An ingrown hair bump, or cyst, extends from your body’s surface and deep underneath it. It often looks like a red pimple with one hair on its surface, but other types can look different and occur on various body parts.

Every pore on your skin contains a hair follicle, some fine and some coarse. Pores are the small holes in our skin that allow sweat and oil to reach the surface of the glands underneath.

The hair grows from the bottom of your pore and is kept bathed in sebum secreted by the pore. But if the top of your pore becomes blocked due to debris or too much sebum and it swells shut, the hair can’t make its way out, resulting in an ingrown hair.

Bacteria can then take over and cause an infection known as folliculitis, which leads to the development of a cyst. Certain diseases or trauma to your skin can also cause them.

Keep reading to learn about the types of ingrown hair cysts, and how to treat and prevent them.

As the name suggests, ingrown hair cysts start off as ingrown hairs. But they can look different depending on the type. The types include:

TypeHow they developAffected areaHow to identify
Pseudofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps)These form around a hair that gets stuck in the follicle and curls back inside.shaved areas, more commonly on your chin, legs, groin, or neckThese look like raised, red bumps along with skin darkening. The bumps can be darker brown on darker skin tones. Pseudofolliculitis barbae is more common in People of Color.
Pilar cysts (also called trichilemmal cysts)These develop from the bottom of your hair follicle, where keratin builds up in the lining and traps the hair.mainly your scalpThese appear as a round bump the same color as your surrounding skin.
Epidermoid cystsThese grow from the top layer of your skin, or the epidermis. But they can still trap an ingrown hair.primarily your head, neck, back, and genitalsThese are the same color as your surrounding skin. They can be larger than other types and may develop from more than one hair follicle.

Pilonidal cyst or sinusThese happen when your hair becomes stuck in the follicle.typically form around your tailbone above your buttocksThis looks small and is often white or yellow.
SteatocystomaThese grow from the sebaceous duct inside the hair follicle and can trap hair.often on your trunk, arms, and groinThis appears yellowish and smooth, though it may look darker on darker skin tones.
Eruptive vellus hair cystsThis develops from an abnormality in your vellus hair follicles.mostly on your chest, limbs, and abdomenWhen irritated in lighter skin tones, these look like smooth papules of a flesh color or red. In darker skin tones, it can be more violaceous (purple) or dark brown-black.

When it comes to razor bumps, the cause is usually improper hair removal techniques.

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

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

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

Razor bumps are most common in Black cisgender males and those of Asian descent, as well as people who shave. You may also be at greater risk of developing bumps with ingrown hairs if you have naturally curly hair.

Other causes based on type include:

  • Pilar cysts: These are caused by the buildup of keratin in your hair follicle, which may be hereditary for some people.
  • Epidermoid cysts: These are triggered by the buildup of keratin. For some people, it’s caused by Gardner’s syndrome.
  • Pilonidal cysts: These are often caused by pressure from tight clothes on your skin, sitting, or riding a bicycle for long periods.
  • Steatocystoma: This is caused by a genetic mutation of the KRT17 gene, which is responsible for making keratin 17. This protein is necessary for healthy nails and hair.
  • Eruptive vellus hair cysts: The exact cause is unknown.

In cases of razor bumps, the primary goal of treatment is to reduce the surrounding inflammation and decrease your risk of infection.

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

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

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

Steroid medications can also cause acne, though. So it’s important to follow a doctor or healthcare professional’s directions.

The core goal of treatment for any of these cysts is to reduce their occurrence by keeping your skin exfoliated and moisturized. Body washes and lotions made with gentle glycolic acid will help.

Once an ingrown hair cyst has become inflamed and starts to change in size, incision and drainage performed by a healthcare professional may be required to shrink your cyst and remove the ingrown hair.

Products to try

Certain OTC products can keep your skin exfoliated and moisturized, which helps reduce the occurrence of ingrown hairs. Shop for them online:

  • products containing benzoyl peroxide
  • products containing retinoids
  • hydrocortisone cream
  • products containing glycolic acid
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Other treatments by type include:

  • Pilar cysts: These don’t need to be treated but can be removed for cosmetic reasons.
  • Epidermoid cysts: These may go away on their own but may need to be removed surgically.
  • Pilonidal cysts: You typically would try a sitz bath or a warm compress first, but you may need antibiotics or surgery.
  • Steatocystoma: These can be removed surgically or with a laser, electrosurgery (removal with heat), or cold therapy with liquid nitrogen. Oral isotretinoin (Accutane) can help shrink the cysts, and you may also need antibiotics.
  • Eruptive vellus hair cysts: These can be treated with certain topical medications such as retinoic acid or lactic acid, or they can be removed and drained with a needle.

What not to do

Never pop an ingrown hair cyst. This can increase your risk of infection and scarring.

Don’t try to lift the hair out with tweezers like you might with typical ingrown hair. At this point, your hair is embedded far too deep underneath the bump or cyst for you to pull it out.

When it comes to razor bumps, it’s better to 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.

If this doesn’t help, you may have a cyst type that requires additional treatment.

In most cases, you won’t need to see a healthcare professional for razor bumps. 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 figure out the type of cyst it is and drain it or remove it.

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

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

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. Laser hair removal is a good way to get rid of ingrown hair because it destroys the underlying hair follicle.

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

If you decide to remove the hair yourself, practice smart hair removal to reduce your chance of ingrown hair. Some types of ingrown hair cysts can’t be prevented simply by avoiding hair removal. In cases where treatment is needed, a doctor will figure out the best course for you.

At-home hair removal tips

  • Only use sharp razors. Dull razors may not cut your hair straight, which can cause the hairs to curl back into your skin.
  • Shave with warm, not hot, water.
  • Replace your disposable razor every 6 weeks.
  • Always use shaving cream, shaving gel, or some other lubricant.
  • Tweeze in the direction of your hair growth only.
  • Avoid overwaxing. You’ll need to let your hair grow out to be as long as an uncooked grain of rice before you can safely remove it again.
  • Apply body lotion after every hair removal session.
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Should you pop or squeeze an ingrown hair cyst?

It’s not a good idea to pop or squeeze an ingrown hair cyst, as you can introduce bacteria that can cause an infection. It can also lead to permanent scarring.

How do you get rid of an ingrown hair cyst?

Home remedies for cysts caused by ingrown hairs include:

  • keep the cyst and the area around it clean and apply antibiotic ointment after cleaning
  • don’t shave around the area and don’t attempt to squeeze or pop the cyst
  • apply warm compresses several times a day to bring the cyst closer to the surface of your skin and encourage draining

If home remedies aren’t helping and the cyst does not appear to be healing, see a doctor. They can prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection and/or determine if the cyst needs to be surgically removed.

Can an ingrown hair cause a hard lump?

Yes, cysts from ingrown hairs can be hard or soft. If the lump is painful, see a doctor. They can determine if you have an infection that needs medical treatment.

How do I get rid of a cyst in my pubic area?

If the pubic cyst is caused by ingrown hair, it may go away on its own, or your doctor can remove it. If it’s infected, you’ll need antibiotics.

Do ingrown hair cysts ever go away on their own?

If they’re not infected, some ingrown hair cysts can go away on their own. In some cases, there’s another underlying cause, such as a genetic mutation, which means they can develop again.

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.

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 of ingrown hairs and bumps.

If your cysts are hereditary, you may need ongoing treatments as they recur.