Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention.
This informative article offers some useful tips on how to get rid of ingrown hairs permanently. Ingrown hairs are, as the name implies, hairs that grow into the skin. The main part of your skin contains hair follicles even in places that seem to be smooth. The face, scalp, chest, back, arms and legs are the most common sites. Areas that are shaved or in other ways provoked are more often affected by ingrown hairs (pseudofolliculitis), in addition to inflamed hair follicles (folliculitis).
What are the first signs of an ingrown hair?
Some of the first signs of an ingrown hair are a tingling, itching feeling. Later, you see the swelling and redness; a pustule or papule with a hair located in the center is the visible symptom of an ingrown inflamed hair.
Sometimes you may experience a lot of pus formation, other times it just looks like a rash, but the symptoms from an ingrown hair can vary all depending on how the hair grows into the skin, whether the lesion is infected or not, and if so, how deep-seated the infection is. An infected ingrown hair may or may not involve an infected hair follicle. Sometimes only the surrounding skin is infected, but the infection can spread deep down to the follicle.
Other factors, such as genetics, lifestyle and general health can also have an influence on the symptoms’ severity.
The symptoms the immune system creates when a hair grows into the skin could be mistaken with acne because the symptoms often look similar. These pus-filled bumps and boils often do look like the common white head pimples people with acne suffer from, and they can be very painful.
An ingrown hair cyst can be extremely painful and the ingrown hair can be buried deep under the skin so that it is impossible to extract with a pair of tweezers. Dermatologists may use surgery to remove ingrown hairs that won’t come out because they are trapped under the skin. Surgery always leaves a mark or scar and there is the risk of infection. You don’t want to end up with keloid scars and uneven skin pigmentation, so don’t try to “operate” on yourself.
You may find that your doctor doesn’t have much information on how to get rid of ingrown hairs permanently. Sometimes doctors have problems differentiating between symptoms of acne and ingrown hairs. They might send you to a dermatologist, but even a dermatologist, who should be able to differentiate between acne and ingrown hairs, could have problems identifying your problem. They might do a skin culture test to find out if you suffer from an infection (bacterial or fungal). Maybe your hair follicles are infected.
Compare your symptoms – browse through our gallery to view more pictures of ingrown hairs, razor bumps and folliculitis.
An ingrown hair infection can be divided into two groups, ingrown hair caused by infected follicles, and ingrown hairs that causes a secondary skin infection. Maybe you don’t even suffer from any infection and the pus you see is sterile, produced by your immune system in response to an invader, which is, in this case, your own hair.
Physicians and dermatologists often prescribe antibiotics because they are convinced the symptoms are caused by a skin infection, but that is not always so. It is possible that your skin tissue is afflicted with an infection and you might even suffer from infected hair follicles. However, if you suffer from chronic ingrown hairs and infections, then you should find the real reason as to why you experience these symptoms time after time. Poor health isn’t just bad luck!
You should focus on correcting what went wrong in the first place, instead of just treating the symptoms. Otherwise, you will probably never get rid of ingrown hairs permanently and the unattractive symptoms they cause.
There is a high chance that you suffer from either pseudofolliculitis barbae or “true” folliculitis if you repeatedly suffer from ingrown hairs in your facial hair / beard area or other areas dense in hairs. Read the text about Shaving techniques and skin treatments that prevent ingrown hair.
The severity and characteristics of your symptoms help you differentiate between these two related skin conditions.
Why hair becomes ingrown
There are many causes why hair becomes ingrown. In order to understand how to get rid of ingrown hairs permanently, you need to understand what is causing them in the first place.
The typical causes are:
- tightly curled hair
- dry skin
- bacterial and fungal infections
- shaving too closely
- hair removal such as waxing and tweezing
- friction from clothing
- skin-irritating chemicals
- sebum, dirt, grease, makeup and comedogenic (pore clogging) skincare products
Working at a fast food restaurant, where you are exposed on a daily basis to oily fumes from the deep fryer, is one example. Working with chemicals that end up on your skin (i.e., mechanics) or wearing face camouflage (i.e., soldiers) are other examples of professions or industries that can cause pseudofolliculitis barbae (ingrown hairs in the beard area.) Wearing a tie, or even a helmet with a strap, as people do when playing American football or cycling, may cause ingrown hairs due to the friction and pressure on the skin.
A hair can become ingrown in two different ways. It can either grow straight out from the hair follicle, without any problems, but then curl back piercing into the skin (extrafollicular penetration),
or it can become trapped underneath the skin, growing sideways into the skin without ever reaching the surface (transfollicular penetration). Both situations would provoke the skin and cause a reaction.
