Why Do I Get Ingrown Hairs? How Do I Prevent Them?

Ingrown hairs - they’re annoying. If you’ve waxed any area of your body you’ve probably had the joy of experiencing at least one in your lifetime.

Anyway, all hairs are designed to grow out, SO sometimes when we pull them out forcibly or even just shave them down to a sharp little stump (often to just below the epidermis) getting an ingrown or two is just part of the process of having them grow back in. 

You see, an ingrown hair is basically just a hair that gets stuck growing on the way out…then it becomes ‘in growing.’ Which yes, feels and looks as weird as it sounds. 

However, they can be prevented (*cough via laser hair removal or IPL cough*) although if you do still like to wax let’s delve a little deeper into the world of ingrown hairs below.

The Symptoms Of An Ingrown Hair

You see, when a hair shaft is shaved or cut it’s going to have a sharp little point or edge to it. Dr John Mahony, Board Member of the Cosmetic Physicians College of Australasia (CPCA) tells me if a hair is naturally curly as well, then that sharp little end can ‘catch’ on the inside of the neck of the follicle as the hair tries to grow back in.

“It will then keep pushing into the skin rather than push out of the end of the follicle,” he says.

“Sometimes the hair will stay so stuck, yet grow so much that it forms a tight ball of hair like a little knot under the skin. Or it might even look as tiny as a splinter. Although the skin surrounding it will often get inflamed and sometimes even infected - as the body reacts to the hair as if it were a foreign body.”

So symptoms of ingrown hairs generally = inflammation. Which can manifest as red, hot, swollen or sore areas (sometimes even with pus) surrounding where a hair might be stuck. 

Although Dr Mahony reassures me that “most ingrown hairs, if not really, badly stuck, will find their way out and all will be well!”

Where Do Ingrown Hairs Most Commonly Grow?

Ingrown hairs generally occur wherever hairs are shaved/waxed, especially curly hairs (although not usually on the scalp).

“When they occur on the face of a shaving man it is called ‘pseudofolliculitis barbae’, but they are probably even more common underarms, in bikini-line areas (where curly hairs get closely shaved/waxed) and lower legs,” Dr Mahony says. 

Are There Any Complications?

Often with ingrown hairs, if the inflammation is minor, the area might feel a bit irritated and could benefit from some simple antiseptic application or ingrown hair cream. However, other ingrown hairs can get quite stuck and slowly worsen – and these are the ones that need intervention.

“Any health or beauty professional competent and confident with a needle (or ingrown hair removal tool) ought to be able to pick out practically any ingrown hair, but occasionally one will be deep and troublesome enough to warrant intervention under local anaesthetic, in which case a GP or cosmetic physician should sort it out for you,” Dr Mahony tells me.

“It would also be quite unusual, but not unheard of, to require antibiotics for ingrown hairs on the body. Men who grow curly beards and who shave their faces might commonly require a course of antibiotics for their pseudofolliculitis barbae,” he adds.

How To Prevent Ingrown Hairs

OK, so the first way to deal with a tendency towards ingrown hairs is to try to avoid shaving/waxing hair as frequently and closely to the skin surface, especially where hairs are curly.

However, it is also 2020 and IMO the more permanent way to deal with this problem is with laser or IPL hair removal. It is the shizzle and honestly, I really have no idea why people would continue to wax when this amazing technology exists today.

You see, laser/IPL hair removal will either eliminate the hair grown altogether, or leave hair growth much finer sparser and even straighter. And you know what? Fine sparse hair is less likely to ‘in grow’. Plus, it also equals way less shaving and irritation. 

“Laser/IPL hair removal also leaves the follicles smaller and more superficial, further reducing a growing risk,” Dr Mahony adds.

“When I started offering laser hair removal 20 years ago it was a very expensive treatment to undertake, but fees today are a small fraction of what they were then. There’s no good reason, in my view, to not deal with ingrown hairs via laser/IPL hair removal.”

And I say Amen to that!