How to Treat Underarm Ingrown Hairs

Armpits, canon 1Ds mark III
Personal Hygiene Image Gallery Preparing your underarms for shaving can prevent ingrown hairs. See more personal hygiene pictures.

Whether you're throwing on a tank top for an aerobics class or slipping into a bathing suit for a day in the sun, your grooming ritual might include shaving or waxing your underarms for a smooth and hair-free look. The skin might be smooth and bump-free for a while, but a few days later you might notice itchy, red bumps in your underarm area. These bumps generally are a sign of ingrown hairs, a pesky problem that is hard to avoid. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to treat them.

Ingrown hairs are strands of hair that either begin growing but stay embedded in the skin or curl over and work their way back into the hair follicle [source: Toronto Cosmetic Clinic]. You'll notice ingrown hairs showing up most often after you shave. Though they're typically not dangerous, they can become infected and cause pimples to pop up, and at their worst, they can cause scarring [source: WebMD].


Ingrown hairs are capable of developing under skin on any area of your body, especially the face and legs, but they can be particularly annoying when they plant themselves in your armpit. All the friction from moving your arms and your shirt rubbing against your skin, plus the irritation often caused by deodorant, can make the bump feel even worse.

Instead of dealing with the discomfort of ingrown hairs, you can try some preventive measures, such as using a shaving cream or gel, exfoliating dead skin cells away and moisturizing after shaving [source: Brigham and Women's Hospital]. However, if you simply cannot head off ingrown hairs, keep reading to learn about medications and other methods for treating the irritation before you end up with a bigger problem.


Medications for Underarm Ingrown Hairs

If you are prone to ingrown hairs and have several of them as opposed to one or two on occasion, you might want to talk to your dermatologist about medication to get rid of them. For mild cases, your doctor might recommend a topical antiseptic, but an antibiotic might be in order for an infection that just won't quit.

Antiseptics kill germs that can cause infections. If you apply an antiseptic to the area where you have an ingrown hair, it will wipe out the bacteria and get rid of the germs causing an infection, or at least reduce your chances of getting an infection. Antiseptics can be purchased over the counter and usually include ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide, isopropanol, iodine and povidone-iodine [source: PlanetRx].


If little white-headed pimples or clusters of small red bumps start popping up where you've been shaving, you might have infected hair follicles, or folliculitis [source: Mayo Clinic]. Though these infections usually clear up on their own in a few days, those that are particularly stubborn might require an antibiotic of either the oral or topical variety.

Medications can help kill germs and eliminate infections, but they're not your only option for getting rid of ingrown hairs. Keep reading to find out more ways to remove and avoid those nuisances.


Tips for Treating Underarm Ingrown Hairs

When you notice an ingrown hair, proceed with caution. If you pick at the skin or use tweezers to yank the ingrown end out, you are likely to do more harm than good. You could end up with an infection or irritate the area even more.

Your best bet is to soak the affected skin for at least 10 minutes in warm water or a salt-water solution to soften it up. Softening the skin will allow you to remove the hair more gently. Next, if you decide to try to extract the hair, get a magnifying mirror so you have a better view of what you're doing. You don't want to poke at the wrong point in your armpit. Sterilize a needle with alcohol and try to insert it under the part of the hair above the surface. Then carefully pull the needle up to release the hair [source: Bolognia et al.].


If you're worried about bacteria and want to eliminate the ingrown hair naturally, use a solution of white vinegar diluted with water. It would be tough to soak your armpits unless you sink down into the tub, so try soaking a washcloth and placing it under your arm [source: Alai].

To help relieve the itchy irritation caused by ingrown hairs, you can use a hydrocortisone cream, which is sold over-the-counter, or an oatmeal lotion. Also, consider shaving with an electric razor while your skin heals, so as to avoid causing yourself even more discomfort.

Remember that when you have an irritation under your arm, you should be careful about the deodorant or antiperspirant you use. Any products applied to open or inflamed skin can make matters worse.

Underarm ingrown hairs are a pain, but there are ways for you to prevent and treat them. To gather more information on ingrown hairs under your arms, check out the links on the next page.


Underarm Ingrown Hairs FAQ

What does an ingrown hair look like?
An ingrown hair irritates the skin resulting in an itchy, red bump (or group of bumps). Sometimes it can form a small painful sore filled with pus that looks like a little pimple.
How do you draw out an ingrown hair?
Apply a warm water or salt water compress to the area for at least 10 minutes and then gently exfoliating the skin trapping the hair for a few minutes. Soaking the area with a washcloth saturated in a solution of white vinegar and water can also help draw out an ingrown hair naturally.
Can you pop an ingrown hair?
You should never pop the pus around an ingrown hair, as this can increase the chance of infection, irritation, and scarring.
Why do I keep getting ingrown hairs on my armpits?
Shaving and other forms of hair removal commonly cause ingrown hairs, as the hair curls and stays embedded in the skin when it starts to grow back. To prevent them use a shaving cream or gel, exfoliate dead skin cells away, and moisturize after shaving. If you continue to get them, talk to your doctor or dermatologist about medication such as a topical antiseptic or antibiotic.
How do you treat an ingrown hair at home?
Soak the area in warm water for at least 10 minutes to soften the skin. If you want to try to extract the hair, sterilize a needle with alcohol and try to insert it under the part of the hair that's above the surface of your skin. Then carefully pull the needle up to release the hair.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Alai, Nili N. "Folliculitis" MedicineNet. (Accessed Sept. 29, 2009)
  • Bolognia, Jean; Joseph J. Jorizzo; and Ronald P. Rapini. "Dermatology, Vol 1." Mosby, London: 2003 (Accessed Sept. 28, 2009)
  • Brigham and Women's Hospital. "How to Prevent and Treat Ingrown Hairs." July 20, 2008 (Accessed Oct. 13, 2009)
  • Gibson, Dr. Lawrence E. "Ingrown Hairs: How Do You Prevent Them?" Mayo Clinic. Jan. 30, 2008 (Accessed Sept. 28, 2009)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Folliculitis." Oct. 6, 2009. (Accessed Oct. 13, 2009)
  • PlanetRx. "Topical Antiseptics & Antibiotics." (Accessed Oct. 13, 2009)
  • Toronto Cosmetic Clinic. "Pseudofolliculitis Barbae." May 11, 2009. (Accessed Oct. 13, 2009)
  • WebMD. "Razor Bumps." June 26, 2007 (Accessed Sept. 27, 2009)