What are ingrown hairs, other than painful, unsightly nuisances? In essence, an ingrown hair is a hair that started growing outward (like hair normally would), but then curled under itself and began to grow inward, underneath the top layer of your skin. This inward growth creates a little bump that might look like a pimple in an area that usually doesn’t break out, like your bikini line or calf.
Individuals with curly hair are especially prone to ingrown hairs since the nature of curly hair lends itself to growing in directions that aren’t linear. But anyone can develop them, thanks to common practices like sweating, natural oil secretion, and hair removal. They can occur anywhere, but especially in hair-removal hot spots like around your eyebrows, underarms, or bikini line. Regardless of how and why you got them, here’s your guide to getting rid of ingrown hairs for good.
1. Use Acid
The cure for ingrown hairs is exfoliation. There are a few ways you can exfoliate, but exfoliation via acids (like glycolic, salicylic, and lactic) is the easiest and fastest route. Acids in topical products loosen the outermost layer of skin cells and work to both prevent and treat ingrown hairs at the same time.
What formula to use depends on what body area you want to address: presoaked swipe pads with some physical exfoliation work great for the bikini area, a spreadable lotion formula is great for larger surface areas like legs and arms, and something with a thinner consistency may work better for the more sensitive skin on the face. No matter where you apply the acid, it’s important to follow up with sunscreen, as acids make your skin more vulnerable to sun damage.
2. Get Physical
Dry-brushing — where you vigorously brush your body with stiff bristles — does a lot more than make self-tanner last longer and stimulate the lymphatic systems of supermodels. This form of physical exfoliation prevents ingrown hairs from forming, since you’re constantly moving hair out of the way and releasing tucked-under ingrown hairs.
Because dry-brushing is a harsher way to exfoliate, limit yourself to weekly body treatments. If you want a toned-down experience, a dampened exfoliating mitt can give your body a thorough, albeit less-intense sweeping. If your skin is very sensitive or prone to redness, however, you might want to skip all of this entirely.
3. Add a Smoothing Scrub
Scrubs are less intense than dry-brushing, and a good alternative to help alleviate ingrowns around your bikini line and body (they are still too harsh for your face). Use a sugar or salt scrub that’s not too oily — too much oil runs the risk of clogging pores, encouraging more ingrown hairs to develop. If you want to cover more bases, look for a finer textured scrub that has those aforementioned exfoliating acids in its formula. Scrub one to two times a week if you want to get rid of ingrown hairs for good.
4. Stop Shaving
Shaving isn’t bad per se — after all, it is another form of physical exfoliation — but the way hair grows back after a shave can lead to problems. A razor cuts hair at a sharp angle, and as the shaved hair regrows, it’s more likely to grow as an ingrown hair because of its sharp, precise tip.
Waxing is one way to weaken new hair growth and thus prevent ingrowns. If waxing sounds too painful, try depilatory creams, or an electric device for hair removal without the scent, waiting time, deep-breathing, and cleanup.
5. Lighten Up Your Lotion
All of this exfoliation means nothing if you plan to top your skin with thick, heavy moisturizers. Heavy creams can sabotage all your exfoliation efforts, and thick oils can also clog pores and exacerbate any ingrown hair problem. Stick to lightweight, breathable formulas that keep your skin moisturized, but not suffocated.
6. See a Professional
There are a lot of DIY tips on how to pluck an ingrown hair, and as harmless as this advice may seem, it’s much better to visit your dermatologist instead. Ingrown hair plucking is not normal plucking — you will have to create a small incision on your skin to grab the trapped hair. Will you get an infection? Well, that depends on a lot of factors, including the cleanliness of your tweezer and whether you disinfect and closely monitor the area you plucked. Overall, it’s not worth it. Go to the doctor and save yourself the headache.
This article was originally published June 18, 2018, and has been updated throughout. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.