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What Causes Ingrown Hair: Waxing or Shaving?

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To know exactly when I had my last bikini wax, I'd have to check my calendar—my leather-bound calendar, where I used to write my appointments in ink. It's been that long.

But there are two things I remember vividly: First, the searing pain that kept me from doing that again. (I subsequently lasered off anything that would poke out of a swimsuit.) Secondly, the guilt inflicted upon me by the waxer for having shaved between appointments. "Shaving causes ingrowns!" she reprimanded. (Related: 7 Laser Hair Removal Questions, Answered.) Apparently nothing much has changed, since my younger Shape colleagues tell me that professional wax wielders haven't let up on their tsk-tsking of at-home groomers.

But does shaving really encourage ingrowns? I asked someone who would know: Kristina Vanoosthuyze, global shave care scientific communications manager for Gillette Venus, who explained that it's not really a shaving vs. waxing issue but largely a genetic one: "Hair grows in a hair follicle, a little tube that opens up at the surface of the skin. For some people, that follicle wall is weaker, and the hair pierces the wall before it reaches the exit." Ta-da: ingrowns! The other ingrown path is through the exit and back in through the skin, which happens more in the bikini area because the hair there grows at a fairly flat angle against the skin. (Mind blown? Here are 4 Waxing Myths to Stop Believing.)

To minimize ingrowns, Vanoosthuyze suggests:

  1. Wash the bikini area with warm water before shaving to gently loosen trapped hairs.
  2. Use a sharp blade, so less force is required to cut the hair and less stress is put on the follicle.
  3. Moisturize after shaving to reduce follicle-disrupting friction from your underwear.

Thinking of doing a bikini wax at home? Try these 7 Pro Tips for DIY Bikini Waxing. And if you can't bear the pain, we've got you covered with tricks to avoid razor burn when shaving.

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