Ingrown Facial Hair

Ingrown Facial (Beard) Hair: Causes, Symptoms & Quick Treatment

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Getting ingrown hairs on your face can be downright painful.

Some men go to extraordinary lengths in order to try and prevent these hairs from becoming ingrown.

To help make things a bit easier, we are going to be looking at ingrown facial hairs – specifically at their causes, common symptoms, some preventative measures you can take to greatly reduce the occurrence of which you get them, along with a few removal methods.

Causes of Ingrown Facial Hair

Ingrown facial hairs are caused when a hair begins to grow, and it never exits the skin.  Instead, the hair grows within the top layer of skin causing a raised bump that can become quite painful and, in some instances, lead to an infection.

Below we will cover the six primary reasons why men get ingrown hairs:

1. Predisposition to Ingrown Hairs

Your ethnicity may dictate whether you are predisposed to ingrown facial hairs more than other men.  Physicians have found that men with both curly and coarse facial hair (often African and South American men) tend to be predisposed to ingrown facial hairs.

The leading reason why ingrown facial hairs are common in these ethnicities is that the hair is often much curlier and dense.  The reason that a curly hair may become ingrown, is that when the hair is cut and then begins to regrow, the follicle is more likely to curl back into the skin (rather than existing the surface) and become ingrown.

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), it is estimated that 60% of African American men suffer from pseudofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps) – source.

2. Dead Skin Cells Block Facial Hair From Growing Properly

Should the facial hair be removed via waxing or by simply shaving, if the tip of the hair remains below the surface of the skin, dead skin cells can pile up in the shaft on top of the hair follicle and inhibit its natural growth.  This will physically make it much more difficult for the hair follicle to exit from the surface of the skin.

3. Razor Type Can Cause Ingrown Facial Hair

It is estimated that the global razor market size was valued at 10.2 billion (USD) in 2018 (source).

It’s no wonder than brands like Harry’s, Gillette, Dollar Shave Club, and others make massive investments in order to try and secure a slice of this pie.

However, one of the biggest complaints that many men have with their razor is that it will cause ingrown facial hair (razor bumps) and mild skin irritation.

It has been claimed by many that the type of razor that you use will be more susceptible to ingrown facial hairs than others – with the most prominent razor type blamed is the cartridge razor.

Relying on a multi-blade design, cartridge razors employ what is dubbed the hysteresis effect – where the blades work in tandem with one another to essentially lift-and-cut the facial hair.

The problem with this unique approach to shaving, is that when the razor continues this lift-and-cutting action, it will eventually begin to cut the hair below the surface of the skin.

Which, as you guessed it, creates an environment that is much more susceptible to ingrown facial hairs.

While we will talk about preventative measures a bit later, let’s also look at electric razors:

Surprisingly a lot of men that use electric razors often experience ingrown facial hairs.  This is due in part to the rotary or oscillating cutting motion of the blades within the device that are unable to perform a clean cut on the facial hair.

Unlike razor blades that slice through hairs, electric razors (especially rotary ones), cut the hair like a weedwhacker.

If you have ever looked at a piece of grass that has been cut by a weedwacker, you will know that the top of it is frayed.

This is further supported this electromagnetic microscope image that shows what the tip of the hair looks like when cut by an electric shaver:

Straight Razor Vs Electric Shaver

Pretty interesting, right?

Therefore, if you use an electric shaver daily, and apply a moderate amount of pressure when cutting your facial hair, this frayed tip might be cut just low enough that it may cause the hair to spiral inwards to your skin.

Of course this isn’t common across all electric razors, and many men do often claim that using an foil (oscillating) electric razor (such as those found by Braun or Panasonic brands) will result in fewer ingrown facial hairs – however, this is observatory research that has yet to be proven in a lab setting (at least to our knowledge).

4. Poor Shave Technique Causes Facial Hair to Grow Inwards

Related to razor type will be shave technique.

While many readers have likely learned how to shave from their father (or father figure), some may have fallen into bad habits along the way.

Therefore, it’s worth revaluating how you shave your facial hair and most importantly, what direction you are passing the razor along your skin.

When shaving, it’s important to remember that you always shave in the same direction as the grain.

That means if the hairs on your neck are growing upwards (a common problem area for ingrown hairs), then you will want to also bring the razor blade upwards with the stroke.

Men chasing that ‘baby butt smooth’ skin often fall victim to ingrown hairs as they will pass the razor against the grain as a final pass in order to make the skin feel smoother to touch.

The problem with this, is that due to the hysteresis effect (as we touched on earlier), the hair is simply cut too low and will make it much easier to grow inwards…

…and this makes complete sense.

In our example, the hair that you cut had a natural tendency to grow upwards, but when you pull the razor downwards, you just effectively did a 180 and pulled the hair in the other direction with your razor blade.

5. Waxing

Unlike shaving that may only cut the hair to just a fraction below the skin level surface, waxing pulls the entire hair out.

While the length of time between waxing treatments is greater when compared to shaving, so too is the possibility of ingrown hairs.

Luckily most men don’t wax their facial hair at all – so we won’t go too much further in-depth.  However, if you are removing other hairs on your body – particularly in sensitive areas like the groin, you may want to think through the risks of waxing before proceeding.

6. Ingrown Facial Hairs Are Not Acne

Many fall victim to the common misconception that ingrown hairs are acne – acne and ingrown hairs are fundamentally two different things.

Acne can not only be caused when hair follicles are clogged by oil (rather than a hair growing into the skin), but also from the spread of bacteria or simply an uptick in production of sebum as a result of an increase in androgens (common during puberty).

Given that acne and ingrown facial hairs aren’t the same, they must be treated differently.

Before we go into the treatment options – lets first look at common symptoms of ingrown facial hairs:

Symptoms

Now that we identified some of the leading causes of ingrown facial hairs, we now want to switch gears and talk about the symptoms.

Symptoms can vary, but most men with ingrown facial hair will experience any (or more) of the following:

  • Mild pain
  • Pustules (small blister that will contain pus)
  • Skin darkening
  • Mild Itchiness

How To Prevent Ingrown Hairs

Given the discomfort and unsightly appearance of ingrown hair, let’s look at a few proven ways that you can prevent these from happening :

Right Razor Blade & Type

When it comes to your razor blade and type (i.e. cartridge, safety razor, etc.), it’s important to have an honest self-evaluation of your grooming routine.

For instance:

If you find that you don’t change your blade frequently yet still like the performance of cartridge razors, then switching to a subscription shave service may be a better alternative for you.

This ensures that you get fresh blades on a regular basis that will perform much better than a blade that is severely dull.

Furthermore, changing your entire shave routine, while a drastic step, is another route that some men take.

As we touched on the hysteresis effect a few times previously, men who don’t want the ‘lift-and-cut’ nature of cartridge razor often transition over to safety razors.

Their single blade won’t lift or raise the follicle at all – which ensures that it is physically impossible to be cut beneath the surface of the skin.

Furthermore, safety razor blades are also significantly cheaper than cartridge blades – making it much more friendly on the wallet if you want to have a fresh blade every time you shave.

Shaving In The Proper Direction

shave with the grain to avoid razor bumps

One of the most effective ways to prevent ingrown facial hairs is by simply changing the way that you shave your beard.

Before shaving, we recommend that you take a minute or two to inspect the hair growth pattern on your face.  You will notice that the hairs in certain areas tend to grow in distinct patterns.  Therefore, you will want to remember this before you cover up with shave cream and make the pass with the razor blade.

Simply shaving with the grain in these areas will easily prevent those painful and bacteria ridden ingrown hairs from appearing.

Grooming Your Facial Hair to Grow Properly

While we were hesitant to include this one on the list, given that its effectiveness is mild at best, we only include it because some men swear by it – and that is, training your beard.

Training your beard is the process of repeatedly combing or brushing your beard in a uniform direction to alter the way that the facial hair grows in.

Should you have a crazy beard where the facial hair grows in many different directions, this method may work for you.  However, given that it requires some substantial length of the beard in order for the brush to be effective, it will only work when shaving a beard of longer length.

Don’t Shave With A Razor – Do This Instead

While we understand that men shave their facial hair for a variety of reasons including job requirement, personal presentation, interview, or more – the best way to prevent painful ingrown hairs from happening is to simply not shave.

Sure, this may not be ideal for some men but here us out:

The reason that ingrown facial hairs often happen in the first place is that the hair was cut much too low and therefore decided to grow back into the skin.

Therefore, cutting your facial hair to just a fraction above the surface of the skin will eliminate this possibility.

In order to get your facial hair cut to just about the surface of the skin, we would recommend that you check out a quality stubble trimmer.

Modern stubble trimmers have come a long way with some able to cut down to 0.2mm.

To put this into context – it is estimated that your facial hair grows at a rate of 1.5cm per month (or about 0.4mm per day).

With a stubble trimmer able to cut down to 0.2mm, you effectively cut the facial hair down to what its natural length would be will be halfway through the day (a 5 o’clock shadow) if you had shaved in the morning.

It’s a proven method that men found to be extremely helpful in resolving ingrown facial hairs.

Avoid Ingrown Prone Areas

As the saying often goes, the best offense is a good defense.  What many men like to do when dealing with ingrown facial hairs is to simply avoid the problem areas.

Therefore, if you notice that some areas on the neck or cheeks is particularly prone to ingrown hairs, simply use a stubble or beard trimmer on only those areas and shave with a razor for the rest of your face.

While this may cause uneven beard appearance, if done with a quality trimmer that can cut to a low level – it will likely not be noticeable at all.

Removal Of Ingrown Facial Hairs

Now if you came to this guide because you currently have an ingrown facial hair and you want to know how to get rid of it, then you will want to follow one of the five methods listed below:

Sharp Blade, Sterile Needle, or Tweezers To Remove Ingrown Hairs

While many may wince at the thought of removing an ingrown hair from your face, it’s not as scary as one would think.  If you were to visit the doctor (i.e. dermatologist) for this very issue, they would probably recommend that you do this yourself (or they may actually perform the extraction in the office at the time of visit).

When using tweezers or a sharp device (such as a sterile needle) to remove an ingrown hair, you will want to make sure that you are aware of the following:

  1. Your chances of mild scarring increases
  2. You risk making things worse with an infection

In order to minimize both risks above, we would recommend the following course of action when performing the procedure:

First you will want to soften the bump with a bit of warm water.  Here we would recommend getting a warm wet towel and firmly press it against your skin for 5 minutes.  In addition to softening the skin, a warm towel will also help to enlarge the bump making it much easier to work on.

Secondly, we would recommend using a pair of tweezers with a fine or narrow tip.  Before the tweezers are used, you will want to make sure that you sterilize the tip.  This will ensure that the bump doesn’t become infected with any surface bacterial that is currently on the tweezers.

Two common ways to disinfect the tweezers would be to either place them in boiling water for a few minutes or simply rub the tip of them with rubbing alcohol.

Once set, when you go to poke a hole in the bump, you will want to work to only pull the tip of the hair out of the bump – not to fully remove it from the root.

This will not only reduce the pain, but also eliminate the chance of another ingrown hair from forming in the same spot again.

Are Antibiotics Necessary?

Some men often wonder that if the ingrown hair becomes infected, if they should visit the doctor and get prescribed an antibiotic.  Luckily this is never the course of action as the infection is usually mild and just requires extraction of the hair along with time.

Of course, if you are concerned that an ingrown hair may be severely infected, you should book and appointment with your physician and discuss further treatment options (and if an antibiotic should be prescribed).

Clear The Dead Skin Cells Away Regularly

Given that dead skin cells can cause ingrown facial hairs to occur, it’s important that you regularly perform a deep exfoliation on your face at least twice weekly.

Exfoliators contain coarse ingredients that, when rubbed repeatedly, will work to lift or remove dead skin cells and excess oil that may be resting on top of hair follicles deep in their shaft – effectively clearly the way for pain-free hair growth.

Warm Water Compress

To help alleviate razor bumps, one common remedy that men rely on is by simply keeping warm water compressed against their bump for an extended period.

While it may not prove to be nearly as useful as the few other methods outlined above, a warm water compress will help to both soften and swell your skin – which, if done long enough, may encourage the embedded hair to break free from the bump.

When doing the warm water compress, make sure that you give the bump a firm massage to try and further loosen the skin on top of the hair.

Creams To Relieve Ingrown Facial Hair

One product that many men finding themselves relying on frequently to remove ingrown hairs are razor bump removal liquids and creams.

Designed to remove or reduce the appearance of unsightly bumps on the skin, these creams or liquids often contain high concentrations of alcohol (typically isopropyl alcohol) in order to act as an astringent and dry out or constrict the blood around the problematic area.

Naturally a common side effect of using these products is dry skin, therefore you will want to make sure that you apply your moisturizer or face cream after treatment.

Laser Hair Removal

One option of last resort is professional laser hair removal.  Laser hair removal is an extremely effective way to not only get rid of problem areas where ingrown hairs form, but any hair on your body for that matter.

The reason that laser hair removal is the best method of last resort is that its permanent.  Once an area has been treated with a laser, there is no reversing your decision.  While some may not be bothered by this, as you could only be removing a sparse amount of hairs, it’s permanence cannot be overstated.

Furthermore, laser hair removal is an expensive procedure that requires multiple visits to an aesthetician.

If you have some discretionary money lying around, and you are tired of dealing with ingrown hairs, it’s definitely worth considering.

FAQs About Ingrown Facial Hairs

Is razor bumps the same as ingrown facial hairs?

Yes, razor bumps and ingrown facial hairs are the same.  The medical term for this type of occurrence is referred to as pseudofolliculitis barbae (source).

This condition should not be confused with razor burn either.  While similar in that its symptoms include mild irritation and redness, pseudofolliculitis barbae is due to hair growing back into the skin, whereas razor burn is simply discomfort to the surface of the skin.

Furthermore, related skin conditions to pseudofolliculitis barbae include folliculitis barbae – this differs slightly in that the later (folliculitis barbae) is tied to an underlying viral or bacterial condition on the skin.

What is the best course of action for men with sensitive skin?

If you have sensitive skin and are prone to ingrown facial hairs, we think it’s best to skip the razor altogether and go with a low-set beard trimmer.  This way the skin will never come in contact with a blade (to prevent irritation) while the hair is cut just about the surface to ensure that it has no chance of becoming ingrown.

How do I get rid of a scar from an ingrown hair?

Removing the evidence of a scar from an ingrown hair can be tricky by the simple nature of identifying if you really have a scar or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

If you have a mild scar, you can try applying Neosporin (neomycin sulfate).  Designed to minimize the appearance of scars, it can also help to relieve mild discomfort (pain and itchiness).  Plenty of men have found success through this treatment option.

Should you simply have post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), then you can either wait for your skin to return to normal or apply an ointment such as hydroquinone to effectively bleach the problem area away.

Can a topical steroid help with ingrown hairs?

Yes, some topical steroids (corticosteroids) can help to reduce the size of the bump.  Common topical steroids you can purchase without a prescription includes hydrocortisone, triamcinolone, and more.

Are ingrown hairs in the pubic area treated as the same way as ingrown facial hairs?

Both ingrown hairs are often caused by the same problem – shave in the direction that is opposite of the natural growth of the hair (i.e. sideways, against the grain).  Therefore, the information contained in this guide should be applicable for treatment options.

Does shaving cream really matter in the treatment (or cause) of ingrown hairs?

To some extent, yes.  While shave technique is likely the culprit to ingrown hairs, having a poor shave cream can require additional passes of the razor blade, which may result in a lower cut hair.

Naturally, if a hair is cut too low, it becomes much more likely to become ingrown.  Therefore, we would recommend investing in a decent shave cream that works to not only swell the hairs prior to cutting, but provide a smooth and lubricated base making it easier for the razor to glide and cut the hair.

Conclusion

Ingrown facial hairs are a problem that a lot of men deal with.  While some may be more predisposed to ingrown hairs than others, the strategies and methods that we outlined above should prove effective in both prevention and treatment.

We hope that this guide was helpful in further understanding and tackling ingrown hairs.

About The Author

Shawn Burns

Shawn is the founder and senior editor at Tools of Men, the leading style and grooming source trusted by men in 187 countries. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. He is an expert in all things men's grooming related. His work has been mentioned on countless sites including The Wall Street Journal, NBC, AskMen, Vice, WikiHow, and the New York Times.

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