Ingrown hairs are a pain—literally.
Almost everyone who shaves has dealt with painful ingrown hairs at some point in their lives, with some unlucky people frequently developing them after shaving. Even then, for many people, it can seem like no amount of careful shaving or specialty creams and aftershaves can prevent ingrown hairs.
However, is shaving really the root cause of ingrown hairs? Not quite. Though shaving can definitely promote ingrown hairs, it isn’t always the direct cause. In fact, even men with facial hair still develop the occasional ingrown hair under their beards. It seems, then, that ingrown hairs are an unfortunate reality for almost everyone, regardless of whether they shave or not!
Thankfully, even though ingrown hairs are bound to pop up from time to time, most of them are avoidable with the right routines and products. Read on to learn more about how ingrown hairs develop and what you can do to prevent—most of—them.
What Are Ingrown Hairs?
Ingrown hairs are, as their name might suggest, hairs that have “grown in” to the skin rather than growing out as they should. As the hair continues to grow, it plunges farther into the skin and causes severe irritation to both the skin itself and, of course, the unlucky person with the ingrown hair.
How Ingrown Hairs Form
As if ingrown hairs weren’t already bad enough, they take on several different forms. While most ingrown hairs are treated and prevented using the same methods, understanding how they grow and form can help you choose the right products.
A normal hair grows from a hair follicle and out through one of your skin’s many pores. If there’s nothing in its way as it grows, it will continue to grow out and, eventually, contribute to an ever-growing—and increasingly awesome—beard.
Yet what happens when something gets in the way? That’s when an ingrown hair forms. Even initially “successful” hairs that manage to grow out through the pore can become blocked and redirected back into the skin.
For many ingrown hairs, however, the hair never grows through the skin; instead, it grows into the skin from inside the pore, causing painful inflammation and, in some cases, infection. As the hair continues to grow, it will usually curve back into itself and create even more inflammation.
Clearly, your hair needs a clear path through the skin. This point leads us into exactly how ingrown hairs form: blocked pores.
Blocked Pores and Ingrown Hairs
We’ll spare you the studies and research, but science people—which is definitely what they’re called—have determined that there are over 20,000 pores on the average face. Pores fulfill several important functions, most notably producing a natural oil called sebum and, in hairy areas, housing hair follicles.
Pores, however, become blocked if dirt, dead skin, or other debris clogs their openings. Since pores are extremely small, they’re also extremely easy to block—and, unless you’ve just exfoliated, you probably have a few blocked pores right now!
Though pores block and unblock naturally, several things you do can block them. Rubbing your face, for example, can dislodge dead skin cells and force them into a pore opening. Similarly, shaving too aggressively can “drag” dead skin over pore openings and cause blockages.
No matter the type of blockage, a blockage is often enough to cause ingrown hairs. However, ingrown hairs can also form even if there aren’t blockages: Sometimes hair just travels off course!
Why Do Beards Get Ingrown Hairs?
So, if blocked pores cause ingrown hairs, why do they still form when they’re protected by a beard?
While beards can definitely reduce the risk of ingrown hairs by minimizing facial contact, they aren’t impenetrable shields; since ingrown hairs can still form after growing through a pore, even budding beard hairs can curve back into themselves and do further damage. Plus, since hairs naturally fall out and regrow, hair is always regrowing from under the skin.
As a result, whether bearded or shaved, it’s crucial to maintain a clear path for hair growth by keeping your pores clean and facial hair well-groomed.
Health Effects of Ingrown Hairs
Ingrown hairs aren’t just painful and ugly: They also cause long-term skin damage, infections, and other health complications if they’re allowed to get out of hand.
Whether caused by a blocked pore or not, ingrown hairs, ultimately, result in one. In any case, blocked pores are prime candidates for harboring bacteria and, as a result, infection. While isolated infections like these are usually minor—a pimple, for example—an ingrown hair doubles the trouble by keeping the pore blocked and causing further infection and inflammation.
