Hair growth begins at the bottom of a hair follicle, with each individual hair being gradually pushed through the various layers of skin. When an ingrown hair occurs, however, the hair fails to properly protrude from the skin. In some cases, the hair will turn on itself before reaching the outer layer of skin, effectively growing within the skin. Alternatively, the hair may break through the outer layer of skin before re-growing into the skin itself.
Ingrown hairs are most common on areas of the body which are subject to hair removal techniques, such as waxing, shaving, epilating or tweezing. Due to this, ingrown hair on legs is an extremely common problem. As many people choose to remove the hair on their legs, ingrown hairs routinely occur in this area and may require treatment.
When people develop ingrown hair on legs, they may present with various symptoms, such as:
Whilst some ingrown hairs are very visible, individuals may only notice a tiny bump on the skin if a hair becomes ingrown. In some cases, the embedded hair may be visible under the skin but, in others, patients may not even realize the hair has become ingrown due to minimal symptoms occurring.
It’s not uncommon, however, for ingrown hairs to develop into a larger bump on the skin. Although an ingrown hair may appear to be a pimple when this happens, the pus-filled lump is actually caused by the hair growing downwards or sideways, rather than out of the skin as normal.
Depending on the size and severity of the lump, patients may also experience itching and pain when they have ingrown hair on the legs. Whilst minor ingrown hairs are unlikely to cause significant discomfort, ingrown hairs which have developed into pus-filled lumps can be surprisingly painful.
When pus-filled lumps are present, it technically means that infection has occurred. Whilst this is not necessarily problematic, it can mean that the patient is more likely to develop an ingrown hair cyst. If this happens, the patient’s symptoms may increase and could include pain, itching and a feeling of warmth at the site of the ingrown hair.
Although an ingrown hair may occur in isolation, people may also suffer from numerous ingrown hairs at one time. For some, the symptoms of ingrown hair on the legs are minimal and isolated, but for others, they are widespread and uncomfortable.
When the hair fails to grow out of the skin, it becomes ingrown. Typically, the hair folds back on itself or it re-enters the skin after breaking through the outer layer. However, there are various factors which can increase the likelihood of hair becoming ingrown. These include:
If an individual has curly or coarse hair, it may be more likely to become ingrown. Curly hair can easily remain within the hair follicle due to its shape and, as a result, it will grow downwards or sideways, as opposed to up and through the outer layer of skin. Similarly, coarse or thick hair can re-enter the skin more easily and may be more likely to become ingrown.
Hair removal is one of the primary causes of ingrown hair on legs. When people shave their legs, for example, the hair is cut very close to the skin. By doing this, the fine tip of the hair is removed, leaving the thicker shaft of the hair present. As this continues to grow, it is more likely that this thick, coarse part of the hair will be able to re-enter the skin, thus becoming ingrown.
Whilst other hair removal methods, such as waxing and tweezing, aim to remove the entire hair from the follicle, this doesn’t necessarily prevent ingrown hair on legs. When these methods of hair removal are used, existing hairs can easily break and part of the hair may remain in the follicle. Due to this damage and trauma to the hair, its growth pattern may be modified and the hair may become ingrown.
Individuals who have dry skin may also be prone to ingrown hair on legs. If dry flakes of skin block the hair follicles, the hair may be unable to break through the outer layer of skin. As a result, it’s more likely that the hair will grow under the skin and become ingrown.
There are various topical solutions available which aim to reduce ingrown hair on legs and these can be effective in some cases. However, once an ingrown hair is present, individuals should be sure not to make the condition worse. Ingrown hair should not be picked or tweezed, for example, as this can damage the skin and introduce bacteria to the area, which could cause a subsequent infection.
In most cases, ingrown hairs will heal themselves and will not require additional treatment. However, patients may choose to apply a warm or cold compress to the affected area, in order to relieve pain and minimize discomfort.
If the patient’s symptoms persist, they should seek medical advice. In some cases, an infected ingrown hair may require treatment, such as:
Although ingrown hair on legs can be uncomfortable and unsightly, it is often possible to prevent them. Individuals are often advised to employ the following techniques in order to reduce the risk of hairs becoming ingrown:
By changing their hair removal technique and taking good care of their skin, many people are able to minimize ingrown hair on legs and prevent them from returning.