Updated 07/14/21. Anyone who’s ever waxed their bikini line knows that ingrown hairs come with the territory. Ingrown hairs can be painful (and noticeable). Not only do they have a swollen, blemish-like appearance, but once they heal, they can leave behind dark red or purple marks similar to post-breakout scars. In this post, I’ll walk you through my process for preventing ingrown hairs from ever appearing in the first place. Plus, I’ll share advice on what to do if ingrown hairs have already appeared.
What Are Ingrown Hairs?
Ingrown hairs occur when hair grows back after waxing or shaving and curls back into the skin or grows sideways. Essentially, it gets stuck without a direct pathway out, which can result in a sore, red, and inflamed bump. Once an ingrown hair is resolved, and the hair comes out of the skin, it can leave behind dark pigmentation. This pigmentation can linger for months.
Who Is Prone to Experiencing Ingrown Hairs?
Anyone can get ingrown hairs, but you’re more likely to get them if you have thick and dark hair (especially if it’s curly). Studies show African American individuals are more likely to get ingrown hairs after shaving due to their hair structure and the position of the hair in the follicle. While these studies are concerned with ingrown hair formation after shaving, it may also be true for waxing.
My Process for Preventing Ingrown Hairs
Up until a couple of years ago when I finally decided to pursue laser hair removal, I was a regular, monthly waxer for over 25 years. I would get my bikini area done, as well as my lower legs, so I know ingrown hairs all too well. They can be difficult to get rid of once they appear, so prevention is key. Luckily, I found a prevention strategy that worked well for me, and I hope it will work well for you, too! (P.S. the picture above is of me swimming in Croatia. What a life!)
Post-Wax Days 1 – 6
For the first five days after getting waxed, the skin is fairly sensitive, so it’s important to be gentle with it. I would always apply a hydrating body lotion to the area to keep the skin cells moist, but that’s it. I’d avoid doing anything else that could potentially aggravate the area further. However, if you’re having trouble with redness and you want to calm the skin, there are two things you can do. You can ice the affected area, and you can apply a cooling, gel-based mask (ideally one with antibacterial properties).
Post-Wax Days 7 – 14
At this point, the hairs you’ve waxed are growing back. They’re not ready to come to the surface of the skin, but they’re getting closer. This is when you should start exfoliating with an acid serum to ensure the hair can come out smoothly once it’s ready. The idea is that exfoliating removes the surface layer of dead cells from the skin, which ensures that nothing is blocking the hair from coming out or forcing it to grow back in a different direction.
Every other day, right after showering, I would apply a thin layer of the Smoothing Body Serum, which contains a blend of glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids to exfoliate and reveal smoother, more even-toned skin. You can also use a toner with exfoliating acids in it—simply apply it to a toning cloth or cotton round and wipe it over the area. Regardless of which exfoliant you use, be sure to follow it up with a moisturizing lotion.
Post-Wax Days 15 – 30
About two weeks after your bikini wax, you may feel the skin start to get a bit prickly, as some of the hairs are beginning to come out. This is also when the skin tends to feel itchy. It’s now that you should start using a physical exfoliant to loosen the hair from the surrounding skin. This will keep it from getting “stuck” and give it a clear pathway to come out through the follicle. I recommend using a physical exfoliant every other day. There are a lot of options. You can use a body scrub (check out this DIY version), a baby washcloth, a loofah, or a dry body brush. No matter which you choose, don’t scrub too hard and follow up with a body lotion. This will keep the skin cells moist and also help soften hairs, so they’re less likely to poke at surrounding skin.
Because the skin can be a bit red after you’ve used a physical exfoliant, you don’t want to use an acid exfoliator afterward. Instead, alternate between the two. This means that, at this point, you’re exfoliating every day, just alternating between the two methods. During this time, please monitor your skin carefully and back off if the skin is looking or feeling sensitive.
At some point during this 15 to 30 day period, most people will go back to get another bikini wax and start this routine over again.
What to Do (and Not Do) If You Develop an Ingrown Hair
No matter how dedicated you are about prevention, chances are that you’ll see one or two eventually take hold. If that’s the case, there are a few things you should know. The first is that you can’t (and shouldn’t) squeeze or “pop” an ingrown hair the way you would a pimple. There’s a lot of hardened skin that forms over ingrown hairs, so you’d have to squeeze really hard to get them out. This could cause damage, not to mention a red or purple mark that lingers long after the ingrown hair has resolved.
A Step-By-Step Guide to Getting Rid of an Existing Ingrown Hair
- Sanitize the area around the hair and make sure your hands are clean.
- Use a lancet (you can get these at a drugstore or pharmacy. They’re the same kind used by diabetics for finger pricks) to pierce the skin and create an opening for the hair to come out.
- You may have to gently move the tip of the lancet around to find the hair and physically lift it out. Depending on where the hair is in its life cycle, it could still be connected to the follicle. This means that, once you get the end of the hair out, you may have to gently tweeze it to fully remove it.
- After removing the hair, apply an antibiotic ointment to the area.
- Wait at least three days before doing any physical or chemical exfoliation.
You can also use a non-drying, soothing spot treatment like Anti Bump Solution to treat existing ingrown hairs. Make sure the area around the ingrown hair is clean and free from product. Then, dab a small amount on the affected area until the bump diminishes in appearance.
Of course, ingrown hairs will eventually resolve on their own without intervention. That said, the longer an inflamed bump lingers, the worse the mark will be that it leaves behind. So, by (responsibly!) taking matters into your own hands, you can minimize these effects. Just like with a pimple, though, if an ingrown hair isn’t coming out easily, slow your roll and wait until it’s loosened. You don’t want to end up doing more harm than good. If the bump persists for an extended period of time or becomes enlarged and extremely painful, see a physician.
The Bottom Line
If you follow my prevention plan and modify it as needed, your ingrown hairs should be a thing of the past. If you continue to struggle with a significant amount of ingrown hairs, you might consider laser hair removal. The downside, of course, is that it can get pricey and it isn’t ideal for all skin types. Those with darker skin tones should be especially careful when it comes to lasers since there is a higher risk of triggering hyperpigmentation. Talk to an experienced technician to learn if laser hair removal is a good option for you.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”