Reddit has been known to come up with some genius beauty hacks — making long-wear lipstick more comfortable, sharpening dull tweezers — the latest of which is a thrifty treatment for ingrown hairs down there.
In the Skincare Addiction subreddit, source of beauty tips both questionable and profound, one Redditor posted a query about Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, a K-beauty serum hailed for its ability to dispense sebum and blackheads. "I have some ingrowns in my nether regions and am wondering if this product would be effective in treating those," littlepastel wrote. "I really need something effective down there! Is BHA the right active to use?"
Excellent question. BHA — aka beta hydroxy acid — is a powerful skin-clearing ingredient, according to Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. BHAs, the most well-known example used in over-the-counter products being salicylic acid, are oil-soluble and can therefore penetrate deep into pores helping to unclog them and remove dead skin," she tells Allure. "It is also used as an exfoliant, helping to slough off dead skin."
This sounds promising for any ingrowns, as several Redditors noted that Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid did indeed help clear up their bumps left from shaving, both on the bikini line and under the arms. However, Marchbein explains there's an important distinction to be made. BHA's exfoliating, anti-inflammatory powers may help clear any mild acne (yes, you can get acne on your vulva) or folliculitis (aka inflamed hair follicles), but it won't actually help full-on ingrown hairs.
"True ingrown hairs from waxing or shaving occur when the hair gets cut below the top layer of the skin, and as it regrows, gets trapped underneath and cannot penetrate back through the epidermis," Marchbein explains. The trapped hair, leads to "a chain reaction of inflammation," which is what leaves you with painful, cystic bumps on your bikini line. "It is unlikely a solution containing BHA will be able to significantly improve the inflammation or free up the trapped hairs," she says.
There's also the potential for products containing BHA to be irritating — especially on sensitive skin, like that along your bikini line, so you'll want to be extra cautious when trying anything new. "Over-the-counter products typically contain between 0.5 percent and 2 percent beta hydroxy acid,so those with sensitive skin should use the lower strength options," Marchbein says.
For true ingrowns, you'll likely need a dedicated treatment rather than using BHA face serum to do double duty. Marchbein recommends using a wash with between 4 and 10 percent benzoyl peroxide (she likes Neutrogena's Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask), for smaller bumps. "Large painful cysts often require a low dose steroid injection by a board-certified dermatologist to quickly improve the pain and swelling," she adds.
Unfortunately, if you're prone to ingrowns, you're going to keep getting them — no matter how many BHA or benzoyl peroxide products you use — as long as you keep shaving or waxing, Marchbein says. "Laser hair removal is an excellent treatment option both to permanently remove hairs and also prevent the inflammation and break outs that occur from waxing and shaving," she says.
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