You. Beardsman. Yes, you. You’re here for a reason - you need to learn about ingrown hairs. We all do. It’s a rite of passage into advanced level bearding, because you’ve accepted that no matter how gross or painful they are, you want to learn more about them so you can prevent them and treat them.
What is an ingrown hair?
You mean aside from painful and visible? Just kidding.
There are three kinds of ingrown hairs. Here is a normal hair:
The hair has successfully broached the pore and is growing out with ease. Here's the first variation of an ingrown hair...
The hair curls and grows back into your skin after growing out of the pore. The little guy didn’t even make it out before he got wound up and ran back inside.
The hair grows sideways because dead skin cells are clogging up your pore. This dude got locked in his own house and literally can’t get out.
The hair grows in on itself because dead skin cells are clogging up your pore. This poor guy also got locked in his own home.
Once your skin detects that something’s up, it gets irritated. Literally. The area will swell and turn into a red, painful bump. If it gets irritated enough, it’ll form pus and look like a pimple. If your skin isn't clean enough, it can even develop an infection from festering bacteria. Most ingrown hairs go away on their own as long as you keep ‘em clean (you might not even notice some), but others take a lot more patience and sometimes a bit of intervention.
Did you notice that dead skin plays a big factor in ingrown hairs? Yeah - we’ll get back to that.
Why do beards get ingrown hairs?
There are a couple main reasons for that. First and foremost: kinky, curly hairs are way more prone to achieving ingrown status. An ingrown hair is a hair curling in on itself within the pore, so there you have it. They happen along the folds of your neck because the skin friction encourages them to curl even more. Facial hair tends to be thicker, curlier, and coarser than the hair in your and all over the rest of your body, so it's much more prone to this phenomenon.
On top of that, if you’ve got facial hair, you’re probably shaving your neck and cheeks pretty often. Shaving your face cuts the hair to a pointy spear, which makes it easier to snag on its way back out of the follicle after you shave. That’s right - hairs on the neck are a double whammy when it comes to getting ingrown hairs. You’ve got creases in that sensitive skin that actually exacerbate and encourage ingrown hairs, *and* you’re cutting your hair to a microscopic snagging point regularly.
Furthermore, men aren't as educated on grooming techniques as they should be. Exfoliating and sensitive skin care aren't talked about enough in our community, so men don't know that they already have everything they need to prevent ingrown hairs going forward.
How do I prevent ingrown hairs?
First things first - you can reduce the number of ingrown hairs you get, but it’s pretty common for even the most experienced of beardsmen to get an ingrown hair once in a while. This process is all about taking better care of your skin, but at the end of the day, you’re still probably shaving from time to time, and new hair follicles can develop well into your twenties. Focus on what you can control, and don’t get too bent if you get an ingrown hair. Just keep it clean and be patient and more often than not, it’ll resolve itself without medical intervention or bathroom sink surgery that you looked up on the internet.
Here are the ways you can reduce your ingrown hair count:
Exfoliating is the process of gently scrubbing skin to remove dead skin cells. Exfoliate your face and under your beard several times a week while you’re in the shower. This can be done with your fingertips for under the beard area, but we recommend using a be bop with Beardbrand beard wash and softener if you have a fairly thick beard. Here's a video of Carlos using the be-bop to exfoliate:
A huge part of keeping dead skin out of your pores is minimizing the amount of dead skin you need to get rid of with in the first place. Exfoliation is one key factor, but keeping your skin moisturized with beard oil or utility balm will prevent and mitigate beard dandruff, which is a huge risk factor for developing ingrown hairs.
Go With the Flow
It’s a common misconception that shaving against the grain is the best practice for your beard and neck. Shaving against the grain gets you a closer shave, but it also shaves the hair so close to the skin that it can get caught in the pore. Shave in the direction your hair is growing in order to alleviate that risk and keep irritated skin to a minimum.
More specifically - the pores your hair grows out of. Warm up your skin with hot water before shaving to open the pores more and release any dirt or dead skin. Shave with the grain, then apply a cold wet towel to the shaved area. This cooling action closes the pores again, which prevents freshly shorn skin from clogging it up.
Lubricate your skin well before shaving, and don’t take a second pass at it unless you’ve lubed it up. This helps the blade cut better by alleviating any extra snags.
Don’t go over the same area repeatedly when you shave. If you can’t keep it to one stroke of the razor, then try to limit it to two. You don’t want to shave the hair too close to your skin, and multiple runs with the razor is going to irritate your skin pretty quickly. This causes razor burn in a lot of men, which is basically a cluster of ingrown hairs.
Hit it and Quit It
Once you’ve used a razor cartridge a few times, just let it go. The blades get duller a lot faster than you’d think, which can tug hairs out of the follicle. The more these hair tugs, the angrier your sin gets, and the more swollen the problem areas will become. What do swollen and irritated problem areas cause? You guessed it - ingrown hairs.
