum-filled pores and clearing out dead skin and oil.
Because ingrown hairs typically happen when hair becomes trapped beneath a layer of skin (rather than as a result of an oil-clogged pore), glycolic acid is the more effective choice.
Which glycolic acid products get rid of ingrown hairs?
Exfoliating and moisturising daily can make a big difference in minimising the incidence of ingrown hairs. Try SLMD Glycolic Acid Body Scrub, which contains both physical and chemical exfoliants — self-dissolving granules plus glycolic and lactic acids — to slough away dead skin cells. Follow up with your favourite non-occlusive moisturiser.
Dr. Lee’s last word
Glycolic acid is one of my favourite active ingredients because it’s a powerful exfoliant that’s generally well-tolerated by all skin types. It’s excellent for managing dry, bumpy skin known as keratosis pilaris, and it also helps treat and prevent ingrown hairs.
—Dr. Sandra Lee