How To tell If You Have an Ingrown Hair or A Pimple.

Who has ever gotten acne on their armpits, their legs, or their bikini line? Well, if you have, it’s probably not acne, but rather ingrown hair. Cassandra struggles with ingrown hairs too, and if you notice them, the first thing to make sure of is that their not something more serious. Ingrown hairs on your armpits or groin can be painful, and yes, they can pop and get infected

Pimples and ingrown hairs are dramatically different things even though they both involve the pilosebaceous unit. We have the dermis which is the thick layer at the bottom of the skin, and the epidermis which is made up of those little layers at the top. We also have sweat glands and pores.  Hair grows out of the pilosebaceous unit, and there’s a little oil gland and a sebum sac within it that secretes oil to lubricate the hair shaft. This gland creates the acid mantle on our face and elsewhere on our bodies. Of course, the hair on our bodies is a lot coarser than the vellus hair on our faces, but the general structure, anatomy, and how it works are very similar. 

So, that brings us to the question of what is an ingrown hair, and what is a pimple?

 An ingrown hair is literally grown into the skin. It’s a hair that has curled up underneath the skin instead of poking out.  This causes a mass, bump, or pimple. Some ingrown hairs grow out of the skin, and then make a U-turn and burrow back into the skin. Especially when you shave, your hair is cut at an angle so it becomes sharp. So, if that hair decides to curl over, it can literally stick itself right back into the skin. 

How is a pimple different than an ingrown hair?

An acne pimple is caused by cutibacterium acnes, and this naturally lives inside of our skin and within an “anaerobic” or oxygen-less environment. It eats the oil in our skin, but it also excretes waste, that’s what causes inflammation under the skin. So, if the acne bacteria waste doesn’t have a way to escape, that’s going to cause problems. And if there’s a layer of dead skin cells over it, all of that can build up and cause a pimple underneath the skin.  

That’s why some pimples look like a little red or white volcano. Therefore, the main difference between an acne pimple and an ingrown hair is the cutibacterium. Ingrown hairs are caused by irritation whereas acne is caused by volumes of bacteria, waste products, and the inflammation that comes along with it.

How do you get rid of ingrown hairs?

At the same time though, inflammation is a key factor for both of these. So, anything that can help with inflammation will help with these. Additionally, exfoliation is key for treating both of these. Both ingrown hairs and acne include a mass that is stuck under the skin. So, gentle strategic exfoliation can help with acne. Exfoliating BHAs help with ingrown hairs especially because they can create an opening for that curled up and burrowed in hair to get out. Even manual exfoliation can help lift some of those hairs.

Now, when it comes to areas that rub and chafe, it can be dangerous to exfoliate the underarm area or the groin area. It’s much easier to exfoliate and hydrate places like the leg area. Whatever you’re shaving with needs to be very hydrating. Hydration is also a key factor in helping prevent some ingrown hairs, to repair the skin’s barrier, and to make it smooth and soft. 

It’s better to spot treat acne and ingrown hair as opposed to aggressively over-exfoliating the skin. During the summer months, ingrown hairs or acne can get worse. But if you’re actively treating them, especially if you have it on the face or an exposed area, remember to apply your SPF

Can waxing and tweezing cause ingrown hairs?

Shaving is basically cutting hair like a lawn mower whereas waxing or tweezing is literally going over to the lawn and pulling the grass out by the roots. That’s why waxing and tweezing lasts longer than shaving. Shaving has stubble, but regardless of which hair removal method you use, both of them can cause ingrown hairs.

Now, if you do something like laser hair removal or an at-home, that basically kills the hair. So, that’s something that kills and stops it from growing. But did you know IPL can be used for acne as well?

However, the way IPL acts on acne bacteria and inflammation is very different. So for at-home acne treatments, some of the best FDA-approved ingredients are salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, sulfur, and alpha hydroxy acid. 

Coverphoto cred: AdobeStock_413857527