When the hair growing out past the surface of the skin begins to curl and grow back into the hair follicle, it is known as an ingrown hair. Ingrown hairs are a common occurrence that look like a small pimple with a tiny light-colored head on the hair follicle. They are often painless, and when given time, will typically grow out when ready. In certain circumstances, these hairs may become problematic, causing pain, irritation, swelling, soreness and infection.
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Hair that is naturally curly is more prone to becoming ingrown than straight hair. For this reason, ingrown hair frequently grows in the pubic region where hair is often tightly curled, even for those with straight scalp hair. Wearing tight clothing that creates friction by rubbing the hair of the body back into the surface of the skin, allowing easier access for skin penetration, is also known to be a precursor for ingrown hair development. The primary cause of most ingrown hair however is shaving practices that directly contribute to hair curvature, such as stretching the skin during shaving, shaving too closely or with multiple blades, and shaving against the natural direction that the hair grows.
A minor form of folliculitis (infection of the hair follicle), pseudofolliculitis barbae, commonly known as razor or shaving bumps, this symptom of ingrown hair is caused when the body reacts to the hair growing back inside the follicle as if it were foreign material. This reaction can occur anywhere on the body that hair is shaved, particularly if closely shaved, however is most often a problem for men who shave facial hair. African-American men, whose hair shafts naturally curve, as well as men with curly hair of all ethnicities, are more prone to experiencing this problem as a result of ingrown hair.
After removing hair in the area through shaving or waxing, many women become susceptible to ingrown hair growth in the region of the vulva. This growth commonly leads to the development of a sebaceous cyst at the site of one or more of the ingrown follicles. When an ingrown hair blocks the oil gland, a hard, often painless cyst forms that eventually goes away on its own. In many instances however, a sebaceous cyst continues to grow and become inflamed, increasing in discomfort, and requiring medical intervention to drain the fluid inside or surgically remove it.
Ingrown hairs must be allowed to naturally grow out, with results best achieved when cutting, removal or tight clothing does not restrict the hair in the area. In cases where there is discomfort or pain from the inflammation at the site, several daily applications of a warm compress and regular use of a sitz bath can soothe the irritation. For persistent inflammation or associated infection, antibiotics, topical antiseptics and antibacterial cleansers may be needed.
Avoiding too close a shave, shaving in the direction of the hair, and using creams or gels to soften the hair before shaving can curb the development of ingrown hairs. Using depilatory hair removal creams, electrolysis and laser hair removal can also work to remove the risk involved with shaving. Lowering the amount of irritation in areas generally affected can reduce growth, and women may lower instance of pubic ingrown hairs by not shaving or waxing.