We’ve all had them, those itchy, ingrown hairs after shaving. Some people get them once in a blue moon, for others, it’s a daily problem.
What Are Ingrown Hairs?
Often symptomized by itchy red spots, ingrown hairs are a fairly common if somewhat painful irritation – particularly for those with coarse or curly hair. Where hairs curl around and begin growing back into the skin, they produce raised bumps and spots which in some cases can become infected, becoming painful pus-filled sores.
Hairs can even begin curling back into the follicle before they exit the skin itself; often this happens in cases where a hair follicle has become clogged with dead skin cells.
How to Recognise Ingrown Hairs
In many cases, ingrown hairs will go away by themselves without the need for intervention. As they are painful and occasionally embarrassing however, there are steps which can be taken to prevent and treat them.
Ingrown hairs are a common occurrence in areas where men and women frequently shave; that’s the beard, legs, armpits and pubic area. Re-growing hair comes back with a sharper edge, making it easier for it to pierce the skin.
Ingrown hairs are easy to mistake for a number of skin conditions like acne, eczema, heat rash, and keratosis pilaris. You can tell the difference by spotting the hair itself beneath the surface of the skin.
What to do if You Have Them
Once you’ve spotted an ingrown hair, the best thing to do at first is leave it; it may go away by itself, and picking or scratching at the sore spot may lead to bacteria entering the broken skin – which could result in a painful infection – making the problem even worse.
This can also cause small scarring to occur once the scratched skin and hair follicle itself heals naturally.
The same goes for squeezing, as hard squeezing can also damage the skin.
If you do find that the hair follicles around the ingrown hair become inflamed and filled with pus, then it’s likely you’ve developed folliculitis. Mild forms of folliculitis will also clear up by themselves, often quickly with the aid of over-the-counter antiseptics. If they don’t improve, your best option is to see your GP who may remove the ingrown hair with a sterile needle.
Preventing Ingrown Hairs
If it’s shaving that’s causing the problem, simply avoiding or reducing the frequency of shaves will help prevent ingrown hairs.
It will also allow irritated spots on your skin to calm down, reducing the chances that you’ll develop more. If you’re intent on maintaining your shaving regimen there are a few things you can do to decrease the chances of ingrown hairs developing: use a sharp, single-blade razor; wet-shave; minimise how often you go over the same patch of skin; and rinse your blade often to avoid friction.
Other hair-removal options also diminish ingrown hairs – depilation and laser removal means hairs doesn’t have as sharp an edge, making it harder for them to grow through the skin. Remember, it’s the hair curling back, and piercing the skin that causes the ingrown hair, if you can blunt the hair, then you can reduce the chance of becoming ingrown.
Exfoliating regularly or before shaving, with a wet washcloth or exfoliating scrub will help to pull stubborn hairs free, as well as remove dead skin cells from follicles to prevent blockage. Blocked hair follicles means that it’s harder for the hair to grow out past the skin, and instead winds up growing directly under the skin – simple skin exfoliation can go a long way in helping prevent the inward growth of hairs.
It’s also possible to pry misaligned hairs out yourself with sterile tweezers or needle. Like with scratching, it’s important not to create a wound that can become infected. Also ensure that you don’t totally remove the hair, lest the skin heal over it again.
If chronic ingrown hairs are causing you a lot of problems, with our without shaving, then it could be a genetic or other issue. And if the above interventive measures aren’t working, then you must seek professional medical help.