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Ingrown hairs are mostly the result of a previous hair removal by shaving, epilation or so-called waxing. The hair pushes in the wrong direction when it grows back so that it stays under the skin. So-called pustules (pus) form initially, which in most cases heal by themselves over time. In the worst case, the ingrown hair can also lead to severe inflammation, which spreads to the surrounding tissue and requires surgical removal.
Ingrown hairs themselves can be completely symptom-free and should not be interpreted as a pathological event. The hair simply went in the wrong direction when it grew and therefore grew into the skin. The symptoms result from the reaction of the organism or the skin to the “foreign body”. The hair is encapsulated and a purulent inflammation forms. This usually appears as a pustule. The skin in the affected area is red and swollen. If the inflammation spreads to the surrounding tissue or an abscess forms, the swelling and redness also widen. The area may also appear overheated. A distinction must be made between the inflammation of ingrown hair and the symptoms of an inflammation of the hair root, which occurs directly at the root.
Ingrown hairs are usually only affected by puberty, whereby changes in hair growth and on the other hand hair removal through shaving, dewaxing and depilation are held responsible for this. Inflammation and pustules as a result of ingrown hair can be observed relatively often, for example, with intimate shaving. With a first shave of pubic hair or a shave after a long break, corresponding complaints can be expected. The body usually succeeds in encapsulating and rejecting the ingrown hair without further medical support. However, if the course is unfavorable, severe inflammation in the form of an abscess can also occur, which must be removed by surgery.
It is believed that there is a connection between the hair type and the appearance of ingrown hair. So people with thicker, curly hair should be at increased risk. The ingrown hairs in men and women also occur increasingly in different body regions, with a correspondence with the areas of hair removal being found here. For example, ingrown hair in men is more common on the face in the area of beard growth, while women almost never have the appropriate complaints here. Otherwise women on the rest of the body (especially armpits, pubic area and legs) are likely to be affected more often than men due to the increased hair removal, although no scientifically confirmed figures are available.
Ingrown hairs are also associated with the development of so-called coccyx fistulas (sinus pilonidalis). The penetrating hair is the cause of chronic inflammation - usually at the upper end of the buttock fold - which manifests itself in the form of a purulent cyst. This can be extremely painful for those affected. Treatment is carried out by surgically removing the affected tissue, often cutting to the bone of the coccyx. Such an intervention takes place under general anesthesia, less serious cases can also be eliminated under local anesthesia. The connection between the penetration of hair and the development of a coccyx fistula has been controversial to this day and has never been conclusively clarified.
The cause of the wrong direction of growth of the hair can be a blockage of the hair root by dead skin cells or excess keratin. An exposure and removal of the ingrown hair with subsequent opening of the hair root provides a remedy here. Sometimes a thorough peeling or scrubbing of the skin already achieves the desired effect.
In general, ingrown hairs that are still without inflammation can often be removed relatively easily by scratching or rubbing off the layers of skin above (best with a so-called loofah sponge). However, the scratching causes an injury to the skin, which in turn may trigger inflammation. If the ingrown hairs are associated with inflammatory events, deeper layers of the skin have usually been affected. In many cases, this is also done independently, whereby the ingrown hairs are usually exposed with the help of a needle and / or tweezers. However, the needle should be sterilized before use and the wound should be disinfected after the ingrown hair has been successfully removed. Self-treatment is generally not recommended for ingrown hairs with accompanying inflammation, and removal should ideally be carried out by a dermatologist. The doctor can also immediately initiate any further measures, such as medication with anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics.
Naturopathy knows various methods to counteract the inflammation that can be caused by ingrown hair. Herbal medicine approaches, such as the external use of calendula (marigold) ingredients, are believed to have an extremely positive effect. Tea tree oil also counteracts the inflammatory processes in ingrown hair.
Avoid ingrown hair
Preventive effects against ingrown hair are generally attributed to regular peeling and brushing / scrubbing of the skin, but this effect is not clearly proven. The same applies to the special shaving aids such as oils, creams or the like. The effect of specially developed gels for the targeted removal of ingrown hair remains rather controversial. Ingrown hairs are simply unavoidable as a possible side effect of today's extremely widespread removal of body hair, but in most cases they are harmless from a health point of view for those affected. (fp)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters
- Dorothea Terhorst-Molawi: Dermatologie Basics, Elsevier / Urban Fischer Verlag, 4th edition, 2015
- Martin Röcken, Martin Schaller, Elke Sattler, Walter Burgdorf: Taschenatlas Dermatologie, Thieme Verlag, 1st edition, 2010