Best ingrown hair treatments, according to dermatologists

Finding an ingrown hair just a few days after shaving, waxing or epilating is a frustrating reality of hair removal, especially when the red bump is itchy, painful and an eyesore on your otherwise smooth skin. Like razor burn, most ingrown hairs, which are commonly referred to as razor bumps and are caused by hairs curling into and getting trapped underneath the skin, are treatable at home. But these bumps don’t go away overnight, and being patient during the healing process is the key to preventing infection or scarring later on.

We talked to experts about how to treat ingrown hair at home and how to know when you should see a dermatologist. Experts also shared tips about how to prevent ingrowns, who may be more prone to them and why popping them is the worst thing you can do.

SKIP AHEAD Ingrown hair treatments | Products to prevent ingrown hair | What is ingrown hair? | How do you get ingrown hair? | Where you can get ingrown hair | Who is prone to ingrown hair? | Should you pop ingrown hair? | Ingredients to avoid | When to see a doctor | How to avoid ingrowns while shaving


Our top picks



How we picked the best ingrown hair treatments


If you have an ingrown, the best way to treat it is to free the trapped hair from underneath the skin surface. There are two main components to achieve that goal: calming irritation and spot treating the bump. Here are some factors to consider when shopping for products:

  • Calming irritation: Ingrown hairs can be swollen, inflamed and painful to the touch. Calming irritation before spot treating reduces pain, so the treatment is more bearable, experts say. Dermatologists we spoke to recommend applying first-aid ointments in conjunction with cold compresses or ice packs.
  • Spot treating bumps: You can spot treat the bumps associated with ingrown hairs like you would acne, says Dr. Mara Weinstein Velez, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor with the University of Rochester Medical Center. Use products made with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid — these chemical exfoliants get rid of dead skin around and on top of the ingrown hair, so the hair can free itself, Weinstein says. She recommends using spot treatments twice a day. Your treatment plan should also include using warm compresses for 10 to 15 minutes per day, which softens the skin and encourages the trapped hair to come to the surface, says Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in Manhattan, New York.


The best ingrown hair treatments

To recommend the below ingrown hair treatments, we chose products that dermatologists recommend, we’ve used ourselves or are highly rated and meet expert shopping guidance. Since ingrown hairs can occur in any hair-bearing area, we note whether each product is meant for your face or body. Make sure to avoid removing hair in the area where you have an ingrown until it’s fully healed, experts told us.

Neosporin Original Antibiotic Ointment

 Neosporin — my go-to antibiotic ointment for ingrowns, cuts and burns — contains bacitracin, a type of over-the-counter topical antibiotic you can apply to red and inflamed ingrown hair, says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and an associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. It also has a blend of other antibiotics, including neomycin sulfate and polymyxin B sulfate, that protect against infection and help heal skin, according to the brand. The ointment can also help minimize the appearance of scars if you use it one to three times daily, according to Neosporin.

For use on: Face and body

Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength Anti-Itch Cream with Aloe

Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams can help reduce inflammation and itching associated with ingrown hairs, Chang says. This option from Cortizone 10 is made with 1% hydrocortisone, which is the highest concentration of the ingredient found in over-the-counter products, according to our experts. In addition to ingrowns, I’ve used Cortizone 10 on bug bites, sunburn and razor burn, and you can also apply it to eczema. The fragrance-free ointment is made with aloe, which helps soothe the skin, according to the brand.

For use on: Face and body

Fur Ingrown Concentrate

Fur’s Ingrown Concentrate contains tea tree oil, which has anti-inflammatory properties and helps prevent the ingrown hair from getting infected, Chang says. The treatment — which earned a 4.3-star average rating from 2,246 reviews on Amazon — also has chamomile extract to minimize redness and coconut, tamanu and grape seed oils to hydrate and soften skin, according to the brand. Before applying the concentrate, the brand recommends exfoliating with the included finger mit in the shower. Once you’re out of the shower, apply a few drops to bumps.

