And how to treat ingrown hairs after they show up
When you wax your hair or use an epilator, you pull it out from its root or follicle. Sometimes, when the hair regrows, it can regrow inward rather than outward like normal. This results in an ingrown hair which can be annoying to deal with. So how can we treat ingrown hairs before they happen?
I’m going to assume its not your technique of waxing your hair, and move onto how to prevent ingrown hairs on legs, arms, face, bikini, or other parts your body via exfoliation. But before I do, a quick explanation.
Sometimes if your professional waxer is in a rush or maybe you’re waxing at home
and you haven’t quite figured out the technique, the hair might be breaking instead of being pulled out. This can cause ingrown hairs. Notice if your professional waxer is pulling the wax or wax strips off your skin surface at a 45 degree or lower angle. This means, let’s say your leg is laying horizontal on a table. The waxer should not be pulling the wax strips off in a motion that goes up vertically, but the removing wax motion is also more horizontal like your leg than vertical. I remember when I first started waxing at home, afraid of the pain, I’d pull up towards the ceiling. So bad technique could be a reason for ingrown hairs.
However, everyone, despite technique, is prone to some (or many) ingrown hairs when the hairs grow back in. So how to prevent them? One word with many methods – Exfoliation.
Exfoliating the top and dead layers of your skin can help remove those layers before they trap hairs underneath and cause ingrown hairs. Rather than waiting for ingrown hairs to happen, and then dealing with them, it’s better to exfoliate as a preventative measure. Exfoliating helps speeds up the shedding of your outer layers, which happens naturally but at a slower pace.
There are 2 types of exfoliation, physical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation, that can help prevent ingrown hairs as your new hairs grow back in.
Let’s take a closer look at physical and chemical exfoliation.
Physical Exfoliation for Ingrown Hairs
Physical exfoliation manually rubs off your outer layers of dead skin faster than they fall off so that new hairs do not get trapped beneath those layers of skin.
There are several ways to physically exfoliate and most of them happen during your shower or bath. You can dry brush before showering, but loofas, hand sponges, exfoliating scrubs all help remove dead skin while you are showering or bathing.
Here are some recommendations and short reviews of good physical exfoliators:
1. Exfoliating Gloves
These are gloves that you can wear in the shower and have an abrasive texture. You put the gloves on, grab your body soap and lather up the gloves. Then you rub your soap lathered gloves over your legs, arms, and rest of body like a loofah. While you soap your body, the abrasive texture of the gloves helps exfoliate each limb of your body.
This is a great, lazy man’s way to physically exfoliate in the shower because it combines soaping and exfoliating. We also throw our exfoliating gloves into the washing machine with our weekly laundry to sanitize. It takes a much longer for these to wear out to need replacement than loofas or other sponges.
2. Exfoliating Scrub
Only a few years ago, a lot of exfoliating body scrubs had tiny plastic beads in them that you would feel as the exfoliating beads. Then when you rinsed off in the shower, those plastic beads went down your drain and out into rivers and oceans and started collecting and harming fish populations. Finally, they banned these plastic microbeads. Still, we are not comfortable recommending brands (ahem, rhymes with “hives”) that used to use those beads, but yes those brands do work, and yes they are cheaper. We aren’t about shaming you for your purchases, but we wanted to explain why we aren’t recommending a more obvious brand.
Personally we’ve found that whatever they’re using as the new natural replacement for those beads are still too hard or too big to properly exfoliate. In contrast, charcoal, sea salt, or brown sugar make for a great and natural exfoliant that dissolve after long contact with water.
We can recommend Natural Activated Coconut Charcoal body scrub and Himalayan Salt Body Scrub.
Here are more exfoliating body scrubs. Search for “natural body scrubs” or “exfoliating body wash” to find specific products that might work for you.
This one you probably already use or know of. Wet and lather your loofah with body soap and then rub your limbs in a circular motion to soap and exfoliate simultaneously.
This is a cheap, economical solution. If you change out your loofah every 3 months like you’re supposed to, this costs you a total of $10-15 per year.
We can recommend this pack of Ecofriendly loofahs. Purchased once a year, they’ll last you a whole year without having to think about buying a replacement.
4. Dry brushing
Dry brushing is another multi use option for physical exfoliation. It’s commonly used as a preventative for cellulite by stimulating your lymph nodes and skin, and is done before stepping into the shower while you are still dry. Physical exfoliation is actually a side effect benefit of dry brushing.
