In this article, we'll look at ingrowns, bumps and rashes that can result from waxing or shaving, and I'll show you solutions for each.
Ingrown Hairs, Razor Bumps, Orange Peel, Infected Hairs and Shaving Rash.
A frequent interaction in my waxing rooms will involve a client showing me their painful patch of skin and saying that they don't know whether it's shaving rash or ingrown hairs (a.k.a. ingrowns) or both.
The very simple answer to that question is: What did you do?
- If you shaved within the last few hours, it's shaving rash, or razor burn if you're from the US.
- If you shaved within the last few days and the skin is bumpy, you have razor bumps.
- If you waxed in the last day or two and the skin is bumpy, then it's orange peel.
- If you have orange peel AND the skin is bumpy with whiteheads or pus, you have infected hair shafts.
- If you waxed weeks ago and now have hairs growing horizontally just beneath the surface of the skin:
- with no inflammation, then you have superficial ingrown hairs;
- with red itchy lumps, then you have infected ingrown hairs.
These six annoying but fixable conditions aren't the same, but they are related enough to treat them as a single topic. Depending on the condition, we will use one or a mixture of the following remedies:
- Exfoliating Mitts. A preventative measure, exfoliating mitts help lift potential ingrown hairs through the surface of the skin. As regrowth comes through at about three weeks after waxing, gently exfoliate each day then follow with your after-wax lotion.
- Aftershave. Most old-school aftershaves have a alcohol component, which is why they sting for a moment or two. This sensation is simply the alcohol sterilising the microscopic wounds and sealing them off.
- Tea Tree Lotion. I'm talking diluted lotion containing tea tree, NOT pure tea tree essential oil. Tea Tree is a potent antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. Many after-wax lotions or insect bite creams contain tea tree.
- Aloe vera. A powerful antiseptic, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory, chances are you have aloe vera growing in your back yard. Simply break off a few centimetres of leaf. Squeeze out the gel then apply it directly to the skin. Yes, it is sticky at first but worth it. 😃
- Cold pack. Reusable cold packs of the variety that you use to chill drinks etc, are another hand piece of kit that most of us have at home. Wrap in a moist tea towel before applying so it doesn't stick to your skin.
- Saline wash. Mix half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water about the temperature of a relaxing bath. Salt is amazingly versatile, inhibits infections, and combined with warm water makes a wonderful muscle relaxant.
- Antiseptic powder. An easy mess-free commercially available spray such as Betadine Antiseptic Powder is another handy treatment for ingrowns and superficial skin infections.
How do I fix shaving rash?
Shaving rash is caused by one of two things; the simple friction of dragging the razor over your skin, or the use of some exotic lotion or shaving gel you put on beforehand. Luckily, it is superficial and heals quickly.
In fact, men who shave their faces daily endure it every time they shave, which is why aftershave was invented.
You can't prevent shaving rash. All you can do is apply your preferred remedy. Aftershave, tea tree lotion, or aloe vera will work a treat.
If you find that you are often prone to shaving rash, you might try clippering your hair instead.
How can I heal razor bumps?
Imagine that each hair is a long thin cone shape that tapers off to a fine point above the skin. When you cut it with a razor, it becomes a cylinder and the very top of that cylinder now has 90 degree sharp edges.
This isn't a problem if that sharp bristly edge stays above the skin, but say you get a small fright or goosebumps. The hair pulls down beneath the surface of the skin and that nasty sharp edge gets stuck, forming a skin bump. And it itches. If you scratch, it itches more, and if it bleeds, now you risk an infection.
If goosebumps caused the problem, the simple application of warmth can fix it. Make a warm saline wash and a face washer or flannel, and find a quiet place to sit. Relax so that your body relaxes, including those tight little arrector pili muscles that are holding your hairs down tight. Moisten the flannel in your saline solution and very gently stroke the area with the cloth. Don't rub hard.
You should find that this process relaxes both the arrector pili and the mounds of skin and everything calms down. Under no circumstances apply a cold pack, and don't ever shave the area again.
Help, I have orange peel skin after waxing!
