Ingrown Hair is a huge pain and as Black men, we are extremely prone to get them. We spoke to trained Trichologist (the science of the structure, function and diseases of the human hair), Dr Ingrid Wilson to better understand what exactly Ingrown Hairs are, what causes them, how to avoid them and how to cure them
What are ingrown hair and is this the same as razor bumps?
Ingrown hairs are hairs which haven’t been able to make it out of the hair follicle. The hair follicle is the pit in the skin from where the hair grows.
Razor bumps are a rash triggered by shaving. The medical term for them is pseudo folliculitis barbae. It is a long term inflammatory disorder around the hair follicle and skin around each hair follicle. With razor bumps you see small skin coloured lumps (papules), small lumps containing pus (pustules) and darker skin colour around these lumps (Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation).
How do I know that I have ingrown hair? What are the symptoms?
With ingrown hair you will just see the lumps, and sometimes the imprint of the hair trying to come out which you may see as small tracks under the skin. With razor bumps there is inflammation which means that the skin can be sore and uncomfortable 24-48 hours after shaving.
What causes ingrown hair?
Ingrown hairs and razor bumps are more common in men of African descent who have dark skin and curly hair who shave. They can also happen in women of African descent who may have to shave because of hormonal changes such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or the menopause. There are some people who have a specific gene which makes them 6 times more likely to get razor bumps.
What happens is that after a close shave, the curly hair when shaved becomes sharp and pricks and penetrates the inside of the hair follicle or the skin just next to it. This sets up an inflammatory reaction which leads to papules or pustules.
This is more likely to happen with multiple blade razors because the first blade pulls the hair while the second blade cuts the hair. The pulled hair retracts back into the hair follicle giving a smooth shave but this encourages pricking and penetration of the growing hair.
What can I do to avoid ingrown hairs?
The most important thing to do to avoid the ingrown hairs associated with razor bumps is to:
- Avoid close shaving
- Avoid multiple blade razors
- Make sure the blade used is clean
- Avoid dry shaving
- Before shaving warm the area with a warm wet towel ideally with warm water to make sure the hairs swell and blunt the edge of the shaved hair
- Use an antimicrobial product to wash the face and for shaving
- When shaving, shave along the direction of hair growth
- Don’t stretch the skin when shaving
What is the best treatment for ingrown hair?
The most important thing to do is not to pluck it, because that can lead to the hair breaking in the shaft as that can lead to further problems like pustules or even abscesses (larger collections of pus).
It can be possible to release the ingrown hair using a sterile needle.
If razor bumps are the problem there are actually medical grade solutions which are used for acne which can helpful. Specialist facial washes, creams and chemical skin peels can be used to improve the texture of the skin. These will contain ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxides and retinoids. Some of these products will be available from Pharmacies. The more specialist products can be obtained through my clinic.
Are there any natural ingredients I can look for to help prevent and treat ingrown hairs?
I think grooming practices are the most important. Others would be better placed than me to advise, but my partner has found that Body Shop Maca Root shaving cream was helpful
If I leave it alone, will ingrown hairs go away on their own?
They tend not to go away until they can be released from the hair follicle
Dr. Ingrid Wilson
Tell us a bit about your background:
I spent my early years in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. My parents were from St Vincent in the Caribbean and there were many people from the island living in the town.
I then went to Liverpool University to study medicine in 1989. I initially trained to become a GP, and while working in Liverpool as a salaried GP became interested in health inequalities. Because of that I then trained over 6 years to become a Consultant in Public Health Medicine. I then worked as a part time consultant in Public Health Medicine and part-time locum GP in London and the South East from 2006. During that time it became clear to me that, like many GPs I had not received much training in hair loss conditions, and even less for afro-textured hair loss. I looked for a course, but couldn’t find a suitable one for GPs. I then decided to study Trichology (hair and scalp disorders) with the Institute of Trichologists in Tooting, London. There were 9 in the class and everyone except me had a hairdressing background. It was a great experience but I felt that there was a gap between Trichology and General Practice which I have been trying to fill ever since!
After that I took voluntary redundancy from my job as a Consultant in Public Health and then went on various training courses for non surgical aesthetics including skin camouflage, electrolysis, wrinkle treatments and medical grade skin care treatment programmes for acne, pigmentation and ageing. I also did a basic Afro-hairdressing course.
I then relocated back to the North West in 2012 to begin the process of setting up my business continuing to work as a locum GP.
Tell us a bit about what you currently do:
As lockdown became imminent in March 2020 for professional and personal reasons I took a break from GP locum work, but intend to resume when things settle down.
Having set up a Hair Loss clinic in Crewe, which also helps people with cosmetic skin concerns including acne, pigmentation, rosacea and wrinkles I have been spending my time working on the business, attending lots of educational webinars, writing for aesthetic magazines and preparing for a socially distanced re-opening of the clinic after 4th July 2020.
The clinic caters for all skin types and all hair types.
For hair loss I use a variety of approaches based mainly on medical evidence. My medical background helps to give a comprehensive approach to how hair loss can be caused by a variety of health related issues. I also give people the information they need to tackle hair loss, which may sometimes include going back to the GP to request a referral to a dermatologist or blood tests. Sometimes if the GP is not prepared to request certain bloods I can arrange for blood tests to be done either at home or at other locations.
My clinic is one of the first in the country to offer TrichoTest which is a personalised DNA test for hair loss. It provides information based on the person’s genetic profile which helps to tailor the treatment regime for supplements or medications that are more likely to work. It involves taking a swab from the inside of both cheeks and then giving tailored advice based on the person’s genetic profile so that people don’t waste time on treatments that are not likely to work for them.
I also believe that it is important to be able to offer hair treatments in a private environment in which people can feel safe from view so on re-opening I will be offering Protein and Moisturizing treatments for Afro-textured Hair as well as Kerastraight and Olaplex treatments for other hair types.
The clinic has a selection of wigs and hair toppers, some of which can be purchased directly through www.crewehairandskinclinic.uk. Wigs can be custom made. The clinic is also an ambassador for MS Hair which sells cosmetic fibres on line which can camouflage the appearance of hair loss.
Since lockdown I have been conducting virtual consultations so I have been able to follow up people on skin care programmes for acne in particular. I have also done hair loss consultations on line. I ask people to complete a questionnaire beforehand and send in photographs from the front, side, top and back. The plan is that people can come into the clinic for a shorter consultation when the clinic re-opens.