For use on: Face and body

Topicals High Roller Ingrown Hair Tonic

This fragrance-free tonic is a salicylic acid spot treatment you can apply to ingrowns and it goes on clear, so it’s a great option to use during the day. You apply the product using the rollerball, allowing you to target the ingrown without touching skin and potentially transferring bacteria from your hands to the affected area. The tonic has a 4.5-star average rating from 323 reviews at Sephora. It has zinc, a mineral that can minimize irritation, glycolic acid to further exfoliate and niacinamide to brighten the appearance of the bump so it doesn’t leave behind a dark spot, according to the brand.

For use on: Face and body

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion

Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion is my favorite overnight treatment for ingrowns because it helps dry them up while you’re sleeping and makes them appear much less red and swollen in the morning, based on my experience. The lotion has salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells sitting on top of and around ingrown hairs and calamine, an ingredient that reduces itching and irritation, according to the brand. You dip a cotton swab into the pink sediment at the bottom of the bottle and dab it directly onto the ingrown. The lotion dries quickly but leaves behind a light pink, chalky residue, which is why I prefer to use this product at night.

For use on: Face and body


How we picked the best products to prevent ingrown hair


Your skin care routine matters when it comes to hair removal, says Weinstein. In other words, if your skin isn’t in good shape when you remove hair, the hair is going to have trouble growing back normally. Preventing ingrowns mostly centers around caring for your skin before, after and in between hair removal sessions. Here are some factors to consider when shopping for products to help:

  • Cleansing: If you’re prone to ingrowns, use a face or body wash made with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or glycolic acid, according to Weinstein. All of these ingredients help reduce bacteria on skin and prevent it from spreading, she says.
  • Exfoliating: This is key to preventing ingrown hairs, especially if you’re prone to them, experts told us. Exfoliating is the process of removing dead cells from the surface of the skin, so you’re clearing the path for new hair to grow, Zeichner says. There are two types of exfoliants: chemical and physical (sometimes called manual). Chemical exfoliants include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like lactic acid and glycolic acid, and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid, that work to help skin cells shed more easily, Zeichner says. Physical exfoliants, on the other hand, are scrubs that contain little beads or grains, which you rub into skin to manually remove dead cells. It’s best to exfoliate between shaves so skin has time to heal after coming into contact with a razor, says Dr. Jane Yoo, a board certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon based at her private practice in New York City.
  • Moisturizing: After you remove hair from your face or body, it’s important to hydrate the skin around the hair follicles with face moisturizer or body lotion, Weinstein says. She recommends opting for oil-free varieties since oil-based moisturizers can clog pores, unless they’re labeled noncomedogenic.


The best products to prevent ingrown hair


To recommend products that help prevent ingrown hairs, we chose options dermatologists recommend or ones we’ve used ourselves and meet expert shopping guidance. Since you may be looking to prevent ingrown hair on your face, body or both, we note which area each product is meant for.

Cetaphil Acne Relief Body Wash

Those prone to ingrowns on their body may want to consider a body wash like this one that’s made with salicylic acid, which can reduce the amount of bacteria on your skin and ensure it’s clean before you remove hair, Weinstein says. Cetaphil’s fragrance-free Acne Relief Body Wash — a Select Wellness Award winner — is also made with moisturizing ingredients like glycerin, shea butter and soybean oil to fight dry skin, according to the brand. The body wash has a creamy, lotion-like consistency that’s gentle on skin and doesn’t get sudsy, in my experience. It comes in a pump, which I find helps you control how much body wash you’re dispensing.

For use on: Body

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

If you get ingrowns on your face (especially after shaving facial hair), experts recommend opting for a gentle acne face wash like this one from Neutrogena, which contains salicylic acid. The wash has a jelly consistency when it comes out of the pump, but it gets foamy as you massage it into your skin with your fingers or a facial cleansing brush, in my experience. The face wash helps eliminate oil buildup on skin and unclogs pores, according to the brand.

For use on: Face

Selfmade True Grit Resilience Scrub

While experts told us manual exfoliants can irritate ingrown hairs, you can use them on non-irritated skin between shaves, so long as you don’t have dry or sensitive skin. Selfmade (one of our favorite AAPI-owned brands) sent me its True Grit Resilience Scrub to try, and it has a gentle yet gritty feel that leaves my skin feeling soft after I massage it in. The scrub is made with chemical exfoliants like ascorbic acid, an AHA that is the most powerful form of vitamin C, experts told us in our guide to dermatologist skin care routines. It also has tea tree oil to unclog hair follicles, according to the brand. I use this scrub on my legs and underarms once or twice a week, but you can use it daily if your skin tolerates it, according to Selfmade. You can also use the scrub to exfoliate the scalp.