Do all of those things, and you’ll be much happier in the shaving department. Like we mentioned above - no beardsmen is completely immune to ingrown hairs unless he gets permanent hair removal (more on that here).
Eric and Carlos have awesome tips on taking care of our skin, and minimizing ingrown hairs is about exactly that. Check out this video on skin care musts with Eric to get some of the bigger picture:
What do I do with an ingrown hair?
At Beardbrand we lean heavily into allowing your body behave the way it’s supposed to, which is why we use naturally derived ingredients whenever possible. Most of the time, you’re body’s going to handle this on its own. Going back to basics on this is going to resolve this nine times out of ten.
Keep it clean by gently washing it every day and DO NOT TOUCH IT OTHERWISE. Supplementing that with routine hot compresses in your down time will encourage the pores to open up and get extra healing agents to work at the site of the ingrown hair. It may take a few days, but as long as you resist the urge to pick or express it, eventually that little sucker will find his way out and you’ll feel close to immediate relief.
If that doesn’t work and it persists for more than a week or two, then it might need to get extracted. We’re not going to recommend any one way for at home extraction, as they all come with a host of risks if you’re not a medical professional. If you choose to do this on your own, keep everything you touch absolutely sanitized and accept that this might make it worse if you don’t pull it off. Remember that warming your skin beforehand will likely help you in this process, and keep an eye on it for a couple days afterwards to make sure it doesn’t get infected.
If your extraction ends up getting infected or you’re not willing to risk infection, go to your general practitioner or a dermatologist to have it extracted at their office. This may cost more time and money, but it’s the safest route to remove an ingrown hair.
What products help prevent ingrown hairs?
There aren’t any products that are a guaranteed preventative measure against ingrown hairs. They’re simply a minor inconvenience for taking the risk to rock your beard in the first place. There are a couple products that can make the ride a lot easier, though.
Beard oil is a preventative measure against dry skin - if it’s a good beard oil, the natural conditioning properties of the oils keep the skin moisturized without clogging its pores. Keeping the skin moisturized will prevent your skin from drying out and dying. Letting dead dry skin sit on the body longer is the quickest way to get ingrown hairs, so why not minimize the amount of dead dry skin you have in the first place?
Some of the beard oils out there can actually make your ingrown hair situation worse! Cheaper, silicone-based products are heavy enough to clog your pores and give you more ingrown hairs than you had before, or at least make the ones you have even worse. Our beard oil is designed to prevent that exact side effect from happening.
If your skin is especially dry around your neck and beard, you may want to amp up the conditioning product a bit to be more assertive with your skin care. Utility balm is made with waxy substances that are more effective at sitting on the skin longer, which deepens the conditioning effect of the balm on the skin.
Just like beard oil, utility balm is used here as a preventative measure against dry skin cells that can clog up your pores. Keeping your skin hydrated will help those hairs grow much more easily.
Boar’s Hair Brush
Using a boar’s hair brush generously as part of your grooming routine can help your exfoliating efforts. The hard nature of the bristle gives it a firm, strong brush through the hair while collecting dust and grime out of it in its scales. That’s dust and grime that you’d have to have exfoliated out of your pores later.
This exfoliating and styling tool is a favorite of Carlos's. It's a simple plastic tool that you use to style and wash your hair. It's built to massage the scalp gently and exfoliate while you groom. You can find it here.
Excessive Flaking and Itching
If you have excessive flaking and itching that you can't get under control, you may have seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition that plenty of beardsmen have and treat with ease, but it won't go away unless you treat it correctly. The exact cause is unknown, but it basically means your skin is reactive and irritated in areas that produce a lot of sebum (the natural oil secreted by your skin). You could have seborrheic dermatitis if...
- Your flakiness comes in waves with weather, medication and product changes, or stress
- The flaky areas get sore or inflamed (think tender pink skin or sores)
- The affected skin experiences burning sensations when washed or touched
- Yellow scaly flakes are present
- Symptoms do not respond to regular conditioning or exfoliating
If this is you - don't worry! Most cases can be treated with a shampoo like T-Gel. If your symptoms respond well to specialized shampoos, you'll just use it daily until the symptoms calm down, then just a couple times a week from there.
Read this article for more helpful information on seborrheic dermatitis. If it doesn't respond to over the counter treatments, don't hesitate to see a medical professional. We're here to help you keep on growing, but don't wait to turn to an expert for advanced skin health questions if you need to.
Ingrown hairs are a necessary evil in the life of a beardsmen, but you can take better care of our skin and hair to reduce the amount you have to deal with. Regular moisturizing, exfoliating, and the right products will keep your skin healthy and not nearly as prone to ingrown hairs.
If you have a beard dandruff issue that isn't going away no matter how much you condition and exfoliate, you may have seborrheic dermatitis. While there are over the counter treatments available, don't hesitate to seek out medical advice from an industry professional if they don't work out for you.