Between the tools (which are all either extremely sharp or extremely hot), the setting (which can be anything from your own slippery shower to a dimly-lit salon room), and the looming risk of actual bloodshed, body hair removal can be pretty damn intimidating.
Things get even dicier once you start moving those tools down toward your pubic area. Obvious potential for injury aside, the bikini line and overall pubic area are made up of thin, hyper-sensitive skin that's prone to things like irritation — and dreaded ingrown hairs, perhaps the biggest scourge on the hair-removing public.
Ahead, we asked dermatologists all our burning questions about how to get rid of ingrown hairs and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
What is an ingrown hair and what causes it?
As dermatologist Melissa K. Levin, MD, of Entière Dermatology explains, an ingrown hair is essentially your skin's inflammatory reaction to the hair shaft re-entering the skin. "Oftentimes, ingrown hairs are due to hair removal, or if the hair is thicker and curly and is predisposed to curling back in on itself within the follicle," Dr. Levin says.
According to dermatologist Hadley King, MD, the reason why ingrowns often appear along the pubic area is because the hair is already thick and curly, and since the skin in that area is particularly thin and delicate, it's more common for them to grow in on themselves.
What does an ingrown hair look like?
A lot like a pimple, says Dr. King. "It can look like a skin-colouyred small bump, sometimes with a visible hair within it," she says. "If it’s inflamed, the bump can be red, tender, and swollen, and there can be pus."
How do you know if an ingrown hair is infected?
You definitely want to be on the lookout for some of the more obvious signs. "If the ingrown hairs are painful or have pus bumps, also called cysts, then you may have a bacterial folliculitis and you should see your dermatologist for treatment," Dr. King says.
Will an ingrown hair go away on its own?
Sometimes, yes — if an ingrown isn't infected, it can be gradually smoothed away. "If you have an ingrown hair that is not painful and does not have pus, you can continue to gently exfoliate the area," Dr. King says. "As the skin cells turn over, the hair will eventually be released."
How do you get rid of an ingrown hair?
If you're looking for the quickest way to completely eliminate an ingrown hair for good, Dr. Levin says there's really only one option. "Laser hair removal is actually the definitive treatment for ingrown hairs if you also want to remove hair definitively in the area," she explains.
Since laser hair removal can set you back several hundred dollars, Jodi Shays, an aesthetician and founder of Queen Bee Salon & Spa, recommends a spot treatment. "If you see one or two [ingrown hairs], you can spot treat with glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide," says Shays. "But at any sign of irritation, go for unadulterated aloe vera and hydrocortisone." Shays specifically recommends the extremely gentle Epicuren Aloe Vera Calming Gel for the vulva area and bikini line.
How can you prevent ingrown pubic hairs?
"Ingrown hairs can be decreased by not shaving closely," Dr. King says. "For example, use an electric razor rather than a blade so that the hair, even at its shortest, is above the skin's surface. Once the hair gets past the early growth stage, the problem should decrease."
And, just like gentle exfoliation can help get rid of an ingrown hair, it can also help prevent them. "Exfoliation decreases the risk that skin will be covering where the hair is growing," Dr. King says. "If you are going to shave with a blade, use emollients on the skin regularly to keep the skin hydrated and healthy. Wait until after a warm bath or shower to shave, since the warm water preps the skin and hair for an easier shave, and rinse with cool water and pat dry."
Afterward, Dr. King recommends either an over-the-counter hydrocortisone to help soothe irritation, as well as an emollient such as Aquaphor Healing Ointment or Vaniply Ointment. The prevention process isn't particularly easy or glamorous, but it's a lot less annoying than forking over a dermatologist's copay every time you see a bump this summer — especially when you could use that cash to take an Uber straight to the beach.
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