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You’ve got one of those dreaded ingrown hair bumps, and it’s in the worst spot possible: your pubic region. Ingrown hairs can be painful or itchy, and they can even get infected, so they’re no fun anywhere on your body. But on your penis or vagina? Yikes.
Don’t fret, though! In this article, we’ll talk about what causes ingrown pubic hairs, what you can do if you have one (even if it’s infected!), and how to prevent them from happening.
What is an ingrown hair?
An ingrown hair is very much what it sounds like: instead of growing out from the skin, a hair shaft grows inwards. It comes in two varieties:
- In extrafollicular penetration, the hair curls back and extends downward, piercing the skin and causing inflammation.
- The other type is transfollicular penetration, which is when the hair grows laterally through the skin before it even breaks the surface.
Ingrown hairs can happen anywhere on the body, but they happen most commonly on areas of the body that you might shave, wax, or tweeze to remove hair—the face, armpits, legs, and—you guessed it—the pubic area. Some people are more prone to these pesky ingrown hairs than others, especially those with tight, curly hair.
Different types of ingrown hairs
Ingrown hairs sometimes show up on the skin’s surface as little bumps called papules. They may look like small flesh-toned or red bumps, similar to pimples. If a papule fills with pus, it becomes a pustule. Either form can become irritated, itchy, or painful.
You may have heard bumpy irritation from shaving called “razor burn,” or even referred to as “folliculitis.” However, pseudofolliculitis is the proper medical term for this bumpy irritation (Puhan, 2015). Though these conditions look somewhat similar and can both be unpleasant, true folliculitis is specifically an infection of the hair follicle. They can be related, though. If a hair picks up a bacteria from the skin’s surface before reentering, pseudofolliculitis can cause true folliculitis.
If many bumps appear in your pubic area around the same time, and you have not done any recent hair removal, consult a healthcare provider. A rash of bumps could be an allergic reaction to something—but it could also be a sign of sexually transmitted infections like genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), or syphilis (Garcia, 2020).
What causes ingrown hairs?
The most common cause of ingrown hair is hair removal. Sounds counterintuitive, right? But any time we thoroughly remove hair from the surface, there’s a chance that one might grow back in the wrong direction. That’s why a cluster of ingrown hairs can also be known as razor bumps. But ingrown hairs don’t only come from using razors—they can result from waxing, plucking, depilatory chemicals, or any other hair removal method.
Curly hair has a higher chance of curving back toward the skin and becoming an ingrown hair. As a result, pseudofolliculitis on the face is most common in men of African descent who shave (Ogunbiyi, 2019). When it comes to pubic hair, though, one study found white women three times likelier than Black women and twice as likely as Hispanic women to report clinical complications of hair removal. Of all women in the survey, no matter their race or ethnicity, nearly one-third reported experience with ingrown hairs (DeMaria, 2014).
Ingrown hairs can even occur without intentional hair removal. Any pressure can tear hairs out or bend them in the wrong direction. Some male violinists get a condition called “fiddler’s neck” from the instrument’s motion under their chin. Similarly, a tight pair of jeans might look great, but the friction of tight clothing against the skin can have the same effect on the hair in your pubic region and legs (Ribera, 2010).
How to get rid of an ingrown pubic hair
Ingrown hairs have likely been occurring since the dawn of shaving. You’ll find plenty of home remedies suggested on the internet. Usually, these recommendations involve pulling the ingrown hair out manually. Suggestions range from aggressive, such as tweezing it out, to gentler ideas like massaging it with a toothbrush.
Yes, these approaches might successfully release the hair—but they come with their own risk. The tweezers in your medicine cabinet are probably not incredibly sanitary and can potentially leave scars. Digging into your skin or rubbing an inflamed area with the toothbrush you put in your mouth could introduce a cornucopia of germs. Using any of these home remedies risks trading a minor irritation for something much more severe.
It’s often better to wait patiently, as most ingrown hairs resolve themselves in time, eventually emerging from the skin on their own. If an ingrown hair truly needs treatment, a healthcare provider will delicately use a sterilized needle to extract it from the skin.