For use on: Face and body

Billie Ultimate Skin Solution

I use Billie’s Ultimate Skin Solution to both treat and prevent ingrowns. I usually spray it on my underarms or legs between shaves and on ingrown hairs when they pop up. The spray contains salicylic acid and aloe vera to dissolve built-up dead cells while calming the skin, according to the brand. I find that the spray bottle makes this solution easy to apply to large and small patches of skin, and it dries quickly. The spray also doesn’t leave behind a sticky residue and never causes my sensitive skin to sting after application.

For use on: Face and body

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

After you shave, apply a product made with BHAs to close the hair follicles that opened after being exposed to warm water, Weinstein says. Doing so prevents bacteria or dirt from getting into the follicles. This chemical exfoliant from Paula’s Choice has salicylic acid (a BHA) and green tea extract to calm redness, according to the brand. The formula is lightweight and feels refreshing on my skin when I apply it using a cotton pad. It also absorbs into my skin quickly, so I can layer other products on top of it, like moisturizer . While the exfoliant is mainly meant for your face and neck, you can also apply it to other parts of the body post-shave.

For use on: Face and body

Thayer’s Original Witch Hazel Facial Toner

Those with very sensitive skin may not be able to tolerate BHAs to close hair follicles after shaving. Witch hazel is an alternative ingredient that does the same job, but is gentler on the skin, Weinstein says. Thayer’s Witch Hazel Facial Toner has an alcohol-free formula that minimizes the appearance of pores, evens skin tone and texture and hydrates skin, according to the brand. You apply it with a cotton pad. The toner is available in different versions made with additional skin-soothing ingredients like rose petal, coconut water, lavender and cucumber. NBC Select manager of editorial operations Shari Uyehara says the cucumber toner is her favorite to use on her face because it has a light, refreshing scent.

For use on: Face and body

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

The last step of any hair removal session should be to moisturize and keep the skin hydrated, experts told us. CeraVe’s moisturizing cream — a Select Wellness Award winner — is a noncomedogenic option made with hyaluronic acid to help skin retain moisture and ceramides to support the outer layer of skin, according to the brand. You can use the fragrance-free cream on your face, body and hands, and it earned the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance, meaning it’s suitable for sensitive skin.

For use on: Face and body


What is ingrown hair?


Ingrown hair — also known as razor bumps — curls back or grows sideways into the skin instead of growing upward like it’s supposed to, Chang says. Ingrowns are trapped underneath the skin’s surface, which can lead to inflammation. They also vary in appearance — some appear as skin-colored bumps with a black center (which is the trapped hair), others look like small red pimples or large, painful pus-filled bumps, Chang says.


How do you get ingrown hair?


Most people associate ingrown hair with shaving, but it’s actually more common after removing hair via waxing, plucking, threading or epilating, Zeichner says. That’s because the deeper the level of hair removal, the more likely you are to get an ingrown.

When you shave, you cut hair level with the skin, so it’s already above the surface. But waxing, tweezing, threading and epilating removes hair from the follicle, which is deep underneath the skin, Zeichner says. Hair then has to grow back from that follicle and make its way through the surface of the skin. If that process does not happen correctly, the free edge of the new hair can become trapped, grow into skin and result in an ingrown hair, he says.

That’s not to say you can’t get ingrowns from shaving. Cut hair can still curl back under the skin and start to grow beneath the surface, especially if you’re practicing improper shaving technique, including using a dull razor, shaving in the wrong direction or dry shaving (shaving without cream or gel to lubricate skin), Weinstein says.


Where can you get ingrown hair?


You can get ingrown hairs on any hair-bearing region of the body, Chang says. But they’re more likely to occur in areas where hair is coarse, like the beard area on the face and neck, at the nape of the neck if you have short hair, the pubic region, the legs, the underarms and the chest.


Who is prone to ingrown hair?


