What do I do about all these ingrown hairs?

Originally Published: April 22, 2005 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 18, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I have ingrown hair on my arms, legs, and thighs and they never stop coming. Is there a creme or lotion that I could use to minimize the numbers of ingrown hairs?

Mr. Ingrown

Dear Mr. Ingrown,

Ingrown hairs can certainly be annoying (and sometimes painful!), but there are definitely some steps you can take to minimize the number of ingrown hairs you get. Most common among individuals with coarse and curly hair, ingrown hairs appear when hair follicles curl and then penetrate the skin with the tip of the hair as they grow, causing swelling and redness. Inflammation and pus formation are the most common symptoms of ingrown hairs.  

The following methods may help to minimize ingrown hairs:

  • Exfoliate the skin with the use of a clean loofah, washcloth, or scrub while showering or bathing.
  • Moisturize with a gentle lotion that will not clog pores (look for the word "noncomedogenic" on the label).
  • Use over-the-counter skin treatments that contain salicylic acid, which helps to slough off old skin.
  • If you typically shave the areas where symptoms occur, try using shaving cream with a single blade razor and shave in the direction of hair growth. Follow up with moisturizer afterward. If this doesn’t work, you might consider switching to depilatories (hair removal creams or lotions) or waxing to see if these options result in fewer ingrown hairs.
  • Do not pick at ingrown hairs, and treat open or exposed hair follicles by washing affected areas with gentle soap, patting the area dry, and applying a thin layer of antibiotic ointment.

If you’ve exhausted these at-home methods with little or no success, try making an appointment with your health care provider or dermatologist. Your health care provider can examine the affected area and provide a treatment plan based on your skin type and other factors.

If you’re a student at Columbia and you want to make an appointment with a doctor, you can contact Medical Services on the Morningside campus via Open Communicator. Medical Center students can call Student Health at 212-305-3400 for appointments and more information.

Good luck!

Alice