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How to Deal with Ingrown Hairs and the Dark Spots They Leave Behind

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If you’ve experienced ingrown hairs, you know they can be itchy, painful, and not a great look. And if that’s not enough punishment, they often leave behind dark marks as a reminder of their presence and a not-so-subtle warning that you have not seen the last of them.


With about 5 million hair follicles adorning the surface of your skin, the odds of getting an ingrown hair at some point are fairly high. If you’re shaving, plucking, waxing, or otherwise removing hair, the odds go way up. Shaving stretches the hair beyond the follicle and then creates a sharp edge on the hair. The hair snaps back beneath the surface of the skin, and that new, fresh edge can get snagged instead of growing correctly out of the pore. All hair removal processes can cause trouble by disrupting the natural path of the hair growth within the follicle.


A buildup of dead skin cells can also be a contributor to ingrown hairs as the follicle can become blocked causing the hair to grow sideways. Regular exfoliation—clinical facials and at-home treatment—can help avoid the problem.


Both men and women are candidates for ingrown hairs (they can appear on the neck or the bikini line). It’s especially problematic for people with coarse or curly hair, which tends to curl back or grow sideways in the hair follicle. Because the the trapped hair is not always visible, the condition can look a lot like acne—patches of round bumps, sometimes with pustules, always with inflammation.


The dark spots that linger after the ingrown hairs have moved on are the result of this inflammation. The skin perceives injury and mobilizes a protective response within the skin: the production of melanin. The is what’s known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.


Treat these spots the same way you would any other dark spots. A mandelic acid-based regimen will kill bacteria that can cause inflammation in the follicle when it becomes blocked. Additionally, mandelic acid exfoliates dead skin cells and excess pigment from the surface of the skin while inhibiting the production of melanin to prevent new pigment from forming. Ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are also good for keeping follicles clear.


As a basic regimen for preventing and correcting ingrown hairs and dark spots, use Mandelic Acid 3-In-1 Exfoliating Cleanser, 3% Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Toner, 8% Mandelic Acid 3-In-1 Serum, and Day Treatment Lotion SPF 15 to keep UV exposure from worsening the condition. We also recommend Vivant’s Bleaching Cream as a brightening booster to be used at night all over the affected area. Daily Repair Pads are a great toning option if you want the added exfoliating muscle of salicylic acid in a convenient take-anywhere package.



A few additional tips for avoiding ingrown hairs:

When shaving, follow the direction of the hair growth and avoid shaving too close to the skin or going over the same area multiple times. When using a razor blade, make sure the skin is wet before shaving and use a moisturizing shaving cream, gel, or foam while shaving. Vivant’s Mandelic Acid 3-In-1 Wash or Green Tea Antioxidant Cleanser are good choices.


Don’t try to poke or tweeze the ingrown hair out of the follicle. This is likely to introduce bacteria, further inflame the bump, and increase the chances of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.


And whatever you do, don’t continue to shave and remove hair in the affected region. This is “one of the worst things you can do,” says Nada Elbuluk, MD, MSc, assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, “wait until razor bumps have resolved before going back to shaving or engaging in further hair removal at the site."