If you have ingrown pubic hairs, the first step is to stop shaving temporarily. Shaving over an irritated area may end up making it worse. Ceasing hair removal for four weeks allows the hairs to grow long enough to pull themselves out (Ogunbiyi, 2019). Reaching for the tweezers may be tempting, but letting nature run its course is safest. Plucking a hair out from the root may only turn an extrafollicular ingrown hair into a transfollicular one—not really fixing the problem.
Some over-the-counter products may offer relief. Corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone cream can reduce inflammation. Products containing benzoyl peroxide can reduce redness and help prevent secondary infections like true folliculitis. Salicylic acid or glycolic acid can soften hardened skin around the follicles (Ogunbiyi, 2019).
What if you have an infected ingrown hair?
In some cases, an ingrown hair can become infected, especially if you’ve been picking at it (an understandable temptation!). In that case, you’ll want to see your healthcare provider or a specialist, such as a dermatologist. They may prescribe a steroid cream to reduce inflammation or retinoid lotion to clear up dead skin cells. If you have an infection, they may give you oral or topical antibiotics as well (Ogunbiyi, 2019). If left untreated, an infected pustule can develop into a cyst or worse, so be sure to speak with your healthcare provider if you’re concerned.
How to prevent ingrown pubic hairs
The best way to prevent ingrown hair is not to remove the hair in the first place. If you’re okay with a little stubble, use an electric razor set to at least 1 millimeter, and trim regularly (Ogunbiyi, 2019). A length of at least 1 millimeter helps decrease the odds of the hair growing back toward the skin.
But maybe you really want a clean sheen in-between, whether it’s just the bikini line or full deforestation. There are precautions you can take to minimize ingrown hairs.
Shaving leaves sharp, beveled tips, which increase the odds of skin penetration. There are a few things you can do to dull these sharp edges, though (Ogunbiyi, 2019).
- Soak the skin in warm water before shaving to swell the follicles.
- Exfoliate the skin to give you a smoother surface to work on, minimizing friction.
- Always use shaving cream.
- Shave in light downward strokes with the grain, and never pull the skin taut while shaving.
- Rub the area in a circular motion with a rough towel after shaving to help free any hairs that are stuck in the skin.
- Use moisturizer if the skin is dry.
Proper razor care is essential as well. Rinse the blade in hot water between strokes. Clean it well after you’ve finished, and change blades after five uses. A dull razor may increase the chances of developing an ingrown hair (Ribera, 2010).
Depilatory creams can be more effective than shaving or waxing. They leave hair with a soft tip that’s unlikely to penetrate back into the skin. But they don’t work for everyone. They aren’t always pleasant on thick skin, let alone sensitive skin like the vulva or penile shaft. Always test on a small spot first before using (Ribera, 2010).
A truly final, if expensive, step to ending ingrown hairs is permanent hair removal through laser therapy or electrolysis. If that’s not affordable and ingrown hairs are a regular nuisance, talk to a dermatologist about establishing a skincare regimen that can target the problem.
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
- DeMaria, A. L., Flores, M., Hirth, J. M., & Berenson, A. B. (2014). Complications related to pubic hair removal. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 210(6), 528.e1-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2014.01.036. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24486227/
- Garcia, M. R. & Wray, A. A. (2020). Sexually transmitted infections. [Updated July 15, 2021]. In StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Feb. 18, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560808/
- Ogunbiyi, A. (2019). Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment options. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 12, 241–247. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S149250. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31354326/
- Puhan, M. R., & Sahu, B. (2015). Pseudofolliculitis corporis: A new entity diagnosed by dermoscopy. International Journal of Trichology, 7(1), 30–32. doi: 10.4103/0974-7753.153453. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25878447/
- Ribera, M., Fernández-Chico, N., & Casals, M. (2010). Pseudofolliculitis barbae. Actas Dermo-Sifiliograficas, 101(9), 749–757. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21034705/
Dr. Mike is a licensed physician and the Director, Medical Content & Education at Ro.