What causes ingrown hairs?
Ingrown hairs are simply hairs that do not find their way to the surface of the skin. Hair grows from a hair bulb deep in the skin and then must find its way through the hair follicle to the outside world. On the scalp, a hair will grow for years while on the body the growth phase is a few weeks or months (cool little fact: this is why hairs are much shorter on the body than scalp, shorter growth phase). Once the growth phase ends, there is a resting phase and finally a shedding phase when the old hair is pushed out by a new hair growing out of the bulb. When left alone, this cycle of hair growth, shedding, and new growth causes very few ingrown hairs. However, once we start removing unwanted hair, those changes to the hair can cause them to become ingrown.
Why do ingrown hairs seem worse when you shave or wax?
Because they ARE worse. Shaving can irritate the skin, causing razor bumps that may block the follicle openings. When you wax, hairs are pulled out by the root. This can damage the hair follicle making it more difficult for the hairs to grow straight. Similarly, the new hair made by the bulb after waxing often is finer and lacks the rigidity to push through the pore onto the surface of the skin.
Do you have any preparation tips for minimizing razor bumps and ingrown hairs on your bikini line and armpits from shaving/waxing?
Yes! Before you shave or wax do NOT exfoliate! You want a nice layer of dead skin to protect your underlying living skin.
- Shave at the end of your shower when your skin is warm and soft.
- Apply a shower oil or moisturizer to the skin prior to the shaving cream. This will provide a protection for the skin from the razor.
- Use a shaving cream or oil that is very slippery to make it easier for the razor to slide gently over the skin.
- Do not push down hard with the razor. This pressure will make it more likely you will nick the surface of your skin. It is better to shave the same area 10 times gently than once with too much pressure.
- Shave against the grain, if the hairs grow towards your toes, shave towards your head.
- Use a sharp blade and switch out your razor blades regularly.
- After the shower, apply a bland moisturizing cream or oil to shaved areas.
- As I said before, do not exfoliate for three days before your appointment. You want a nice layer of dead skin to protect the living skin from being pulled off with the wax.
- Directly after waxing, apply a soothing balm to the skin to protect it from irritation and to help it heal if by chance some living skin came off with the unwanted hair. It is also great for shaving nicks.
What are some things you can do after shaving/getting waxed to prevent bumps/ingrown hairs?
Avoid exfoliating the area for three days afterwards to allow your skin time to heal. Then start with gentle exfoliation to prevent future ingrown hairs. Options include using an exfoliating body wash in the shower, a glycolic pad when you get out or an exfoliating moisturizer. Only use one of these products or you will overly irritate your skin. I like chemical exfoliants better than physical ones because the physical ingredients can damage the skin if scrubbed too hard.
These products will sting if used too soon after waxing or shaving so do not rush to add them back into your regimen! For my patients with severe ingrown hairs or pigmented marks where ingrown hairs once sat, I prescribe tretinoin cream to be used at night. This encourages skin cell turnover to further prevent ingrown hairs and helps the pigmented cells slough off.
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Meet the author: Board-certified and practicing dermatologist, Dr. Heather D. Rogers, MD, is the founder of Doctor Rogers Skin Care and Modern Dermatology in Seattle, Washington. She studied at Stanford, University of Washington School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. She lectures nationally, is well published, and an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Highly respected among the skin care community, Dr. Rogers has been annually named “Top 1% of Most Honored Doctors in the US” by Castle Connolly.