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Why You Keep Getting Ingrown Hairs from Waxing

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Photo: Shutterstock/Mariana Aabb

I think I'm getting scammed by Brazilian waxes. I'm a former shaver, but I didn't truly understand the pain of ingrown hairs until I regularly started getting Brazilian waxes two years ago.

Razor burn is what convinced me to try waxing in the first place. I went into my first Brazilian appointment expecting to come out hairless, smooth, and care-free. Well, I was for a little while, but then I started getting ingrown hairs after every wax. In reality, my ingrown hairs stress me out more than pain from the actual wax. (Related: 7 Pro Tips for DIY Bikini Waxing)

There are a few reasons why ingrown hairs happen. Uni K Wax founder Noemi Grupenmager says that wax made with irritating chemicals, using hard wax that's too hot, and poor waxing technique are all common causes of pesky ingrown hairs. Oh, and wearing tight clothing on the reg.

"A bad technique is when the waxer cuts the hair at skin level instead of removing it from the root, which might make a person more likely to have ingrown hairs," she explains. 

All of my waxing appointments start off with my waxer asking if I exfoliate. I try to convince her that I do (sometimes twice a day), but I honestly don't think she ever believes me. Seriously, I'm considering storing a photo on my iPhone of all of the scrubs and exfoliating gloves I have in my shower just to prove it to her. (Related: This Is the One Product I Use to Get Rid of Razor Bumps)

For the record, yes, I do exfoliate between waxes and even use skin-care products specifically formulated for preventing and treating ingrown hairs. Despite all of the effort I put into my between-waxing skin-care routine, I still get those painful, huge, bumpy ingrown hairs. (Related: How a Brazilian Wax Made Me Physically Ill)

So, why does my bikini area look like a stucco wall in one of the bad New York apartments I've considered renting? I turned to board-certified dermatologist Melanie Palm, M.D. to get an answer. 

First, she confirms how important it is to regularly exfoliate between wax appointments. "Using a mild exfoliant between appointments is the most effective way to prevent ingrowns from occurring," she explains. "Using a topical wash, gel, lotion, or solution containing glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid is best."

So what if you still get ingrown hairs even if you do prioritize exfoliation? Genetics might be to blame. "You may be perfectly following the exfoliating steps of your wax studio, but ingrown hairs are much more likely with coarse, curly hair," she explains. "Straight hair is much less likely to take a deep dive back into the skin, but those with curlier textured hair are at greater risk of bumps along the bikini line.” (Related: All-Natural Wax Formulas That Make Getting a Brazilian Less Painful)

Sometimes, though, what you think is an ingrown hair is actually a more serious issue like folliculitis, staph infections, or even a recurrent cyst. Dr. Palm says that folliculitis or a staph infection can be treated with benzoyl peroxide, but more serious cases need a prescribed antibiotic or culture at a doctor's office. Cysts, she says, need topical and oral prescription treatment. 

Ok, so how can I do some quick damage control to get rid of the ingrown hair that's rubbing against the seam of my underwear right now? The reality is that the only way to really get rid of an ingrown hair is to remove permanently via laser hair removal. However, Dr. Palm says that you can reduce the inflammation by using a topical chemical exfoliator like salicylic acid, which can help speed up the skin's renewal cycle and "unhoof the ingrown hair." (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Laser Hair Removal

"More inflamed cases may require injection of dilute steroid by your physician, or a short course of an oral antibiotic in the tetracycline family to reduce inflammation, not to fight an infection," she explains. 

Alright, I might be hair-free, but unless I'm willing to shell out some serious coin for laser hair removal, my bikini line might never be 100 percent smooth. But, guess what? I'm still going to buy that viral Amazon high-cut swimsuit anyway. 

This story originally appeared on InStyle.com by Erin Lukas. 

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