INGROWN HAIR

Ingrown hairs are hairs that have curled round and grown back into the skin. They produce raised red spots, which can sometimes become infected and turn into painful, pus-filled sores. Ingrown hairs can be itchy and embarrassing, but they often go away on their own. Anyone can get ingrown hairs, but they tend to be more of a problem in people with coarse or curly hair.

Ingrown hairs have usually grown out of the skin, curled back round and re-entered the skin. Some curl back into the hair follicle—small cavities in the skin that hairs grow out of—without even exiting the skin.

Ingrown hair can occur when the hair follicle becomes clogged with dead skin cells.

This forces the hair inside it to grow sideways, which is much more likely to happen if the hair is already curly or coarse and it’s recently been shaved.

Ingrown hairs can be a particular problem in the areas where you shave: the beard and scalp area in men, and the legs, armpits and pubic area in women. In these places, the hair that grows back has a sharper edge and can easily poke back into the skin.

Ingrown hairs look like pimples in the skin, and sometimes you can see the hair trapped beneath the skin. The spots can be filled with pus.

Symptoms include:

  • Small, solid, rounded bumps (papules)
  • Small, pus-filled, blister-like lesions (pustules)
  • Skin darkening (hyperpigmentation)
  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Embedded hairs

Occasional ingrown hair isn’t cause for alarm. See your doctor if:

  • Ingrown hairs are a chronic condition. Your doctor can help you manage the condition.
  • You’re a woman with ingrown hairs as a result of excessive unwanted hair growth (hirsutism). Your doctor can determine whether your excess hair is a result of treatable hormonal abnormalities, such as polycystic ovary syndrome.

DIAGNOSIS

Your doctor is likely to diagnose ingrown hairs by looking at your skin and discussing with your hair removal habits.

 

RECOMMENDED MEDICATIONS

To treat ingrown hairs, stop shaving, tweezing or waxing until the condition improves. If that’s not possible, consider laser treatment, which removes the hair at a deeper level and inhibits regrowth.

Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help manage your condition. These include:

  • Drugs that help remove dead skin cells. Retinoids applied to your skin, such as tretinoin (Renova, Retin-A, others), help with clearing dead cells from your skin (exfoliation). This can reduce the thickening and darkening of the skin that often occurs on dark skin prone to ingrown hairs.
  • Creams to reduce inflammation. Your doctor may suggest a steroid cream.
  • Creams or pills to control infection. For mild infections caused by scratching the affected area, your doctor may recommend an antibiotic ointment. For more severe infection, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics.

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