This article originally appeared on Health.
You shaved your legs and bikini line and went to sleep with silky-smooth skin . . . only to wake up with angry, itchy red bumps wherever you ran your razor. Ouch. Ingrown hairs sometimes seem inescapable, especially during the summer, when you regularly shave or wax sensitive skin.
Ingrown hairs are individual strands that curl under the skin instead of rising straight from the follicle, causing swelling, pain, and irritation and potentially leading to a more serious infection. But dermatologists say they can be prevented if you tweak your routine when you shave or wax. Shaving in particular is a major cause of ingrowns because the razor blade sharpens the end of the hair strand.
“If you magnify what the hair looks like after you shave, the hair’s end looks pointy instead of square, so it’s easy to pierce and go back into the skin,” explains Francesca Fusco, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. Before your next short-shorts or bikini outing, follow these tips for gorgeous, smooth, bump-free skin.
Dendy Engelman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist, recommends prepping your skin by first exfoliating the areas you plan to shave. “Exfoliating before shaving will smooth skin texture and buff away dirt that may be clogging your pores and causing flare-ups,” says Dr. Engelman. And whether you’re planning to shave or not, exfoliate at least once a week anyway using a scrub (Dr. Engelman loves First Aid Beauty’s Cleansing Body Polish) or with a loofah or washcloth. Take care not to overdo it; red, flaky, or peeling skin means you should cut back on how often you slough away.
Use the right razor and moisturizer
We’ve all been there—you’re out of new razors, so you reach for an older, duller one still hanging around your shower caddy. As you may have realized, however, this can lead to ingrowns. Instead, go with a sharp, clean razor, and work in motions so you shave in the direction of the hair. “It doesn’t give the closest shave, but you’re less likely to create that pointy angle,” says Dr. Fusco.
After you finish, keep the area clean and use a moisturizer, which will prevent ingrowns. Dr. Engelman says moisturized skin is more pliable and allows hair to grow out more easily without curling back around into the skin. She suggests using an in-shower oil (like Bio-Oil) and immediately following with lotion (try Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion) while your skin is still wet. “The glycerin in the lotion helps to bind to water molecules, which not only gives a supple feeling but softens the skin barrier,” she says.
Bacteria-prone areas (like around your bikini line) can also be kept clean with cleansing pads that contain alpha hydroxy, glycolic acid, or salicylic acid (Bliss Ingrown Eliminating Pads, $38, dermstore.com).
Know how to pluck
If you do get an ingrown hair, resist the urge to pick at it. “It could cause scarring, or even worse, become infected,” says Dr. Engelman. Instead, apply a chemical exfoliant with retinol to break down the skin cells covering the hair. Dr. Engleman recommends apple cider vinegar for soothing itchy, red skin as well.
If you can spot the loop between where the ingrown hair leaves the follicle and reenters the skin, and there’s no inflammation present, Dr. Fusco says it’s okay to give a shot at loosening the offender with tweezers that have been sterilized with alcohol. The easiest way: grab the loop with the tweezers and yank out the hair. Then, soothe the hair-free follicle by applying a warm compress and antibacterial cream or ointment.
Watch for infection
Once the redness goes down, exfoliate the area to eliminate dead skin. But if a large, dense red bump pops up, it could signal an infection. At this point, treatment should be reserved for a dermatologist; messing with infected bumps could make the infection worse. How will your dermatologist undo the damage? Dr. Fusco says he or she will likely inject the area with cortisone or prescribe antibiotics.
Consider a permanent solution
If you’re dealing with constant ingrown hairs, you have other options. Drugstore depilatories (like Veet or Nair) lessen the chances of developing them. Dr. Fusco also suggests considering laser hair removal, which permanently removes hair at the root. Thing is, laser hair removal takes several repeat visits, and the procedure can be pricey. Plus, it doesn’t work as well on people with blonde or lighter body hair; it’s most effective for those with dark, coarse hair. If yours is lighter, or laser removal is out of your reach financially, she suggests electrolysis, a process that destroys individual strands by using heat or chemicals.