What Is an Ingrown Hair?
"Ingrown hairs occur when a hair that is shaved, waxed, or tweezed grows backwards or sideways into the skin and becomes trapped, causing inflammation, irritation, and possibly infection. They can also occur without an external cause, like when the pore is blocked," explains Dr. Orentreich.
Why Do I Have an Ingrown Hair?
Certain hair types and ethnicities are predisposed to ingrown hairs, says Orentreich. People with curly hair are particularly susceptible, since their hair naturally wants to curl back in on itself. This is also why many African Americans are exceptionally prone to ingrown hairs tightly coiled hair tends to reenter the skin, and can burrow beneath its surface.
Ingrown Culprit: Shaving
The best prevention for ingrowns is not to remove the hair at all. But since most of us are not likely to go the au naturel route, Orentreich recommends cleansing the skin with an antibacterial cleanser and a rough sponge (we like pairing CosMedix Body Clean with Buf-Puf) when shaving. This will decrease the amount of bacteria on the skin's surface, and the exfoliation will loosen hairs that are growing backwards or sideways. Last, use a new blade each time you shave.
Follow shaving with a product that soothes the skin and kills bacteria, like Shaveworks The Cool Fix.
CosMedix Body Clean, $54; cosmedix.com
Buf-Puf, $4.99; drugstore.com
Shaveworks The Cool Fix, $11; sephora.com
Ingrown Culprit: Tweezing and Threading
If you choose to tweeze or thread, cleanse and exfoliate the area prior to hair removal, as you would when shaving, and make sure the hair is long enough to be grabbed. You may want to think twice, however, about threading or plucking to go fuzz-free. "These methods often cause more ingrown hairs because you do not know to what extent the hair will be pulled out. If you only partially pull out the hair and there are some remnants of the hair left behind, there is a greater chance of it becoming ingrown because often gets caught under the skin as it grows out," says Orentreich.
Ingrown Culprit: Waxing
If you're going the waxing route, do the same prep as you would for shaving. Next, Orentreich says to make sure the wax is heated to the correct temperature to inhibit bacterial growth, and check that the applicator used to apply the wax is new to prevent bacteria, fungus, yeast, or viruses from being passed from one person to another.
Pick the Right Wax
"Use a high-quality wax; otherwise the wax will not fully grab the hair and it will break, leaving hair under the skin," says Barshop. That can cause hair to curl back on itself and get infected.
If you're waxing at home, try Completely Bare Ouchless Wax, or inquire about the wax your salon is using when booking your appointment.
Hair Removal After-Care
Immediately following any hair removal, use a combination of a topical antibiotic like Neosporin and an anti-inflammatory like hydrocortisone to decrease the chance of inflammation or bacterial infection. Twenty-four hours after waxing, apply a product specifically designed to help prevent ingrown hairs, like Shobha's Ingrown Relief Lotion.
To avoid drying the skin, look for treatments that are alcohol-free, like Barc Bump Down.
Neosporin, $5.49; drugstore.com
Hydrocortisone, $9.49; drugstore.com
Shobha's Ingrown Relief Lotion, $22; myshobha.com
Barc Bump Down, $22; shop.getbarc.com
The Scoop on Depilatories
When in doubt, depilatories may be your best hair-removal choice. "Chemical depilatories probably cause the least amount of ingrown hairs when it comes to at-home methods," says Orentreich. "These types of products use thioglycolates, which break the bonds of hair fibers and cause a decrease in hair strength. The result is that the hair can be wiped off easily. Depilatories cannot penetrate deeply into the hair follicle, so they only affect the part of the hair shaft that is exposed to the chemicals above the skin surface."
The Scoop on Laser Hair Removal
Both Orentreich and Barshop highly recommend laser hair removal, given its potential for permanent reduction of hair growth. "Lasers target the melanin within the follicle," explains Orentreich. This means they work best on patients with dark hair and light skin (although they can be used effectively with darker-skinned patients). The downside: It's pricey. Bikini treatments start at $220, and it is recommended that patients set up at least six sessions.
Treat In-Grown Hairs
The days leading up to your wedding should not be filled with DIY skin experiments, like extracting an in-grown hair (inflammation and irritation are all but certain). Instead, make an appointment with your dermatologist, who can make a tiny incision to extricate the ingrown hair.
When the Doc Is Booked
If you can't get to the derm, exfoliate and treat the area with a product containing salicylic acid, like PFB Vanish. Keep an eye on it, though. If the bump grows in size or you have any pain, see your doctor immediately, as this may indicate a cyst or a more serious infection has developed.
Ingrown Hair 911
If you spot an ingrown the morning that you're heading to the beach, try this tip from Barshop: Apply a self-tanner or body bronzer to camouflage any redness or bumps. Our pick: Completely Bare Model Tan applied to dry, exfoliated skin.
One other tip from Barshop: Use a product that reduces hair texture and density like Completely Bare Completely Smooth. Apply twice a day to the areas where you want to reduce hair growth, and within weeks you'll notice less growth and finer hairs.