If you choose to remove the hair around your bikini line, it can be a huge pain (literally). Ingrown hairs are a common side effect of hair removal, and because the hair in the pubic zone is usually thicker and curlier than hair on the rest of your body, it has a tendency to turn back into the skin when growing.
"An ingrown hair is a hair that grows into the skin rather than out and is most common in the bikini area where the hair is coarser," explains Anna Karp, DO. "This can be a hair curving back in and re-entering the skin or a hair that gets trapped on its way out of the skin. Your body reacts to this by producing a red painful bump that usually looks like a pimple."
Meet the Expert
- Anna Karp, DO, is a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Langone.
- Purvisha Patel, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the brand Visha Skincare.
"People with thick hair are more prone to ingrown hairs, but everyone can get these irritating, painful bumps," notes Purvisha Patel, MD. "They get painful and inflamed when there are micro-infections of the follicle and can result in pimples/acne in the area." She adds that in addition to hair removal methods like shaving and waxing, chafing from underwear can cause ingrown hairs.
Learn how to prevent and treat this unwanted but very common side effect of popular hair removal methods.
Use a New Razor
Shaving is one of the go-to methods for this zone because it's quick and easy. Hair naturally has a tapered edge, meaning the hair gradually decreases in its thickness toward the end like the shape of a blade of grass or sword.
Shaving creates sharp edges on hair when it's cut. This sharp edge makes it easier for the hair to pierce the skin and grow back into it. "While shaving, using a sharp blade and shaving cream is important to prevent ingrown hairs because you will cause the least amount of skin irritation this way," says Karp.
Exfoliate Before and After Shaving
Exfoliating the area before and after shaving is an extra step toward keeping ingrown hairs at bay. Patel recommends cleansing the area with an exfoliating body wash, such as the Visha Skincare Top2Toe Body Wash ($20), which contains salicylic acid and bakuchiol to prep for grooming.
For ingrowns that have already cropped up around the bikini line, exfoliating can assist in alleviating them faster. Patel says to "gently scrub the area twice a day with an exfoliating glove or a washcloth with an exfoliating wash" to remove buildup of oils and dead skin cells.
Shave in the Right Direction
Both Karp and Patel agree that one of the most important things you can do to prevent ingrown hairs is to shave in the direction of hair growth, despite what you may have been taught, to get a closer shave. When working against the grain of hair growth, there may be more chance of it breaking and a potentially increased chance of ingrown hairs.
And be mindful of the ingredients in your shaving creams and gels: "Shave gels and products that have edible oils in them can actually clog pores and make ingrown hairs worse," says Patel.
Try Sugaring Instead of Waxing
Waxing and sugaring remove the hair from the follicle, which is why the results can last so much longer than shaving. Sometimes, though, the hair breaks above or below the skin's surface as it's being uprooted. Just like shaving, these sharp, broken ends create a breeding ground for hair growing back into the skin.
"Sugaring is better than waxing for preventing ingrown hairs," says Karp. Keep that in mind if you're prone to getting those angry red bumps. If you go to a professional that uses sugaring paste, you'll have the best chance of avoiding hair growing back into the skin. The paste removes hair in the direction of its growth unlike waxing and sugaring gel, which both tend to remove it in the opposite direction.
Exfoliate, Then Epilate
Epilators use tiny tweezers or coils to uplift each hair out of its follicle. There's usually more chance of breakage using an epilator than when you get a wax or sugar hair removal because hair isn't always taken out at the perfect angle with these devices. There are many brands and models, and what is used affects how much breakage you experience. If you tend to get ingrown hairs, it would be wise to avoid this removal method.
Treat Existing Ingrown Hairs
Most ingrown hairs go away on their own. Sitting in warm baths daily or more than once a day can help, as do hot compresses on the area. "If you can see the hair, a warm compress can soften the hair and bring it closer to the surface. If you cannot see the hair, leave the compress on until the hair becomes visible," says Patel. If you have an ingrown hair that is bothering you, apply a steroid cream to reduce inflammation and any itching or a topical antibiotic cream if it's painful and seems infected. If it doesn't clear up in a few days or gets worse, see your doctor, who might prescribe stronger creams or an oral antibiotic or both.
If you’re in need of help fast, reach for an ingrown hair fighter, but make sure to keep it on the outside of your body only. You might also have some ingredients in your cupboard that you can use as home remedies. And there are other simple things you can do like exfoliating regularly and using a moisturizer to prevent the bumps from appearing in the first place. According to Karp, "Exfoliating with a glycolic or salicylic acid solution or pads will help prevent ingrown hairs after waxing/sugaring by removing dead skin cells that are blocking the hair from coming out."
Consider Laser Hair Removal
There's always a more permanent option if you're sick of having irritated skin from waxing or shaving. "Laser hair removal is the best option if you don't want to deal with ingrown hairs," says Karp. This technique damages the hair follicle, preventing the hair from growing back in. If you don't have any hair around your bikini line, you don't have to worry about it growing in the wrong direction.
Swipe On Deodorant
Yes, really. Your antiperspirant could help keep your bikini area free of irritations and ingrown hairs, according to Karp. "One trick after shaving is to swipe your stick/soft deodorant over the freshly shaven area. Aluminum products have astringent, antibacterial, and anti-sweating properties so this can help also."
Sinclair, R. Healthy hair: what is it? Review J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2007 Dec;12(2):2-5. doi:10.1038/sj.jidsymp.5650046