An ingrown hair occurs when the hair grows downward instead of upward and becomes trapped under the skin. Ingrown hairs can cause cysts. Treatment options for these cysts include home remedies and medical treatment.

A cyst from an ingrown hair can range from a small, painless lump to a large, infected growth. Doctors may call them epidermoid or pilonidal cysts.

Ingrown hairs are not usually dangerous, but they can be intensely painful. They can also lead to an infection, which may worsen or travel to the blood without treatment.

This article discusses why hairs become ingrown, how a cyst can develop, and prevention methods.

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When an individual hair grows into the skin, a fluid-filled lump can develop, which may become a cyst. When a cyst forms, the area becomes swollen.

A cyst may be hard or soft. It may be large, but it can also be smaller than a pea. Some cysts can develop deep under the skin, while others occur near the surface, where they can create a white or yellow head.

Usually, cysts do not hurt unless an infection develops. An infected cyst may make the skin red or discolored, itchy, and tender.

Learn more about cysts.

Cysts that result from an ingrown hair may go away without treatment. Home remedies can often help. In some cases, a person will need to contact a healthcare professional.

Sometimes, an ingrown hair is visible above the skin before it curls underneath. If this is the case, removing it may speed up healing. People can do this with clean tweezers.

However, they should not try this if the hair is entirely under the skin or if it is necessary to dig into the skin to remove it.

Home remedies

The following tips can help speed up healing:

  • keeping the cyst and the area around it clean at all times
  • avoiding shaving around the cyst, as this can introduce bacteria and cause an infection
  • applying warm compresses several times a day to help a trapped hair grow out and bring a cyst closer to the surface, allowing it to drain
  • applying an antiseptic solution to the cyst to prevent infection, such as tea tree oil or triple antibiotic ointments

Learn more about identifying skin infections.

Avoiding popping

It is important to avoid picking or popping an ingrown hair cyst.

Cysts develop from a sac under the skin, which can fill with a thick, yellow substance called keratin. Popping the cyst may release the liquid but will not get rid of the sac, and the cyst may grow back.

Popping a cyst can also introduce bacteria to the skin, causing infection or worsening the cyst.

Medical treatment

Sometimes, a person will need medical treatment for a cyst.

It is best to contact a healthcare professional if:

  • a cyst does not clear up on its own
  • the cyst is very painful, very red or discolored, or continues to ooze
  • a fever develops alongside the cyst
  • a foreign object is in the cyst, such as a splinter or piece of glass
  • the cyst is very large or is affecting daily life, such as becoming stuck on clothing
  • a person has a weakened immune system due to certain medications or medical conditions, such as:

A healthcare professional may prescribe antibiotics to clear up an underlying infection or recommend surgically removing the cyst.

Cyst removal is usually possible at a doctor’s office using local anesthetic. Local anesthetic enables a fast recovery time and allows the individual to remain awake during the procedure.

Learn more about skin cyst removal.

Cysts can appear for various reasons, including from an ingrown hair.

A cyst develops from an ingrown hair in the following way:

  1. A hair begins growing from a hair follicle, sometimes called a pore. This is a tiny opening in the skin with a complex underlying structure that nourishes the hair.
  2. The hair gets trapped under the skin before it leaves the follicle or grows out of the follicle but curls back on itself and reenters the skin.
  3. The hair becomes trapped underneath the skin. This can lead to irritation.
  4. The trapped hair blocks the follicle, trapping various substances in the pore and leading to the development of a cyst.

Skin cysts often contain keratin, a protein that keeps skin strong and flexible. Sometimes, cysts arise from trapped bacteria or inflammatory response to an infection.

When a lump appears in an area with body hair, it may be because a cyst has formed around an ingrown hair.

A person can look for a small red or discolored bump with a hair in it that slowly grows into a bigger lump. Many cysts of this type develop in areas covered in razor burn.

When to contact a doctor

It is easy to mistake a harmless cyst for a more serious skin condition. Anyone with a cyst that does not clear up after 1–2 weeks should contact a doctor.

This is also important in the case of the following:

  • a growth with no clear borders
  • a mole that has changed shape or color or become swollen
  • red, discolored, or irritated patches on the skin
  • skin that is peeling or has dry patches
  • a lump close to a skin injury, even a small one from a splinter or minor cut, as this could indicate an infection
  • many painful ingrown hairs, which could be due to a bacterial infection in the hair follicles
  • skin that is very dry with many small bumps that can have heads, as this could indicate a condition called keratosis pilaris

Prompt treatment can be lifesaving in the case of skin cancer, severe skin infections, and other serious skin issues.

To reduce the risk of cysts developing from ingrown hairs, people can try:

  • always using a sharp razor
  • using shaving cream and aftershave to soothe the skin
  • moisturizing well with a rich lotion when the skin is dry or after shaving
  • exfoliating dry skin before shaving
  • shaving in the direction of hair growth
  • avoiding shaving over irritated or inflamed skin

Risk factors

Anyone can develop ingrown hairs.

Risk factors for developing ingrown hairs include:

  • Hair removal techniques: Shaving, waxing, and plucking can irritate the skin. After shaving, the hair that grows back may have a sharper edge, making it easier for it to grow into the skin.
  • Very dry skin: Dry and dead skin can accumulate over a hair follicle, trapping the growing hair underneath.
  • Pressure or friction: This can irritate the skin and make ingrown hairs more likely.
  • Hair type: Coarse, curly, or thick hair is more likely to curl back under the skin when it exits the hair follicle.

Below are some common questions about ingrown hair cysts.

How does someone get rid of an ingrown hair cyst?

Some ingrown hair cysts will go away on their own. Home treatment, such as regularly applying a warm compress and antiseptic solution, may help.

In the cyst does not go away with home remedies, or someone develops an infection, they may need medical treatment.

Will an ingrown hair cyst go away?

An ingrown hair cyst may go away on its own or with home treatment. However, in some cases, a cyst may not respond to home treatment or become infected. If this happens, people should speak with a healthcare professional.

What does an ingrown hair cyst look like?

An ingrown hair cyst may form a small discolored bump underneath the skin. People may be able to see a hair inside the bump.

It may have a white or yellow head, and may grow bigger with time.

Can an ingrown hair cause a hard lump?

Cysts due to an ingrown hair can be hard or soft. A hard lump is not necessarily something to worry about. However, if the lump is painful, people should speak with a healthcare professional, as this may indicate an infection.

Preventing ingrown hairs is the best way to keep cysts from developing around them. However, this type of cyst is usually harmless and will often go away without treatment.

It is best for people who frequently develop cysts, razor burn, or ingrown hairs to ask a healthcare professional about strategies to prevent these skin conditions.

In most cases, a few changes in a person’s skin care routine can significantly reduce the risk of ingrown hairs and related irritation or cysts.

Read this article in Spanish.