In severe cases, infections resulting from ingrown hairs can result in a cyst, which may require draining, surgery, or antibiotics to remove—but that’s only a severe—read: rare—example; in most cases, ingrown hairs are simply a pain.
How Do I Prevent Ingrown Hairs?
After all this talk about hair growth and blocked pores, you’re probably more than ready to learn how to prevent ingrown hairs after shaving or while maintaining a beard. We certainly are. Simply put, preventing ingrown hairs comes down to just two things:
- Keep your pores clean and clear—cleansing and exfoliating.
- Groom and condition your facial hair.
Though that may seem pretty straightforward, there’s much more to consider than meets the eye. For example, if you regularly shave your face, you’ll likely need a different routine than someone maintaining a beard. Even so, it all still comes down to clean pores and good grooming.
Fix Your Shaving Routine
Ingrown hairs are a notable nuisance for many people who shave—so much so that they’ve even earned the nickname of “razor bumps”!
Though it can sometimes feel impossible to shave without getting ingrown hairs, a few changes to your routine—especially your prep!—can make all the difference. Following the steps below will not only help prevent ingrown hairs; it will also make shaving less of a chore and more of a luxury.
Here’s what you should do for every shave.
- Prep your skin before shaving. Hydrating and lubricating your skin before shaving is probably the single best thing you can do to prevent ingrown hairs. While slathering on some shaving cream might be tempting, it won’t be enough for a good shave. Instead, try shaving after your shower and apply a pre-shave oil or balm. The shower will open your pores while the pre-shave will help your razor glide gently across your skin.
- Lather with a badger brush. Prep doesn’t stop at pre-shave treatments! How you lather your shaving soap is also crucial to ensuring a good shave. Develop the best lather possible by using a badger shaving brush and shaving bowl, making sure to not make it too thin or too thick. Apply your lather with the brush in circular motions on your skin to make sure your beard hairs are standing up.
- Shave—gently. We’ve all imagined some grizzled pirate shaving with the side of a cutlass, but that guy probably wound up with tons of ingrown hairs. However, he was definitely onto something by using a single blade; by switching to a single-blade safety razor or straight razor—read: not a cutlass—you’ll minimize irritation while also getting a closer shave. No matter how you shave, however, make sure you shave with the grain of your beard; shaving against or even across the grain is one of the leading causes of ingrown hairs.
- Tone and moisturize after shaving. After rinsing your face with cold water, apply an alcohol-free aftershave and moisturizer. If you’re prone to razor burn, you may want to consider a moisturizing aftershave or other soothing products, such as an alum block. Either way, your skin will thank you and you’ll smell great. What’s not to love?
This routine may seem involved, but it’s surefire. You may need to practice or experiment with different products and equipment, but the investment will be more than worth it.
Groom Your Beard—the Right Way
Though ingrown hairs are far less likely to develop in beards, they can still pop up after routine grooming, such as shaving the neckline. While our shaving advice is no different here, beard maintenance is still important.
Keep your beard in top shape with this simple routine:
- Keep your skin moist with beard oil or balm. Though your beard might look great and healthy, it could be disguising dry skin underneath. By using beard oil or beard balm, you’ll be moisturizing both your skin and your beard hair, which may be enough to eliminate ingrown beard hairs. Not sure which to use? Check out our guide.
- Comb and brush your beard. Using a beard comb and brush doesn’t just improve appearances; it also helps exfoliate your skin while ensuring that your beard products reach every hair.
- Shave gently around your beard. Using the same routines discussed above will do double-duty for your beard and your skin.
That’s about it! Though it’s a simple routine, it will ultimately benefit you the most if you choose the right products.
Products for Preventing Ingrown Hairs
Whether you shave or maintain a full beard, or something in between, using the right products makes all the difference. From the finest beard oils to hand-crafted shaving brushes and bowls, the treasure trove at Blackship Grooming Co. is yours for the plunder! Check out our product line or drop us a line to find the right arsenal for your routines.