So if you want to target both physical exfoliation and cellulite, dry brushing is a great option.
We like the dual purpose of this Wet and Dry Brush for days where you don’t have time to do a full body dry brush before your shower.
Downsides of physical exfoliation
It’s very easy to get overzealous about physical exfoliation and end up damage your skin’s moisture barrier. Physical exfoliation gives you immediately smooth skin and so you might be inclined to enthusiastically scrub your skin daily and by the time you realize you over did it, it’s a little too late.
So we highly recommend that you start with a 1-2 times a week schedule. Moisturize once you get out of the shower and pay attention to your skin. Is it feeling tight during the day or visibly showing dry skin? Scale back. No? You could add a 3rd session in the week if you want to, but again pay close attention to your skin.
If you’re using a loofah or a glove sponge, be sure to replace or sanitize them regularly.
Chemical Exfoliation for Ingrown Hairs
Chemical exfoliation uses an acid to help remove a certain layer of outer shedding skin with each use. These acids can include AHAs or Alpha Hydroxy Acids, BHAs or Beta Hydroxy Acids, or even ASAs or Acetylsalicylic Acids.
There are further types of AHAs or alpha hydroxy acids, BHAs or or beta hydroxy acids, and ASAs or acetylsalicylic acid – like glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid , and even aspirin. Each of these acids have different sized molecules and target the skin in different ways, that we’ll cover shortly.
AHAs are commonly used for antiaging functions because they help increase skin cell renewal, or help remove outer dead skin to show the inner younger skin. Learn more about alpha hydroxy acids via our guide to AHAs.
BHAs are another penetrative acid that helps remove the outer layer of skin. Learn more about beta hydroxy acids via our guide to BHAs.
And ASAs can be used to help unblock pores and reduce inflammation, and act as a painkiller.
Note: This might be obvious to some readers, but we still wanted to make note. Do not use chemical exfoliators immediately after hair removal! It will hurt. Give your skin a chance to heal, at least 24 hours and even 48 hours to be sure. Then proceed with chemical exfoliation.
Here are some recommendations and short reviews of good chemical exfoliators:
1. Amlactin Body Lotion
This is our favorite everyday chemical exfoliator for ingrown hairs because it is a body lotion not just a treatment and so it is easy to use this daily as your post shower moisturizer and ingrown hair preventative at the same time.
It has 12% lactic acid and most people are able to use this lotion every day without over exfoliating their skin. That’s another great thing about Amlactin Body Lotion – it was made for daily use so it’s amount of acid is effective enough to exfoliate but not so high that you could run into problems with over exfoliation. Lactic acid is also considered a mild acid because its molecules are bigger than say, glycolic acid. The smaller the molecule of the acid, the more likely it is to penetrate your skin and the riskier it is to use on a daily basis.
Finally, there is a BIG WARNING about using AmLactin daily we must share: YOU HAVE TO WEAR SUNSCREEN on top of using this lotion. We cannot emphasize that enough! Never use an AHA acid (lactic, glycolic, mandelic acids) on your skin without using sunscreen as well. These acids speed up the turnover of skin cells but also make your newer skin underneath very sensitive to sun damage. You don’t want to be getting rid of the top layers, getting nice young baby skin, only to be aging it faster and causing irreversible damage to your skin. For more on AHAs, check out our skincare guide to AHAs.
So if you do not wear sunscreen or are likely to skip sunscreen, DO NOT USE this. If you plan on using it only in an area that will not see sun (like bikini area), then it’s okay to use.
Read more verified reviews of Amlactin Body Lotion here.
2. Tend Skin
Tend Skin is our favorite ingrown hair preventative and treatment. Unlike Amlactin which acts as both a body lotion and an exfoliator, Tend Skin is specifically an ingrown hair product that can used only on your ingrown hairs or you can treat any larger area that is generally prone to ingrown hairs to get them before they begin.
Tend Skin uses an ASA, or Acetylsalicylic Acid, which is another word for aspirin. Yes, aspirin. It acts as both an anti inflammatory and unclogs your pores and so is highly effective on ingrown hairs, both as an ingrown hair treatment and as an ingrown hair treatment. It’s an industry favorite and for good reason. It does what it says it does!
Read more verified reviews of Tend Skin here.
