Ingrown hair occurs when shaved, waxed, or tweezed hair grows sideways instead of toward the surface. Sometimes, dead skin cells block the surfacing of hair shafts, forcing them to grow to the side.
Ingrown hairs are more common in people with naturally curly hair. However, it can affect anyone, especially those who shave using poor technique.
In this article, we will cover some general aspects of ingrown facial hair, including evidence-based techniques to treat it. We will also touch on a few preventive measures.
What are ingrown hairs?
Normally, a strand of hair grows vertically until it breaches the skin surface. When you shave or wax, the new hair strand is at risk of growing sideways. While the vast majority of your hair will grow unhindered, it only takes one rogue strand of hair to trigger annoying symptoms.
You may find sources that refer to ingrown hair as razor burn, barber bumps, or shave bumps.
According to reports, one in every four people aged 11 to 30 will experience ingrown hair at some point. Risk factors that increase the chances of ingrown hair are genetics, stress and anxiety, hot/humid climates, and squeezing pimples.
African Americans and those with coarse or curly hair are also at a higher risk of ingrown facial hair.
What are the symptoms of ingrown hair?
As you would expect, the signs and symptoms of ingrown facial hairs revolve around the irritation of the skin and the subsequent inflammation.
People with ingrown facial hair report the following symptoms:
· Skin irritation and discomfort.
· Pain at the site of ingrown hair.
· Discoloration of the skin – Turns into a red, brown, or purple.
· Small bumps with hairs at the center (i.e., papules).
These symptoms can be very uncomfortable although they are benign. However, when an ingrown hair gets infected, the bumps become bigger and more painful. Bacteria start to grow uncontrollably, forming pustules. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat infected ingrown facial hair.
Without treatment, the pustule can burst, which may leave a scar.
How to Treat Ingrown beard hair
Generally speaking, you can treat ingrown hairs from home. Unless an infection develops, you are unlikely to need medical attention.
Ingrown Beard Hair is often conflated with Beard Dandruff, a separate issue with the same symptoms as ingrown beard hair. You can check out our comprehensive guide to preventing beard dandruff here.
The following sections will cover 4 ways to treat ingrown hairs at home. Note that the steps are in order of importance.
1. Sterilize the Area
Sterilizing the area that has ingrown hairs is the most important step to take. Get some alcohol and rub the area a few times. This should get rid of any harmful pathogens that may cause a bacterial infection.
Because the number one complication of ingrown hairs is an infection, we placed this step at the top of our list.
Note that rubbing alcohol directly on your skin is not a long-term solution. While it is mostly safe, it can dehydrate the skin.
2. Stop the source of irritation
After sterilizing the area, you need to stop the things that are causing skin irritation. If shaving is the cause of ingrown hairs, you need to stop it for a while. The same goes for waxing and plucking.
You also shouldn’t scratch the itchy area no matter how tempting it is. If you are still wearing a mask, consider taking it off as much as possible since any contact with the skin can exacerbate the symptoms.
Sterilizing the skin and removing the source of irritation is enough to treat ingrown beard hairs. After that, you just need to wait until the hair strand reaches 1 centimeter in length. This is when it usually releases itself from the hair follicle.
If you cannot wait that long, follow the next step.
3. Use a warm washcloth or soft toothbrush
When you apply a warm washcloth to the area of inflammation, use a circular motion and rub your skin. This may help in uncurling the hair and stopping the annoying symptoms.
If you are looking for a faster solution, you can gently coax the hairs out with a soft toothbrush and a warm washcloth.
Here is how it works:
Once you soak the washcloth in warm water, apply it to the area of irritation. This will vasodilate the blood vessels, allowing your pores and hair follicles to warm up and relax. The circular rubbing motion can even uncurl the hair strands, removing the source of irritation.
You may also use a very soft toothbrush in a similar motion to unclog the follicle. As a result, the trapped hair gets released, and your symptoms improve.
4. Use tweezers and exfoliates to remove dead skin cells
If you notice that any portion of the ingrown hair is visible above the skin, you can use a needle or tweezers to pull the hair straight. In this case, you are basically uncurling the hair yourself.
We placed this step at the bottom of our list because most cases of ingrown hairs do not have a visible portion of the hair above the skin.
Do not dig into the skin to pull the hair out. Many people that develop ingrown hairs experience severe infections after trying this. Moreover, avoid plucking the hair out, which may increase the risk of further curling inside the skin. Give your skin some time to heal before hair removal.
Finally, use soaps to clean the area around the ingrown hairs. Natural exfoliates can also remove the dead skin cells, opening up the pores and making it easier for the hair strand to uncurl.
How to prevent Ingrown Hairs
Wash your face daily
Use a mild cleanser to remove dirt from your face, which may clog your pores and force hair stands to grow sideways.
Improve your shaving technique
Shave in the direction of your hair to avoid cutting the strands too short. Also, avoid pulling your skin taut while shaving.
Switch your razor blade
Use a razor with a single-edge blade. Double-edge blades cut the hair too short, increasing the risk of ingrown hairs.
Clean your razor blade
Clean your blade after each stroke to prevent ingrown hairs. A blade full of bacteria causes an infection.
Use shaving cream
Before shaving, moisturize and lubricate your face with shaving cream.
Apply aftershave moisturizer
Aftershave takes care of your skin after you finish shaving. It keeps the skin and facial hair soft between shaves.
Use hair removal cream
If ingrown hairs are a chronic issue for you. Opt for chemical hair removers (i.e., depilatories). Laser hair removal is also a good option.
What if I don't treat them?
Leaving ingrown hair without treatment is generally not a big deal. They will heal within one to two weeks. This is because the hair strand continues to grow until it breaches the skin.
However, the risk of bacterial infections grows dramatically when you have ingrown facial hair. This will lead to discoloration of your skin with pain and pus formation. If you notice any of these signs, speak with your primary care physician.
If you don’t want to treat ingrown facial hair, at least sterilize the area to stop the multiplication of bacteria. After that, cross your fingers and hope the hair strand finds its way to the surface.
Ingrown facial hair is generally a benign condition that doesn’t require any medical intervention. Follow the therapeutic steps that we covered, and you should be fine. However, if the problem becomes recurrent, make sure to try the preventive measures listed above.
Alternatively, you would opt for depilatories to shave your hair, which may prevent ingrown hair. Also, don’t forget to contact your doctor if you notice any signs of infection.
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