Ingrown hairs: symptoms, causes and how to get rid of them

1st June, 2022 • 6 min read

Are you getting raised, red bumps on your skin after shaving, waxing, threading or plucking? Have they become itchy or even a bit swollen? If so, it’s likely that you have some ingrown hairs.

If you get ingrown hairs, they could affect your body confidence, leaving you feeling embarrassed about showing your skin.

But while they can be an annoying skin problem to deal with, they’re common, and usually clear up on their own. Plus, with a bit of know-how, you can avoid getting them again.

So read on to discover what causes ingrown hairs, how to get rid of them, and how to stop them coming back.

What are ingrown hairs?

Sometimes also known ‘pseudofolliculitis barbae’, an ingrown hair usually happens when a hair that’s been removed curls into the skin as it grows back, and gets trapped there.

What are the signs of an ingrown hair?

Things that you might notice include:

  • itchy skin around the hair
  • darker skin around the area
  • a raised, red bump that looks like a pimple
  • a pimple that may be filled with yellow pus
  • a rash or razor burn – red areas on the skin caused by shaving

What causes ingrown hairs?

Ingrown hairs are often found in places where you remove hair – such as your underarms, neck, chin, top lip, legs or bikini line. You’re more likely to get ingrown hairs if you have thick, curly or coarse hair.

Causes include:

  • shaving – this cuts your hairs very close to your skin, which makes the tip of the hairs sharper and more likely to grow backwards, leading to ingrown hairs
  • other hair removal methods, such as waxing and plucking – these remove your hairs from the root, with no clear path for them to grow back out of your skin
  • dead skin or dirt around your hairs (sometimes caused by sweating) – these can block your hair follicles
  • wearing tight clothes, such as tights or leggings – these can rub up against your hairs and force them to curl and grow back into your skin

How to treat ingrown hairs

In most cases, ingrown hairs are nothing serious and should get better on their own if you allow them to grow out – this often happens once they get to about 10mm long.

Treatments that may help include:

  • applying a warm cloth a few times a day to help open your pores and uncurl the hair – try bringing it to the surface by gently rubbing the area
  • using mild soaps to clean the area, which can remove dead skin cells and help prevent infection
  • gently pulling the hair straight using clean tweezers, if it has surfaced above the skin. But
    don’t pluck an ingrown hair
    – this could cause another ingrown hair to form, or lead to an infection. (You shouldn’t pick at the skin around an ingrown hair either)

How to prevent ingrown hairs

If you stop shaving, plucking and waxing, you’re much less likely to get ingrown hairs.

But if that isn’t a realistic option for you, try some of these tips to help keep ingrown hairs at bay:

  • exfoliate your skin gently before hair removal, to help release any trapped hairs
  • pat the area with warm water and apply a moisturising shaving gel before shaving – this helps soften the hairs, so they’re less likely to get sharp tips
  • use a sharp, single-blade razor, and shave in the same direction as your hair growth
  • leave some stubble instead of shaving closely – this might help stop bacteria getting into your hair follicles
  • after shaving, hold a cool, wet cloth over your skin to reduce redness and irritation
  • try
    laser hair removal
    instead of shaving or waxing

What’s an ingrown hair cyst?

Sometimes with ingrown hairs, you can get an ingrown hair cyst. This is usually a spot that’s turned into a pus-filled lump. The good news is that most ingrown hair cysts are nothing to worry about, and they often get better on their own.

In the meantime, treat the area gently while it heals – avoid shaving it, and keep it clean and moisturised. And don’t try to squeeze or pop the cyst, as this can cause irritation and increase the risk of infection. It’s best to see your doctor (see below) if you have a lump you’re not sure about, before trying any home remedies.

When to see a doctor

You might need to see a doctor about an ingrown hair or an ingrown hair cyst if:

  • it isn’t going away on its own
  • it’s affecting your daily life or confidence
  • a cyst is big, catches on your clothing, is growing, leaking fluid or pus, or becoming very painful
  • an ingrown hair becomes infected – it might be painful, red, swollen and
    spread to the skin around it
  • you have a condition that weakens your immune system, such as
    or uncontrolled
    , or you’re taking a medicine that weakens your immune system
  • your temperature is high, you feel hot, shivery or have symptoms of a fever at the same time a cyst develops
  • you notice lots of ingrown hairs over a big area and they’re painful – this could be inflammation of your hair follicles (folliculitis), usually caused by a bacterial or fungal infection

Your doctor might give you [antibiotics](yourmd:/condition/ or a cream to help clear up an infection. In some cases, a cyst may need to be removed with surgery.

Your health questions answered

Is it a spot or an ingrown hair?

Ingrown hairs can look very similar to spots – red, swollen, itchy and sometimes filled with pus. But if these pimple-like spots are only on your body where you shave or wax, they’re more likely to be an ingrown hair.

Can you pop an ingrown hair?

Ingrown hairs can be frustrating, but try to avoid scratching, picking, squeezing or tweezing them. This could make the ingrown hair (and the area around it) more red and sore, and make you more likely to get an infection.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.