How to Get Rid of Ingrown Hair, According to a Dermatologist

Three steps to smooth, happy skin.

model in a bathing suit on a beach with hairless skin and no ingrown hairs
(Image credit: Edward Berthelot/Getty)

Ingrown hair sucks, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The good news? Getting rid of ingrown hairs, a.k.a. razor bumps, can be a pretty quick, easy, and painless process. While proper prep before shaving or waxing can reduce the risk of developing an ingrown hair—always use a clean razor and shaving cream; exfoliate before shaving; and move your razor in the direction of hair growth—inflamed, red dots can still pop up, even when you do everything right. 

“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 shave, it pisses off the follicle, causing it to bubble up with inflammation as a defense mechanism.”

To make the inevitable a little more bearable—and get your skin in shape for summer—Dr. Gohara is breaking down the best way to get rid of ingrown hairs.

How to Get Rid of Ingrown Hairs

Step 1: Exfoliate

Getting rid of dead skin cells and keeping the skin smooth is the most important step to both preventing and getting rid of ingrown hairs. "You want to keep your hair follicles open so your hair has a clear path to grow," says Dr. Gohara. “The first step to that is with a physical exfoliator."

Every time you shower, make sure to gently slough away dead skin with a scrubby mitt or a gentle face scrub to keep your hairs from growing inwards or getting caught in the follicle, she says. While a body scrub is a-ok for the majority of your skin, make sure to use something gentler for the sensitive skin around your bikini line.

Step 2: Apply Salicylic Acid

“Once the ingrown hair is there, you need to treat it nicely, or you’ll make it worse through inflammation,” Dr. Gohara explains. After gently massaging the bumps with your mitt or scrub in the shower, towel dry the area and then dab on a salicylic acid–based spot treatment morning and night. If the ingrown hair is on your face or in your beard, stick to once a day application. “Salicylic acid is really effective at breaking through and dissolving excess skin cells, and it’s not usually irritating,” she says. It’ll typically take three to five days of consistent application to break down the ingrown hair. 

Step 3: Use a Cortisone Cream

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.

While these three steps should do the trick, make sure to consult your dermatologist if your ingrown hair isn’t going away, feels extra painful, or seems to be getting worse. 

Best Products to Treat Ingrown Hairs

Chloe Metzger
Beauty Editor

Chloe Metzger is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, overseeing the editorial content and growth strategy of the hair, makeup, and skin space on digital, while also obsessively writing about the best hair products for every hair type (curly girl here; whattup), and the skincare routines that really, truly work (follow her on Instagram to see behind-the-scenes pics of that magazine life). She brings nearly a decade of writing and editing expertise, and her work has appeared in AllureHealthFitnessMarie ClaireStyleCaster, and Parents. She also has an unhealthy adoration for Tom Hanks and would like to please meet him one day, if you could arrange that. Thanks.

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