Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. You’re a good guy, so we’re told, and you’re here because at some point you’ve suffered from an ingrown hair, and you’d prefer to never have that happen again. That, or you’re actively suffering from one right now.
You don’t deserve that. Nobody does. Not even the bad people.
Ingrown hairs usually show themselves after a shave (or, more accurately, they refuse to show themselves after a shave). They’re furled up under your skin, giving you a painful pimple. They refuse to pop—don’t try it!—and get worse with time, since the damn hair is growing and growing and growing in there, like a little maypole for a colony of bacteria.
But enough flowery talk. You came for solutions. Here’s what’s what, and how to prevent ingrown hairs, nix them, and treat them.
How ingrown hairs happen
When you shave, you’re bluntly chopping the hair at the surface of the skin. The direction you shave is important: You want to shave with the grain, or else you’ll cut the hair at an unnatural angle. If you shave against the grain, the hair grows back with a predilection to coil up under the skin, instead of outward.
Ingrown hairs are also more likely to happen if you don’t follow a proper shaving regimen: fresh blades, pre-shave and post-shave treatments, warm water to open the pores before, cold water to close the pores after. A proper regimen prevents grime and bacteria from getting trapped beneath the skin; otherwise, these pests can combine with the burrowed hair, clogging the pore and creating a little red landmine on your face.
Why ingrown hairs hurt so much
Ingrowns hurt because there’s a lot of pressure happening under the surface of the skin. The hair continues to grow but it isn’t facing upward; instead, it’s growing underneath. There’s a good chance the follicle is infected, too, since it’s likely that some bacteria is building up inside the pore. What looks like a simple pimple is actually a much bigger, more painful problem.
How to prevent ingrown hairs
Besides shaving with the grain and using a fresh blade, you can prevent ingrown hairs in a number of ways:
1) Warm the skin before shaving: This softens hairs and relaxes the pores. As a result, you get a less abrasive shave, less irritation, and release any excess oil that might be clogging the pores.
2) Cool the skin after shaving: This tightens the pores, preventing any gunk from getting trapped inside with the hair.
3) Exfoliate twice a week, and before shaving: This removes any dead skin cells that could also clog the pores. (This also means your healthiest, brightest cells are getting the attention they deserve.)
4) Use a pre-shave oil: Pre-shave oil softens the hairs, and will make them easier to cut. The real benefit here is that they’ll cut at the surface of the skin, instead of breaking all brittle-like below the surface.
5) Use a post-shave toner: An alcohol-free splash of toner will disinfect the skin. It also removes excess gunk, shave cream, and skin cells, all while balancing the skin’s pH levels. (That means it’s preventing the skin from getting too oily.)
6) Apply a post-shave balm or moisturizer: Finish the job with a nourishing cream or balm to fortify the cells. This will create a light barrier atop the skin to block any invaders from entering your freshly exposed pores.
How to treat ingrown hairs
Ingrown hairs inevitably occur. The biggest rule of thumb is DO NOT APPLY PRESSURE OR TRY TO POP IT. Do not. Do not. Do not.
Instead, get an exfoliating agent with salicylic and lactic acid. (You can jimmy up a similar paste at home with sugar and olive oil.) Rub the spot gently to encourage the hair to the surface of the skin. Don’t scrub furiously here—just a few seconds one direction, a few seconds the other, rinse, and let sit. Then, apply a hot washcloth to the spot for 10 minutes to soften the hair beneath the surface and open the pores. All of this is also encouraging the hair to relax and redirect itself outward.
You’ll need to repeat this process twice a day for a few days, after the first signs of an ingrown hair. Once the hair pokes through, you can tweeze it out, then disinfect the open pore with rubbing alcohol.
If the bump gets bigger and more painful, however, then visit your dermatologist to have it professionally extracted. It’ll be quick, and he or she will do it much more safely than any at-home method you concoct.