Ingrown hairs are right up there with razor burn and razor bumps as the most pesky side effects of a subpar shave. And most of the time, just like those other conditions, ingrown hairs can be prevented. They don’t all stem from shaving, either, says board-certified dermatologist Kunal Malik, MD, of Spring Street Dermatology in NYC. “An ingrown hair can result from a new hair growing up beneath a build-up of dead skin cells,” he adds.
An ingrown hair is one that furls up beneath the skin, because for some reason it has become trapped, as opposed to sprouting through the pore opening. As Dr. Malik states, it can be a natural occurrence when dead skin cells trap a newly sprouted hair, or caused by a compromised shave regimen. As the hairs continue to grow, the skin becomes inflamed. The site can even become infected if bacteria gets trapped inside there, too.
So, there are two primary ways to prevent ingrown hairs: Step up your exfoliation, and shave differently. Read on for that advice from Dr. Malik, followed by some pointers on removing the trapped hairs.
How to Prevent Ingrown Hairs
1. Exfoliate—the right way
When it comes to exfoliation, you’ve got a choice between physical scrubs and chemical exfoliants. And when it comes to preventing ingrown hairs, Dr. Malik is adamant about which of these two routes is better: the chemical ones.
While physical scrubs are often recommended for helping to prevent ingrown hairs (especially ahead of a shave), Dr. Malik isn’t a huge fan. “Scrubs provide greater possibility to damage the skin’s barrier,” he says. “Most people are too harsh with physical exfoliators, so I prefer gentle chemical exfoliators.”
“Alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid and lactic acid and beta-hydroxy acids, namely salicylic acid, will mitigate ingrown hairs if used regularly, by preventing dead skin cells from clogging the blade and allowing for a closer shave,” says Dr. Malik. They will also prevent new hairs from getting trapped beneath clusters of dead skin cells. He adds that regular retinoid use will also ensure this proper cellular turnover and minimize the chance for ingrowns.
You can get these through products like cleansers, targeted serums, toners, body washes, and more. Use each product as directed; they will have different ingredient concentrations so some may be daily while others are weekly or even less often.
2. Strengthen your shaving regimen
Atop Dr. Malik’s advice for preventing ingrown hairs via your shave regimen, he says to practice optimal razor hygiene, mainly by swapping out blades after six to eight uses or two to three weeks (whichever comes first). This prevents the blades from ever dulling, and minimizes razor drag while also maximizing swift, precise shaves of each whisker.
You should also slow down the entire regimen, incorporating as many steps of a full shave process as possible, from pre-shave oils to aftershaves. All of this further supports an efficient, effective shave. “Rinse your razor between strokes with hot water, too,” adds Dr. Malik. “Not only does hot water help release lubricant from lubricating strips most razors have, but it also destroys bacteria and other pathogens.”
3. Take a look at your razor
Prone to ingrown hairs? Fewer blades might be a better approach. In fact, guys with coarse and curly hair usually prefer safety razors, which provide a close shave with a single blade. Any cartridge razor with five or six blades will just shear extra layers of skin and increase the odds that the hair gets cut low enough to then curl up inside the pore rather than continue growing outward.