About Ingrown Armpit Hair

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Shaving sometimes contributes to ingrown armpit hair.
Shaving sometimes contributes to ingrown armpit hair. (Image: disposable razors image by terex from Fotolia.com)

Ingrown armpit hair is painful and embarrassing. It can look like acne and is confused with other skin problems. See how to identify, treat and prevent ingrown armpit hair.

The Problem

Ingrown hair grows underneath the skin and doesn't surface. Normally, hair grows out through the follicle, but ingrown hair deviates to grow under the skin. This problem is generally considered to be minor, but occasionally it can become serious because of infection or other complications. The result of the ingrown hair can be significant pain, an embarrassing blemish and perhaps a deep scar. Sometimes the problem will subside on its own, but other times it requires intervention. This problem is especially painful if it happens in a sensitive area such as the armpit.

Definition

Ingrown armpit hair, according to Weill Medical College at Cornell University, is usually coupled with some degree of inflammation as hair starts to penetrate the skin while growing underneath it. This is a source of pain as nerve endings sense internal disruption and damage to surrounding tissue. Pus can accompany the irritation, and it can resemble another condition, such as acne. Get a medical professional's help if the cause of the condition isn't obvious or if it is infected. Deep ingrown hair requires medical assistance and is more likely to happen in the armpit. Dermatologists are well qualified to diagnose skin conditions.

Treatment

Treatment commonly includes surgical removal of the ingrown hair. If the ingrown hair does rise above the surface of the skin, do not pluck it out. Just let the skin heal naturally around the shaft so that new hair (growing later) can find its way out and does not create a new ingrown hair. Keep the area around the ingrown hair clean and dry. Do not put deodorant on broken skin. Consult an expert if the hair does not surface above the skin so that it can be determined whether self-treatment is the right thing to do. Any attempt at self-treatment carries a risk of infection or scarring. Only a medical professional can tell you whether the benefits outweigh the risks in a specific situation.

Causes

In most instances, the ingrown hair was caused by shaving the hair too close to the skin. Sometimes hair does not emerge from the skin if the skin is oily, because this prevents dead skin cells from flaking off as frequently, creating a blockage. Other times, the pore is blocked with dirt or a small bacterial infection. Sometimes the hair is thick or curly and grows horizontally into the skin. Either way, the hair does not grow out of the follicle and sometimes requires treatment.

Prevention

The best way to prevent this problem is to keep the armpit dry and to exfoliate every day. If the cause is bacterial, a physician may have medicine to help treat or prevent the problem. If thick or curly hair is the issue, consider not shaving. This keeps the hair from growing back into the skin. If shaving is a must, it is helpful to shave lightly "with the grain" of the hair growth, using a multibladed razor and shaving gel (not shaving cream). Some believe that an electric razor can prevent skin irritation. Consider using conditioners to help prepare skin and soften hair. If more options are needed, see a physician or dermatologist. As a last resort, hair removal treatments (including laser or chemical treatments) can prevent this problem by disrupting the follicle so that it no longer supports hair growth.

Watch for Infection

Dirt or bacteria trapped in the follicle or surrounding skin of the armpit can trigger inflammation. This trapped material irritates the body, causing infection. Symptoms of infection include increased sensitivity, redness and pus. If these signs are present, there may be a developing infection. Digging at the infected are can increase the risk of spreading an existing infection. Consult a qualified medical professional if there is any sign of infection.

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