The bumpy skin effect that some people get after waxing, is called orange peel. At first glance, it looks exactly the same as razor bumps but if you examine both conditions side by side, you will see the difference. Razor bumps contain a trapped hair which can usually be seen, whereas orange peel has no hair because the hair has been pulled out completely by waxing.
Orange peel effect is caused entirely by the bed of zillions of tiny arrector pili muscles which until recently, connected with individual hairs. The shock of being torn away from the hairs sent the arrector pilis into spasm. They no longer have anything to pull against so they curl up into a ball, hence the bumps.
The treatment is exactly the opposite of razor bumps. We need to cool them, to force the blood out of the arrector pilis and make everything relax.
Aloe vera can help the situation. You can also grab your cold pack wrapped in a moist tea towel and lay it over the affected area. Leave it on for ten minutes and repeat night and day until the skin has calmed down. You can also use your after-wax lotion at the same time but don't rub the area excessively.
My bumpy skin has turned into whiteheads
If your orange peel skin has developed whiteheads or pus, you:
- didn't keep your skin clean after waxing, or
- you exercised excessively before the skin recovered from your waxing treatment, or
- you used a highly-chemical generic antiseptic like Savlon or Dettol.
Now the hair shafts are infected from the sebum, sweat, chemicals, and debris inside them. You can try applying your after-wax lotion, but honestly, if you have been using it properly, you wouldn't have infected hair shafts.
Go for your warm saline wash and a very soft cloth. Carefully wipe away the pus then go over the area one last time with fresh salty water, or finish with a commercial antiseptic like Betadine.
If you live by the ocean, a swim in the sea is ideal. Again follow it up with Betadine. During this period, do not go to the gym, or jog, or perform any exercise that will make you sweat.
Continue this treatment for a maximum of two days. If it isn't visibly healing by then, or if it starts going red and puffy, you most likely need an oral or topical antibiotic from your doctor.
How do I get rid of ingrown hairs?
Around three weeks after waxing, it's normal to feel a mild itch in the area. This is your hairs telling you that they are trying to break through the surface of the skin. Most will do so successfully, but sometimes they'll get stuck.
Most often, this failure happens when they encounter an obstacle such as underwear elastic or tight clothing and they just can't break through. However, they are still connected to the blood supply and being fed lots of nutrients. They have no choice but to burrow sideways, parallel to the skin, and that's how an ingrown hair is born.
In its very early stages, an ingrown hair might not get inflamed at all or even cause any discomfort. It is purely cosmetic and you can see it just beneath the skin. You might rub your fingernail over it and the hair pops through. All it needed was a tiny bit of help. That's where exfoliating mitts come into play.
Jump in the shower with your mitts. Don't scrub the area hard. The hairs just need a little nudge, not sand blasting. When you jump out of the shower, apply your tea tree after-wax lotion. Do this for a few days and you should stay on top of the problem. A pair of tweezers can help as well but don't go digging so much that you cause bleeding.
If some hair shafts become red and inflamed, it is time to seek help. You should be due to see your waxing therapist again, and a wax or tweezing by an expert hand can often pull out the offending hair at the root of the infection.
If your wax therapist recommends that you go see a GP for antibiotics, take their advice. See also:
Ingrown Hairs that can't be treated at home
- If you shaved OR waxed a long time ago and you can see a hair growing horizontally deep beneath the skin, you have a dormant trapped hair. If it is purely cosmetic and causing no inflammation or pain, the hair is dead. It may stay there forever or eventually work its way out through the skin. There is no cause for concern unless it becomes inflamed or painful. If so, see your local doctor who should be able to cut or dig it out under local anaesthetic.
- Not caused by hair removal, but rather, the lack of hair removal, is a massive infection called a pilonidal cyst or pilonidal sinus. The symptoms are painful swelling near the tailbone, and is caused by trapped hair and skin debris. A pilonidal sinus can grow rapidly and the pain is excruciating. Get to the hospital immediately.
On the Articles index page, you can find more quick reads about the subject plus many other topics that delve into the human condition.
Have a brilliant day,