You get ingrown pubic hairs when your pubic hair grows back into the skin, instead of up to the surface. It can happen when pubic hair has been shaved, waxed, or plucked.
When an ingrown hair develops, you may notice small, round bumps called papules, or small, pus-filled bumps called pustules. In some cases, the skin around the ingrown hair may become darker. This is known as hyperpigmentation. You may also experience pain or itching around the area of the ingrown hair.
Certain people may be at a higher risk for ingrown hairs. For example, people with thick, curly hair tend to develop ingrown hairs more often than people with fine, thin hair. This is especially true with pubic hair, which tends to be coarser than hair on the head or the rest of the body.
When you remove hair, it usually grows back. Most hair shafts will grow up through the skin without causing any problems. Other hairs may grow underneath the skin. For example, when you shave, the shortened hair can curl back and grow into your skin.
When hair grows back into the skin, the body responds to the hair as if it were a foreign object. That’s when symptoms begin, including pain, itching, redness, or swelling.
In most cases, you don’t need to treat ingrown pubic hairs. They’ll often clear up on their own without treatment. If the hairs don’t start to grow back up through the skin, you may need to try one of the following treatment options.
1. Stop removing the hair in that area
Stop waxing, shaving, or plucking the hair in that area until the ingrown hair goes away. Continuing to shave will aggravate the sensitive area even more. Scratching or picking at the ingrown hair will increase your discomfort. It could even lead to a skin infection or leave a scar.
2. Apply warm compresses
Place warm compresses on the area. You can also rub a wet washcloth or soft toothbrush in a circular motion over the skin.
3. Gently pull out the hair
Once the hair emerges above the skin, use sterile tweezers or a needle to gently pull it. Try not to pluck it out completely until the area is healed, or the skin will heal over the hair again. Don’t dig into your skin. Breaking through your skin could cause an infection.
4. Remove dead skin
Gently wash and exfoliate around the ingrown hair to help the hair return to the surface of the skin. If that doesn’t work, your doctor might prescribe a drug that can help dead skin cells slough off more quickly.
5. Use creams to reduce inflammation
If the ingrown pubic hair is causing a lot of redness and inflammation, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream. This topical treatment can reduce swelling and irritation around the hair.
6. Use retinoids
Retinoids, such as tretinoin (Renova, Retin-A), can speed up the clearing of dead skin cells. They may also help clear up dark skin patches that form because of the ingrown hair. You’ll need a prescription from your doctor for retinoids. These medicines can cause dry skin. Do not use any products with retinoids if you are pregnant. This medication is dangerous to the baby and can cause birth defects.
If the ingrown pubic hair gets infected, the bumps may be painful and filled with pus. To treat the infection, you may need to see your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or wash. If the infection is severe, you might need to take an antibiotic by mouth.
A few over-the-counter and home remedies can relieve bumps and possibly prevent ingrown hairs. Here are a few to try.
- Exfoliate with salicylic acid or glycolic acid. These products will help keep your hair follicles open, so the hairs don’t get trapped again. Don’t use these products if you already have an ingrown hair, because they could irritate the area.
- Use a benzoyl peroxide cream. This ingredient in over-the-counter acne medicines can help dry up the affected area and reduce redness.
- Moisturize. A non-greasy moisturizer can get rid of dead skin cells, which often clog follicles and contribute to ingrown hairs.
- Tea tree oil kills bacteria and brings down swelling. It’s sometimes used to treat acne, and it may also work for ingrown hairs. Mix the oil with water to dilute it, and apply using a cotton ball.
- Sugar is a natural exfoliator. Mix it with olive oil or honey to moisturize the skin and kill bacteria. Apply the paste in a circular motion, and then rinse with warm water.
- Baking soda helps to exfoliate and bring down inflammation in the skin. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 1 cup of water. Use a cotton ball to apply it to your skin, and then rinse with cold water.
What to avoid
Here are some things to avoid if you have an ingrown hair:
- Try not to pull or pick at the ingrown hair. You could cause an infection.
- Don’t squeeze the bumps. Trying to pop the bumps could cause an infection or leave a scar.
- If you do try to remove the hair, do it gently. Don’t dig under the skin.
The best way to prevent ingrown pubic hair is by not waxing, shaving, or plucking, but that’s not always practical. If you do continue to groom your pubic hair, follow these steps to prevent future ingrown pubic hairs.
1. Prime the pubic area for shaving
Treating the pubic region before using a razor to shave may reduce your risk for ingrown hairs when the hair starts to grow back. First, wash your skin with a mild soap. Rub on a lubricating shave cream or gel, or one that’s designed for sensitive areas. When you’re finished, dry the area thoroughly before putting on your underwear and pants.
2. Use a single-bladed razor
Some razors are designed to reduce the risk of ingrown hairs. You can try one of these special razors, or just buy a single-bladed razor.
If your razor is several uses old, replace it with a fresh one. Dull blades don’t make clean, precise cuts and can increase your risk for an ingrown hair.
3. Consider laser hair removal
Though expensive, laser hair removal is a long-lasting solution to ingrown hairs. Laser hair removal removes hair at a deeper level, damaging the hair follicle. In most cases, that prevents the hair from growing back. Laser hair removal requires several treatments over the course of a few weeks and months, but the results are usually semi-permanent. Laser removal is not as effective on blond or very light-colored hair.
4. Look into non-razor hair removal options
Chemical hair removers are an option, but they can irritate sensitive skin. Test the hair remover on a small patch of skin on another part of your body before using it on your pubic area. If you do not have a reaction within 24 hours, it should be safe to use. Keep in mind, the skin in the genital area is much more sensitive than the skin on your arm or leg.
Some prescription creams reduce hair regrowth, especially when you use them after laser or other hair removal treatments.
Electrolysis is a permanent hair removal treatment. It uses an electrode to destroy the hair root. Like laser hair removal, electrolysis requires several treatments over the course of a few weeks or months.
When to see your doctor
An occasional ingrown pubic hair is nothing to be alarmed about. Following the prevention steps discussed above may help you avoid ingrown hair in the future. You might want to see your doctor about ingrown pubic hairs if:
- You often get ingrown pubic hairs. Your doctor can help you find a treatment to prevent future problems.
- You have too much pubic hair. If you have abnormal or unusual hair growth, your doctor may need to look for any health issues that could be contributing to the problem.
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