We’ve all had that moment where we’re stepping out of the shower or rolling out of bed and realize “oh gross, I got some company” showing and growing in the pubic region. Of course, I’m talking about the ingrown hairs (especially the pubes!) that show up when you dare to shave, pluck, wax or otherwise try to landscape.
Well, first of all, we want to be clear that it’s okay that you get ingrown hairs. Bodies be like that sometimes. If you get them a lot and they get infected, mess with your life or you’re just concerned, this is a convo you should one hundred percent bring up with your doctor to get all the information and options you could want but it’s important to know that there’s nothing wrong or abnormal about you for getting them
But that doesn’t mean they don’t suck royally or that it isn’t worth it to find out the ~science~ behind your ingrowns. According to WebMD (but goddam use WebMD responsibly, my fellow hypochondriac pals), ingrown hairs happen because your new hairs grow back into your skin instead of up and out of it after shaving. This is typically more common for people with thicker, coarser hair types — which also explains why pubes are often the culprits. They aren’t showing up because you’re dirty or gross or anything like that — it’s just because the new hair is shorter and sharper. Your ingrowns may manifest in all sorts of icky ways: You can have pustules, papules and some hyper-pigmentation (which just means they’re darker or a funkier color than you’re used to down there) and, if you’re the type to pick or fiddle with any kinds of zit-adjacent buddies on your bod (we see you), you can be at risk of getting infections.
I wish I had one inconspicuous ingrown hair that I could dig out gleefully every day and find born anew every morning.
— Nicole Cliffe (@Nicole_Cliffe) October 13, 2018
Because we really couldn’t help ourselves, we reached out to a few women who have dealt with ingrowns over the years for their tips, tricks and stories. (Think of it as us inviting you into a personal, weird bodies group chat.)
Katherine S: Okay, hello friends. Thank you for being willing to TMI with me today about ingrowns and WTF to do about them. To start, does anyone have any funky ingrown hair horror stories? Any idea what caused them?
Rebecca T: My favorite ingrown hair horror story actually happened recently, because I only discovered a few months ago that now my ingrown hairs are capable of growing down the side of my leg while still underneath the skin! So discovering that was weird, because they look like regular hairs growing down but if you touch them you realize they’re actually covered. So digging them out is a bit wild. I don’t know what has caused them, but it’s interesting to see how they’ve gone from being curled up in one follicle and getting irritated to mole-people-ing their way down.
Catherine T: I don’t have any horror stories, but I get them ALL the time, especially when I shave. It’s mainly in my bikini line area, but I have also gotten them in my armpit and in between my boobs (I’m Sicilian so there is hair that gets taken off EVERYWHERE). It’s usually a product of shaving.
Katherine S: I actually have a pretty gnarly ingrown story — or I guess it was more of a Bartholin’s gland cyst story (but more on that later!). At first I thought I had an ingrown that came a bit close to my labia and that it must’ve just been deep. She just felt like a little lima bean sized bumpy that I discovered while I was masturbating one night and I figured it would go away eventually if I didn’t poke at it. But, naturally, I poked at it for like three days and ignored advice to take some Sitz baths or do anything productive toward making her go away, so she got even more painful.
Eventually, I was starting to feel sick and assumed I just caught a bug in addition to my new cyst pal (instead of connecting that my poking and general dumbassery were maybe making it worse). Long story short, I fainted getting out of the shower (I still remember knocking my nose against my bath mat like a dummy) and had a fever for the night. After calling my mom and, like, panic-crying, I did do the Sitz bath thing — just make sure your tub is super clean, put 2-4 inches of warm water in and soak (I also threw in some table salt because my family is a strong believer in salt water rinsing for literally everything) — and after a few days of repeating and keeping the area super clean, it went down enough that I felt like a human again.
When I talked with my doctor a day or two later, she explained that my Bartholins glands (which are responsible for lubricating the vag — so, obvs, we’re a big fan of them) got obstructed and backed up and that my poking and prodding at it was a major no-no.
But what are your hacks, advice for people dealing with ingrown hairs. How do you make them go away or be less fucking horrible?
Rebecca T: I‘m very prone to ingrown hairs in all the typical spots that people shave, so my methods range from not shaving at all to making sure I exfoliate things like my legs regularly. This can be as simple as using a washcloth in the shower to a loofa or chemical exfoliant, but I find that shaving my legs once a week and exfoliating twice works out well. The only way to make them go away, for me, is to dig them out and then sanitize the area after, but sticking to trimming, exfoliation and especially only shaving with a sharp, mostly-new razor does the trick. Using an old or blunt razor can nick the skin and irritate it much worse, especially when you’re prone to ingrown hairs!
Catherine T: My advice is to NOT pick at them like they are a zit (which you also SHOULD NOT do, no matter how tempting!). I know they’re gross and you want to get rid of them, but they can get infected which will make it even worse! Just be patient; it’s either going to go away or grow out. If it does the latter, grab those tweezers and pull. You’ll feel SO much better.
“I have so, so many regrets about fucking with ingrown hairs and other funky body zits — I don’t have any acne/zit scarring on my face but other places have definitely been messed up because of my poor self-control. I also really swear by a good toner or retinol to encourage regrowth of healthy skin and to get rid of the gross dead skin. “
Katherine S: Okay, @ me next time on the picking. I have so, so many regrets about fucking with ingrown hairs and other funky body zits — I don’t have any acne/zit scarring on my face but other places have definitely been messed up because of my poor self-control. I also really swear by a good toner or retinol to encourage regrowth of healthy skin and to get rid of the gross dead skin.
Which reminds me that I feel like I never got any real info on this from anyone? Like not in those dumb Your Body health class videos or unless I asked my doctor or my mom straight-up. Do you wish your health classes were able to teach you more about these kinds of ingrowns? Where do you get your info/education on weird icky body stuff like this?
Rebecca T: I never got any information on ingrown hairs from health class, only from my mom, friends, and the internet, so I probably would have avoided a lot of leg nicks, ingrowns and pain while I was in high school if they had covered it. But then again I don’t recall much information from health class on managing secondary sex characteristics.
I get a lot of my info on the nightmare we call the human body from being incredibly open and candid with my friends, who have often gone through similar problems and have advice or resources that they can share!
Catherine T: Yeah, I wish we had learned about this when I was younger! It was NEVER discussed. I wouldn’t have even known how to look up what to do online that’s how infrequently it came up. I’ve always been super insecure about my body hair that I would just ignore it and wait for it to go away. It’s something so many people deal with too, so the fact it never gets brought up is sad. Sure, it’s an unsexy topic, but it’s one so many people experience!
Katherine S: Ugh, yes. I feel like my truest deepest friendships have come from being willing to break down the barriers around these taboo topics. Like if I couldn’t send a pic of something gross through the GC to just be like “look at her, help me,” I’d be a significantly more panicky person.
“I feel like my truest deepest friendships have come from being willing to break down the barriers around these taboo topics.”
But, just to end this convo on a positive-note: Do you have any advice for people who have a hard time loving their body when they get ingrown hairs or other kinds of bumps & blisters?
Catherine T: Always, ALWAYS listen to and be patient with your body, no matter how much you hate it or get frustrated with it. Seriously, it took me 26 years to really live by this, but it’s made for a lot less pain and made me feel a lot better about myself. Trust me, working with and not fighting your imperfections will make you much happier.
Rebecca T: For people who want to love their body and experience all the human issues that come with having skin: Flawless skin doesn’t exist. And the parts of you that require maintenance aren’t, to me, flaws. Have you ever seen the character of different types of flowers? Some have stripes, some are large, some are tiny, some have bumps, many smell. That’s you. Your body is a flower that sometimes dries out, a bit of it flakes off, you grow something new or have a bug on you sometimes. It’s okay to think it’s gross, because being a person is gross. But if you didn’t have any of these things going on you’d be made of plastic, and you can’t hug the people you love, laugh with your friends, or wiggle to great music when you’re made of plastic.