How To Prevent Ingrown Hairs Naturally
Fun fact: Did you know the only places you don’t have hair follicles are your lips, the palms of your hands, and the bottoms of your feet? Mind = blown.
Hair grows in cycles: It forms in the follicle, emerges, grows, and then falls out. But sometimes it grows in a discombobulated direction and back into the skin, becoming an ingrown hair.
Some of us have curly hair, and those curls, while gorgeous, can spell trouble. This is especially true in areas like underarms, faces, and the pubic region, which are more sensitive and already more prone to ingrown hairs to begin with, regardless of hair type. Even without coarse or curly hair, we’re all going to have to live with an ingrown at some point. Sigh.Shop Clean, Vegan Beauty Products
What causes ingrown hair?
Razor burn is an obvious culprit but genetics and hair type, as mentioned, can also play a part. Though the frequency of ingrown hairs can increase in areas where you’re removing hair, there are opportunities for ingrown hairs anywhere there’s a hair follicle. If you’re on the hairier side to begin with or your hair grows fast, you might also notice you’re predisposed to ingrown hairs. Folks with acne-prone skin are also more likely to get folliculitis, which is where ingrown hairs caused by bacteria or fungus pop up again and again in the same spots. (Looking at you, back of my thighs.)
Hormones, which change throughout the day and even seasonally, can lead to an increase in ingrowns, and so too can a build-up of dead skin cells, sweat, and dirt. Folks who wear tighter clothes are increasing the potential propensity for ingrown hairs and so are those bundled up in heavier clothing to brave the cold, which is why ingrown hairs are often a problem in fall and winter.
Dang, that’s a lot of causes! But don’t stress, dear ones, because we can treat and also prevent these ingrowns from happening at all.
Symptoms of ingrown hair
Though hair follicles are everywhere, so too are pores and ingrown hairs look a bit like pimples. So how can you tell the difference between an ingrown and a zit?
Often, with an ingrown hair, the bumps are usually either bigger and flatter than a zit or maybe small whiteheads that surround a visible hair. Even without a whitehead, the hairs may look like little splinters under the skin. The bumps are typically red, though they can also be brown or purple, because why be boring when your skin can scream, “I’m a hair follicle in distress!”
But, even with all the factors mentioned above, ingrown hairs still tend to crop up most often in regions with heavier hair growth or in areas that have recently been shaved or waxed. Unlike a pimple, ingrown hairs are sometimes itchy, too. In fact, persistent ingrowns in people with beards is sometimes called “Barber’s itch,” so that’s a fun nickname for a not-fun issue.
If your ingrown becomes a larger, swollen or throbbing sac, especially with pus in them, congrats! Your ingrown has graduated from an ingrown hair to an ingrown cyst. This signals that the ingrown hair has become inflamed and likely infected. Ideally, we’re preventing ingrowns or setting the hair free before this, but sometimes these suckers just pop up overnight, like “Ha, ha, boo!”
Natural remedies for ingrown hair
Step 1: Warm Compress
When a hair has gone rogue, start with a warm compress to increase blood flow to the area. This encourages healing and also can reduce inflammation.
Step 2: Cleanse and Exfoliate
Next, try a gentle cleanser followed by an exfoliating scrub to help release the hair(s).
If you don’t have a favorite product, some simple and gentle (and vegan! and clean beauty!) exfoliators can be found in your own kitchen. My favorite exfoliator for anything that’s giving me “owww this hurts and I’m afraid to use anything on it” vibes is just a little bit of baking soda mixed with a few drops of water to make a paste.
If you’re feeling fancy, try making an exfoliator out of sugar mixed with coconut oil or olive oil and a few drops of soothing lavender or antibacterial tea tree oil. Rub the paste on gently to carefully tease out the hairs. No other picking or pulling or prodding needed to encourage the body will do the rest.
Step 3: Soothe the Skin
You can also literally make oatmeal on your body … Well, not exactly, but try a little bit of instant oats mixed with warm—not hot!—water and spread it on the area to soothe. You can also pulse the oats in a blender or food processor to make colloidal oatmeal, AKA powdered oatmeal that mixes more easily with water and makes for an excellent bath additive that’s soothing for your skin all over.
Outside of exfoliation, tea tree oil may also be used on its own to neutralize bacteria, reduce swelling, and promote healing: Add a few drops to a cotton ball or reusable cotton round and follow with a few drops of cold water to dilute then gently dab on the ingrown hair and the skin immediately around it. Aside from tea tree oil (also sometimes labeled melaleuca oil), CBD oil or cream can also reduce inflammation as can aloe vera. Neither CBD nor aloe vera requires any dilution.
What are the best products for ingrown hair?
No matter whether you prefer a serum or an oil product, cruelty-free or vegan, the best products for treating and/or preventing ingrown hairs will be both exfoliating and nourishing. Serums are usually water-based, and oils are, well, you know.Shop Cruelty-free, Clean Beauty Products
Acids like alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), beta hydroxy acid (BHA), glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids are better for prevention, as they can irritate the already hot and bothered skin that surrounds the ingrown hair. Same with retinoids, including Vitamin A. Gentler exfoliants, like niacinamide (a B vitamin) and vitamin C can be used as both a preventative and for treating ingrown hair or soothing inflamed skin. Both niacinamide and Vitamin C, as well as a topical retinoid, can help remove dead skin to prevent ingrowns or discoloration caused by previous ingrown hairs.
Preventing ingrown hair
Some of the best prevention seems obvious, since it’s the opposite of the root causes (see what we did there?) of ingrown hairs: Swap tight clothing for looser outfits (or just rotate to give your body a break). But other ways to naturally prevent ingrown hairs are nearly as simple and might be easier to work into your normal routines.
For ingrowns created by razor burn, changing razor blades frequently will help, though it’s not the most environmentally friendly tactic. Exfoliating before shaving, especially with a product containing salicylic or glycolic acid to slough dead cells will help prevent future ingrowns, as will soaking the skin to plump up the hairs and make them easier to remove. Shave your face, underarms, and legs at the end of your shower or bath and then moisturize immediately after.
Hydration helps keep skin supple and decreases the amount of dead skin. Vegan skincare products and moisturizers with anti-inflammatory ingredients — like chamomile, green tea, and lavender — will add extra ingrown prevention power. For especially sensitive areas or hair follicles that have proved time and time again they can’t be trusted, try a cold cloth or ice pack wrapped in a tea towel after shaving or waxing. Switching hair removal methods to a more long-term solution, like laser hair removal, can also help as laser hair removal targets hair at the follicle level.
If hair removal isn’t a trigger for you, or your ingrowns explode in other areas, exfoliate wherever it is that tends to get ingrown hairs, including that beautiful butt of yours. Other techniques to try include Epsom salt baths, dry (or my preference damp) brushing, and dabbing on a drying toner, like witch hazel, followed immediately by a moisturizer.
Luckily, since they’re seemingly a fact of life, ingrown hairs aren’t impossible to treat or prevent. And, better news, it’s easy to prevent ingrown hairs naturally using clean beauty products. So, draw a bath, get those exfoliants ready, and find the technique that works best for you so you can bid a fond farewell to ingrowns, hopefully forever.
Leah M. Charney (she/her) is sassy yet classy and is always seeking a beauty routine to match. She delights in both the science and aesthetics of the clean beauty movement.
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