What to Know About Ingrown Hair

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A man shaves his face in the mirror

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Ingrown hair is a sign of irritation after removing body hair. The recently removed, short hair can get trapped in the skin as the hair grows back. This ingrown hair can cause inflammation that results in bothersome razor bumps.

Ingrown hairs can occur anywhere you remove hair, including the face, armpit, and groin. Ingrown hair most commonly happens around the beard and neck area. In fact, the medical name of ingrown hair, Pseudofolliculitis barbae, references the beard area. 

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to manage ingrown hair—and prevent it from happening in the first place. 

Ingrown Hair Symptoms

Symptoms can start roughly one to two days after you shave or wax. An ingrown hair may look like a small, swollen, raised bump that is the same color as your skin, red, or hyperpigmented (has patches of dark spots). If you look closely, you may be able to see the ingrown hair loop around and re-enter the skin.

At the site of the ingrown hair, you may also experience:

  • Itchiness
  • Scarring
  • Pain
A close-up of ingrown hairs

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What Causes Ingrown Hair?

Removing hair is the impetus for ingrown hair. While shaving is the most common culprit, plucking and waxing body hair can also breed opportunities for ingrown hair.

A hair can become ingrown in two ways: The hair either exits the follicle and curls back into the skin (extrafollicular penetration) or the hair becomes trapped before it can even exit the follicle (transfollicular penetration).

Extrafollicular penetration can occur because shaving produces short hairs that are sharp enough to enter the skin. Transfollicular penetration can occur if you stretch your skin while shaving. 

It’s believed that razors with at least two edges can also lead to transfollicular penetration. As the first blade pulls the hair up, the next blades cut the hair in a way that causes the hair to go back into the skin after shaving.

Risk Factors

People who have naturally curly hair are more at risk for developing ingrown hairs since their hair is already wavy and can easily curve back into the skin after shaving.

Because they tend to have tightly curled hair, people of African descent are more likely to have ingrown hair. The tight curls can more easily curl back into the skin and also can become sharper after shaving because of the curl's angle.

People who are in the military or a police force also frequently develop ingrown hairs since they are often required to shave their facial hair frequently.

How to Get Rid of an Ingrown Hair

The good news is most ingrown hairs will resolve on their own—it just may take some time. 

Wait It Out

The easiest treatment for ingrown hairs is to let them grow out on their own. In order for the hair to remove itself from the skin, the hair needs to become long enough to do so. It can take three to six weeks for the hair to become long enough. Once it’s long enough, the hair will remove itself from the skin, and the swelling and irritation will decrease.

In the meantime, it is best to avoid shaving until your symptoms have improved; it can take anywhere between one to six months for razor bumps to get better.


An ingrown hair can become infected and treatment may require topical or even oral antibiotics. If the ingrown hair is causing significant irritation or pain, you can apply a topical corticosteroid once or twice a day for three to four weeks to reduce the inflammation. If the bump is very inflamed and large in size, a healthcare provider may recommend a corticosteroid injection.

Laser Hair Removal

If you often experience ingrown hairs and are looking for a long-term solution, laser hair removal has proven effective in treating ingrown hairs. Laser hair removal reduces the density and thickness of your hair by destroying specific hair follicles. But this can be an expensive and lengthy process—laser hair removal typically requires multiple treatments.

There are also a few risks associated with laser hair removal, including:

  • Changes in skin pigment
  • Blistering
  • Scarring

Complications of Ingrown Hair

Ingrown hairs can have a few potential complications. The most common complication is lasting hyperpigmentation after the inflammation has gone down. Hyperpigmentation can last for several months or longer after the ingrown hair has improved. If you notice some darker patches of skin, you can apply a topical retinoid which may improve the hyperpigmentation.

Scarring is another potential complication of ingrown hairs. You may develop keloids which are thick, raised scars.

It is also possible to develop a bacterial infection, especially if you are scratching at the ingrown hair. If you notice signs of infection—like pus, worsening pain, or lesions—see a healthcare provider so they can offer proper treatment.

How Can You Prevent Ingrown Hair?

The most effective way to prevent ingrown hairs is to stop shaving. If you allow your hair to grow out fully, there won’t be an opportunity for the hair to become ingrown. 

But for some people, not shaving isn’t an option. This may be due to preference, cultural values, or work requirements. Whatever the reason may be for wanting or needing to shave, there are other ways to prevent ingrown hairs.

Use Electric Clippers or Hair Removal Cream

If you want to continue shaving, you should consider using a razor with a skin guard. Or, you can swap out razors entirely and use electric clippers or hair removal creams instead.

Electric clippers may leave the hair longer than if you were to use a razor. If the hair is longer, it may be less likely to become embedded as an ingrown hair. 

Hair removal creams dissolve the hair and will leave the ends of the hair softer, rather than sharp. But you should wait to use the creams until your skin has fully healed, as it can cause additional irritation. For people with sensitive skin, creams may not be the best option since the products can be harsh on the skin if not used properly.

Apply Shaving Cream

Applying shaving cream five to 10 minutes before shaving can make the hair softer. This may reduce the sharp hair tips that can become embedded as ingrown hairs. Applying a warm compress prior to shaving can provide these benefits as well.

Wash the Area

When you wash your body, be sure to use a cloth, sponge, or shaving brush, and gently wash in a circular motion for a few minutes. This can free any hairs that may be embedded in the skin.

Shave With the Grain

Make sure you are shaving in the direction the hair is growing. Shaving against the grain can increase your chance of developing an ingrown hair since this can cause the sharp tip of the hair to retract into the skin. Try to avoid pulling or stretching the skin as well.

A Quick Review

If you notice an irritating, painful, or swollen bump on your skin after shaving, you likely have an ingrown hair. The easiest treatment for an ingrown hair is to wait it out and let the hair grow long enough so that it can loosen up from the skin. To help recovery, you can also apply a warm compress and take medication as needed for inflammation. If you notice signs of infection or your ingrown hair is irritating you, talk to a healthcare provider about possible further treatment. If you get ingrown hairs frequently, you may want to consider a long-term solution, such as laser hair removal. Or, you can take preventative steps like shaving differently or using a razor with just one blade.

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5 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Merck Manual Professional Version. Pseudofolliculitis barbae.

  3. Ogunbiyi A. Pseudofolliculitis barbae; Current treatment options. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2019;12:241-247. doi:10.2147/CCID.S149250

  4. Nussbaum D, Friedman A. Pseudofolliculitis barbae: A review of current treatment options. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019;18(3):246-250

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