Real talk: ingrown hairs hurt. Typically, the painful follicles are reserved for summertime talk because bikinis put them on display. But it’s important to note that ingrowns, which are hair follicles trapped by dead skin, can happen year-round. Anything from your shaving routine to those cute leggings could be to blame for the impossible-to-ignore bumps. So, what can you do about them? Here’s everything you need to know to get your bikini line under control.
Hair removal increases your chance of getting an ingrown.
Ingrown hairs occur when hair grows back into the skin instead of up and out to the surface. You risk getting an ingrown any time you remove hair via shaving, waxing, or plucking. And ladies with thick, coarse, or curly hair down there are more susceptible.
“Shaving often causes ingrown hairs and razor bumps, especially when too much pressure is applied as it will irritate the skin and cause hair to grow crooked,” Dr. Dennis Gross, dermatologist and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, tells SELF. “Waxing can cause an imbalance in the hair follicle, which is subsequently unable to grow in its normal upward direction. And certain waxes can block hair follicles from exiting the shaft.”
But there are other factors that can cause hairs to get sidetracked.
Unfortunately, passing on the Brazilian isn’t always a guarantee you’ll be ingrown free. Any new hairs growing from under the skin’s surface can become trapped, too. “If you trim the hair versus removing it from the root, you’re less likely to get ingrowns,” Shobha Tummala, founder and CEO of Shobha, tells SELF. “However that’s not a guarantee. Ingrowns can happen regardless of the hair removal (or non-removal) you choose.” Tight-fitting clothes (like tights and leggings) and non-breathable fabrics can impede the hairs from freely growing out. And those thick winter moisturizers can block pores, adding to the chance of an ingrown hair.
If you’re going to shave down there, take your time.
Start in the shower, the steam helps soften hair and skin for a smoother shave. Shaving in a hurry can cause you to press down extra hard, but go easy on the pressure. It’s better to go over the area 10-15 times lightly than two-three times too hard. And make sure to shave in multiple directions always with the grain. Dr. Gross suggests using a gentle exfoliator before shaving to get rid of dead skin cells and help ingrown hairs return to the surface of the skin. Look for a body scrub or exfoliating pads to rub over the area.
Use a shaving cream or oil to hydrate and protect the skin while shaving. Note that when shopping drugstore brands beware of ingredients that may irritate the skin, like artificial fragrance. “The super-strength may not always be the best option as it may dry out and irritate the skin. Make sure to keep the skin moisturized,” says Tummala.
If you get an ingrown, let it be.
If you get an ingrown, it’s best to leave it alone until the bump and redness disappear. Dr. Gross recommends using a warm compress, and eventually the hair will grow out on its own. You should also hold off on grooming the area (that means waxing, shaving, and plucking) until the ingrown has cleared up.
Never attempt to remove or pop ingrowns yourself.
While it’s easy to find YouTube videos demo’ing at-home ingrown hair removal, this isn’t something you ever want to do. Picking at ingrowns is a major no-no. It could lead to an infection or scarring. “Bacteria from your fingers/nails can spread possible infection and lead to further irritation,” says Tummala, and Dr. Gross agrees. “Ingrowns may become cystic (the hair coils up inside and keeps growing in a sac) and can potentially pinch a nerve. If the area becomes red and inflamed you should see a doctor at the first sign of an infection or severe pain.”
And you can get help from your dermatologist if it gets too bad.
Your dermatologist can prescribe topical antibiotic gels to prevent future ingrowns. If necessary, he or she can also surgically remove the ingrown hairs. If this is a recurring issue, Dr. Gross suggests speaking with your dermatologist or a licensed professional about laser hair removal. “It’s a more permanent option and prevents ingrown hairs from returning – if hairs aren’t growing, there can’t be ingrowns.”