Do Ingrown Hairs Go Away?

Ingrown hairs are a very common condition experienced by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, in which the hair follicle grows sideways instead of out of the skin. This condition is not generally problematic but can cause discomfort to those who suffer from it chronically.

What is an ingrown hair?

Often taking on an appearance between hives and large pimples, ingrown hairs are not serious or life-threatening, but if not treated or looked after correctly may result in a feeling of pain or discomfort. The appearance may be that of a simple red bump or a white-headed pimple.

Ingrown hairs are classified as a hair that has curled around and grown back on itself, or sideways under the skin. This can occur when the pore or hair follicle is blocked, often by dead skin or by other chemicals or even cosmetics.

Ingrown hairs are much more likely to occur with short, cut or shaved hair. This is because the hair is closer to the skin, and has more of a chance to grow sideways or backward. Naturally, curly and thick hair is more likely to result in ingrowing hairs, as the hair does not naturally grow straight from the follicle.

In sensitive areas, such as the groin or certain areas of the face, an ingrown hair may cause irritation and additional pain.

The appearance of an ingrown hair

Because an ingrown hair is most likely a result of a blockage to the pore or hair follicle, the appearance of this condition is a pimple or otherwise a painful sore. This pimple may or may not have a white head. Ingrown hairs can often be more uncomfortable or itchy than normal pimples.

Ingrown hairs are more likely to appear in areas recently shaved. In men, this may be the head or face, in women, this condition is more likely to appear on the legs and armpits and groin area.

Depending on the depth or length of the hair, pus and even the hair itself may be visible within the ingrown hair location.

Causes of ingrown hairs

Ingrown hairs do not discriminate - anyone with hair on their body can experience this condition at any point in their life. However, for those with very curly, thick or coarse hair, the likelihood of the hair re-entering the skin or never leaving the follicle is increased.

Recently shaved and cut hair can make ingrown hairs far more likely, but this can also occur in those where hair has been forcibly pulled out, whether purposefully or accidentally. The sharper edge on shaved, waxed or plucked hair means the hair grows back with a sharper edge, resulting in an increased chance of skin penetration.

Due to thick and curly hair having a greater chance of developing ingrown hairs, people who are Latina, African-American or simply with naturally thick and curly hair may also develop pseudofolliculitis, which is similar to ingrown hairs. This condition is also known as ‘razor bumps’.

Treatment for ingrown hairs

It is very common that ingrown hairs will go away on their own over time. This occurs in the majority of cases, provided the area is kept clean and dry and not handled regularly, which could result in additional bacteria being introduced. Popping an ingrown hair ‘pimple’ is generally not advised.

However, in some cases, an ingrown hair can have more serious effects. This can include the following:

  • Infection from external bacteria
  • Darkening of the skin in and around the area
  • A small to medium scar as a result of scratching or picking
  • A wound due to scratching or picking

An infected or painful ingrown hair may need further treatment, a doctor or dermatologist will be able to assist in the removal of the ingrown hair. In this case, the doctor will make a small cut in order to release the ‘trapped hair’. This will then be followed by medication to treat the infection.

Medications that your doctor may use to treat this condition can include:

  • Steroid medication or topical ointment to use in the area of the affected follicle in order to reduce the swelling.
  • Retinoids for the removal of dead skin and reduction of pigment changes as a result of the ingrown hair.
  • Antibiotics to treat or prevent infection, taking either by mouth or with a topical cream onto the affected area of skin.

Preventing ingrown hairs - and ensuring they go away

There is no known physical treatment that can actively prevent ingrown hairs from occurring. However, there are many different ways that the chance of ingrowing hairs occurring can be reduced. A variety of different methods can be used daily to prevent ingrowing hairs from becoming chronic. To reduce their appearance the following methods can be used:

  • Using exfoliation scrubs or a rough flannel every day, rubbing the face in a circular motion to fully clean out pores and tease out stuck or stubborn hairs
  • Shaving with a very sharp bladed razor
  • Wetting the skin with hot to warm water when shaving, and using good quality shaving creams or gels
  • Shaving in the direction that your hair grows in
  • Using a razor as sparingly as possible when shaving, to avoid repeatedly going over the same areas
  • Ensuring the blade is clean and rinsed between each shave
  • Never pressing the blade into the skin when shaving, instead skimming the blade across the surface of the skin
  • Applying a cool wet cloth or toner following shaving to close the pores and reduce the risk of contamination
  • Reducing shaving activities down to once a week if possible

Often, for those who have chronic problems with ingrown hairs, the above methods may not result in the condition from disappearing altogether. At this point, speaking to a dermatologist may be a good option, in order to clear the skin out fully with facial treatments.

In some cases, choosing other methods of treatment for hair growth may reduce or prevent ingrown hairs from reoccurring. Using other forms of hair loss removal such as depilatory creams, electrolysis or laser hair removal may be the better choice if you have chronic problems with ingrown hairs. Removal of the hair follicle could also be considered in more extreme cases, here ingrown hairs often become infected.