Many people have a skin type that easily produces ingrown hairs, and this problem should be addressed. The natural skin renewal process slows down as we grow older, as does the production of natural oil (sebum), but some are more prone to this trend than others due to genetics. The result is that dead skin cells build up on the outer surface of your skin and make it more difficult for your hair to grow normally. Lack of moisture in the skin will also cause problems—not only because dry skin is a direct promoter of ingrown hairs, but also because the skin’s natural defense and healing mechanism will be weakened.
When the ingrown hair is surrounded by attacking cells from the immune system, that hair’s growth is retarded, which does not resolve the problem. In fact, quite the opposite. The increased blood flow and release of chemicals in the affected area may simultaneously stimulate hair growth of surrounding hairs abnormally or in other negative ways affect the hairs.
The retarded growth of the ingrown hair explains why it can be so frustrating to catch those hairs with a pair of tweezers. Sometimes, you may see a black dot (if you have dark facial hair) in the swollen area; it is the top of the ingrown hair, but it simply remains there for days, instead of growing out like a normal hair. Sometimes, it even looks like the ingrown hair is retracting, but that is because the surrounding area is swelling.
You may see multiple thin hairs formed as one hair, or abnormally thick hairs—either white and clear or jet-black in color—with gel-like coating, but not everyone experiences those problems. These abnormal hairs almost resemble thin steel wire or pencil lead and are sometimes so thick that they cannot enter the small holes in the foil of an electric foil shaver, resulting in a very uneven shave.
There are other causes as to why hair becomes ingrown, but the above examples are the ones we typically associate with this condition. You might want to look into a different treatment approach if you have tried everything without any luck, or if you suspect that something else is causing your ingrown hairs. This text will explain more about why hair becomes ingrown, and what you can do to get rid of ingrown hairs once and for all.
How to get rid of ingrown hairs permanently
Before you try to get rid of any ingrown hairs, you need to be sure you don’t suffer from any skin infection, because of the risk of spreading bacteria to other parts of your skin. A dermatologist should be able to diagnose if you suffer from any serious bacteria or yeast infections, and if so, give you the right antibiotic treatment.
You should take a look at the chapter below, Prevention – How to Prevent Ingrown Hairs, if you have suffered from ingrown hairs for a long period of time. If you only have a single ingrown hair, you probably just want to get rid of it quickly. Here is what you can do:
Some people claim that the ingrown hair should not be extracted, but there shouldn’t be any issue with this solution, as long as it is easy to extract the hair with tweezers without damaging the skin. You may cause scarring and infection if you have to dig below the skin to retrieve the ingrown hair, so that is not recommended, although it can be hard to resist.
You can’t always see the hair that causes the problem, but rapid healing occurs if the ingrown hair is extracted with a pair of tweezers.
If you can pull out the ingrown hair without feeling any pain or resistance at all, then it would be a sign of an inflamed hair follicle. Normally you would feel pain when you pull out a hair, especially if that hair is part of your beard (because beard hair is coarser). The reason why you may not feel any pain or resistance when you pull out an ingrown hair is probably because the hair wasn’t attached to the hair follicle. All hairs shed at some time, but some events, such as infection/inflammation, can accelerate or trigger hair shedding. Basically, your body is already trying to expel the hair because your immune system sees it as a foreign matter, which is the same principal as if you got a splinter in your finger. Pus formation is actually a part of this process, and once the hair is extracted, you should see a reduction of pus and other related symptoms such as pain, swelling and discoloration of the skin.
Inflamed follicles are a clear sign of folliculitis, so you should look into this if you often suffer from ingrown hairs with pus formation. You might suffer from pseudofolliculitis barbae if you experience ingrown facial hair, or what most people think is simply acne in the beard area. It is not acne, and this skin condition needs a different treatment approach.
How to remove an ingrown hair:
- First wash your hands and the affected area (i.e. your face, if your problem is an ingrown beard hair), preferably with a cleanser that contains a natural antimicrobial ingredient such as tea tree oil or manuka oil, as you want to reduce the amount of microorganisms on your skin so you don’t contract a skin infection.
- Ingrown hairs that grow sideways into the tissue, underneath the skin surface, are typically more difficult to extract than hairs that curl back into the skin above the surface. If you can see the tip of the hair, then extract the hair with a pair of tweezers (sterilized by alcohol or a flame), without damaging the skin. Do not perform microsurgery on yourself! There is a high risk that you can end up with a skin infection, or even permanent skin discoloration and scars.
- Ingrown hairs that grow back into the skin don’t have to be removed completely, as the tip of the hair is causing the problem, not the base of the hair. Try to pull the tip of the hair out using sterilized tweezers and then cut off the hair. Hair that grows out naturally will have a thin tip like a needle, while a hair that has been cut will have a wider, blunter end. Normally this short, rough stubble is less likely to enter one of the pores in your skin, but in some areas, such as the neck, it can actually be quite the opposite because hair in that area often grows sideways.
