What is an ingrown hair?
An ingrown hair is a strand of hair that grows back into your skin after shaving, tweezing or waxing. They may be painful or itchy, and they commonly appear around your face, legs, armpits and pubic area.
Ingrown hairs are sometimes called razor bumps, shave bumps or barber bumps.
Who does ingrown hair affect?
Ingrown hair is very common. Anyone who shaves, tweezes or waxes their hair can develop ingrown hairs. If you shave often, you’re more likely to have ingrown hairs.
You’re also more likely to have ingrown hair if you have skin of color or thick, coarse or curly hair.
How does ingrown hair affect my body?
The beard area of your face (neck, cheeks and chin), legs, armpits and pubic area (bikini line and inner thigh) are most likely to develop ingrown hairs. However, they may also appear on other parts of your body, including your scalp, chest, back, abdomen, inside of your nose (nostril), eyebrows and buttocks (butt).
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of ingrown hair?
The symptoms of ingrown hair include:
- Skin irritation.
- Small bumps with hairs in the middle on your face and neck (papule).
- Discoloration (red, brown or purple).
If an ingrown hair becomes infected, you may notice the bumps getting bigger and more painful. Pustules occur when there’s pus around the follicles. This infection can lead to scarring.
What causes ingrown hair?
Removing hair by shaving, waxing or tweezing can cause ingrown hairs. New hairs grow from hair follicles under your skin. Shaving, waxing and tweezing only remove hair strands — they don’t remove hair follicles.
When new hair grows, it may curl back and enter your skin. This more commonly occurs if your hair is thick, curly or coarse.
Is ingrown hair contagious?
No, ingrown hair isn’t contagious.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is ingrown hair diagnosed?
Ingrown hairs are easy to recognize, so you don’t necessarily need a healthcare provider to diagnose them. However, your healthcare provider can confirm them during a physical exam. They’ll note your appearance and symptoms, and they may ask questions about your skin and skin care routine, including:
- When did you first start noticing symptoms?
- Do you have ingrown hair bumps all the time, or do they go away and come back?
- Do you shave, wax or tweeze your hair?
- How often do you shave?
- What type of razor do you use to shave?
- How often do you wax or tweeze?
- How do you prepare your skin before you remove your hair?
Management and Treatment
How are ingrown hairs treated?
There are several ways to treat ingrown hairs at home, including:
- Stop shaving and allow the hair to grow.
- Use an electric shaver. Hold it just above the surface of your skin.
- Use depilatory products to remove hair without shaving. Depilatory products dissolve the protein structures of your hair.
- Apply warm compresses to your affected skin for 10 to 15 minutes to open your pores and make it easier for ingrown hairs to release.
If your symptoms don’t improve, your healthcare provider may need to prescribe medications that decrease inflammation and improve infections.
In rare cases, your healthcare provider may use a sterile surgical knife with a thin blade (scalpel) to make a small cut in your affected areas. They’ll squeeze out any pus and use sterile tweezers to remove the ingrown hair.
To prevent scarring or infection, don’t pick at, scratch or pop your ingrown hairs.
How do you remove an ingrown hair?
To remove an ingrown hair, gently exfoliate your skin. Exfoliating your skin removes a dead layer of skin cells and helps release ingrown hairs. Use warm — not hot — water and small, circular motions to wash your affected areas with a washcloth, exfoliating brush or exfoliating gel or scrub.
You can also remove an ingrown hair that has looped or curled back into your skin by gently pulling it out with a sterile needle, pin or tweezers. Apply rubbing alcohol to your surrounding skin to prevent an infection. Then, carefully thread the sterile needle, pin or tweezers through the exposed hair loop. Gently lift the hair loop until one end releases from your skin.
What will happen if an ingrown hair goes untreated?
In most cases, ingrown hairs usually heal themselves within one to two weeks with only minor irritation, as they eventually release from your skin as they grow longer. Infections can develop around the ingrown hair, causing pus formation, discoloration and pain, though. If you see signs of infection, you should visit your healthcare provider.
What medications are used to treat ingrown hair?
Your healthcare provider may provide medications that can decrease inflammation and improve infections from ingrown hairs, including:
- Antibiotic ointment or pills.
- Prescription acne medications, like retinoids, to help remove dead skin.
- Steroid pills or creams help reduce inflammation.
For more serious cases, your healthcare provider may recommend other hair removal options, including:
- Electrolysis. This technique uses a tiny needle and a mild electrical zap to destroy your hair roots one by one. Each hair follicle requires treatment, so it may not be practical to use electrolysis over a large area of your body.
- Laser hair removal. In this technique, heat from a laser destroys cells that have a lot of pigment (color). This works best on dark hair.
How soon after treatment will I feel better?
Most ingrown hairs will go away on their own without treatment after a few days; though, severe cases may take several weeks.
Medications may take a few days to see results. The results of electrolysis and laser hair removal are immediate.
How can I prevent ingrown hair?
The best way to prevent ingrown hairs is to use proper hair removal techniques, including:
- Before shaving any area of your body, thoroughly wet your skin and hair with warm water.
- Apply a shaving gel or cream to your skin.
- Use a single-blade razor.
- Shave in the direction your hair grows naturally.
- Rinse the razor blade after every stroke.
- Change the razor blade (or replace a disposable razor) frequently to prevent skin irritation and cuts.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
If your ingrown hairs aren’t going away with at-home treatments and a good skincare routine, or if you’re ingrown hairs become infected, call your healthcare provider.
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
- How can you tell that I have an ingrown hair?
- What at-home treatments do you recommend?
- What over-the-counter medications do you recommend?
- Is there a cream or ointment that you can prescribe?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Ingrown hairs are a common skin condition. They may appear anywhere hair grows on your body, but they commonly appear in places where you shave, tweeze or wax, especially your face, legs, armpits and pubic area. A good skin care routine helps prevent ingrown hairs from forming, while at-home treatments can help release the hair from underneath your skin and provide relief. Contact your healthcare provider if you notice any signs of infection.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy