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How To Make Ingrown Hairs a Thing of the Past, According to a Dermatologist

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.

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AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

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Ingrown Hair Prevention Gel with AHA and BHA

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Salicylic Acid Body Wash

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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.”

Pre-Shave Oil

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Aftershave

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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.

And if you just can’t seem to quit ingrowns via your shave regimen, there’s no shame from tossing in the towel and sticking with an electric razor moving forward. These can keep you trimmed up each day so that you appear fully shaved, without ever actually breaching the surface of the skin; for this reason, no hairs become trapped inside. Ingrown-prone guys tend to prefer rotary-style electric shavers as opposed to foil ones; the rotary picks up curlier hairs better and won’t cut quite as close.

Safety Razor

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Norelco Electric Rotary Razor 9000 Series

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4. Perfect your technique

Lastly, be sure to shave with the grain of your hair growth (that is, in the direction the hairs naturally want to grow). While it won’t provide quite as close of a result as shaving against the grain, this does prevent the hairs from getting trapped as easily.

How to Avoid Ingrown Hairs on the Body

Most of the above advice is tailored to facial ingrowns, though it can all be applied to ingrown body hairs, too. If you're dealing with ingrowns below the neck, Dr. Malik says to avoid wearing any tight or abrasive undergarments that rub against the skin. He also advises against waxing or using hair removal cream (depilatory cream) if you are prone to ingrown hairs. “My ingrown-prone patients usually have very irritated or inflamed skin to begin with, and depilatory creams as well as waxing can cause burning, blisters, and rashes as side effects,” he says. “Furthermore, waxing can cause hair to break below the skin, which can increase risk of ingrown hairs.” Looks like a body groomer or electric razor might be your best choice after all.

Electric Trimmer for Body Hair

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How to Remove Ingrown Hairs

If you get an ingrown, first off don't panic and start face surgery on yourself. Make sure the skin is soft, either by applying a warm compress or taking a warm shower. Dr. Malik advises doing a compress a few times a day for a few minutes. “While doing these, I advise patients to apply light pressure and make small round movements to exfoliate the area, and to be gentle.”

If you see a small strand of hair coming out of the skin, then you’ve got the doc’s approval to take sterilized pointed tweezers in order to gently pull the hair out. To sterilize the tweezers, wipe them in rubbing alcohol before use, he says.

“If the hair does not come out with gentle pressure, it is not ready, and I would recommend to do more warm compresses while massaging the spot multiple times a day until it is ready,” he says.

And keep an eye on things, because if the ingrown hair becomes inflamed, painful, or develops into a cyst, then it should be seen and evaluated by a dermatologist, says Dr. Malik. “We have multiple ways to address symptoms and expedite its removal and recovery,” he adds.

Ingrown Hair Pointed Tweezers

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Originally Appeared on GQ