- Wash the affected area once again, first with lukewarm water using a small amount of anti-bacterial cleanser, then with cold water to close the pores in your skin. Cold water will also reduce the redness caused by the inflammation. Dab your skin dry with a clean towel.
- Use a light noncomedogenic facecream, preferably lotion. Reapply if your skin feels dry, as it is important that you keep your skin moist and flexible, especially during dry winter months. Remember that dry skin is one of the main reasons why you get ingrown hairs.
The instructions above are, of course, only a way to get rid of ingrown hairs here and now, and it won’t prevent new hairs from re-piercing the skin later on. Once that hair has been shed, a new one will grow out, most likely the same way as the previous one, and may cause a new problem. That is why it is important for you to prevent new hairs from becoming ingrown hairs.
How to prevent ingrown hairs
So how do you prevent ingrown hairs? Good question, because prevention is always better than just treating the symptoms!
It is of course necessary to rule out that your ingrown hairs are not caused by something simple that could be avoided. There are several things that prevent ingrown hairs from ever forming. Here are some advice on how to get rid of ingrown hairs once and for all.
1. Avoid skincare products that cause ingrown hairs
Do you generally use the wrong kind of skincare products? Here are a couple of things you should pay special attention to:
- Does your shaving cream/gel, aftershave product/face cream, makeup (if you use that) contain comedogenic ingredients that clog your pores and block normal hair growth? You need to find the right kind of skincare products, which can be a difficult task because if they are too gentle, they won’t keep your pores unclogged. If it’s too harsh, you can end up with dry, irritated skin, which leads us to the next question…
- Do you use a gentle cleanser? Your skin’s natural acid mantle acts as a barrier to chemicals, bacteria and other microorganisms. A face cleanser that contains alkaline soap, or in other ways is too harsh, will affect the acid mantle in a negative way. Not only will you end up with dry skin, but a weakened skin barrier will leave your skin more vulnerable to several different skin conditions, including folliculitis.
- Avoid aftershaves with alcohol, especially if you already suffer from dry skin, as alcohol will continue to dry the skin. Yes, it will reduce bacteria on your skin, and alcohol is also a good solvent for several water-insoluble active ingredients that can be beneficial for your skin, but alcohol strips your skin of its natural oil (sebum). This thin layer of oil protects your skin and keeps it moist and flexible. If you remove this protective layer, the result is dry, inflexible skin that is known to cause different kind of skin problems, including ingrown hairs. You might think you could just use a moisturizer, and the problem is solved, right? Or maybe not. Do read on…
- There are several skin care ingredients that could irritate or in other ways affect your skin in a negative way. Ultimately, it could trigger an unwanted immune response or provoke your skin so it produces pore-clogging oils. One very popular active ingredient that you find in many expensive skincare products, which actually is a great humectant (promotes retention of moisture), actually has the ability to increase inflammation and other symptoms of folliculitis. You can read more about these problem causing ingredients in our treatment program. The stories behind them are quite complex and need further explanation, which is beyond the scope of this article.
Now, what about the way you shave? It is a highly relevant question if you suffer from ingrown hairs in the beard area or other skin areas that you shave often. Bad shaving techniques are a known trigger of ingrown hair, razor bumps and razor burn. It is also often referred to as a “razor rash” or “shaving acne,” but a dermatologist would probably diagnose you with pseudofolliculitis barbae or simply folliculitis, depending on the symptoms.
Here is a quick checklist on how you can prevent ingrown hairs from shaving (see also the article on how to get rid of razor bumps):
- Shaving habits: Don’t shave against the grain. I bet you have heard that advice several times before! Shaving against the grain will give you a closer shave, and with that comes an increased risk of hairs growing sideways into your skin after they have been trapped underneath the skin surface.
However, it is possible to shave against the grain without any problems whatsoever, but you just have to do it the right way:
A) Avoid dry shaving, and electric shavers with lift-and-cut technology, if you have a tendency towards ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
B) If you use a razor machine (foil shaver) for wet shaving, make sure your shaving cream/gel creates enough glide to avoid friction between the razor machine’s foil guard and your skin.
- Exfoliation: Most advice and “cures” on how to get rid of ingrown hairs rely on exfoliation. Yes, ingrown hairs are less likely to be prevalent if the skin is exfoliated, so dead skin cells, sebum oil and dirt don’t block hair growth, but it isn’t always enough. However, we do recommend exfoliators for getting rid of ingrown hairs because they have the ability to unclog pores and prevent hairs from growing back into the skin. There are two types of exfoliation that will help get rid of ingrown hairs—physical and chemical exfoliation. A skincare product formulated for preventing ingrown hairs usually contains tiny beads or acids, such as fruit acids (AHA). Both types exfoliate, but some exfoliating scrubs contain beads with the wrong texture and may cause tiny tears in your skin. Any damage to your skin will increase the risk of skin infections and you may end up even worse than you were to start with. Not a good solution!
