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Ingrown hair

Ingrown hairs are hairs that have grown out but then curl back into the hair follicle under the skin. This can cause red spots or bumps on the skin, which can get infected and fill with pus.

It is common to have some ingrown hairs. They are not dangerous or a sign of other skin problems, and they usually clear up on their own without treatment.

Hairs most likely to become ingrown are the thicker, coarser ones, like beard hair in men and armpits and the bikini area hair for women.

What causes an ingrown hair?

Shaving can be a cause of ingrown hairs as the cutting action can make the ends of the hairs sharper.

In other cases, a hair follicle can get clogged up with dead skin cells making the hair grow sideways.

Who gets ingrown hairs?

Ingrown hairs can affect anyone, but having curly, thick or coarse hair can increase the chances of them developing.

Ingrown hairs are also known to affect the buttocks of some cyclists, and also male cyclists' legs if they chose to shave them often to try to be more aerodynamic as a 'marginal gain'.

Symptoms and signs of an ingrown hair

Symptoms on and around an ingrown hair include:

  • Lump or bump on the skin
  • Itching
  • Tenderness
  • Inflammation
  • Acne-like spot, pustule or (rarely) an abscess.

Is it an ingrown hair?

Sometimes ingrown hairs can be mistaken for other skin conditions and infections, including:

Seek medical advice if you are not sure.

How is an ingrown hair diagnosed?

Ingrown hair diagnosis will be based on the symptoms and examining the skin.

Additional tests may be arranged if an infection is suspected.

Are ingrown hairs the same as razor bumps?

Razor bumps, also known as pseudofolliculitis barbae, are a specific type of ingrown hair causing small red bumps after shaving the beard area.

Treatment for ingrown hair

Firstly, resist the urge to scratch, pick or squeeze an ingrown hair spot. This can damage the skin and make infection more likely.

If the hair is near the surface, it may be possible to pull it out with sterilised tweezers. However, don't use the tweezers to dig around under the skin for the hair.

Preventing ingrown hair

It is not always possible to stop getting ingrown hairs, but steps to help prevent them include:

Better blade shaving techniques, with a sharp razor and the skin wetted with warm water and shaving gel. Rinse the razor between strokes, and try to use as few strokes as you can.

Leave some stubble if possible when shaving.

Instead of shaving legs, consider other hair removal methods, such as creams, laser treatment or electrolysis.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 19, 2016

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