Ingrown hairs are hairs that curl back into the skin instead of growing out. Many hair removal techniques blunt and toughen the ends of hair. This allows them to more readily pierce the skin, leading to this occurrence.
Coarse or curly hair is more prone to becoming ingrown than fine, straight hair. Ingrown hairs tend to crop up anywhere you shave, tweeze, or wax, including your armpits.
Ingrown hair can often be treated at home with over-the-counter products or natural solutions. Things to try include:
- Steroid cream. If your skin is very irritated, try using a topical steroid treatment to bring down inflammation.
- Exfoliation. Natural products make excellent exfoliators when combined with oil or another base. These include sugar, kosher salt, and baking soda. Baking soda can also be effective at reducing inflammation.
- Moisturize. Dry skin is more prone to ingrown hair than moisturized, supple skin. Make sure to pamper your armpits before and after hair removal with a noncomedogenic moisturizer, and shaving cream.
- Gentle scrubbing. Wash and moisturize the area. Then, use a clean, soft toothbrush to gently scrub the skin in a circular motion, to release the hair. You can also use a clean washcloth, or other abrasive substance.
- Topical retinoids. Over-the-counter products containing ingredients such as adapalene, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid, help to exfoliate skin, clearing away dead skin cells, and making ingrown hair less likely to occur. Adapalene, derived from vitamin A, has been at reducing ingrown hair growth, and eliminating infection, when combined with clindamycin.
- Benzoyl peroxide. The topical antiseptic benzoyl peroxide (often used to treat acne) has been shown to be effective at reducing the pustules, papules, and hyperpigmentation associated with ingrown hair, according to a 2004 study reported in the clinical journal .
If you get an ingrown hair in your armpit, you’ll probably want to do whatever you can to make it go away, but sometimes, watching and waiting will be enough to do the trick. It’s important not to further irritate the area or to create an opportunity for an infection.
If you have an ingrown hair that becomes infected, you’ll need to treat the infection as well as the ingrown hair itself. Infected ingrown hairs can become painful, hard, and filled with pus. The surrounding area may also become red and warm to the touch.
If the infection does not appear to be severe, try treating it at home:
- Apply a warm or hot compress, or tea bags, several times a day. This will help bring the infection to a head.
- Follow up the hot compresses with twice-daily applications of antiseptic gel or wash.
- Don’t shave or use any hair removal products during this time.
If the infection doesn’t improve within one or two days, see your doctor. They may prescribe antibiotic treatments for you to use, either topically or by mouth.
It’s important to treat any type of infection which occurs in the underarm. Untreated infections can cause the lymph nodes in that area to swell up with drainage from the infected follicle.
Ingrown hairs can be painful. If you’ve allowed your underarm hair to grow out, they may also be lurking underneath, causing irritation. Deodorants and sweat might further aggravate the skin, making ingrown hairs in your armpit more uncomfortable.
Ingrown hairs often resolve on their own, within a few days, or weeks. They may also turn into longer-lasting, ingrown hair cysts, which require at-home, or medical treatment. The occurrence of ingrown hair in armpits can also become chronic.
You can have one or many ingrown hairs in your armpits. Symptoms include:
- red, solid bumps (these may be round, or slightly cone shaped; the ingrown hair may be visible as a line or as a tiny dot, on or near the top of the bump)
- red bumps with pus-filled heads
- pain, or discomfort
- irritated skin
Ingrown hairs can resemble razor burn. If you’re not sure which you have, avoiding hair removal, and treating the area with a gentle moisturizer will help.
Ingrown hairs can also look like boils which are caused by bacteria in the hair follicle. Both boils and ingrown hairs can be treated with exfoliation and good hygiene.
There are a number of causes of armpit lumps, some of which are serious. If you’re unsure whether you have an ingrown hair or something else, see your doctor. They can give you an accurate diagnosis and recommend treatment for whatever you have.
Ingrown hair can occur anywhere you shave or use hair removal, such as the armpits. People with curly, or coarse hair, are more likely to get ingrown hairs than those with fine or straight hair.
Ingrown hair can often be treated at home. They can also get infected, requiring additional treatment. If you have an ongoing ingrown hair problem under your arms, changing your hair removal regimen may help.
If the problem remains chronic, talk to a doctor for a better solution.