With millions of follicles covering our skin, it’s no surprise that we encounter ingrown hairs periodically. While the condition is completely normal, some people are more susceptible to developing ingrown hairs than others.
We’re delving into ingrowns: how to identify them, who’s more likely to get them, and what you can do to help prevent and treat these common bumps.
What causes ingrown hairs?
Let’s review a little skin anatomy: your epidermis is covered in pores, which are microscopic openings that contain a hair follicle and a sebaceous (oil) gland. Typically, the hair emerges from the pore at the skin’s surface, lubricated by natural oils.
But occasionally, this process goes awry: hairs can grow in the wrong direction, curling back into the skin, becoming trapped — and sometimes, infected.
What does an ingrown hair look like?
Ingrown hairs are typically raised, red bumps that can occur individually in random areas, or in clusters on skin that’s been depilated (think: shaved, waxed, plucked). This is why they’re also commonly called razor bumps — and they can also be itchy. Sometimes, you can see the hair just beneath the skin’s surface. Ingrowns most commonly occur in these areas:
- Face and neck
- Pubic area
Ingrown hairs can be mistaken for pimples, especially if they show up in an area that hasn’t been shaved. Chronic, itchy patches of ingrown hairs could be a sign of a hair follicle infection called folliculitis. Talk to your dermatologist if you have concerns.
Are certain people more susceptible to ingrown hairs?
Though no one is immune from ingrowns, there are factors that increase the risk, including:
- Blemish-prone skin: clogged pores filled with oil and dead skin tend to trap hairs more often
- Curly, coarse hair: this type of hair is more likely to grow inward
While it’s true that people with very curly hair are more at risk for ingrown hairs, the most common culprit is actually hair removal. Shaving, waxing and plucking all increase the chances of a hair growing back at an angle. Certain practices increase your chances of creating ingrowns:
- Not shaving in the direction of the hair growth
- Pulling skin taut while shaving so hair is removed beneath the skin
- Using multi-blade razors that shave hair closer to/beneath the skin
Can you prevent ingrown hairs?
No matter what type of skin and hair you have, there are a couple of preventive measures you can take to reduce your risk of developing ingrown hairs:
- Exfoliate. Reduce the buildup of dead skin with alpha hydroxy acids. SLMD Glycolic Acid Body Scrub uses chemical and physical exfoliants to slough off dead skin.
- Unclog pores. Keep pores clear of dead skin with products containing beta hydroxy acids. SLMD Skincare Salicylic Acid Body Wash helps unclog pores with maximum-strength BHA, though it’s gentle enough to use everyday.
Dr. Lee’s last word
Ingrown hairs certainly aren’t life threatening — but they can be an annoyance, especially during the warmer months when we’re likely to be shaving more often. Though people with curly, coarse hair are more susceptible to ingrown hairs, they can happen to anyone. I tell patients to make sure they’re exfoliating regularly with alpha and beta hydroxy acids — nothing too grainy or harsh so you don’t damage the skin. Always use proper shaving techniques. When you do get an ingrown hair, do not pick it!
—Dr. Sandra Lee