If you have body or facial hair (and especially if you prefer to remove it), you've probably dealt with an ingrown hair at some point. If not, count yourself lucky, because when one of these pesky hairs makes an appearance, it isn't exactly a fun issue to endure. Ingrown hairs are often painful, uncomfortable, and annoying, and they leave many people wondering how to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
We totally understand the urge to ditch deep ingrown hairs, but this is where things get a bit complicated. According to dermatologists, most ingrown hairs go away within a couple of weeks and don't actually need to be removed at all. "I encourage patients not to pick at ingrown hairs on their own because it can cause damage, scarring, or infection, especially if sharp tools are used," says board-certified dermatologist Dendy E. Engelman, MD. "It’s not easy or desirable to hear, but the best course of action is usually allowing time for your body to heal and sticking to safe skincare practices—like gentle exfoliation and anti-inflammatory ingredients—that can help speed up that process."
Whether a current ingrown hair is bothering you or you're looking for prevention tips, keep reading to learn all you need to know about how to remove a deep ingrown hair safely, straight from dermatologists.
Meet the Expert
What Is a Deep Ingrown Hair?
An ingrown hair is when a hair grows under the skin rather than out or above it. Usually, deep ingrown hairs look a bit like a pimple, appearing as a red, raised bump. They can be itchy, painful, swollen, or uncomfortable.
"Ingrown hairs often occur after shaving, tweezing, or waxing, and can be found in any area where hair grows, such as the face, legs, armpits, and pubic area," Engelman says.
What Causes Deep Ingrown Hair?
Deep ingrown hairs frequently arise when a hair has been removed and then starts growing back and curves into the skin. "Ingrown hairs are most commonly caused by waxing, shaving, tweezing, threading, or cutting hair close to the skin," says board-certified dermatologist Melanie Palm, MD. "Dead skin cells can also clog a hair follicle and cause it to grow under your skin, rather than out from your skin."
People with coarse, thick, or curly hair are often more likely to have ingrown hairs. That said, anyone with hair can get an ingrown hair.
Can You Remove Deep Ingrown Hair?
Ingrown hairs usually go away on their own. This means that most of the time, you don't need to worry about removing them. But if the deep ingrown hair is giving you a lot of trouble and lasts more than a couple of weeks, it's a good idea to see a doctor. "If an ingrown hair persists after about two weeks or begins to worsen in appearance, I recommend seeing a dermatologist for help," Engelman says.
You can remove ingrown hairs on your own, but it's typically best to leave this task to a dermatologist or your primary care physician. "It’s possible to remove visible ingrown hairs with the help of a sterile needle and tweezers," Palm says. "But unless you’re skilled enough and able to do this in a clean environment, I generally advise against removing deep ingrown hairs yourself, as there’s a risk for infection, scarring, and damage to the skin."
How to Remove a Deep Ingrown Hair Safely
Remember, if you have a deep ingrown hair that just isn't going away, see your dermatologist. In some cases, they might use laser hair removal to remove your ingrown hair. Technology in this area has come a long way, and doctors today have access to lasers that can treat all skin types. "It is highly effective and less painful, and most importantly safe on darker skin tones, which is ever so important in our changing demographics in the U.S.," Palm says.
Alternatively, your doctor might prescribe topical treatments like retinoids, which help reduce skin hyperpigmentation and remove dead skin cells. They also might prescribe steroids, which reduce inflammation and swelling.
Some treatments are even simpler. Your physician might suggest you apply a warm compress to the ingrown hair or hit pause on removing hairs from that area, while some dermatologists might suggest applying apple cider vinegar to the ingrown hair. This can help because apple cider vinegar contains anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe irritated skin, Engelman says. Palm adds that in severe cases, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics to prevent an infection from arising.
Can You Prevent a Deep Ingrown Hair?
It isn't possible to prevent all ingrown hairs, but you can take some steps to make them less likely to occur. See a few of Engelman and Palm's top tips below.
- Prep for hair removal with water: Before shaving, tweezing, or waxing, make sure to prepare your skin by washing it with warm water.
- Use shaving cream or gel: When shaving, make sure to first apply a gel, cream, or even body wash or conditioner. This adds lubrication and can help prevent ingrown hairs.
- Choose the right razor and technique: Use a sharp razor and shave in the direction your hair is growing. This can reduce irritation and decrease the likelihood of razor bumps and hair growing in different angles.
- Use an exfoliating product: Integrate a gentle exfoliant into your routine before or after shaving. This can help remove dirt and dead skin cells that could potentially clog pores or hair follicles.
- Keep skin moisturized: Keep your skin happy by moisturizing regularly.
The Final Takeaway
Most ingrown hairs will subside fairly quickly if you leave them alone. However, if an ingrown hair is really bothering you or lasts more than a couple of weeks, make an appointment to see your primary care doctor or a dermatologist. What you probably don't want to do is remove the deep ingrown hair yourself. This puts you at risk of damaging your skin or causing an infection, which often isn't worth the risk considering that a large percentage of ingrown hairs go away on their own.