Ingrown hairs occur when a hair grows under the skin or curls around and grows directly into the hair follicle. Ingrown hairs commonly develop in areas subject to shaving or waxing, such as the face, legs, pubic region, and, sometimes, the penile shaft. Ingrown hairs often heal without any treatment.
Ingrown hairs are most common in people with very curly hair. Shaving too close to the follicle can cause the hair to curl back into the skin and become an ingrown hair.
In general, ingrown hairs look like small red bumps on the skin that center on a hair follicle. These bumps can contain pus, which may sometimes signify an infection that doctors call folliculitis.
When a hair grows into the skin, it causes inflammation, which presents as redness, along with some swelling, itching, and pain.
Ingrown hairs do not usually require a visit to the emergency room. However, they can be very uncomfortable.
In this article, we discuss ways to identify, treat, and prevent ingrown hairs on the penile shaft.
If possible, people should leave ingrown hairs alone to heal and refrain from scratching, shaving, or trying to pop them.
These actions can introduce bacteria into the hair follicle, which can lead to an infection.
People who wish to speed the healing process or prevent further ingrown hairs can try using over-the-counter (OTC) products.
OTC products to try include:
- Hydrocortisone cream, to help reduce inflammation and ease symptoms.
- Glycolic acid lotion, which can help exfoliate the skin and prevent ingrown hairs from forming. It may not be helpful when an ingrown hair is already present.
- Benzoyl peroxide wash when bathing. People should leave it on for only 20 seconds before washing it off. Leaving it on for too long in the groin area can lead to excessive irritation. Benzoyl peroxide products can also bleach hair and fabrics, so people should take care to ensure that they have washed all of the solution off before they dry themselves.
It is well-known that tea tree oil has antibacterial properties. People can stir a few drops of the oil into some water and then apply the mixture to the affected area using a cotton ball. However, there is no guarantee that this will work, and it may irritate the skin in some people.
People can attempt to remove an ingrown hair by using a sterile needle and inserting it under the hair loop to lift it out gently. They should follow the steps below:
- Wash the hands and clean the affected area with soap and warm water.
- Apply a warm compress, which may relax soften the hair follicle and make removal easier.
- Use a sterile needle to release the hair, as above.
- Clean the area with warm water and antibacterial soap.
- Avoid manipulating the area or applying ointments or other substances that might block the skin or irritate it while it heals.
- Avoid shaving or waxing until the area heals.
It is important to note that a person is unlikely to be able to sterilize a needle completely at home. They also run the risk of introducing bacteria to the area and potentially worsening the infection. This risk is a particular concern in people who are prone to infections, such as those with diabetes that is not under control.
If a person feels uncertain about their ability to remove the ingrown hair safely on their own, they should visit a doctor, who will be able to perform the procedure in a sterile fashion.
Ingrown hairs usually heal without treatment and do not cause additional complications.
However, scratching or attempting to pop an ingrown hair can introduce bacteria to the area, leading to an infection.
Folliculitis occurs when a bacterial infection develops inside within the hair follicle.
Risk factors for folliculitis include:
- frequently touching or rubbing the skin
- wearing tight or restrictive clothing
- shaving too close to the hair follicle
- shaving against the grain
- shaving too often
An ingrown hair may be infectedhave become infected if it is:
- red, swollen, or warm to the touch
- painful or tender, or itchy
- filled will with pus
- becoming large and cyst-like
If a person does not get treatment for an infected ingrown hair, it can develop into a painful, fluid-filled lump called a boil, or furuncle. An infected ingrown hair can leave scars on the skin and patches of discoloration called hyperpigmentation.
For mild cases of folliculitis, a doctor may recommend a short course of oral antibiotics and a cleanser, such as Hibiclens or a benzoyl peroxide wash. If the infection is deeper, such as in the case of a furuncle, then incision and drainage may be necessary in addition to the antibiotics.
People can prevent ingrown hairs on the penile shaft by:
- shaving and waxing less frequently
- shaving with a clean, sharp razor blade
- shaving in the same direction that as the hair grows
- avoiding shaving too close to the skin
- using OTC products, such as benzoyl peroxide wash or glycolic acid lotion, to prevent ingrown hairs
- applying cream or gel before shaving to keep the skin moisturized
- avoiding wearing tight or restrictive underwear and pants
- trimming the hair instead of shaving
If a person finds ingrown hairs particularly bothersome, they may wish to consider laser hair removal. As this procedure destroys the hair follicles, it is the most effective way to prevent ingrown hairs.
Ingrown hairs can develop anywhere on the skin, but they tend to occur in areas that people commonly shave, such as the legs, armpits, and pubic region. For some people, these areas will include the penile shaft.
An ingrown hair on the penis causes small red bumps that may feel itchy or painful. Ingrown hairs usually heal on their own. People should avoid rubbing or scratching the ingrown hair to prevent an infection of the hair follicle.
Using correct shaving techniques can help prevent ingrown hairs. These include:
- exfoliating the skin and applying shaving cream before shaving
- using a sharp, clean razor
- shaving in the direction of the hair
An infected ingrown hair can develop into a boil, which is a painful, pus filled lump on the skin. Untreated boils may require professional medical treatment and can leave dark scars on the skin.