Because shaving almost inevitably leads to ingrown pubic hairs. Here’s how to get rid of them and prevent them from coming back.
For those who prefer being completely bare downstairs or who like the look of a perfectly groomed landing strip, ingrown pubic hairs (ugh) seem like a fact of life. Plus, they few cherry red, itchy bumps here and there may be worth the fuzz-free bikini line and ability to feel like your most confident self.
But are they totally inescapable? Here, the lowdown on ingrown pubic hairs, including simple steps you can take to prevent them from sprouting again.
(Also read: Do’s and Don’ts of Vaginal Hygiene)
What Is an Ingrown Pubic Hair?
Under ordinary circumstances, each individual hair will grow straight up from the follicle and pierce through the skin’s surface. But when the hair curls before it reaches the surface, it can get trapped beneath the skin, creating inflammation, pain, itching, and solid bumps, says Kameelah Phillips, an ob-gyn and the founder of Calla Women’s Health in New York City. “Sometimes people will see a little pustule, so it will look like a pimple,” she says. “That’s the head of inflammation that’s associated with the ingrown hair.”
These rogue hairs and their not-so-pretty symptoms are often found on the head, chin, and pubic area, with the mons and labia being the most commonly affected area, says Dr. Phillips. The biggest culprits? Hair grooming processes that tear the hair—like shaving and waxing—or having curly hair (though some people can occasionally develop ingrown pubic hairs at random), she says.
To make matters worse, hairs in your nether regions tend to be coarser and curlier than other parts of the body. So when you shave with a manual razor in the pubic area, you’re breaking through a rough hair shaft that’s already more likely to curl back and form an ingrown pubic hair. And if you’re running the razor against the grain of the hair, it will oftentimes cut the shaft in an uneven way, which can further encourage the hair to curl while growing and increase your risk of developing an ingrown pubic hair, says Dr. Phillips. The same goes for waxing: When you pull the hair off in the opposite direction that it grows in, you’re creating the ripe conditions for an ingrown pubic hair to grow.
How often you shave can increase your odds of developing an ingrown pubic hair, too. If you shave the area the second you feel any small hair prickles, you can end up removing multiple layers of the skin, which is why you might leave the shower with razor burn, aka irritated red spots that burn or itch, she says. “To me, razor burn and ingrown hairs are linked,” says Dr. Phillips. “Razor burn is the skin’s immediate reaction to shaving [when your hair is still short], and at the level of the follicle of the hair, you get an ingrown hair.” Simply put, razor burn is the nearly instant symptom of shaving your barely-there hair, and as the hair tries to grow out over the next few days, you might see an ingrown pubic hair in that spot, too.
Ingrown pubic hairs can take anywhere from days to weeks to heal, depending on the amount of inflammation and how many hair follicles are involved. What’s more, the pustules can go away fairly quickly, but the inflammation at the level of the hair follicle underneath the skin can feel like a hard knot for some time after, she says.
(Also read: 10 Things You Should Never Put Near Your Vagina)
How Do You Prevent Ingrown Pubic Hairs?
Stopping ingrown pubic hairs from developing in the first place is much easier than trying to get rid of them, says Dr. Phillips. That’s why she recommends embracing at least a little bit of hair down there in between removals, rather than aiming to achieve a mons and labia that’s super smooth 24/7. “When you let the hair break through the skin, it minimises the chances it will dive back down and cause an ingrown hair,” she explains. “Again, ingrown hairs occur when the hair gets chopped off at the level of the skin and the growth process is interrupted, so it dives back down. So if you let your hair grow out just a few millimetres, it pops above the surface of the skin and can grow in a normal pattern.” This process applies to both shaving and waxing, as overwaxing can lead to irritated hair follicles in addition to ingrown hairs, too, she says.
Another key way to prevent ingrown pubic hairs if you’re comfortable with a bit of fuzz: Toss that manual razor. To control your hair growth and keep it groomed short, Dr. Phillips recommends using an electric shaver that’s specifically designed for vulvas, such as the Philips Bikini Perfect Trimmer. “It keeps the hair very low, but it doesn’t pierce the skin, it minimises ingrown hairs, and it’s only for the vulvar region,” she says. “I do not recommend shaving with a razor at all.”
But if you simply refuse to give up your disposable, budget-friendly razor, make sure to use a brand-spanking-new blade every single time (I know, $$$) and use it only on your vulva, she says. When you take a razor that’s been used on your armpits or legs and use it to remove hair downstairs, the blade will be dulled down, which can create a jagged edge on the hair shaft and cause it to dive back into the skin, creating an ingrown pubic hair. Plus, you’ll also potentially be introducing bacteria from other body parts to your vulva. “There’s not really a huge harm in doing so, but for minimising the risk of ingrowns, you just want to maintain the best hygiene possible and use a dedicated razor for your vulvar region,” notes Dr. Phillips.
How to Get Rid of an Ingrown Hair
If you took all the precautions and still end up with an ingrown pubic hair, don’t go digging at it with sharp tweezers and dousing it in rubbing alcohol. Most of the time, ingrown pubic hairs will go away on their own if you stop shaving, waxing, or plucking for the time being and let the hair grow out of the skin naturally, says Dr. Phillips. And if you aren’t patient enough to let the ingrown pubic hair do its thing, you might be tempted to use a needle, tweezers, or some other sharp tool to open the skin and lift the hair out. But this home remedy can do more harm than good, as it increases your chances of developing an infection and create more inflammation, she adds.
You can also apply a warm compress on the area or gently exfoliate it with a washcloth to help soften the superficial layer of skin, allowing the ingrown pubic hair to break through. “When patients have a condition in their vulvar region, they can sometimes take it to the next level [in terms of home treatment],” says Dr. Phillips. “So just use a washcloth—you don’t need a pumice stone or aggressive loofah. And if it hurts, it shouldn’t be done.”
To soothe the area, applying a cold compress or using A+D Ointment or a light, alcohol-, dye-, and fragrance-free aloe vera gel may sometimes help, says Dr. Phillips. “But if you have open skin, I usually recommend leaving it alone,” she says. “Often, some of the astringents people put on further burn and damage the skin, so I try to encourage people to let their body do its healing.”
If your ingrown pubic hair hasn’t resolved in a few days and the bump is getting bigger and more painful, it’s time to book an appointment with your doc. “That’s to make sure we’re really talking about an ingrown hair and not any other type of infection,” says Dr. Phillips. “Sometimes ingrown hairs can lead to superficial skin infections, and you might need an antibiotic.”
And remember, ingrown pubic hairs aren’t happening on a tough-as-nails part of the body, but a sensitive—and intimate—one, and how you treat this skin should reflect that. “People can’t be as aggressive with their vulvar skin as they are with the skin on their arm, or their leg, or their elbow,” she says. “And I really encourage women to have some hair and minimise their grooming processes to minimise complications that go along with that. I also encourage women to think about ‘why am I doing this, is this necessary for me to feel comfortable, am I doing this for someone else,’ and just to respect the skin between your legs because it is special.”
If you still really want it gone, that’s ok; it’s your body and you’re allowed to do whatever you want with your pubic hair. Just follow the guidance above so, hopefully, you don’t have to deal with an ingrown again.
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