Ingrown hair, just as the term suggests, is hair that grows into the skin instead of out which can lead to infection and scarring from scratching and picking. They usually result from hair removal methods such as shaving, waxing or tweezing. Ingrown hairs often produce itchy and painful, sometime pus-filled, red bumps that are similar to pimples.

Besides being unsightly and uncomfortable, ingrown hair can also lead to infection and scarring from scratching and picking. If you notice any signs of infection, contact your doctor.

The following sections offer detailed information for some common questions and different elements of ingrown hair.

The obvious solution may be to not remove hair, but that is not usually acceptable for many people. Your doctor may prescribe various medications that can help control ingrown hair.

A retinoid (e.g. Retin-A, Renova) cream can be used to promote exfoliation (removal of dead skin cells). It can also treat dark spots and thickened skin due to ingrown hairs.

A topical steroid (cortisone cream) can help to reduce redness and swelling. Cortisone is available over-the-counter in a low strength, or your doctor may prescribe a higher concentration.

Antibiotics may be required to treat an infected ingrown hair. A topical formula can be used on the affected area, or your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic for a more severe infection.

*Please note that the mention of a specific brand name does not constitute a recommendation for the product by the Canadian Dermatology Association.

Ingrown hair tends to show up in areas where you remove hair: in males, this usually means the face and neck; in women, ingrown hairs can affect the armpits, legs and bikini area.

Having tightly curled hair increases the chances of ingrown hairs, because the curved hair follicle may encourage hair to grow in the direction of the skin. Generally, Blacks and Hispanics tend to develop ingrown hairs because of their tight curls.

Removal methods can also play a role in promoting ingrown hair. Shaving often cuts hair at an angle, which may lead the hair to curve inward. Pulling skin taut while shaving may also contribute since the ends of the hair retracts under the skin. Waxing pulls out hair by the root, but when it begins to grow back, hair has a hard time finding its way out of the skin.