Monday 14 October 2019

Dear Dr Nina: Can I treat an ingrown hair infection at home?

File photo
File photo

Q I am prone to ingrown hairs after a bikini wax and I think one is infected. Can I treat it at home?

Dr Nina replies: Hair on the body grows in tiny structures called hair follicles. Folliculitis occurs when these follicles become inflamed or infected. This infection can occur anywhere on the body where hair follicles are present. There are two types of infection that can occur: folliculitis and pseudo-folliculitis.

Folliculitis is commonly caused by a bacterial infection, and more rarely, by fungus. Superficial skin infections are fused by Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that sits on the skin. The bacteria causes red, inflamed and itchy lumps on the skin. These may fill with pus and appear more typical of normal pimples. If infection lies deeper, large, thick red lumps may appear.

Pseudo-folliculitis may appear similar, but this is due to hairs growing back into the skin, leading to inflammation and redness. Pseudo-folliculitis is more common in those with curly hair, as the tip of the hair may curl back and enter the skin. You can often see the tip of it under the skin.

When infection occurs, applying antibiotic creams or ointments may resolve simple cases. If this isn't working or there is pain, enlarging areas of redness or swelling, then the infection may be deeper and antibiotics will be required. In recurrent or deeper infection, scarring can occur. In darker skin, these scars can become thickened and are referred to as keloid scars. In chronic infection, steroid creams may help reduce inflammation.

Growing hair for up to 30 days may allow the skin to soothe and inflammation to resolve.

You do not have to remove the ingrown hair, as it will eventually come to the surface. Picking at the skin could make the situation worse. If you want to remove it, first apply a warm compress to the skin. You may be able to grab the tip of the hair with a tweezers and remove it. If pain and swelling persist, I would advise a visit to the doctor.

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