Anyone who’s been shaving and waxing has wondered at some point, “Why do I keep getting ingrown hairs?” Good question and we’ll have to answer it with an old saying: when it comes to ingrown hairs, knowledge is power.
Yes, you hear that so often that you want to roll your eyes – one more tired old saw.
And “old” it is. It’s been around since the Middle Ages. But “tired” it is not. It’s as true today as it was 600 years ago. There are all kinds of power that you might want – power at work is probably high on the list, as many schlepp through each day subject to the whims and fancies of managers and coworkers.
Say you made a list of things that you would like power over. I can’t imagine that “ingrown hairs” would make the cut. Unless you are in the middle of an ingrown hair scourge. Then it’s a different matter. It might zoom right to the top of the list.
We can help you. Once you know what exactly an ingrown hair is and what causes them, you have the power to clear them right out of your life. And isn’t that worth acquiring a but of knowledge for? We think so. So if you find yourself struggling to understand why you keep getting ingrown hairs, follow along for a in-depth guide to why ingrown hairs happen to the best of us and how to prevent them!
What Causes Ingrown Hairs in the First Place?
When a hair is not able to grow nice and straight because its follicle is clogged with dead cells, hardened oil and assorted debris, when it has to wriggle around all that, it’s sideways when it gets to the skin’s surface and can’t exit. That’s an ingrown hair.
Then there is a hair that has exited the follicle and bends over, sticking its head back into the follicle. That’s an ingrown hair.
In other words, one way or the other, instead of growing out, the hair grows in.
Even though the hair was a normal part of the body a minute before going rogue, the skin no longer recognizes it as such and the immune system kicks in as it would with any foreign body. No different than when you get a splinter.
The skin around the hair swells, and you have a bump (papule) that looks like a pimple. To add to the misery, that ingrown hair may become painful, inflamed, or itchy – or all of the above. The bump may become infected and fill up with pus, which makes it a pustule.
Pus is actually a good thing. It’s the result of the immune system fighting the infection. Try to hold on to that thought as you grimace into the mirror at the pustule on your skin. The downside, of course, is that pustules are more painful than papules and take longer to heal.
Okay, so that’s essentially what causes an ingrown hair. Now let’s take a look at what you may be doing to set the stage for them to keep happening to you.
Why Do I Keep Getting Ingrown Hairs?
Just one ingrown hair is no bother – you chalk it up to a mishap and move on with your life. But by the time you’re dealing with several ingrown hairs every few weeks, you begin to suspect it may be something that you’re doing. Curious to find out what might be the culprit? Read on for the most common causes of ingrown hairs!
Clogged Hair Follicles
Clogged follicles are one of the two most common causes of ingrown hairs. Dead skin cells get mixed up with hardened oil and environmental debris and the whole mess attracts bacteria. That’s a lot for a hair to get through!
Also, the dead cells on the surface of the skin create a barrier that blocks a hair, and it then has no other recourse but to turn back into its follicle.
The fix: Exfoliate regularly, at least two to three times per week. You can use manual scrubs like an exfoliating mitt or a sugar scrub or opt for the convenience of a chemical exfoliator by using a body wash or lotion that contains AHAs or BHAs.
Shaving is the other most common cause of ingrown hairs. A razor blade creates a sharp edge when it cuts the hair close to the surface of the skin. If that hair bends, the sharp edge can easily penetrate the skin, especially when the hair is curly and coarse.
There are several practices when shaving that heighten the risk of ingrown hairs:
- Using a dull blade. A dull blade drags along your skin and tugs at the hair, not cutting it cleanly and leaving that sharp edge. Also, the friction created by a dull blade irritates the skin and that makes it more difficult for hairs to exit their follicles.
- Pressure. If you hold the razor too close to your skin, scraping it rather than gliding over it, your skin becomes irritated, similarly to using a dull blade.
- Dry shave. Shaving without an oil, cream or gel to soften the hair and cushion the skin has the same irritating and chafing effect as a dull blade. No bueno.
- Multiple-blade razors. With multiple blade razors, one blade pulls the hair out and another one chops it off, which results in a sharp edge that is likely to turn into the skin.
- Multiple passes. Going over a spot you’ve already shaved, particularly for the third or fourth time, is similar to the problem with using a multiple-blade razor.
- Wrong direction. Shaving against the grain pulls the hair back, and you risk the hair being cut off with a sharp tip. It also damages the hair follicle.
The fix: Shave with a sharp, clean blade in the direction your hair grows. Opt for a simple razor like the good old safety razor. And of course, if ingrown hairs persist, replace shaving altogether with another hair removal option.
When you wax, the hair is pulled out rapidly, which can harm the follicle. The follicle, then, may not be able to keep the hair straight on its way to the surface, and the hair has trouble exiting.
Also, waxing can cause hair breakage…
- When the hair has not grown out sufficiently, at least a quarter of an inch and the wax cannot get a good grip on it.
- When the wax is not pulled off in the direction of hair growth.
- When wax is applied in the same spot twice in one session.
The fix: Wax regularly at optimal periods – around three to four weeks, when there’s enough hair to be pulled out. Go for sugaring or a hard wax rather than the soft, honey wax to minimize ingrown hairs. Or skip waxing altogether and switch to another hair removal method.
Epilating, Tweezing and Threading
Like waxing, these hair removal methods pull the hair directly from the root, which over time damages the hair follicles, making the hair grow back slower and weaker. But that’s the best case scenario.
The worst case is when the hair breaks off close to or below the skin surface where it can spring back into the skin or grow sideways under the skin. Voila – ingrown hair.
Also, with a rotary epilator, if the tweezers are bent, they will not grasp the hair properly and there will be breakage just above or below the skin surface.
The fix: Take a warm bath or shower before you start your epilating session – the warm water opens up your pores and makes the hair removal easier.
Hairs are more likely to break off at the surface if your skin is dry. Also, when dry skin builds up, it blocks the follicle opening and keeps the hair trapped inside.
The fix: Hydration is obviously key. Drink plenty of water and moisturize religiously. If you’ve been slacking on your moisturizing routine, even something as simple as slopping on some aloe vera gel before you shave or epilate can be helpful.
Tight clothing, such as leggings, skinny jeans, underwear, can irritate the skin and cause an ingrown hair the same as any other thing (e.g., dry shaving, pressing too hard) that irritates or chafes the skin, especially if the clothing is made from synthetic fabrics.
This is even more of a problem immediately after hair has been removed. The lack of air circulation encourages the breeding of bacteria, so the tight clothing, at very least, contributes to infection and inflammation.
The fix: Opt for loose, natural fabrics especially right after hair removal.
Whatever the cause of your ingrown hair may be, rest assured that you don’t have to live with it – nope, not with all the ways there are to get rid of ingrown hairs!