By Erin Bair, Licensed Esthetician + Certified Health Coach
Q: I get bumps and ingrown hair from waxing and shaving. Is there something I can do about this, or do I have to give up and accept life as a hairy monster?
A: Some people are prone to ingrown hair, which can become infected, painful and unsightly. Coarse, curly hair is most likely to pose a problem in this area, but no one is immune. Here’s my advice on how to avoid issues with ‘ingrowns’ and ‘bumping up’.
Which is better, waxing or shaving?
Hair removal methods that pull the root, such as waxing, threading and tweezing, can be the worst for this problem. This hair is removed deep under the surface and can become trapped when it regrows. If the hair follicle is genetically curved, there’s a much greater chance of that hair hooking back down into the skin. And if skin isn’t regularly exfoliated to remove excess dead cell buildup, hair can become trapped and grow parallel, just under the surface.
If you’re bump prone then shaving is a preferable method, but should be done using a single blade disposable razor that’s used only once. Shaving on problem areas should always be in the direction of hair growth, using a fragrance free shaving cream or a cleanser containing alpha hydroxy acids. Avoid the temptation to go back and forth over an area. No, you won’t have the closest shave, but you’ll also have less chance of bumping up. The popular 2, 3, 4 and even 5 blade razors DO give you a smooth, close shave...but they do this by stretching the skin and cutting the hair too short, so it’s below the surface. When that hair grows out again, it can easily become trapped beneath the surface causing ingrowns.
If you prefer an electric razor, only the straight blade type will do. The rotating circular type blades only exacerbate ingrowns. Keep your straight blade sharpened and every time, before and after use, apply a professional lubricating disinfectant spray like Clippercide.
To prevent, exfoliate
As mentioned, dead cell buildup makes an ideal environment for ingrowns. One simple way to avoid this is by lightly buffing off dead surface cells with a scrub product or gloves designed for this purpose 2-4 times per week. If you go with gloves, keep them dry between uses, and boil or throw them in the laundry to clean every week or so. I prefer synthetic gloves over a natural loofah sponge, which harbors bacteria and is impossible to clean. Scrubbing in this manner should be done very lightly. It’s a good way to release trapped hair growing visibly parallel to, but under, the surface. Imagine using so little pressure that you don't move the skin under your fingers. This method works for prevention when no inflammation is present. Inflammation = red, tender, swollen bumps or patches. NEVER scrub skin that's inflamed.
Another method of exfoliation that’s great for prevention and also kills bacteria is alpha hydroxy acid treatment. A cleansing product with AHA is good. Another is a moisturizer called AmLactin which is available over the counter and by prescription (the last time I checked, the percentage of the active ingredient, lactic acid, was the same in both versions). If you choose to use AmLactin, know that it contains comedogenic ingredients and is therefore not safe for acne prone skin. It would be better for large areas that don't get acne breakouts, like legs and bikini. For my clients I stock a roll-on product that not only exfoliates and kills bacteria, it also reduces active bumps and lightens dark spots.
Last but not least, resist the urge to pick or tweeze your ingrowns, and don’t accept ‘help’ from a well meaning but untrained friend or family member. Inflammation, secondary infection, delayed healing, skin thickening, darkening and scarring can result.
And...you’re absolutely right, you can avoid all this by growing it out, hairy monster style ;)