You might want to try something that gets rid of ingrown hairs in a different way. It is a perfect solution for both releasing and preventing ingrown hairs, and it isn’t even expensive and will last for a long time. It is simply the best, inexpensive exfoliator for all skin types. You can learn more about this remedy, including the best physical and chemical exfoliators for different skin types here. It is a program specially designed for people who suffer from ingrown hairs, razor bumps and folliculitis. The program also contains a shaving/topical treatment guide specially designed for those who suffer from pseudofolliculitis barbae and a unique selection of internal remedies for cases of chronic folliculitis. The inexpensive program contains much more information about skin health and on how to get rid of ingrown hairs permanently with home remedies. It comes with a “clear skin or pay nothing” guarantee. If you don’t see a radical change in your condition, we simply don’t want your money. That means there is nothing to lose except, of course, all the ingrown hairs, pus, pain and agony!
- Hair removal: Waxing and tweezing isn’t normally used for removing a large amount of facial hair, such as a whole beard. It is, however, often used on other parts of the body, such as the legs, arms, groin, armpits, chest, back, shoulders, etc. When using this technique, ingrown hairs aren’t uncommon, but they can be avoided. It is important to prevent bacteria and other microorganisms from entering the skin after the hair has been removed. An antimicrobial soap is the obvious choice because it will kill a broad spectrum of bacteria and fungi, but it could also shift the delicate balance between bacteria and yeast, which could result in folliculitis. Natural antimicrobials are preferred because they don’t erase your skin flora completely, but instead retards proliferation. Use before and after you remove hairs. Once the hair grows out again, typically a couple of weeks later, use an exfoliator to prevent the new hairs from being trapped underneath layers of dead skin and blocked pores. Hair growth speed varies greatly depending on several factors, including where the hair is located, gender, age and nutritional status, and even the time of year. Skin itching a couple of weeks after hair removal is one way to know that new hairs are trying to reach the surface of your skin and that it is time to exfoliate your skin. If you don’t, you might get ingrown hairs. Use circular gentle movements going against the direction of hair growth.
You should pay special attention to my shaving advice, if your problem is curly hair causing inflammation because they curl into the skin (extrafollicular penetration), instead of growing straight out of the hair follicle. Others who suffer from ingrown hair will also benefit from such advice, but they may not be needed. People of Hispanic or African origin, and others with tightly curled hair often encounter this problem, so it can be important for them to exfoliate their skin often.
Have you already tried everything?
The cases listed above are easier to treat because the causes are rather obvious, but there are many mysterious cases where ingrown hairs arise with apparently no reason at all. It is important to understand that an overexcited immune system will react quickly and intensely, whether the cause is an ingrown hair or an irritated hair follicle. This is partially why some people experience no problems at all, while others experience one severe breakout of folliculitis after the other.
Removing or reducing the direct cause—e.g., ingrown hairs by exfoliating, etc.—is not a bad idea, but regulating the aberrant immune response is the true key to normalizing a derailed situation. An internal approach corrects that in an effective way and is therefore essential, if you suffer from recurrent folliculitis. You need more than a standard over-the-counter ingrown hair remedy to get rid of a deep-seated ingrown hair infection.
The information here on how to get rid of ingrown hairs may or may not solve your problem. You should definitely try a new approach if you have already paid your doctor and/or dermatologist a visit and been using medications that didn’t solve your problem. If you have also tried to address the above mentioned triggers/aggravators, such as avoiding comedogenic skincare products and shaving too closely, without finding relief, then you are the perfect candidate to the “Folliculitis: A New Approach” program.
We highly recommend you look into the internal treatment approach, which is the core of the program, especially if you have suffered for a long time from ingrown hairs, inflamed follicles or related inflammatory skin conditions – an internal approach is usually needed to be able to achieve a drastic reduction of inflammation and pus formation (see before and after photos). It is not uncommon that all symptoms can disappear completely within a short period of time, sometimes in as little as days or weeks.
The whole area around an ingrown hair is flooded with inflammatory mediators, so it takes very little to reactivate the inflammatory attack of other hairs in that area. That is why most of us experience multiple problems at the same time; one bump or boil results in a cluster. If you follow the “Folliculitis: A New Approach” program, you will notice that this worsening effect no longer occurs, and the cyclical reaction is disrupted.
by Mark Sjöberg.