They’re caused by the hair growing out, curling back and re-entering the follicle, often without even leaving the skin. It’s made possible, it turns out, by lack of exfoliation (which allows dead skin cells to build-up and block the follicle, forcing the hair sideways).
It’s also caused by the sharpened point that shaving creates at the tip of shorn hairs. The angry, red, itchy bumps that result are raised to accommodate the loop of hair, which stays buried beneath the skin.
Shaving may be one of the quickest and most pain-free ways to de-fluff, but it comes with an extremely unwanted side effect. Ingrown hairs are the bane of bikini lines, underarms and knees. Unless, of course, you get a peculiar joy from tweezing those suckers out. No? Ha, me neither…
So far, so gross, but worst of all is when (as often happens) the follicle then fills with pus or, on rare occasions, becomes infected. Truly a magical moment. The number one way to prevent this is not to pick, as this can allow for bacteria to get in. Left alone, they’re more likely to disappear on their own than if you prod them. If the hair’s near the surface, you can whip them out with some sterile tweezers – any deeper down, abort.
Where does that leave us? Well, one skin ingredient has gained traction across the net as a foolproof cure. And, chances are, you already own it. According to Healthline, a 2006 study found that tea tree oil has antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
While this won’t stop the ingrown hair from forming in the first place (exfoliating and laying off your razor are the best cures for that), it can prevent the area from becoming infected, which is often caused by bacteria on your razor and picking. It can also help to address infections that have already formed and, thanks to its anti-inflammatory abilities, it can help to bring down any redness and neutralise the inflamed appearance of the bumps.
Not bad for one solitary ingredient. Tea tree, we salute you.