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Medically reviewed by Brendan Camp, MD
Ingrown hairs, or pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB), occur when a strand of hair curls back or sideways into the skin as it grows. This often happens after hair has been removed by shaving, waxing, or tweezing.
Signs of ingrown hairs include bumps that appear like acne, tenderness, redness, and itching. After healing, ingrown hairs can leave behind keloids (scarring) and areas of hyperpigmentation (skin discoloration).
Ingrown hairs can be treated by stopping shaving, removing the hair follicle, or applying topical medication. Learn more about treatment options for ingrown hairs, as well as prevention tips and when to see a healthcare provider.
What Causes Ingrown Hairs?
Ingrown hairs are caused by an inflammatory reaction, often after shaving or waxing. Hair is more likely to curve back into the skin after it’s been removed if you have dry skin, shave close to the skin, use a blunt razor, use a razor with multiple blades, or use hair removal products with potentially irritating chemicals.
While anyone can develop pseudofolliculitis barbae, the condition is particularly common among people with coarse or curly hair. Black and Asian men often develop ingrown hairs on the beard area of the face and neck. Many women get ingrown hairs in their pubic area.
How to Get Rid of Ingrown Hair
The best way to get rid of ingrown hair is by no longer shaving, tweezing, or waxing. If you can’t stop entirely, try taking a break or limiting the number of times you shave per week. In many cases, ingrown hairs will go away in a few weeks.
You can also try to release the trapped hair at home if you can see the hair shaft just under the skin surface. Apply a warm, wet compress to the area to open your pores and use a sterile needle to release the tip of the strand.
This method will only work if you have one or two ingrown hairs and no other symptoms. If you have more severe symptoms or widespread razor bumps, it’s better to wait for the condition to resolve on its own or reach out to a healthcare provider.
Professional Treatments for Ingrown Hair
Professional treatment for ingrown hair typically involves applying topical medication to the affected area in order to reduce symptoms like inflammation and itching. Examples include:
Steroid creams, such as hydrocortisone
Topical antibiotics/antimicrobials, such as erythromycin or clindamycin
Topical acne medications, such as tretinoin or benzoyl peroxide
Your healthcare provider may also prescribe oral antibiotics to treat infection. In severe cases, you might need chemical peels, photodynamic therapy (light therapy), or laser therapy.
There are also treatments available to help with potential complications of pseudofolliculitis barbae.
For example, to prevent and treat hyperkeratosis (thickening of the skin) as a result of ingrown hairs, your dermatologist or another healthcare provider may recommend topical medications that contain:
Finally, if you develop keloid scarring as a result of pseudofolliculitis barbae, you may need to be treated with:
How to Prevent Ingrown Hair
You may be able to lower your chance of developing ingrown hairs by:
Not pulling or stretching your skin when you shave
Moisturizing your skin regularly with glycolic acid
Switching to another method of removing your hair, such as laser hair removal
Shaving or plucking your hair less often
Using a razor with a sharp blade
Using an electric razor
Shaving with short strokes in the direction of the hair follicle’s growth
Do Ingrown Hairs Go Down on Their Own?
Pseudofolliculitis barbae often goes away on its own, especially if you stop shaving.
Most people notice that their ingrown hairs go away about 4-6 weeks after they stop shaving or waxing. It usually takes about a month for the hair to regrow “correctly,” as well as for the inflammatory symptoms to resolve.
Can You Pop an Ingrown Hair?
It can be tempting to pop an ingrown hair, especially if you can see a pustule around the hair follicle. However, it’s best not to do so.
Popping or scratching the affected area can push the infection deeper into your skin, leading to a secondary skin infection. This could cause scarring, hyperpigmentation, serious health complications and more severe inflammation.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
Pseudofolliculitis barbae doesn’t always require the help of a healthcare provider. If your ingrown hairs bother you or keep coming back, reach out to a board-certified dermatologist to discuss how you can prevent them or treat related symptoms.
Seek medical help right away if you have any signs of a secondary skin infection due to ingrown hairs. Symptoms may include:
Skin that is painful, tender, or hot to the touch
A Quick Review
Ingrown hairs are common among people who shave, especially those with curly hair. The best way to prevent ingrown hairs is to avoid shaving. If that’s not an option, try different shaving techniques to see if they help.
Ingrown hairs typically don’t cause serious complications or health concerns. However, they can affect your quality of life and self-esteem if they keep coming back. Talk to a dermatologist about how to prevent and treat ingrown hairs, and consider alternative methods of hair removal.
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