Cooler weather soon will be coming to an end, and for those of you who have been relying on long pants, leggings and winter tights, that means you need to prepare your skin for the days ahead. If you’re one of those people who dreads shaving because of the irritation, bumps and ingrown hairs it causes, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the stress shaving puts on your skin and help prevent problematic ingrown hairs.
What is an ingrown hair?
If you’ve ever noticed a bump (or several bumps) that seems red, irritated or swollen after you shave it’s likely that you’re suffering the plight of being prone to ingrown hairs. These are exactly what they sound like: a hair that has grown back into or remained underneath the skin and is causing irritation, swelling and sometimes even infection. Sometimes you can see the hair below the surface and other times it can look like a pimple or a hive. The irritated follicle or area of skin with ingrown hairs can be sensitive to touch, itchy or even painful depending on the severity of the problem.
The Whys and Hows
Ingrown hairs can be a once in a while annoyance or a constant struggle depending on a variety of factors including your skin type and your hair type. Ingrown hairs can happen pretty much anywhere on your body but are more likely to become an issue in areas where you have thicker hair and/or where you shave or wax.
Those with coarse or curly hair can be more prone to ingrown hairs, because if hair is cut close to (or even below) the surface, hair can curl back into the area around the follicle. For some sufferers, waxing makes this worse because the hair is pulled out at the root meaning it has to push all the way back up to the surface and not go astray along the way. Additionally, dead skin can clog or block a follicle, as well, leading to ingrown hairs.
How to prevent ingrown hairs
A stray ingrown hair here or there is nothing to be alarmed about, but if you’re having a recurring problem it could be your habits that are making things worse. Using a dull razor, sugaring or waxing, or even (if you’re the masochistic type) plucking can add to the problem if you already know you have a tendency to get ingrown hairs.
Shaving too close is also a known culprit, even though it seems counterintuitive because the whole point of shaving is to reduce visibility of hair, but in the end you’re causing an even more unsightly (and possibly painful) issue.
If au natural isn’t really your style and you do want to reduce or remove body hair, there are some steps you can take to help prevent ingrown hairs and the pesky razor burn that tends to accompany inflamed and irritated hair follicles.
Prepping your skin before shaving is a crucial step. Exfoliate daily, making sure to reduce the amount of dead skin that could be hanging around clogging your pores and follicles and creating problems in general.
Then, soften the skin in the area using warm water and an emollient like a shaving cream, shaving soap or pre-shave oil to help the razor glide better. On that note, use a single blade razor (it sounds crazy especially in these times of multi-blade razors as the default but it is really your best bet) and rinse the razor between each swipe across your skin.
And here’s the real kicker – shave in the same direction that the hair grows. While that may sound disappointing if you’re always driving for the closest shave it is really the best way to avoid cutting the hair too short and causing ingrown hairs.
Lastly, apply a cool (not cold) wet cloth to the area to help reduce any inflammation or irritation. Use an aftershave soothing treatment, but don’t get this confused with those old school aftershaves that were alcohol-based perfumes. A good organic lotion or balm can help keep the skin supple and calm irritated areas.
How to treat ingrown hair
If you have a really bad ingrown hair that has become infected and significantly painful, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor. They can treat the affected follicle, help remove the trapped hair and provide you with any needed prescriptions to fight infection.
Sometimes shaving or waxing is just not going to be an option. When you have areas that constantly end up with ingrown hairs you might be happier (and healthier) using a depilatory cream or braving the dermatologist for laser hair removal treatments. Whatever you decide is right for you, take the right steps to care for yourself and you will be on your way to smoother, happier, healthier skin.
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