Ingrown hairs suck. You make the choice to shave or wax, or you decide to just live your damn life in a pair of tight pants, and boom—you’re in bumpy, inflamed, ingrown-hair hell. “Technically, our hair was not meant to be shaved; it’s there for an evolutionary reason,” says dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor at Yale University. “So when you do shave, it pisses off the follicle, causing it to bubble up with inflammation as a defense mechanism.”
Of course, we’re far from the cavemen days, and we can now remove, or keep, or shape our body hair as we please. But even if you choose to live an au naturel, hair-filled life, ingrowns can still happen, warns Dr. Gohara, thanks to a combo of friction, sweat, and the natural coarseness of your hair. I know—there's no winning in the smooth-skin game.
So to make the inevitable a bit more bearable, I got Dr. Gohara to explain the absolute best way to get rid of an ingrown hair, fast.
STEP 1: Exfoliate.
The key to preventing and treating all ingrown hairs? Exfoliating. Yes, it's really that basic and simple. "You want to keep your hair follicles 'open' so your hair has a clear path to grow," says Dr. Gohara, "and the first step to that is with a physical exfoliator."
Every time you shower (especially right before you shave, if you’re a shaver), make sure to gently slough away dead skin with a scrubby mitt or a gentle body scrub to keep your hairs from growing inwards or getting caught in the follicle, she says.
STEP 2: Break it down.
If you’re past the point of prevention and a red bump is already visible, don’t try scrubbing it open. “Once the ingrown hair is there, you need to treat it nicely, or you’ll make it worse through inflammation,” she says. After gently massaging the bumps with your mitt or scrub in the shower, towel off, then dab the area with a salicylic acid–based spot treatment.
“Salicylic acid is really effective at breaking through and dissolving excess skin cells, and it’s not usually irritating,” she says. Dab it on morning and night (if the ingrown hair is on your body; if it’s on your face, stick to once a day), and be patient. “Don’t try to dig out the hair with a pair of Tweezers in the morning—it’ll take 3-5 days of consistent application and gentle physical exfoliation to break down that ingrown hair.”
STEP 3: Soothe it.
After your salicylic acid dries, you can “dab a little bit of over-the-counter cortisone cream on the bump to settle down the inflammation and soothe any accompanying razor burn,” says Dr. Gohara. “Cortisone cream shrinks swollen skin by constricting blood vessels, so you’ll get some relief from pain and redness at once.” Apply a thin layer once a day until the bump heals.
And that's it! Easy, peasy, right? I know none of these steps are an instant fix, but there’s only so much you can do when your skin is angry with you. Of course, heading to your dermatologist to get a quick extraction and a cortisone shot is an option if you’re in a mad rush, but for the average day? Let the three simple steps above be your guide.