The low down on getting over a bumpy ride.
From having too much (or too little) of it to the expenses related to its removal (or implantation), hair-related problems have plagued us over time. Given the intense humidity and tropical temperatures on the island, most of us like to stay fuzz-free, reducing discomfort caused by sweating. But, with all the waxing, shaving and other varied forms of hair removal come bothersome ingrown hairs. We chatted with cosmic dermatologist Dr. Nishantha Pathirana MBBS (SL), MD (Dermatology), MISD to get all the details.
Nothing feels better than the lighter-than-air feeling you experience post-waxing appointment or shave in the shower, right? You’re totally hair free, you feel smooth and silky, and on top of the world (Hello, Tinder!). That is, of course, until you see a small, purplish bump on your skin that is kinda itchy, now that you know it’s there—say hello to the ingrowth. According Dr. Pathirana, an ingrowth occurs when our body hairs curl backwards or grow sideways into the skin (instead of breaking through the surface) and continue to grow beneath the top most layer of skin. Also, the chances of ingrowths are higher among people with curly or coarse hair. (Fab.)
Let’s talk about the cause…
“Anything that breaks off hair with an uneven tip can cause ingrowths,” says Dr. Pathirana. In other words, the origin of these wayward growths can be traced back to hair removal. “In the case of shaving, the application of too much force with a razor culminates in hair being cut shorter than the surrounding dermis, which then leads to hair becoming much more prone to curling back inside.” In the case of waxing, ingrowths usually happen for one of two reasons: either you’ve gone for a wax too soon after your last appointment (guilty!), which means your hair isn’t long enough to properly stick to the wax strip and ends up being broken off at odd angles; or it’s how you’re waxing. Because waxing pulls off hair at the root, it needs to be done at the right angle. If you (or your aesthetician) pulls at the wrong angle, then hair is more likely to reappear ingrown.
Ingrowths usually appear on the legs, but they could result in any area of your body that you remove hair. In addition, Dr. Pathirana further mentioned that if the areas of your body that you tend to aggressively remove hair are always clad in tight clothing, it may actually be increasing the risk of developing ingrowths as the tight confines may force newly growing micro hairs to curl back inside. That’s right ladies, that skintight jeans you know you slay in, might actually be slaying your skin.
What’s so bad about an ingrown hair?
In the short term, aside from some discomfort, you’re absolutely right that ingrown hairs don’t necessarily create huge problems. But in the long term, there could be more serious repercussions.
Folliculitis occurs when hair follicles – the sac-like structures on our skin from which hair grows and to which the sebaceous (oil) glands of the skin open into – is infected by bacteria or fungi, often because of the damage caused to the hair follicle by hair removal and subsequent donning of tight clothes. Folliculitis may first appear as tiny red bumps or white pimples, but with time, develops into crusty lesions. You thought right—tiny hairs growing out the wrong way can be a real pain!
Dark spots on your legs that won’t go away no matter what you do (even spot treatment) could be a result of ingrowths. Dr. Pathirana says that dark spots are results of a condition called post-inflammatory pigmentation. This is an instance where pigment-producing cells in skin go into overdrive following any damage caused to cells (ingrowths are examples of this damage). “This discoloration lasts for months or sometimes even years,” added Dr. Pathirana.
Continued itchy-ness and irritation “The main reason for this is the body’s natural immune system. When hair grows back into the skin, your body considers that shaft a foreign object and so reacts by releasing chemicals to reject it,” says Dr. Pathirana. This in turn causes the area to be itchy and uncomfortable. The worst bit? Once you get scratching, you’re at risk of transplanting infection-causing bacteria into pores, inflaming the hair follicles…and in turn bringing you back to folliculitis.
Yuck. So how do we stay away from these pesky bumps?
Dr. Pathirana says the only way to completely eliminate any chances of an ingrowth is by avoiding hair removal altogether and especially saying ‘no’ to shaving. But let’s be honest. Ingrowths be damned, that solution is so not in the cards right now. The bush may be back in fashion, but not for us island girls.
So, if letting your hair grow out is not really your cup of tea (and we really don’t blame you), Dr. Pathirana advises a couple of easy to implement remedies.
Practice the right shaving techniques. “Proper lubricant, such as soap or a shaving gel, must be applied before picking up a razor,” says Dr. Pathirana. He also recommends always using a single blade razor as opposed to multi blade razors that expose the same patch of skin to different blades with each movement. While the first blade may eradicate the hair, the subsequent blades might cut hair beneath the skin, thus leading to further ingrowths. Further, according to Dr. Pathirana, make sure to ditch razors as soon as they seem blunt or if they’ve started to rust. Raking the same, blunt razor over a hairy patch will almost certainly lead to irritation and ingrowths. Let’s not even get into the rust!
Finally, remember the golden rule of shaving (and waxing, for that matter, but since you’re most likely not doing this yourself, NBD): Never shave against the grain.
So, the next time you’re looking for your over-used, dull razor for a dry shave during the pre-party rush, remember you’re probably better off getting a new one and donning jeans for the night.
Exfoliate regularly. Since we know hair removal usually equals pesky ingrowths, try using a weekly exfoliant. “Slot it in as part of your routine,” advises Dr. Pathirana. Use a washcloth to really massage in an exfoliating scrub, which will in turn tease out any existing ingrowths.
Pick a miracle-working cream. Although there are no special treatments to help prevent ingrowths, Dr. Pathirana says that using a cream or gel that contains glycolic acid or salicylic acid works wonders in making sure soul-crushing bumps and not-so-pretty spots are kept at bay. And not to worry, you don’t have to rob a laboratory to get your hands on these goodies. Most ingrowth-fighting products are available over-the-counter, so it’s just a matter of getting your hands on one that best fits your needs.
A final option: Dr. Pathirana says laser hair removal is one of the best ways of steering clear of ingrowths. It’s painless, reduces hair growth and keeps your skin spotless…but it also costs major bucks. If this doesn’t fit into your budget ATM, just keep the easy mantra in mind: never against the grain, exfoliate and use a medicated cream that shuts down ingrowths like a failed dinner date, because worrying about potential ingrowths amidst your already busy life, is a pesky non-starter.
This article was originally published as ‘Out With The Ingrowths’ in the July 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more beauty and skin advice, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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