The most common cause of ingrown armpit hairs is the improper removal of hair. Often people will shave or wax their hair incorrectly, which can damage the hair follicle and disrupt the natural growth process. Tight clothing has also been known to cause ingrown hairs. Another cause of ingrown hairs is the presence of dead skin debris that blocks the hair from growing outward.
Ingrown hairs occur when hairs do not grow through the skin and instead penetrate it, creating pain and tenderness and a superficial red bump on the affected area. Though they are not serious and usually self resolve, ingrown hairs can be irritating and visually unsettling. Additionally, some cases of ingrown hair can be disfiguring, creating symptoms such as skin discoloration, scarring, infection and the formation of keloid scars.
They occur most commonly in adults and teens. Most people may experience an ingrown hair in their lifetime. Cases of ingrown hair are more prevalent in people of African descent, as their hair is typically more thick and coarse.
A person with ingrown armpit hair may feel an itch or tenderness around the affected area. The skin may become inflamed as the body can react to the ingrown hair as if it is a foreign body. This creates a small red bump around the ingrown hair.The bump is similar in appearance to other skin blemishes such as warts, zits, and cysts. The hair may be visible as a tiny black dot at the center of the bump.
When the ingrown hairs are caused by shaving, multiple ingrown hairs may occur at once. The first sign is the secretion of blood in the affected spots.
Ingrown armpit hairs usually resolve on their own. However, in cases where they do not self-heal or removal must be expedited, the following remedies are available:
Chemical Depilatories, including:
These medications can loosen hair structures. They should only be used every second or third day following initial treatment to prevent irritation. Any irritation can be remedied through the use of hydrocortisone treatment.
Ingrown hairs that have developed infections, creating pustules and abscesses, which indicate secondary infection, are treated with Topical Antibiotics, which serve to treat the secondary infection and reduce the growth of bacteria, including:
Oral antibiotics may also be used to treat an infection, such as tetracycline or cephalexin. The caregiver may also recommend an antibacterial wash such as benzoyl peroxide or chlorhexidine. This would occur twice daily.
Additionally, the use of tretinoin can reduce skin plugging and hyperkeratosis. Tretinoin serves to thin out the epidermis, thus decreasing the embedding of hair follicles into the skin. It may also reduce the buildup of dead skin cells.
The use of topical eflorithine can control hair growth when applied to skin twice daily for a period of two months.
In the case of skin discoloration, fading creams can be used. These can either be prescribed (eldoquin, kojic acid) or over the counter. All of these may rectify discoloration that is persistent or residual.
Other treatment options include laser hair removal. This treatment permanently decreases the number of hairs. However, it does carry the risk of permanent discoloration. Electrolysis is a similar treatment that permanently destroys hair follicles, but this is can be a lengthy and tedious process that requires several treatments.
Also in existence are home remedies. Hydrating and softening the skin before shaving armpit hair can help, decreasing the likelihood that they will become ingrown.
After shaving, the armpit can be washed using a moistened washcloth, a wet sponge, or the combination of a toothbrush with soft bristles and mild soap can help dislodge hair tips.
The use of mild natural exfoliators such as salt and sugar, can be applied to treat any redness or irritation that comes with ingrown hairs.
Do not shave against the grain of growth direction. Lift the head of the electric razor slightly off the surface of the skin. Shaving should be done in a slow, circular motion.
There are experts who recommend not shaving the armpits at all, which significantly reduces the chance of ingrown hairs.
Ingrown hair can be avoided by allowing hair to grow naturally. However, in some cultures this is not aesthetically pleasing. Using careful shaving techniques (such as washing the armpit before and after shaving) or laser hair removal can prevent ingrown hairs.
Ingrown hair is fairly easy to detect due to the distinctive appearance and sensation it creates. Some patients may feel it is necessary to see a health professional. In this case, the doctor would perform a biopsy to ensure that the condition is an ingrown hair. Ingrown hair spots can bear resemblance to other skin conditions such as acne, cysts, eczema and folliculitis. This occurrence often prompts those unfamiliar with ingrown armpit hair to seek remedies.
Ingrown armpit hair is certainly not a serious condition. However, it can be irritating and unsightly, and pose some risk of scarring and disfiguration. If they get infected, ingrown hairs can become a concerning health issue. For these reasons, most people afflicted will seek medical advice.