What do I do about all these ingrown hairs?

Dear Alice,

I have ingrown hair on my arms, legs, and thighs and they never stop coming. Is there a cream 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 them you get. And rest assured, you are not alone — they are very common! Ingrown hairs are caused by removing your hair (typically by shaving, waxing, or plucking with tweezers) and frequently appear on the face, arm pits, pubic area, and legs. But what can be done about these pesky prickles? Read on for ways to get yourself out of this hairy situation.

Most common among individuals with coarse and curly hair, ingrown hairs form when hair follicles curl and then penetrate the skin with the tip of the hair as they grow, causing swelling and redness. Symptoms of ingrown hairs can include small bumps on the skin that can be rounded or pus-filled, inflammation, pain, and darkening or itchy skin. If you notice an ingrown hair, there are a couple of steps you can take to release the hair, such as:

  • Stop shaving, tweezing, or waxing until the condition improves.
  • Wash the affected area using a washcloth or soft-bristled toothbrush using a circular motion for several minutes.
  • Using a sterile needle, insert it under hair loops, to gently lift embedded hair tips.
  • Avoid picking 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.

Adapted from the Mayo Clinic.

Now, on to your question about minimizing and preventing ingrown hairs in the first place. The easiest way to prevent ingrown hairs is to forego your current hair removal process (i.e., shaving, tweezing, or waxing). But, if that is not an option, consider the following:

  • Wash the area with a mild cleanser and warm water before hair removal.
  • If you’re shaving, use a shaving cream to lubricate your skin and soften hair before shaving.
  • When done with hair removal, moisturize with a gentle lotion that will not clog pores.
  • If you typically shave the areas where symptoms occur, shave in the direction of hair growth. Rinse the blade after each stroke.
  • Consider switching hair removal methods to using an electric razor or clippers, chemical hair removal (though this can aggravate the skin), laser hair removal, or a cream to decrease hair growth.

If you’ve exhausted these options with little or no success, it may help to chat with your health care provider or dermatologist. Your health care provider can examine the affected area and provide a treatment plan (which could include medications to help with inflammation, infection, and removal of dead skin cells) based on your skin type and other factors.

Hopefully some of these ideas will make your ingrown hairs a thing of the past!

Last updated Jul 01, 2016
Originally published Apr 22, 2005

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