Anyone can get ingrown hairs. However, those with naturally curly or wavy, thick and coarse hair are the most prone to ingrowns, Weinstein says. Curly and wavy hair is more likely to curl into the skin compared to straight hair.


Should you pop ingrown hair?


No, you should never pop, pick, pluck or pull at an ingrown hair, our experts unanimously agreed. Doing so can make ingrowns worse and prolong the healing process. It can also lead to infections, discoloration and scarring. Picking, tweezing and squeezing ingrown hairs also commonly results in folliculitis, an inflammation and infection of the hair follicles that looks like a bumpy rash and can be itchy or painful, Weinstein says.

You should also never attempt to dig an ingrown hair out from under your skin, even if you clearly see it underneath the skin surface, Change says. Ingrown hairs should only be removed by your dermatologist in-office using a sterile needle or scalpel.


Ingredients to avoid while treating ingrown hair


Avoid harsh, irritating ingredients while treating ingrown hairs, which can worsen irritation and inflammation, says Chang. This includes products with heavy fragrances and strong alcohols like rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, as well as physical exfoliants and abrasive scrubs, Weinstein says (Physical exfoliants are fine to use to prevent ingrown hairs, but not to treat an active ingrown hair). She also recommends steering clear of homemade or DIY ingrown hair treatments like apple cider vinegar, which don’t work, in her experience.


When to see a doctor about ingrown hair


Ingrown hairs range in severity. Mild ingrown hairs may not cause irritation, inflammation or pain, but more severe, painful ingrowns can become infected and look like pink bumps around the hair follicles (folliculitis) or pus-filled bumps. That’s when you should see a dermatologist for treatment, which can include prescription-strength antibiotic ointment or a cortisone shot to reduce inflammation in very severe cases.

You should consult a dermatologist about ingrown hairs if you get them persistently or if you get many in one area, Chang says. They may recommend a more permanent hair removal method, like laser hair removal or electrolysis, she says. And if you develop a red bump and are unsure about its diagnosis, see a medical professional before attempting to treat or diagnose it at home.


How to avoid getting ingrown hair while shaving


Shaving is the most common type of hair removal people do at home, and improper technique is often the culprit of razor bumps and razor burn. To help you avoid both, here are some expert tips to ensure you’re shaving correctly.

  • Shave at the end of a shower so your skin has time to soften in the warm water, Yoo says. If skin is soft when you shave, hair is less likely to curl backward and potentially get trapped underneath the skin surface.
  • Shave with a moisturizing shaving cream or gel to reduce friction between the razor and the skin surface, Yoo says. Use an unscented or fragrance-free shaving cream, especially if you have sensitive skin or recently healed an ingrown hair, Weinstein says. Scents and fragrances can irritate skin.
  • While you’re shaving, use short, single strokes in the direction of hair growth, Yoo says.
  • Use razors built with a comb on the leading edge of the blade, which lift hair up to help cut it at an appropriate angle and length, Zeichner says. “If you cut hair above the skin surface, it’s less likely to become an ingrown,” he says.
  • Never use a dull razor, which tends to give hair a jagged edge after its cut and makes it more likely to curl back into and get trapped underneath the skin, Zeichner says. A single blade razor tends to stay sharp for about three to five shaves, according to Yoo. If your razor has multiple blades, check the product’s packaging or the brand’s website to see how often you should swap out your razor.
  • Keep your razor in a dry place when it’s not in use to prevent it from harboring bacteria, Yoo says. Leaving your razor in wet, humid areas like in the shower or by the sink can cause you to transfer bacteria to your skin while shaving.


Meet our experts


At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Joshua Zeichner is the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and an associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
  • Dr. Y. Claire Chang is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, NY.
  •  Dr. Jane Yoo is a board certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon based at her private practice in New York City, NY.
  • Dr. Mara Weinstein Velez is a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor with the University of Rochester Medical Center. Her areas of research include cosmetic dermatology, skin of color, scarring and hair growth.


Why trust Select?


Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor who writes about health and wellness-related products like razor burn treatments, sunscreen, face masks, Covid-19 tests and more. For this article, she interviewed four experts about how to treat and prevent ingrown hair, as well as their favorite products for doing so.



Catch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.

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