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Scrolling through endless perfect swimwear pictures on Instagram you’d be forgiven for thinking that nobody suffers ingrown hairs anymore; smooth-skinned goddesses without a bikini-line pimple in sight are commonplace on the ‘gram but in real life, not so much.
A few body-positive influencers have been working to normalise ingrown hairs, in the same way body hair has been and we’re all for that – nobody should be embarrassed about a few raised bumps when they’re in their swimwear, but we’re all too familiar with the feeling of dread before a spa trip with friends or a trip to the beach. Which is silly, because a quick survey of pals reveals many suffer from the affliction, so it shouldn’t be more of an issue that a blister on our heels, for example. But it is. So. We decided that knowing what causes them and how to treat the first step to accepting our 'imperfect' bikini line.
What is an ingrown hair?
It’s a hair that grows back into the skin, rather than out of it. It gets stuck beneath the skin and can lead to inflammation in the area and bumps/spots, looking red, angry and possibly even pus-filled. They can crop up anywhere you remove hair, from the face to the armpits, bikini line and legs and are particularly common after shaving. In severe cases, ingrown hairs can become infected and turn into cysts (fluid-filled lumps), for which a visit to the GP or pharmacist is in order.
What causes ingrown hairs?
Many a summer has been blighted by bumps not only on the bikini line but also the legs, armpits and even the face or neck; a build-up of dead skin cells in the hair follicle can be to blame but if you’re dark-skinned or curly-haired, you’re likely to have suffered at the hands of an ingrown hair all the more.
Which skin and hair types are more prone to ingrowns?
Curly hair naturally curls when growing out of the follicle which makes it difficult to penetrate through the skin so it grows back in rather than out, while darker skin tones tend to have coarser hair, leading to the same result. Asian women are more susceptible too as they’re more likely to suffer from PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) which can lead to excess hair growth especially on face back and buttocks) giving all the more opportunity for ingrowns to arise.
Do shaving, waxing or threading cause ingrown hairs?
It’s not only hair and skin type that causes ingrown hairs though, your hair removal choice can also be to blame. “Shaving, epilation, waxing and threading can all exacerbate ingrown hairs,” says Joanna Wyszynska of Pulse Light Clinic who treat ingrown hairs through laser hair removal. “These methods either aggressively pull the hair out at the root or cut off the hair at surface level which often causes the hairs to grow back thicker and can irritate the skin.”
Hair removal creams are a perpetrator too as these (like shaving) only remove the shaft of the hair and can cause a build-up of dead skin cells.
Does dry skin cause ingrown hairs?
Skin lacking moisture is a big cause of ingrown hairs, clinical aesthetician Pamela Marshall tells us. “When the skin is dehydrated it sends a message to our sebaceous glands to produce more oil to help with hydration. When too much oil is produced it cause our pilosebaceous unit (the bottom section of our pores) to swell, trapping the hair inside. Shaving and waxing can also irritate the pilosebaceous gland and cause the hair to wind around rather the grow straight.”
How to treat ingrown hairs
In most cases an ingrown hair will resolve itself, but if you want to help it along its way, Chanele Rosa, clinical specialist at Candela Medical recommends gently exfoliating the area, wearing loose-fitting clothing, avoiding hair removal in the inflamed area and never picking or scratching.
Pamela Marshall advises using a clinical-grade hydrator daily and spraying the area with the gentle antiseptic spray Clinisept . She also advocates using Clinisept+ £9.49 every time after hair removal.
This month razor icons Venus released a whole collection for the intimate region, designed to minimise ingrown hairs in the pubic area with a Skin Smoothing Emoliant, £6.66 to be used prior to hair removal, or on the days between hair removal, to loosen and sweep away dead skin cells that can cause ingrowns. The range also includes a Daily Soothing Serum , £6.66, to calm skin and gently exfoliate to prevent hair from being trapped beneath the skin.
We also rate Skin Doctors Ingrown Go Lotion , £12.99. It includes isopropyl alcohol, an anti-bacterial ingredient that helps sterilise infected pores, as well as acetylsalicylic acid, an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling and AHA glycolic acid to remove dry skin cells and calm redness. Apply this every time after showing and the ingrown hairs soon dry out. It does sometimes leave dry skin in its wake, but we'd take that over uncomfortable ingrown hairs.
Malin and Goetz’ Ingrown Hair Cream , £27, is good too. It contains salicylic acid to disperse bacteria and dead skin cells and chamomile to soothe and calm the skin. You can also use TCP on the area to help with inflammation and avoid touching the area.
Lastly, Ameliorate's Transforming Body Lotion £22.50 , is an all-round smoothing body moisturizer with exfoliating AHAs and almond oil to treat ingrown hairs and bumpy rough skin conditions such as keratosis pilaris or chicken skin, often found on the upper arms.
Which clinical treatments are best for ingrown hairs?
If you’re at your wits' end with ingrown hairs, it might be worth considering laser hair removal . This kills the hair follicle, meaning no hair growth and thus no ingrown. Hairs that do grow back between laser sessions will be finer and less likely to become ingrown.
After posting a pic in a high rise swimsuit, presenter Maya Jama revealed her bump-free bikini line was down to laser hair removal and Kim Kardashian is an advocate too.
If laser hair removal is a bit too permanent (or expensive) Pamela Marshall is also able to treat ingrown hairs in her clinic, but her treatment is more about getting the skin functioning well so that it doesn’t happen in the future, using low PH acids.
The bottom line - How to stop ingrown hairs
We know that much of the cause of ingrown hairs is genetic - down to hair and skin type - but some of it is down to how you remove your hair, and shaving can be particularly problematic. To minimise the risk of ingrown hairs, always shave in the shower or bath when your skin is well hydrated and use specialist hair removal products (shaving gel, cream or oil) and always use a clean sharp razor. A spritz of Clinisept afterwards keeps the area squeaky clean from bacteria too.
MORE GLOSS: The best at-home hair removal tools, creams and strips