Better Me

How to Prevent and Treat Painful Ingrown Hairs

If you shave the hair from any part of your body, you’re at risk for ingrown hairs. That’s because shaving cuts hair at an angle and the sharp edge from that cut can penetrate the skin as your hair grows back in.

Ingrown hairs are most common with curly, coarse hair. That’s because those hairs grow out in a spiral, so they are more likely to push back into the skin, explained Delaney B. Stratton, a dermatology nurse practitioner with Banner – University Medicine Dermatology Clinic in Tucson, AZ. However, anyone who shaves can develop ingrown hairs, and they can crop up in any area you shave. But they are most common in the beard area of men and in men with dark skin.

With an ingrown hair, you might notice symptoms such as swelling, whiteheads and tenderness.

How you can avoid ingrown hairs

Stratton says the best way to prevent ingrown hairs is to practice good shaving methods. Here’s the technique she recommends:

  1. Wash the area with non-abrasive acne soap and a rough washcloth. If you already have ingrown hairs, massage the area gently with the washcloth or a soft toothbrush.
  2. Rinse the area with water.
  3. Massage the area with your shaving cream of choice, using a moderate amount of lather. Avoid shaving on dry areas—reapply lather as often as you need to.
  4. Use a sharp razor and shave with the grain of the hair using short, even strokes. Do not pull your skin taut and try to avoid shaving over the same area twice.
  5. When you’re finished shaving, rinse the area with water and apply a soothing aftershave. If you have burning or itching, you can use a topical corticosteroid cream such as over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream.

Laser hair removal can also help prevent ingrown hairs. With this method, you remove the hairs that could potentially grow back into your skin.

How you can treat ingrown hairs

If you develop ingrown hairs, Delaney recommends applying warm water compresses for 10 minutes, three times a day. “These compresses can help soothe irritated spots, remove any crust and reduce drainage,” she said. They also soften the top layer of the skin to help release the ingrown hairs.

After you finish the warm water compress, you can apply a topical treatment to the area. Delaney suggests:

  • Prescribed antibiotics such as clindamycin
  • Over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Tretinoin
  • Alpha hydroxy acid

It’s crucial to treat your ingrown hairs to reduce the risk of contracting a bacterial infection. If you have longstanding ingrown hairs, you could also develop darkening of the skin and thickened scarring.

The bottom line

It’s important to prevent and treat ingrown hairs to avoid infection or long-term skin damage. If you’re struggling with ingrown hairs, talk to your dermatologist or connect with a Banner Health expert who can help you get them under control.

Check out these articles to learn more about shaving and skincare:


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