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How to prevent ingrown hairs, according to the experts

Ditch the three-blade razor if you want to shave like a pro—and do this instead.

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Curology Team
Jan 04, 2023 · 8 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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  3. > How to prevent ingrown hairs, according to the experts

A close, clean shave feels amazing—that is, until the hair begins to grow back and you notice little red bumps forming. You’ve got ingrown hairs. This can happen when hair curls back and grows into the skin. These ingrown hair “bumps” can lead to inflammation and may be painful. At times, they can even become infected. 

Suddenly, that unwanted hair you shaved off doesn’t seem so bad. But don’t worry—here we’ll tell you what you need to know to help you achieve that fresh, clean-shaven look without the ingrown hair. 

To get started, we’ll discuss what ingrown hairs are, what causes them, and the signs and symptoms of this condition. We’ll also include a few tips on what to do if you have them and how to prevent ingrown hairs from happening in the first place.

What is ingrown hair? 

Hair normally grows upward and out of the skin, but sometimes it curls in on itself. Instead of going up and out, an ingrown hair makes a U-turn and grows back into your skin. This can either occur when the hair exits the skin and curls back downward, penetrating the skin a few millimeters away from the follicle (aka extrafollicular penetration), or the hair curls back through the wall of the follicle before exiting the skin (aka transfollicular penetration). This leads to inflammation that can cause painful or itchy papules and pustules. These bumps, once healed, can also leave behind dark spots (aka post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation).¹ The good news is that some of the same medications that treat acne can help alleviate the inflammation caused by ingrown hairs. 

Ingrown hairs can occur after shaving, waxing, tweezing, or other forms of hair removal and more commonly occur with hair that is thick or curly. Signs and symptoms of ingrown hairs include: 

  • A raised red bump (or cluster of bumps) similar in appearance to a pimple with or without pus inside. Sometimes the offending hair is visible inside the bump. 

  • A boil-like sore that’s painful to the touch. This may occur if there is a secondary infection present. 

  • Itching and discomfort are often associated with ingrown hairs. This can be especially true when they occur in crease lines, such as the bikini area.

What causes ingrown hair?

Ingrown hairs are often referred to as razor bumps because they generally occur after shaving, but there are other causes. Sometimes, ingrown hairs can appear without hair removal—tight-fitting clothing along crease lines can push hair inward, for instance. 

Here’s what you need to know about the common causes of ingrown hairs: 

  • Shaving. If you’re like most, you’re striving for a close shave. Modern technology made that possible with multi-blade razors with a lift and cut design. It’s true that the first blade pulls and lifts and the second and third blades cut the hair. When hair grows back, it can become trapped before making it to the surface. The same thing can occur with dull or blunt blades.² You may want to try a single-blade razor instead. Think of it as a barber’s straight-edge razor.

  • Tweezing. Pulling, plucking, picking—it’s still hair removal. Tweezed hair is removed below the surface of the skin. That hair regrows in the same cavity left behind, which might not make it to the surface before curling back and causing an ingrown hair.

  • Waxing. Hair is removed from the root, damaging the hair follicle, the tube, and the root. When the hair follicle tube becomes damaged, it cannot correctly direct new hair growth. 

  • Epilating. An epilator is like an electric shaver with a rotating head of tweezers pulling hair out from the roots. The damaging effect on future hair growth is similar to waxing.

Caucasian skin ingrown hair - How to prevent ingrown hairs, according to the experts

How do you get rid of ingrown hairs?

Ingrown hairs can occur anywhere on your body that has hair. But they’re more likely to occur on areas you remove hair such as the face, neck, scalp, armpits, chest, back, and bikini area. You also might get ingrown hair on the legs. The fortunate thing about bumps associated with ingrown hairs is you can help improve them without picking, poking, or squeezing. 

So, here’s how to get rid of ingrown hair: 

  • Use products with retinoids or salicylic acid. These ingredients are commonly used for the treatment of acne. Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliator, and it can help decrease inflammation. Some retinoids are available without a prescription, but others, like tretinoin, are available by prescription only. Salicylic acid is available over the counter. If you’re using tretinoin, you need to skip waxing and opt for a different kind of hair removal. 

  • Apply topical treatment provided by a dermatology provider (such as your Curology customized formula). This may help in some cases (depending on the ingredients). While it may not completely eliminate the issue, a personalized prescription formula from Curology may contain antibacterial ingredients, such as clindamycin, that may help prevent bumps associated with ingrown hairs from forming.  

  • Pull out the hair with tweezers. Once the hair pokes out above the skin, use tweezers to gently pull it out. Ask your dermatologist or dermatology provider to show you how, especially if it’s your first time.

  • Stop shaving, if only temporarily. This includes any form of hair removal. You want to wait until the ingrown hairs go away, as shaving ingrown hair can irritate the area or lead to an infection. 

