Ingrown hairs are frustrating. Instead of a smooth shave, ingrown hairs look like skin-colored or pink bumps. Ingrown hairs occur when hair curls back or grows sideways into the skin. While they generally occur after shaving or waxing, they can occur anywhere–even without hair removal. Other causes include tight clothes that rub against the skin or keratosis pilaris. People with curly or course hair are more likely to get ingrown hairs. Unfortunately, ingrown hairs can lead to pseudofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps) and folliculitis, which is inflammation around the hair follicle. The dreaded red bumps.
There are factors that increase your risk of developing razor bumps. Increased pressure or friction during shaving damages the skin where the hair grows out–called the ostia of the hair follicle. You can see your ostia more prominently when you get goose bumps – take a look! With increased pressure from shaving, you can make micro-cuts in your skin, which then increase the tendency for the hair to become ingrown as it grows back.
So how do you prevent and treat these unsightly bumps?
- Exfoliating is essential. Daily and gentle exfoliation can go a long way to prevent and treat these bumps if you already have them. Products with salicylic acid and glycolic acid are effective without being too irritating. Retinols also work well, though they can be irritating for sensitive skin.
- Before shaving, use a soft brush and liquid cleanser in a circular motion to the area being shaved . This will will help to dislodge the tips of ingrown hairs, eliminate dead skin cells and clear follicles to allow hairs to surface unimpeded. A clarisonic or soft bristle brush will work.
- Shaving cream is important because it reduces friction between the blade and skin, prolongs the life of the blade, softens the hair (requiring less pressure to shave it), and produces a better shave. Shaving gels are better at softening the hair than shaving creams, and are advised for people that have razor bumps.
- Use a sharp blade and you won’t need to apply as much pressure. Too much pressure creates an irregular skin surface. When hair is cut closer to the skin and cut cleanly, it’s less likely to grow back into the skin.
1. Draelos ZD. Beard Buster. Best shaving practices reduce occurrence of pseudofolliculitis barbae. Dermatology Times. 2012; 33(8):54