Causes of ingrown hairs
Anyone can get ingrown hairs, but they tend to be more of a problem in people with coarse or curly hair.
Ingrown hairs can be a particular problem in areas where you may shave, such as:
- the beard area
- pubic area
In these places, the hair that grows back has a sharper edge. These can easily poke back into the skin.
Ingrown hairs look like pimples in the skin. Sometimes you can see the hair trapped beneath the skin. The spots can be filled with pus.
What to do
If possible, you should leave ingrown hairs for a while as they may disappear without you having to do anything. Other things you can do to help with ingrown hairs includes:
- not picking or scratching an ingrown hair as bacteria can enter the small wound created, increasing your risk of infection and can cause scarring
- avoid squeezing the spots because it can damage the skin and lead to infection
- if an ingrown hair is near the surface of your skin, you can use a sterile needle or tweezers to gently tease it out - don't dig for the hair if it lies deep below the skin's surface
- men who are prone to getting ingrown hairs around their face may find it best to grow out their beard- longer hairs aren't as sharp at the ends, so are less likely to become ingrown
If there are lots of pus-filled spots
The hair follicles of ingrown hairs can sometimes become infected and inflamed.
The hair follicles will swell into pus-filled spots. Pus doesn't always mean there's an infection.
Again, mild cases often clear up without treatment. Try not shaving for a few days and see if it gets better. You could also try dabbing a mild antiseptic, such as tea tree oil, on to the affected area.
See your GP if the spots don't improve and are bothering you.
Preventing ingrown hairs
The simplest way to prevent ingrowing hairs is to let your hair grow freely without shaving it.
You may want to try this for a brief period if you need relief from particularly bad spots.
If you don't want to stop shaving, the following shaving tips may help:
- use a sharp, single-bladed razor
- wet your skin with warm water and use a gel
- shave in the direction the hairs are growing
- use as few strokes of the razor as possible
- rinse the razor after every stroke
- try not to shave too closely – leave a bit of stubble if you can, as bacteria can enter the tiny openings of freshly shaved skin
Other hair removal methods may be less likely to result in ingrowing hairs.
For example, instead of shaving your legs, you may want to try depilatory creams, electrolysis or laser removal.
Other possible skin conditions
There are many skin conditions that can easily be mistaken for ingrown hairs. These include:
- keratosis pilaris (’chicken skin’) – a common, harmless condition where the skin becomes rough and bumpy, as if covered in permanent goose pimples
- a cyst or abscess
- impetigo – a highly contagious skin infection that mainly affects children
- heat rash (prickly heat)
- pustular psoriasis
- molluscum contagiosum – a highly contagious viral infection that affects the skin
See your GP if you're unsure.