  • Apply a warm compress. A warm cloth can help draw out the hair. 

Remember, you don’t want to squeeze or pick the ingrown hair. It could worsen inflammation or lead to an infection. 

How to prevent ingrowns in the first place 

Shaving more often can reduce occurrence because you’re not giving the hair enough time to grow back and curl in on itself.³ Want some more tips about what to do about beard acne, razor bumps, and ingrown hair? We’ve got you covered

Here are some additional tips to help prevent recurring ingrown hairs:

Before you shave 

“Before shaving, wash your skin with warm water and a gentle cleanser,” says Curology provider Elise Griffin, PA-C. “Be sure to keep your razors clean and replace them before they become dull.” Apply shaving cream (avoiding irritating ingredients like alcohol) and allow it to sit for one minute—or more—before you start shaving.

How to shave

Once your shaving cream has soaked into your skin for at least a minute, it’s time to shave. Make sure your razor is sharp and clean. Despite what commercials might tell you, a single-blade razor may help prevent ingrown hairs. Shaving with razors that have multiple blades can be associated with the development of ingrown hairs, and this is usually discouraged.⁴ 

Use long strokes, avoid pulling the skin, and shave in the direction of hair growth. If you continue to experience problems with ingrown hairs, opt for an electric razor.

After shaving

Apply aftershave or a cool washcloth to your skin following a shave to soothe your skin. Opt for an aftershave formulated to reduce razor bumps.⁵ You can also apply a non-comedogenic gel moisturizer to hydrate the skin. 

Alternatives to shaving

If you have sensitive skin or skin that’s prone to ingrown hair, it’s especially important to know how to stop ingrown hair. Alternative hair removal may be a good option. Electrolysis uses a tiny needle to electrically zap and destroy the hair roots one by one. This is intended to prevent further hair growth.

However, this procedure can be expensive and painful, and may need to be repeated. Laser hair removal uses light to target the melanin in the hair follicle. The hair bulb is most affected, and the diameter of the hair shaft is shortened or completely eliminated. Side effects can include pain, redness, or the development of scars.⁶ It is important to consult with a trained professional when considering these procedures.  

Can you get ingrown hairs without shaving?

The most common cause of ingrown hair is shaving or other forms of hair removal, but you can get ingrown hair without shaving. Ingrowns are more common for people of African or Asian descent,⁷ and those with thick curly hair. They can also appear where clothing restricts hair growth–for example, ingrown hair at the bikini line.

Don’t be afraid to ask for medical help

If you’re noticing bumps associated with shaving or ingrown hairs, your Curology provider may be able to help—either by prescribing a facial treatment with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredients, and/or offering skincare advice. Curology treats acne, rosacea, and signs of aging by getting to know your skin. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

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FAQs

What is ingrown hair?

Hair normally grows upward and out of the skin, but sometimes it curls in on itself. Instead of going up and out, an ingrown hair makes a U-turn and grows back into your skin. This leads to inflammation that can cause painful or itchy papules and pustules.

What causes ingrown hair?

Sometimes, ingrown hairs can appear without hair removal—tight-fitting clothing along crease lines can push hair inward, for instance. But some of the most common causes are shaving with multi-blade razors, tweezing and waxing, and epilating (electric shaver).

How do you get rid of ingrown hairs?

Remember, you don’t want to squeeze or pick the ingrown hair. It could worsen inflammation or lead to an infection. Here’s how to get rid of ingrown hair: 

  • Use products with retinoids or salicylic acid (chemical exfoliators)

  • Apply topical treatment provided by a dermatology provider

  • Pull out the hair with tweezers

  • Stop shaving until the ingrown hairs go away

  • Apply a warm compress

How to prevent ingrowns?

Here are some tips to help prevent recurring ingrown hairs:

  • Before shaving, wash your skin with warm water and a gentle cleanser.

  • Be sure to keep your razors clean and replace them before they become dull.

  • Use a single-blade razor to help prevent ingrown hairs.

  • Use long strokes, avoid pulling the skin, and shave in the direction of hair growth.

  • Apply aftershave or a cool washcloth to your skin following a shave.

  • Alternative hair removal such as laser or electrolysis may be a good option.

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• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1.  Ogunbiyi, A. Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment options.Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. (2019). 

  2. Ogunbiyi, A. Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment options. Ibid.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. How to prevent razor bumps. (n.d.). 

  4. Ogunbiyi, A. Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment options. Ibid.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. Razor bump remedies for men with darker skin tones. (n.d.). 

  6. Ogunbiyi, A. Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment options. Ibid.

  7. Ogunbiyi, A. Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment options. Ibid.

Nicole Hangsterfer is a licensed physician assistant at Curology. She obtained her masters in physician assistant studies at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern in Chicago, IL.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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