Ingrown hairs are most common in areas where you shave or wax your hair, but they can occur anywhere hair grows. This includes the pubic area, base of the penis, or shaft of the penis.
Ingrown hairs occur when the tip of a hair curls and grows back into the skin, or grows back into a hair follicle itself. They can cause itchy and painful red bumps, sometimes called razor bumps. They can be filled with clear, yellow, or green pus.
Read on to learn more about ingrown hairs on the penis, including how to treat and prevent this condition.
What does an ingrown hair look like?
What are the symptoms?
Ingrown hairs on any part of the body — including the pubic area, base of the penis, or shaft of the penis — can appear as small red bumps. The bumps may look like pimples or cysts, and may be filled with clear liquid or pus. The pus may be yellow or green if the bump is infected.
The bumps may be itchy, irritated, and painful. You may be able to see the small, dark, ingrown hairs at the center of the bumps.
There are other conditions that may also cause bumps to appear on the pubic area, base of the penis, or shaft of the penis. Many of these conditions are harmless. They can include:
- Allergic reaction to soap or lotion.
- Pearly penile papules. These cause whitish bumps between the shaft and head of the penis.
- Irritation from rubbing on clothing.
- Septic spots. These are also known as common pimples.
- Fordyce spots. These are tiny yellow or white penile bumps. They may be more prominent on darker skin.
Some conditions that may cause bumps in the pubic and penis area are more serious and warrant an immediate trip to the doctor. These include:
- Molluscum contagiosum. This is a viral infection that causes pearly, dimpled bumps.
- Genital herpes. This is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that causes tiny, round blisters.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV). This STD causes painless genital warts.
- Syphilis. This is an STD that causes painless bumps.
Most ingrown hairs will go away on their own.
If ingrown hairs have become infected, you’ll need to treat them to reduce the chance of more irritation and further infection. Infections left untreated can become worse and require medical attention.
Here are some tips for treating and removing ingrown hairs on your penis:
- Before attempting to remove an ingrown hair, make sure to wash the area and your hands well with an antibacterial soap.
- A warm compress will help open the hair follicle and coax the ingrown hair closer to the surface of the bump. You can also try treating the area with an anti-acne product made with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to reduce the swelling and encourage the follicle to open.
- Using a sterilized pin or tweezers, prick open the bump. Gently drain it of fluid or pus.
- Guide the hair out of the bump, taking care not to pull it completely out at the root of the hair.
- Treat the area with an antibacterial ointment or tea tree oil. Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties.
- Avoid shaving or waxing the area until it’s completely healed.
You may also try applying hydrocortisone cream to the area to reduce itching and irritation.
What not to do
Although ingrown hairs can cause very itchy bumps, try to avoid scratching the irritated area. Scratching it could worsen the irritation and spread an infection.
You should also:
- Avoid wearing clothing or undergarments that rub the area or are too constrictive.
- Dry the irritated area as soon as possible after sweating, bathing, or swimming.
- Avoid squeezing the bumps in an attempt to pop them.
Many ingrown hairs will clear up on their own without becoming infected.
Are there any complications?
Infected ingrown hairs, when left untreated, can lead to further bacterial or fungal infection. Severe infections can lead to the formation of painful and large genital boils or swollen lymph nodes. Severe infections can also cause the pubic and groin area to develop dark or raised scars.
Barber’s itch is most commonly experienced by black men. It often appears on the face and neck, but can also occur in the pubic area, particularly if the area is waxed or shaved. Treatment includes antibiotics and plucking of infected hair follicles.
When to seek help
If the area where you’re experiencing ingrown hairs becomes particularly infected or uncomfortable, you may want to visit your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe topical or oral medication to treat the infection and prevent further ingrown hairs. These medications may include:
- topical steroids to reduce irritation
- topical hydrocortisone cream to reduce itch and inflammation
- topical retinoids to reduce dead skin cells and prevent scarring
- oral and topical antibiotics to clear up infections
What causes ingrown hairs?
Ingrown hairs can occur anywhere on the body where you grow hair, and at any time. They’re most common in areas where you shave or wax your hair. As hairs grow back after shaving and waxing, they can curl and grow sideways, directing the tip of the hair back into the skin where it becomes embedded.
Dry skin can cause the hair follicle to be clogged with dead skin cells, forcing the hair to grow sideways instead of upward. It’s also possible to have a genetic disposition that may make you more likely to get ingrown hairs. For example, people with thicker, curlier hair are more prone to ingrown hairs. High levels of sex hormones can also cause hair to grow quickly, possibly leading to more ingrown hairs.
Some skin conditions can also increase your risk, such as keratosis pilaris, also called follicular pilaris or “chicken skin.” This condition causes bumps to form on the skin from excess keratin. This excess keratin can close up hair follicles, causing ingrown hairs.
The following can also lead to ingrown hairs:
- improper shaving techniques
- shaving too often
- not adequately preparing the skin for hair removal
Preventing ingrown hairs
Shaving and waxing the affected area less frequently will help reduce the chance of ingrown hairs. When you do shave or wax, it’s important to use proper hair removal techniques for better results. Here are some tips to keep in mind for proper hair removal:
- Use a fresh razor blade when shaving. A dull blade is more likely to lead to ingrown hairs.
- When shaving, shave in the direction that your hair grows, not against it.
- Try not to shave too closely to the skin.
- In between hair removal, keep the area well exfoliated to reduce the buildup of dead skin cells.
- Use a lotion, cream, or gel that’s designed for sensitive areas when shaving.
- Avoid clothing that keeps the area too moist or constricted.
- Consider hair removal options like electrolysis or laser hair removal.
An ingrown hair on the penis may be uncomfortable, but it’ll clear up on its own in most cases. See your doctor if the area is red or showing other signs of infection. Also talk to your doctor if you regularly develop ingrown hairs. You may have an underlying condition that increases your risk for them.