Ever Get Hairy Zits? A Derm Explains What This Means

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As someone who's dealt with acne for half of my life, I've seen it manifest itself in an entertaining variety of ways. Whiteheads and blackheads are forms I'm very familiar (you could even say intimate) with. I've also got a strong relationship with hormonal acne and all of the various cysts it rears its head with. And I've even seen body acne. You can't really stump me with pimples.

But then I stumbled upon a Reddit Skincare subthread about a pimple with hair. Excusez-moi? "I saw something coming out of my acne—it looked like face hair. I never noticed this before, can someone advise what type of acne this is?" the user writes. Fair question. So, what's the dermatologist explanation for this odd hair follicle acne? And how the heck do you get rid of the zit problem for good?

Experts In This Article

Why do I have a pimple with hair?

Hair growing out of zits is apparently a thing—not to be confused with hair growing out of moles. But the dermatologist explanation might surprise you, because these aren't zits at all. "They're zit doppelgängers," says Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Danbury, Connecticut. "It's more of a cystic, inflammatory reaction to a hair."

According to Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, the most common cause of so-called “hairy zits” is folliculitis. The skin issue often mimics acne, showing up as small red or white pus-filled bumps. “Folliculitis is a superficial infection of the hair follicle,” he says. “When bacteria invades past the outer skin layer, it leads to inflammation and development of pus.” How about true acne? Common acne causes include the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, hormones, and oil.

Folliculitis can occur anywhere on your body. You may notice a hair in pimple on your face, back, arms… really, anywhere you have hair. If you’re experiencing hair follicle acne that’s impacting your skin health, there are a few main culprits to be aware of: bacterial folliculitis (a type of folliculitis that occurs when a hair follicle becomes infected with bacteria), fungal acne, Malassezia folliculitis (which occurs when your hair follicles are infected with Malassezia yeast), and ingrown hairs (also called pseudofolliculitis barbae, which you get from shaving).

What is an ingrown hair?

No matter what part of your body you’re shaving—be it your face or elsewhere—experiencing hairy zits from ingrown hairs is common. “An ingrown hair develops after shaving, when the free edge of a hair does not grow past the outer skin layer, but rather gets trapped and grows back into the skin itself,” says Dr. Zeichner. “This can lead to inflammation, and in some cases, an infection.”

The most common cause of an ingrown hair is using a poor shaving technique. “This leads to a ragged edge of the hair, which increases the likelihood that it will get trapped within the skin leading to an ingrown,” says Zeichner. Those who have curly or coarse hair are more susceptible to developing a pimple with hair coming out, as it’s more likely to curve back into the skin post-shave instead of growing straight out.

But what does it look like, exactly? If you're experiencing this breed of "pimple," Dr. Zeichner says the “big distinguishing factor between an ingrown hair, folliculitis, and true acne is the presence of a prominent hair within the lesion.” A pimple with hair inside gives off the illusion that you're facing a zit that grows its own strands of hair (impressive, but no thanks).

How to prevent ingrown hairs

One of the best ways to combat pimples with hair inside is to ensure you’re shaving properly. Dr. Zeichner says the first step in preventing skin issues is shaving in the shower when the skin and the hair are soft. Then, shave in single strokes in the direction of hair growth using a shave gel that allows the razor to glide against your skin.

“Shaving against the grain may lead to a closer shave, but I find it can increase the risk of ingrown hair," he says. "And shaving back and forth can disrupt the skin barrier, leading to inflammation."

Switching out your blades regularly can also make a difference. “Remember that shaving is an interaction between the hair, the skin, and the blade,” he says. If you can feel any track of the blade against your skin, he says it’s time to switch it out for a fresh blade. (You can even pick up the best razor for folliculitis—something with minimal blades—to protect your skin health.)

Lastly, apply a moisturizer after shaving, which keeps your skin nice and moisturized.

How to treat ingrown hairs

Of course, even when you do all the right things, a pimple with hair coming out might still make an appearance. If you’re looking for an at-home treatment to your zit problems, there are some dermatologist insights to keep in mind.

Dr. Zeichner says ingrown hair often heals on its own, but having a benzoyl peroxide product on hand can help get rid of a hair in pimple on your face (or elsewhere!) as quickly as possible. “The use of traditional treatments and cleansers with benzoyl peroxide can help treat and prevent folliculitis,” he says. The dermatologist explanation behind that is simple: The ingredient sloughs off dead skin, allowing the ingrown hair to come out.

Dr. Gohara also suggests applying a little retinol to your face (seriously, what can’t it do?), which increases your cell turnover so that it sheds itself of the inflammation. Or if you’re dealing with ingrowns elsewhere, you can grab a body scrub for ingrown hair. These products use hydroxy acids (like salicylic acid or glycolic acid) to clear out your pores and remove dead skin cells.

But what if your skin health isn’t improving, no matter what you do? At that point, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist or doctor. “In some cases, ingrown hair can lead to significant inflammation, bumps, or even scars,” says Dr. Zeichner. “If that’s the case, you should touch base with a board-certified dermatologist for professional help.” In severe cases, he says laser hair removal could be an option, which quite literally gets to the root of the problem and removes it for good.

Frequently asked questions

What is a pimple that looks like hair?

If you've noticed a pimple with hair coming out, you're probably wondering what the heck is going on. While the skin issue resembles a hairy zit, dermatologist insights on the matter clarify that it's not actually a zit problem at all. Instead of being acne, it’s folliculitis. While there are numerous types of folliculitis, a common one is ingrown hair. You may experience ingrown hair on your chin or face, body… pretty much anywhere that grows hair.

Can you pop folliculitis?

Have a hair in pimple on your face that’s bothering you? No matter how badly you want to pop that bump, don't do it. When you squeeze, pop, or pick a pimple with hair inside, you increase your risk of infection. (Plus, no one enjoys dealing with a bleeding pimple!) Instead of risking any skin issues, learn how to treat folliculitis the right way by using the dermatologist insights on the matter above.

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