A cyst is a large bump that extends from the skin’s surface and deep underneath it.

In some instances, an ingrown hair can cause a cyst, resulting in an ingrown hair cyst. Other types of bumps, such as pseudofolliculitis barbae and pimples, may also be mistaken for ingrown hair cysts.

Keep reading to learn what causes these skin conditions to form, plus how to treat them and prevent them from returning.

As the name suggests, ingrown hair cysts start off as ingrown hairs.

At first, you might notice a small pimple-like bump with a hair at its surface. It may also be red in color.

Over time — if the ingrown hair doesn’t go away — the small bump can transform into a much larger one. The resulting bump can be red, white, or yellow. It may also be painful to the touch.

Identifying pseudofolliculitis barbae

Although it’s possible for cysts to develop near ingrown hairs, most bumps that form near ingrown hairs are likely to be caused by pseudofolliculitis barbae, also known as razor bumps.

Razor bumps can occur anywhere on your body, but they’re more likely to develop in areas that are prone to ingrown hairs, including your:

Identifying cystic acne

Ingrown hair cysts and razor bumps may also resemble cystic acne.

While an infected ingrown hair cyst starts off as a regular ingrown hair, acne cysts are caused by a combination of bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells that accumulate deep under the hair follicle.

Cystic acne can be widespread in one area, such as your back or face. Ingrown hair cysts, on the other hand, are smaller in number and contained — you may just have one.

Improper hair removal techniques may lead to these bumps.

Whether you shave, wax, or tweeze, removing hair isn’t always trouble-free. The process itself can cause swelling, which may irritate your skin and lead to razor bumps and cysts.

Removing a hair can also cause the new hair that grows in its place to grow in incorrectly. The new hair may grow sideways and eventually curl back down.

When this happens, the hair follicle can close over the hair so it becomes stuck, or ingrown. The skin responds by becoming inflamed, treating the curled-back hair as a foreign object.

Razor bumps are most common in Black men and people who shave.

You may also be at greater risk for developing bumps with ingrown hairs if you have naturally curly hair.

The primary goal of treatment is to reduce surrounding inflammation and decrease your risk for infection.

Possible treatments for razor bumps include keeping the skin moisturized and discontinuing shaving, which allows the ingrown hairs to grow out.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications containing benzoyl peroxide or retinoids can reduce inflammation and decrease the size of razor bumps or ingrown hair cysts.

Prescription acne medications might be needed if OTC methods don’t work for razor bumps or ingrown hair cysts. For example, a healthcare professional may prescribe a steroid cream such as hydrocortisone to help reduce redness and pain around the bump or cyst.

Cystic acne is unlikely to clear up without the help of prescription-strength medications.

The ultimate goal of treatment for any ingrown hairs is to reduce their occurrence by keeping the skin exfoliated and moisturized. Body washes and lotions made with gentle glycolic acid will help.

However, once an ingrown hair cyst has become inflamed and starts to fluctuate in size, incision and drainage may be required to shrink the cyst and remove the ingrown hair.

What not to do

Never pop an ingrown hair cyst, as this can increase your risk for infection and scarring.

You also shouldn’t try to lift the hair out with tweezers like you might with a normal ingrown hair. At this point, the hair is embedded far too deep underneath the bump or cyst for you to pull it out.

Instead, you should encourage the bumps and cysts to go down and the hair to straighten upward by gently scrubbing them with a warm cloth a couple of times a day.

Treating an infection

If you develop an infection, a healthcare professional will prescribe either topical or oral antibiotics. Antibiotics will help reduce inflammation and pain while also preventing the infection from spreading and getting worse.

In most cases, you won’t need to see a healthcare professional for these types of bumps and cysts. OTC treatments can usually help coax the hair out.

If the bumps or cysts become extremely bothersome — or if they aren’t fading — see a healthcare professional or dermatologist.

They can drain the cyst and remove the ingrown hair. You can book an appointment with a dermatologist in your area using our Healthline FindCare tool.

You should also see a healthcare professional if you suspect an infection. Signs of infection include:

  • pus oozing from the bump or cyst
  • increased redness
  • itchiness
  • increased pain
  • foul odor
  • swelling
  • fever

Razor bumps and ingrown hair cysts can take several days or even weeks to fully clear up on their own. Timely treatment can help get rid of them and prevent them from returning.

Cystic acne will likely require prescription acne treatments.

If ingrown hairs continue to form, see a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying causes. They may also recommend more permanent hair removal methods, such as laser hair removal, to help reduce your risk for ingrown hairs and bumps.

The only way you can prevent ingrown hairs from occurring at all is to refrain from hair removal altogether.

Hair removal methods that don’t require shaving are less likely to result in ingrown hairs, but they don’t necessarily get rid of the problem entirely. If you’re prone to getting ingrown hairs, you may still be at mild risk even with some of these methods.

The best way to reduce the incidence of ingrown hairs is to stop tweezing, plucking, and waxing the hairs until the ingrown hair has made its way out by itself or with the help of a professional.

If you do decide to remove the hair yourself, practice smart hair removal to reduce your chance of ingrown hairs.