Ingrown hairs, especially near your vagina, are the absolute worst. They’re pesky, annoying, and sometimes even nerve-racking (right?!).
But let’s rewind for one sec to clarify something: While many people refer to (and search for) this issue using language a la “ingrown hairs on the vagina,” they’re actually referring to the skin around the vagina, which is technically the vulva, or the outer area of your genitals. (Reminder: The vagina is the internal organ, and you don’t have hair follicles up in there.)
But on the vulva, ingrown hair bumps are often mistaken for something else (think: warts, boils, and even herpes). Dr Alyssa Dweck, Westchester-based gynaecologist and assistant clinical professor at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, says many of her patients panic when they see ingrown hairs developing below the belt.
But the truth is, ingrown hairs are just a possible side effect of shaving, and generally nothing to worry about at all. Ingrown hairs on the skin around the vagina are super easy to prevent, if you know what to do it. Here’s everything you need to know about ingrown hairs in your nether region — from the possible causes, best treatment tips, and more.
What is an ingrown hair exactly?
An ingrown hair happens when a hair (generally one that’s been tweezed or shaved off) grows back into the skin, instead of out of it, according to the Mayo Clinic. When this happens, the way the hair gets lodged in the skin can lead to inflammation and a red bump in the area where the hair was removed.
Dr Dweck says ingrown hairs are super common among patients who prefer to shave. “With shaving or hair removal, there’s a teeny possibility that you can get an infection in the hair follicle,” Dr Dweck says. And this infection causes the hair not to grow out of the skin, but backwards inside the follicle.
According to a JAMA Dermatology study surveying 3,316 women, 84 percent reported they engage in some form of pubic hair removal via scissor, razor, wax, tweezer, laser, or electrolysis. So, yeah, you can imagine that you’re *not* alone in dealing with this issue.
READ MORE: 10 Reasons You’ve Got Bumps On Your Vagina
What does an ingrown pubic hair look and feel like? (You know, so I can rule out other things…)
When an ingrown hair forms, a red bump usually appears along with some slight discomfort. But it’s nothing too serious and shouldn’t be causing you any severe pain. You’ll usually feel pressure in the area, similar to a pimple, Dr Dweck says. If you shave and then in first 12 or 24 hours you’ve got bumps all over that area, Dr Dweck says, those are likely ingrown hairs.
Herpes, on the other hand, is very painful (and usually a sharp pain). “It’s a raised, sort of blistery type of lesion that has a red base and hurts like crazy, especially if it’s the first time you’re getting one,” Dr Dweck says. A herpes lesion can also feel tingly at times because it could be irritating your nerves.
Another case of mistaken identity? Warts. Warts have a very distinct appearance, though, Dr Dweck says. “They’re raised, they typically don’t itch or hurt, they don’t bleed and they a cauliflower type of appearance where they’re sort of corrugated a bit.”
Okay, whew. So how do I get rid of an ingrown hair?
Ingrown hairs will generally go away without treatment. But there are a few things you can do to make yourself more comfortable until one heals.
“Warm soaks are helpful and soothing,” Dr Dweck says. Some of her patients like to do an Epsom salt soak using warm water and plain Epsom salt (no fragrance!). Over-the-counter pain meds can also be pretty helpful.
Try Advil for pain and hydrocortisone cream for swelling and redness. And if a cyst forms on top of the ingrown hair, try a little benzoyl peroxide. And remember, ingrown hairs appear on your vulva, not your vagina—so nothing should be entering your vag.
If you’re noticing that the bumps are continuing to grow, they’re bleeding, or you have inflamed or swollen lymph nodes in your groin, those are all signs you should call your doctor, Dr Dweck says. It might be a sign the ingrown hair is infected to the point where you’ll need an antibiotic to kick it.
How can I avoid ingrown hairs from happening altogether? Kind of sick it this.
As you can imagine, plenty of people like to use a razor, Dr Dweck says. They’re cheap and easy and you can get your biz done in the shower. But there are a few things you should keep in mind if you won’t give up your razor use:
- Change the blade and clean it frequently. “You want to be using a sharp razor,” Dr Dweck says. Dull razors will actually tug at your skin and cause serious irritation and possibly infection. And if you keep your razor in the shower, disinfect it with hot water and soap often so that you’re not using it covered in bacteria (which can lead to infection if the bacteria enters through a nic on your skin).
- Don’t share your razor. This could make you wayyy more prone to infection, Dr Dweck says, as you don’t know what type of bacteria or germs are on someone else’s tool.
- Always shave in the direction of the hair. This means less of chance that you’ll cut your skin and leave entryway for infection. “This is kind of different than what we all do with our legs,” Dr Dweck says. “We put our leg up in the shower and we shave from the ankle to the knee which is cool for shaving our legs. However, in the genital area you’re less likely get an ingrown hair if you shave in the direction the hair grows.”
If you have sensitive skin or are more prone to ingrown hairs (curly-haired people, that’s you!), use a shaving cream to cut down the friction on the skin.
And when you’re done shaving, you can also apply hydrocortisone, bacitracin, or a moisturizer that you’re comfortable using on your intimate area to help avoid infection. Reminder from Dr Dweck: “None of this should go in the vagina. This is all for external use.”
If your ingrown hairs are becoming too bothersome (or even more frequent!), consider a different kind of hair removal altogether, Dr Dweck says. Waxing and laser hair removal are both longer-lasting alternatives that might be worth a try.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com