Ingrown hairs seem pretty self-explanatory — so why do we so often mistake them for random body bumps and blemishes? And when we do properly identify ingrowns, too often we take completely inappropriate measures to eradicate them.
Don’t even get us started on the picking, the squeezing, and the popping — oh my. It’s time for an ingrown intervention: read on as we separate fact from fiction with Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper).
What exactly is an ingrown hair?
Our skin is covered in pores, each containing a tiny hair follicle (fun fact: except for your palms and the soles of your feet). Sometimes, instead of properly emerging from the pore, a hair defiantly turns inward and grows directly into the adjacent skin. This causes a bump that can become inflamed and infected, resembling a blemish.
Oftentimes, ingrown hairs work their way to the surface, though they can (as Dr. Pimple Popper fans know well) become large cysts that need medical attention. So how can we prevent ingrown hairs, and is it ever safe to squeeze? Here’s the truth about treating ingrown hairs.
MYTH: Only hair removal creates ingrowns.
TRUTH: Any hair can turn into an ingrown as it emerges, if the pore becomes blocked by sebum and dead skin cells. Sometimes, it can be tricky to tell the difference between a blemish and an ingrown hair, but our advice is the same: leave it alone unless it doesn’t resolve in a week or so.
MYTH: Fine hair can’t become ingrown.
TRUTH: Coarse or curly hair is more likely to grow inward. This is because hair that’s coarse has a better chance of penetrating the skin, and curly hair can, well, curl back toward the skin as it emerges. But the fact is, any texture of hair can become an ingrown.
MYTH: Loofahs and DIY scrubs help prevent ingrowns.
TRUTH: Harsh scrubs can cause micro tears and spread bacteria, which can lead to infection. This is known as folliculitis, which can be either bacterial or fungal in nature. That’s why it’s commonly referred to on social media as fungal blemishes.
Gentle exfoliation is better for managing ingrown hairs — so opt for self-dissolving granules or chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid instead. Try: SLMD Glycolic Acid Body Scrub, which contains gentle exfoliating granules, plus glycolic acid to tackle rough, bumpy body skin. Salicylic Acid Body Wash helps address both ingrowns and body blemishes alike.
MYTH: Multi-blade razors prevent ingrowns.
TRUTH: This is one of the more common misconceptions, because we tend to equate a close shave with smoother skin. But actually, they encourage ingrowns because they cut hair off below the skin’s surface — giving the hair extra opportunity to penetrate the skin as it grows back out. Opt for single blades instead, and change often to prevent bacteria buildup.
MYTH: Alcohol-based toners treat ingrowns.
TRUTH: This is another pervasive falsehood that’s deeply rooted in conventional wisdom. We tend to believe that the telltale burn of certain popular astringents must mean they’re working. But harsh alcohol just irritates skin, so instead choose chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid to help remove pore-clogging dead cells.
MYTH: You should never remove ingrown hairs.
TRUTH: There is a right way and a wrong way to remove ingrown hairs. First and foremost: don’t go digging. Start by applying a warm compress to try to bring the hair close enough to the surface to remove with sterilised tweezers. If you don’t have luck the first time, wait a day and try again. Contact your doctor if the problem doesn’t resolve on its own in a week or two — especially if it becomes very large, painful, or inflamed.
Dr. Lee’s last word
Body bumps — whether it’s blemishes, keratosis pilaris, or ingrown hairs — can be challenging to manage. For ingrown hairs especially, one of my favourite dermatological ingredients is glycolic acid, which is an excellent exfoliant that breaks down the keratin bonds that cause dead skin cell buildup. When you use it regularly, it can help minimise ingrown hairs. Remember, it can be so tempting to pick at an ingrown hair (just take a quick look at social media!), but don’t do it, unless it’s right at the surface and you use sterilised tools.
—Dr. Sandra Lee