Ingrown hair is a benign condition in which a hair grows sideways into the skin. Ingrown hair usually appears as a small tan or pink bump on the skin.
Ingrown hair usually occurs due to wrong shaving technique, although it can occur naturally also. Cutting the hairs very short increases the risk of hair growing sideways and piercing the skin, which results in an ingrown hair. Ingrown hair can occur in clusters in a particular region if that area has been improperly shaved.
Ingrown hair usually occurs only after puberty. They are more common in areas with coarse hairs (pubic region, face, armpit, etc.). African Americans are more likely to develop ingrown hair because they have relatively thicker and coarser hairs.
Symptoms of Ingrown Hairs
Pink bump on the skin accompanied by pain, itching and tenderness at the site of the bump is the most common presentation of ingrown hair. The tip of the ingrown hair may or may not be visible in the bump. Moreover, ingrown hair might be cosmetically unpleasing if present on face.
Complications of Ingrown Hairs
Usually ingrown hair is a benign condition that is totally innocuous. However, rarely some cosmetically unpleasing complications like scarring and skin darkening may occur.
Severe complications like skin infection (e.g. pustules) and keloid formation are relatively rare.
Treatment of Ingrown Hairs
Ingrown hair sometimes heals on its own without any treatment. However, treatment is often needed if ingrown hair fails to heal on its own. Various treatment methods available are:
- Laser Hair Removal: Permanently destroys the hair follicles and also prevents future growth of ingrown hair. It is more efficient and effective than electrolysis.
- Electrolysis: Permanently removes hair by destroying hair follicles. Less efficient than laser therapy.
- Incision and Removal of Hair
- Chemical Depilatories: Nair, Veet, etc. are chemical depilatories containing calcium thioglycolate or potassium thioglycolate. They should not be used on the face. They can irritate the skin if used too often or left on skin for too long.
- Supportive Treatment to Prevent Scarring and Hyperpigmentation: (1) Fading Creams like Hydroquinone 4% etc. are used to reduce the skin discolorations caused by an ingrown hair. (2) Tretinoin Cream is used to reduce hyperkeratosis (thickening of stratum corneum layer of the skin). (3) Hydrocortisone Cream is used to reduce inflammation caused by ingrown hairs. It prevents scarring. It can also be used after the use of chemical depilatories. (4) Antibiotics (Topical Cream or Oral) may be needed if infection is suspected. Ingrown hair may get secondarily infected forming pustules or abscesses. Commonly used topical antibiotics are benzoyl peroxide, erythromycin, and clindamycin.
Usually a combination of the above listed treatments is necessary to obtain the best results.
Prevention of Ingrown Hairs
Best method to prevent ingrown hairs is not to shave or wax. Using only trimmers and leaving a few millimeters stubble after trimming is as an alternative to shaving and waxing. However, if one must shave, then certain measures can reduce the chances of developing an ingrown hair. These measures are:
- Prior to shaving, the skin and the hair should be properly hydrated.
- Only shave in the direction of hair growth. Shaving "against the grain" increases the likelihood of developing ingrown hair.
- If using electric razors for shaving, avoid touching the skin with the head of electric razor and shave slowly and gently.
- Daily washing the affected area using a washcloth or a toothbrush with soft bristles. This procedure can also be done before shaving to make skin and hairs softer.
- You can attempt to release the ingrown hairs by using a sterile needle and gently dislodging it. Make sure to clean the area with 70% alcohol solution first.