3. Other AHA acids for ingrown hairs
We like Amlactin but we also wanted to make note that you can use almost any AHA acid or chemical exfoliator that you use on your face as an ingrown hair treatment with the proper care and attention. Amlactin makes it easy to moderate the strength of lactic acid in a formula for everyday use. But if you use lactic, glycolic, mandelic acid at home for your face and skin, you can use it on say, your bikini line, to deal with ingrown hairs as well. For more on AHAs, check out our skincare guide to AHAs.
The key to using these acids for ingrown hairs to make sure you’re not overdoing it. Pay attention to your skin. Is it a extra strong acid that you use once a week on your face, like a 50% lactic acid peel? It might be too strong for as a regular ingrown hair treatment. A 10-15% acid that you use as part of your nightly routine might make for a better regular treatment.
Again, if you’re using an AHA anywhere where it will see the sun, wear sunscreen!
We like Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting Lotion with 8% Glycolic acid and CosRx AHA 7 Whitehead Power which also has glycolic acid.
Here are some more of the gentler AHA options. Use keywords like “10% glycolic acid” or “15% lactic acid” to see more specific products.
4. BHA acids for ingrown hairs
Have you tried AHAs and found them to be too hard for your sensitive skin? Or you don’t wear sunscreen regularly enough to use an AHA?
You can use a BHA, beta hydroxy acid, that act as a gentler exfoliator and does not make your skin sensitive to sunlight. You have probably heard of BHAs like salicylic acid and azelaic acid being used commonly as acne medications and in anti aging formulas. Their main role is to penetrate pores and clean them out from the inside, which can make BHAs very effective for ingrown hairs. They can target the ingrown hairs before they become inflamed. Like AHAs, they help speed up skin cell renewal. For more on BHAs, read our skincare guide to beta hydroxy acids or BHAs.
Pregnant women should not use BHAs. Unlike AHAs, BHAs are most effective at low dosages.
We like CosRx BHA Blackhead Power and Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting Gel with 2% Salicylic Acid.
Here are other BHA options. Use keywords like “2% BHA” or “2% beta hydroxy acid” to see more specific products.
Treatment: How to treat ingrown hairs after they show up?
In an ideal world, you stop getting ingrown hairs altogether. But sometimes all of our best efforts to prevent ingrown hairs, you wake up with an angry red spot marking the beginnings of a hair that didn’t grow up and out.
To treat ingrown hairs that are already showing, we recommend more of the preventative measures – physical or chemical exfoliation. If you’re using chemical exfoliation, you could also spot treat.
Once the ingrown hair’s head starts to show (it will start to look darker because the hair is visible), you could also use an extractor to encourage it come out altogether. Use this very gently however. Press the looped oval around the hair and if it doesn’t come out easily, leave it, spot treat and try again the next day.
The solutions for preventing and treating ingrown hairs are mostly the same. But its better to start before they appear. It is a bit more effort but make it a routine and it will be worth it long term to not have to treat ingrown hairs.
Home Remedies for ingrown hairs
Alright, so it’s late at night and there is nothing you can buy that will show up immediately. What to do? Here is how to treat ingrown hairs after waxing with home remedies in a pinch.
As we mentioned, in the industry favorite ingrown hair preventative and treatment – Tend Skin – aspirin plays a major role. Do you have any aspirin laying around? Crush a tablet of aspirin on a flat hard surface using the back of a spoon. Gather up the powder and add a few drops of water. Mix until it forms a paste.
You can apply this paste on your ingrown hairs to help reduce redness and encourage the pore to open up. Is this recipe a total replacement of the benefits of Tend Skin. No, but this great for reducing irritation right this minute.
2. Witch Hazel
Some people swear by witch hazel as an ingrown hair treatment. So how does this work?
Witch hazel is an astringent. It helps shrink your skin and pores and by forcing this constriction, it helps the pore push the irritating hair to the surface.
So this is another great way to treat ingrown hairs after waxing with home remedies. It may not be strong enough but it is worth a shot if you have some witch hazel at home.
Try a Different Method of Hair Removal
Sometimes no matter what we do, the ingrown hairs do not lessen or go away. If that’s the case, it’s worth considering a different method of hair removal. Other than waxing, you can look into using an epilator. Or you can look into a more permanent method of hair removal like IPL or laser hair removal.