Ingrown hairs are a joke: After you go through the pains of shaving/waxing/otherwise removing hair from your body (should you choose to, of course) there’s a solid chance you’ll be left with razor burn, or worse—ingrowns. Cool, mother nature. Real cool.
“Ingrowns develop when the edge of the hair grows back into the skin rather than coming straight out to the surface, says Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “This happens when you shave, wax, or tweeze—whenever that edge of the hair has to regrow from under the skin.”
And they’re more common in areas where there’s friction, like the bikini line or under your arms, says Nandi Wagner, lead esthetician at Bliss Soho, who told me that irritating antiperspirants or deodorants can aggravate active ingrown hairs, too. But, like most beauty woes, ingrown hairs are more of an moderate inconvenience than a real danger, unless you try to pop it like a pimple and end up with an inflamed, and possibly now-infected area.
If you feel one coming on, Dr. Zeichner recommends you apply one-percent over-the-counter cortisone cream to reduce inflammation along with two-percent salicylic acid (like Cortaid or Clean and Clear Spot Treatment) to dry it out. And, if you can see the hair, Dr. Zeichner actually says it’s okay to try to get it out—but not how you’d think. “If you see the hair under the skin, you can clean the skin and a sewing needle with rubbing alcohol and gently try to lift the hair edge from the skin,” he says, warning that if you try to pluck it or just pick at it, you run the risk of getting another ingrown hair if you don’t grab the entire hair. And if you can’t see the hair under the skin, visit your derm instead: It’s hard enough to do if it’s in your direct sightline, let alone trying to navigate a sharp object in your reflection.
How to prevent ingrown hairs the first place? Exfoliation! “It keeps dry skin from forming over the hair follicles so that the hair can grow freely without getting trapped under the skin, says Wagner. I swear by Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant, which is a superfine, gentle exfoliation, but if you need more grit, try Herbivore Coco Rose Coconut Oil Body Polish. Plus, “Regularly moisturizing the area prevents dry skin and also keeps your skin & hair soft. The softer your skin & hair, the easier the hair will be to remove when wax time rolls around.”