What Causes Ingrown Hairs on your body: How to Cure them & What are the Signs?

Ingrown hairs are small red bumps that appear after shaving or waxing. These bumps resemble pimples and are often painful. Sometimes, staph bacteria invade ingrown hairs and cause infection.

Understanding what causes ingrown hairs and their symptoms is very important. This is primarily because several other skin conditions can be confused with ingrown hairs. Self-diagnostic tools such as genital herpes vs ingrown hair pictures can help in this regard. Remember that you can only make an informed decision on how to go about treatment if you are familiar with the condition.

What causes ingrown hairs on your body?

Ingrown hairs develop in two ways:

  • Hair grows back into skin – in this case, hair that has already exited the follicle curls back, pierces and grows into skin.
  • Hair never exits the follicle – in this case, hair is forced to grow sideways as it breaks through the skin. This is usually caused by clogging of skin pores.

Following are contributing factors:

Shaving or waxing

When hair is cut too close to the skin, it tends to curl back rather than straighten above the skin. Waxing removes the entire hair from a follicle. This means that the hair will have a longer way to cover as it re-grows. Chances are higher that such hair will encounter a barrier in skin pores.

Poor shaving skills

Not all people who regularly shave complain about recurring ingrown hairs. Part of this can be attributed to good shaving skills. Here are tips for how to shave properly:

  • Shave along the direction of hair growth
  • Apply lubricating oil and shaving gel before shaving
  • Trim long hair with scissors before shaving
  • Use single-edged razor
  • Don’t press shaving razor against the skin
  • Stroke the same skin area once
  • Wipe shaving razor after every stroke
  • Avoid regular soap or shampoos when shaving
  • Apply salicylic acid ointment after shaving
  • Apply a moisturizer after shaving

Curly, coarse or thick hair

You are not to blame for having curly, thick or coarse hair. In fact, no one is to blame. The important thing is to understand that such traits predispose you to ingrown hairs. It is for this reason that most African-Americans are affected by this condition.


Men with more sex hormones tend to develop thicker hair or produce excess sebum, which may clog skin pores. Menstruating and pregnant women often experience some body changes such as acne flare ups. This may increase the risk of developing ingrown hairs.

Lack of exfoliation

Thousands if not millions of skin cells die and are replaced with new ones every day. This means that the dead skin cells will accumulate if not removed. The best way to get rid of these cells is through exfoliation. Otherwise, the cells will clog skin pores, making it impossible for hair to break through.

Dry skin

Dry skin encourages ingrown hairs in many ways. It is very important that you always keep your skin moisturized with alcohol-free and non-greasy moisturizers.

Tight clothing

When you wear tight clothes, hair on your skin has very little free room into which to grow. This forces it to loop back towards the skin surface. Tight clothing also prevents proper aeration. This encourages large colonies of bacteria to breed on the skin.

Symptoms and signs of ingrown hairs

Signs of ingrown hair vary a bit depending on the severity of the condition. Generally, ingrown hairs appear as small red bumps on recently shaved or waxed skin areas. The bumps can be described as follows:

  • Papules – these are solid, round bumps with a dead scaly top. They take the least time to heal compared to other forms. They also are less painful.
  • Pustules – pustules are red and painful bumps that are filled with pus. It is not uncommon for a pustule to turn yellow or green in the middle. It may also feel tender and warm.
  • Infected ingrown hair – these are ingrown hairs that have been invaded by staph bacteria. They are painful, tender and filled with pus.
  • Ingrown hair cysts – when hair grows into the skin long before it breaks through, it usually results in an ingrown hair cyst. This is a huge ingrown hair bump that develops deep in the skin.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Itchiness

Signs of ingrown hair often occur in the following areas:

  • Neck
  • Chin
  • Cheeks
  • Genitals
  • Bikini area
  • Face
  • back
  • Legs
  • Armpits
  • Scalp
  • Eyebrows

How to cure ingrown hair

Ingrown hairs can be quite frustrating to treat for people who don’t know how to go about it. Below are tips on how to cure ingrown hair.

Avoid shaving

If you have ingrown hairs, stop shaving or waxing for about 4 weeks. People with chronic ingrown hairs are advised to stop shaving for at least 6 months. In that time, you can keep your hair short by trimming with scissors.

Keep exfoliating

Use chemical and physical exfoliation products at least once a week especially after shaving. This will keep your skin free from dead skin cells. It will also keep your skin soft enough for ingrown hair to break through.

Warm compress

Cover affected areas with a warm compress for 15 minutes twice a day. It reduces swelling and draws the ingrown hair towards the surface.

Use a sharp device

You can easily pull the ingrown hair out of the skin it has grown into using a needle or tweezers. Make sure that you can locate the hair before pricking the skin. If not, keep warm compressing and using anti-inflammatory products. Remember to disinfect the tool of choice with alcohol.

Apply topical medications

Topical medications such as hydrocortisone cream are very effective in reducing inflammation and easing symptoms such as pain and irritation.

Try acne medications

Topical medications designed to treat acne can be used on ingrown hairs. Go for medications that work by reducing swelling, getting rid of dead skin cells and controlling infection. Avoid products that contain salicylic acid. Such should only be used for exfoliation after shaving, before the ingrown hair bumps have appeared.

Consider medical treatment

If home treatment is not producing the results you desired, you can always seek medical attention. Doctors use ingrown hair medicine such as antibiotics for infected ingrown hair removal and retinoids to get rid of severe ingrown hairs.

Non-medication treatment options such as chemical depilatories, laser hair removal and electrolysis can also be considered. Make sure to discuss with your doctor before settling on a particular removal option. This is because methods such as laser hair removal and electrolysis get rid of hair permanently.

How to treat ingrown hair with natural treatments

Skin conditions are often treated with natural and herbal remedies. Below are some you can try on ingrown hairs:

  • Baking soda – make a paste with water, apply directly and rinse after 5 minutes. It should exfoliate the skin and ease ingrown hair itchy symptoms.
  • Tea tree oil – dilute with carrier oil or water. Use a Q-tip or cotton ball to apply directly. Rinse after 15 minutes. It should prevent infection and reduce swelling.
  • Aloe Vera – massage aloe vera gel in a circular motion directly on the affected area. Leave to dry before rinsing with water. This should soothe irritated skin and prevent infection.
  • Sugar scrub – mix one portion of white sugar with half portion of extra virgin olive oil. Use some of the mixture to scrub the affected area. Sugar gets rid of dead skin. Olive oil softens and moisturizes the skin.
  • Honey – apply a thin layer of honey all over the affected area. Leave to dry or rinse after 15 minutes. Honey is one of the most ancient anti-microbial natural remedies. It is so mild that it can be used to remove ingrown hair on penis and other sensitive areas.