Ingrown hairs—how to remove and prevent painful bumps

Good news! It’s entirely possible to avoid pesky ingrown hairs that can be caused by shaving

Woman shaving leg in bathroom using a razor
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It only takes a few ingrown hairs to spoil a silky-smooth shave. And all it requires to trigger those is for dead skin cells to clog your hair follicles, causing short but growing hairs to get stuck under the skin’s surface. But why the angry bumps and irritation? And how do you calm them?

Essentially, your skin treats ingrown hairs as it would any foreign object—it initiates an immune response, complete with redness and inflammation. The results are not pretty, and can also be quite painful. Thankfully, prepping your skin properly and shaving with the best razors for women can make a huge difference. 

To find out what works, we spoke with Toyah Warnock, organic chemistry PhD student and co-founder of eco-friendly razor brand Lane 44. She debunked some shaving myths and shared expert advice on how to avoid ingrown hairs altogether.

Preventing ingrown hairs when shaving

Toyah says, contrary to popular belief, “one blade is better than many.” You might want to rethink your five-blade razor and consider a single-blade alternative. 

Multi-blade razors are designed to pull the skin taut, but as Toyah explains, “This can cause the remaining blades to cut under the skin’s surface which can lead to ingrown hairs. Single-blade razors cut at the skin’s surface without having to apply any pressure.”

Remember to replace blades after four to six uses. Although your razor will still function for a while, body hairs quickly dull down the blades. A blunt blade means tugging, irritation, and—you guessed it—a higher chance of ingrown hairs. 

Toyah recommends the following routine for preventing ingrown hairs before and after shaving:

  1. Exfoliate your skin before you shave: Toyah suggests using “a product that contains salicylic acid (a BHA) or glycolic acid (an AHA), which will penetrate deep into the pores and remove dead skin cells and oils, reducing blockages.”
  2. Apply shaving cream or oil: Pick an alcohol-free product and lather up so the blade can glide smoothly over your skin without catching on the hairs.
  3. Wait 20 minutes before moisturizing just-shaved skin: This way, you won’t cause any inflammation or clogging around sensitive follicles. 
  4. Follow up with a gentle moisturizer: Opt for alcohol-free lotions with natural ingredients. “Aloe vera is a hero when it comes to keeping freshly shaved skin happy and healthy,” Toyah adds.

All of these tips and tricks work no matter what area of your body you’re shaving, but a few additional precautions can work in different spots.

Someone applying cream to their leg

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Avoiding ingrown hairs in different places

1.Ingrown hairs on the legs

“Shave with the grain of the hair—from your knee to your foot,” says Toyah. “It will still give you a super close shave but reduces the risk of ingrown hairs.”

2. Ingrown hairs on the bikini line

Top off freshly shaved sensitive areas like the bikini line and underarms with a layer of deodorant—and yes, that means putting deodorant down there, too! The antibacterial and antiperspirant benefits can keep your underarms free from irritating ingrown hairs, but this is a great hack for the bikini line, too.

Swiping an unscented deodorant stick on your silky-smooth bikini line will keep your skin dry and protected against the friction and chafing that can cause ingrown hairs while you’re going about your daily life. Just do a spot test first to make sure the product won’t cause irritation and avoid applying it to the most sensitive areas.

3. Ingrown hairs on the face

The only thing worse than unwanted facial hair is ingrown facial hair. If you use tweezers, pick a pair with slanted tips that can sit flush against curved areas like your chin, upper lip, and neck. This can prevent hairs from breaking and getting trapped. 

Inflamed ingrown hairs

Ingrown hairs on areas like your underarms and bikini line can get irritated quickly, thanks to all the friction (of clothes rubbing) in those spots. Here are some ways to treat troublesome lumps and bumps:

  • Try a topical cream: While bumps will usually clear up on their own, dotting on a topical steroid cream can help ease the inflammation. 
  • Avoid scratching or picking at the spot: This can cause an infection—and lead to even more discomfort. 
  • Apply a warm compress to the affected area: This will encourage the hair follicle to open up, speeding up the process of ridding yourself of ingrown hairs. For troubles around your bikini line or legs, consider this an excuse for a warm soak in the tub.
  • Follow up with gentle exfoliation: Moving a damp washcloth in circular motions can release the ingrown hair. Use a sterile pair of tweezers to pluck it out after it surfaces. 
  • Let it rest: Once you’ve gotten rid of the offending ingrown hair, pause your shaving schedule until your skin heals up completely. 

woman&home thanks Toyah Warnock of Lane 44 for her time and expertise.