An ingrown hair occurs when a shaved or tweezed hair grows back into the skin, and causes inflammation and irritation, according to the Mayo Clinic. Curly hairs often become ingrown, especially after shaving, when they loop around and get lodged back inside the hair follicle. Many people refer to ingrown hairs as razor bumps while doctors refer to the condition as pseudofolliculitis barbae.
An ingrown hair can occur in anyone and on any part of the body that has hair. Some people are, however, more at risk for developing ingrown hairs than others. People with dermatitis, diabetes, and a compromised immune system, such as those with AIDS and leukemia, are more at risk for problems with ingrown hairs. Athletes and people who live or work in hot and humid climates are also at risk. Obesity increases the risk of developing ingrown hairs, as does the use of topical steroid creams.
According to Joely Kaufman, M.D., the simplest way to eliminate ingrown hairs is to stop shaving or avoid shaving every day. When this is not feasible, shave with either an electric or single blade razor. The Skin Care Company recommends keeping the razor blade sharp by changing it at least once a week. Wash the area to be shaved in warm water prior to shaving in order to soften the hairs. Shave in the same direction that the hair grows in and avoid shaving the same area more than once. Rinse the razor frequently while shaving. When finished shaving, apply a mild lotion to the area rather than cologne or aftershave. HealthHype.com further suggests wearing loose clothing and never sharing razors or towels.
Over-the-counter Treatment Options
Ingrown hairs will sometimes heal without any treatment in one to two weeks. In other instances, cleaning the area with a loofah sponge and antibacterial soap may be enough to treat an ingrown hair. Ingrown hairs an also be treated with hydrocortisone cream, a benzoyl peroxide solution or an antibiotic ointment, such as Bacitracin. All three of these treatments are readily available at both grocery and drug stores. Some people pluck ingrown hairs, but this treatment is discouraged by the Skin Care Company as it can cause scarring and infection.
When to See the Doctor
Ingrown hairs can usually be treated quite successfully using over-the-counter remedies. There are times, however, when ingrown hairs may require medical attention. See a doctor if the bumps caused by ingrown hairs are filling with puss or causing pain and discomfort that goes deeper than the top layers of skin. Ingrown hairs that leave skin discolored or scarred should be treated by a physician. Several red bumps with white centers that are grouped closely together may be a sign of staphylococcal folliculitis and should be checked by a doctor.
What to Expect From the Doctor
Usually a physician can determine if a condition is an ingrown hair simply by looking at it. If there is any doubt, a skin swab or biopsy can be done to confirm. Even if an individual is successfully treating ingrown hairs with over-the-counter products, it may be wise to confirm that recurring ingrown hairs are, in fact, ingrown hairs. In some cases, the doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics to help with ingrown hairs, but many doctors will recommend an over-the-counter treatment once they have determined that there are no other problems.