A derm spells out everything you should know about how to remove ingrown hair, and what you can do to prevent future irritation.

By Renee Cherry
July 24, 2019
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Razor bumps, ingrown hairs, the curse of the wax strip–whatever you call them, ingrown hairs suck. And trying to get rid of them can end up leading to more irritation. You don't have to choose between hair removal and bump-free skin, though. With the right strategies, you can prevent future ingrown hairs and even get rid of existing ones. (Related: Why You Keep Getting Ingrown Hairs from Waxing)

So what are ingrown hairs, exactly? When your hair grows in normally, it grows from the follicle through the surface of your skin. If it doesn't grow straight up, it can start to grow into your skin, causing redness and bumps. "Our skin sees the hair shaft as a foreign object and it starts to attack it, and inflammation occurs," Sandy Skotnicki, M.D., author of Beyond Soap, explains. Hair is more likely to grow in at an angle after being plucked or waxed.

Now for some bad news: Ingrown hairs are much easier to prevent than to get rid of. If you catch one early and you can still see the hair easily, you can remove them with tweezers, Dr. Skotnicki says. However, "once the ingrown has been in place for awhile the skin grows over, a hard bump will form." Once that happens, you'll have to wait for the ingrown hair to resolve itself naturally during your skin's renewal cycle, which can take weeks or even months. (Related: What Causes Ingrown Hair: Waxing or Shaving?)

Alternatively, a doctor can make an incision in your skin to remove an ingrown hair, but it isn't typically recommended, especially if you have a lot of them, Dr. Skotnicki says. Instead, your best bet is to switch from waxing or shaving to laser hair removal. "Laser hair reduction can destroy the hair follicle and therefore the ingrown hair," Dr. Skotnicki says. That can also help prevent new ingrown hairs from forming in the future, she adds. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Laser Hair Removal, According to the Professionals Who Do It)

If laser is out of the question, go with shaving over waxing, since waxing tends to be the worst offender when it comes to ingrown hairs, Dr. Skotnicki says. No matter how you remove your hair, exfoliation is key for preventing future ingrown hairs. "After shaving, use gentle mechanical exfoliation, then after a few days, use a product with either an AHA or BHA, which help chemically exfoliate and prevent hairs from getting stuck on the way out of the skin," Dr. Skotnicki suggests.

For mechanical exfoliation:

  • Frank Body Original Coffee Scrub contains coffee, sweet almond oil, and brown sugar, so it smells like Starbucks.
  • If you have a heavy hand with the dry shampoo, consider Ouai Scalp & Body Scrub, a 2-in-1 scrub that, as a bonus, you can also use on your scalp to remove product buildup.
  • Fur Silk Scrub is a mechanical and chemical exfoliant thanks to jojoba beads and lactic and glycolic acids. It's intended to be gentle enough for your pubic area.

For chemical exfoliation:

Moral of the story? You can get rid of ingrown hairs or let them run their course, but in the long run, prevention will be your strongest defense.

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