Ingrown hairs are hairs that have either become trapped underneath the skin or have grown back into the skin following hair removal by shaving or waxing. Once trapped underneath the skin, the ingrown hair can lead to soreness, redness, and inflammation. Although common and seemingly innocent, ingrown hairs can harbor many hidden dangers.
If left untreated, ingrown hairs can lead to infections which can quickly turn into a nightmare situation. Infections can lead to major health concerns that could result in a trip the hospital. In fact, there are some people who have almost died from infected ingrown hairs.
Do not let this be you! Here are some of the most common infections caused by ingrown hairs. Talk to a doctor or seek over-the-counter treatment before any of these get out of hand:
Cellulitis is a condition that occurs when bacteria penetrates the deeper layers of the skin and underlying tissue areas. There are many types of bacteria that are already present on the outer layer of skin. These are usually harmless, however, if they have an opportunity to enter the body through an open sore such as a recently removed ingrown hair, the skin could become infected.
While cellulitis typically affects the legs, it can appear on any part of the body. Symptoms of cellulitis include visible redness, swelling, and inflammation. The infected area may also be warm to the touch and it may be tender. Some people may experience fever, chills, and even blisters. An ingrown hair that has become infected with cellulitis can lead to pain and discomfort if it is not treated right away. It is best to seek medical treatment if any of these symptoms appear. A doctor can prescribe antibiotics to remedy this condition which can take anywhere from 5-14 days to completely heal.
A serious infection that can result from ingrown hairs is folliculitis. Each hair on your body grows out of its own follicle. Shaving, or other grooming activities that irritate the follicles can result in ingrown hairs which further exacerbate the development of folliculitis. When ingrown hairs are present, bacteria can enter the site, causing inflammation and infection. Ingrown hairs may injure the hair follicle, increasing the likelihood of an infection.
By appearance, folliculitis looks like a red bump or pimple that is filled with pus or blood. The infection may also itch or burn. Folliculitis may be superficial or could go much deeper into the skin. Folliculitis can even spread to other surrounding hair follicles even if an ingrown hair is not present at those sites.
A doctor can properly diagnose folliculitis by drawing a sample of the fluid from the infected area. If folliculitis is confirmed, your doctor may recommend putting a halt on grooming activities until the site has properly healed. While most folliculitis will clear up on its own within a week or two, sometimes antibiotics are necessary. If redness, swelling or pain continue or if fever exceeds 101 degrees, contact a physician immediately for further treatment options.
Staphylococcus, also known simply as staph, is a bacterial infection that affects the skin. Many healthy people carry this bacteria on the outer layer of their skin without issue. However, when the skin is damaged, this bacteria can quickly enter it and cause a life-threatening infection. An opening like a cut from shaving or even from plucking out an ingrown hair, if left untreated, can lead to a staph infection.
The infected site will turn into a pus-filled cyst or abscess that will continue to grow until it is drained, even to the size of a baseball in many severe instances. These painful infection sites can lead to even more severe infections. If drainage of the site is not done in enough time, the staph infection could lead to a more serious condition known as sepsis.
Sepsis is an infection that goes into the bloodstream. Naturally, the body will release chemicals to fight off any infection. Sepsis will occur when these chemicals lead to inflammation in various other parts of the body. This could ultimately lead to failure of multiple organs and even death. The good news is that if staph is caught early on and the abscess has been properly drained, antibiotics can be administered to treat and cure the infection.
Prevent Ingrown Hairs and Infections
While it is not uncommon for people to develop ingrown hairs, more often than not they never consider the health ramifications of an infected ingrown hair. The first step towards avoiding infection is to practice proper grooming techniques that can prevent ingrown hairs in the first place. Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind:
- Prior to shaving, always wash the area with warm water and a mild cleanser.
- Next, properly lubricate the skin and hair with a gel or cream so that both are properly moisturized.
- Never use old, dull razor blades to shave the skin and replace blades often for the smoothest shave.
As long as you follow proper hygiene and safe hair removal techniques, you should be able to significantly lower your chances of developing ingrown hairs.
When to Seek Medical Treatment
Seek medical treatment immediately if any of the following occur: fever, swelling, redness, pain, chills or raw open sores at the site of the ingrown hair. A doctor can not only safely remove the ingrown hair, but they can properly identify the infection and prescribe the appropriate antibiotics to heal the affected area. It’s better to be safe than sorry; so if you have any question that an infection has gotten out of hand, please seek treatment.
These are just some of the dangers of ingrown hairs. For the safest health outcomes, never ignore the warning signs of a potentially infected ingrown hair. Infections caused by ingrown hairs can spread to other areas of the body and can lead to serious complications if left unchecked.