Ingrown Hair Cyst Symptoms and Treatment

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Ingrown hair cysts happen when a cyst, a small fluid-filled sac of tissue that develops on the skin, forms around a hair that is growing into the skin instead of out of it.

Ingrown hair cysts commonly occur in areas of the body that people shave, such as the armpits. Razor bumps from shaving, also known as pseudofolliculitis barbae, are a form of ingrown hair cysts. They often go away on their own, but infection can occur and requires treatment.

This article explains what an ingrown hair cyst looks like and why one might form. It explains some home remedies as well as medical treatments, and offers ideas on how to prevent an ingrown hair cyst.

Shaving leg

Guido Mieth / Getty Images

Ingrown Hair Cyst Symptoms

Ingrown hair cysts are common and can occur anywhere on the body where you have hair. But they often develop on the areas where you shave, which can include:

  • Face
  • Armpits
  • Pubic area
  • Legs

A sign of an ingrown hair cyst is a bump on the skin that looks like a pimple, but you may be able to see the hair in it. The bump may be red, white, or yellow. If the bump grows larger or becomes redder, oozes, or is painful, it may be infected. An infection requires medical treatment.

Ingrown hair cysts are not the same thing as cystic acne, which are bumps that form under a skin follicle due to a buildup of bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Ingrown hair cysts usually go away on their own without issue. You should see a healthcare provider for an ingrown hair cyst or razor bumps if you notice signs of infection, such as:

  • Swelling
  • Pus
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Odor
  • Fever

What Causes an Ingrown Hair Cyst?

Ingrown hair cysts tend to develop where hair is coarse or curly, like in the pubic region. If you have coarse or curly hair, you may be more likely to develop ingrown hair cysts. They can also develop where there are dead skin cells blocking hair follicles.

Removing hair is one of the most common causes of ingrown hair cysts, whether from shaving, waxing, or tweezing. Any of these methods can irritate your skin, causing it to become inflamed and swollen.

When a new hair forms, if the hair follicle is closed up, the hair can't grow out of the follicle and through the skin. Instead, it grows inward or sideways.

Treating an Ingrown Hair Cyst

Ingrown hair cysts will often go away on their own in a week or so. If you can, stop shaving the area while it heals, and keep the area clean and moisturized.

You can also help the process along with a simply home remedy. Apply a warm, clean washcloth as a compress to soften the skin, which may help move the hair to the surface.

It's important that you not try to pop the cyst. This makes infection more likely and can lead to scarring.

This is not always successful, however. If the cyst shows signs of infection or simply won't go away, see a healthcare provider.

A healthcare provider can treat cysts with antibiotics or other methods, so that the infection doesn't spread or scar.

Prevention

If you regularly develop ingrown hair cysts, try these prevention measures:

  • Wash your skin with warm water and a gentle cleanser before shaving.
  • Use a gentle exfoliating agent before shaving to remove dead skin cells.
  • Use a single blade or electric razor, and try not to keep going over the same areas.
  • Keep shaving implements clean.
  • Don't shave too closely.
  • Always shave in the direction the hair grows and don't pull the skin.
  • Shave less frequently, if possible.
  • Moisturize after shaving.

Some people experience chronic ingrown hair problems and may need to avoid shaving for hair removal altogether.

You can also consider permanent hair removal methods like laser hair removal, electrolysis, or hair removal creams.

Summary

Ingrown hair cysts occur when a hair follicle gets blocked and the hair grows into your skin instead of outward. You should never pop an ingrown hair cyst because it can cause infection and scarring. They may go away on their own, but if they hurt, become red, or ooze pus, see a healthcare provider.

To reduce the likelihood of ingrown hair cysts, keep your skin clean, gently exfoliated and moisturized, and consider shaving less frequently. Always shave in the direction the hair grows.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does an ingrown hair look like?

    An ingrown hair cyst looks like a pimple, though it can grow larger. Sometimes you can see the hair in it. They may be red, yellow, or white.

  • How do you get rid of ingrown hair scars?

    At home, try to let the bump heal on its own. You can help by avoiding shaving, keeping the area moisturized, and applying a warm compress. If these methods don't help, visit a healthcare provider for other treatment options.

  • Can ingrown hair cysts cause infection?

    Ingrown hair cysts don't cause infection, but they can become infected if certain kinds of bacteria grow in or around them.

  • What can an ingrown hair be mistaken for?

    Ingrown hair cysts can look similar to cystic acne or other pimples. If they're in the pubic area, they may sometimes be confused with genital herpes sores.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Ingrown hairs.

  2. University of Michigan Health. Razor bumps.

  3. Cedars-Sinai. Ingrown Hairs (Pseudofolliculitis).

  4. National Health Service. Ingrown hairs.

By Nancy LeBrun
In addition to her extensive health and wellness writing, Nancy has written about many general interest topics for publications as diverse as Newsweek, Teen Vogue, abcnews.com, and Craftsmanship Quarterly. She has authored a book about documentary filmmaking, a screenplay about a lost civil rights hero, and ghostwritten several memoirs.