- An ingrown hair is one that has grown beneath the skin’s surface
- Ingrown hair typically develops after shaving, tweezing or waxing, but they can also develop when hair follicles become blocked by dead skin and other debris
- Untreated ingrown hair can lead to inflammation and bacterial infections
- Tea tree oil can effectively treat and inhibit ingrown hair formation, and prevent infection
Anyone who practices regular hair removal can develop ingrown hair. While they typically resolve on their own, in some cases they can become infected and inflamed, leading to painful, long-lasting symptoms. Pressed from the leaves of the tea tree, a species of shrub native to Australia, tea tree oil for ingrown hair is a natural remedy that can prevent or help heal ingrown hair, and inhibit infection.
What Is Ingrown Hair and What Causes It?
Some ingrown hair initially emerge from hair follicles and then curve inward to grow beneath the skin’s surface. Others grow at an angle and remain entirely beneath the skin.
People with coarse, curly hair are the most susceptible to developing this condition. This is because this type of hair is more likely to curve inward as it grows, and is more able to pierce the skin. Men of African, Middle Eastern, Hispanic and Asian descent have this type of hair and are therefore more at risk.
Typically, an ingrown hair develops after shaving which leaves a sharp angled tip; these tips can easily end up piercing the skin. Other removal methods, such as waxing and plucking, can leave fragments of hair below the surface where they continue to grow inward.
Less commonly, ingrown hair can also occur when hair follicle openings become blocked by a buildup of dead skin cells and other debris. This can force hair to grow at an angle, pierce the follicle wall and emerge between the skin’s layers.
Ingrown hair most commonly develops in the beard area, but can form on any part of the body where hair removal is performed – such as the armpit, leg, scalp and pubic area.
What are the risks of ingrown hair?
Ingrown hair commonly causes mild to severe discomfort, and can lead to the development of inflammatory skin conditions named pseudofolliculitis barbae and folliculitis barbae.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae, or razor bumps, is a chronic disorder characterized by small, inflamed, itchy bumps that develop around ingrown hair. These bumps are typically flesh-colored or red; they may be hard and firm to the touch, or pus-filled.
Accompanying these symptoms are sensations of inflammation: itching, stinging and pain.
Folliculitis barbae is a more severe condition that results when ingrown hair becomes infected with staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Painful, swollen, pus-filled lesions typically develop around the affected area.
If left untreated, this infection can spread to deeper tissues, and progress into an inflammatory disorder known as sycosis barbae. This disorder is marked by even larger lesions, severe crusting, scarring and in some cases, redness and irritation in the eye area.
Can Tea Tree Oil Treat Ingrown Hair?
A potent essential oil with several widely recognized properties, tea tree oil is an effective preventative and treatment for ingrown hair. Terpinen-4-ol, a primary component of this oil, is prized for its ability to deliver multiple benefits.
How does it work?
Terpinen-4-ol has antiseptic and antibacterial benefits, but its main strengths are its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory qualities.
Tea tree oil can protect against bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Its antimicrobial properties and antibacterial effects can kill staphylococcus aureus bacteria, to prevent infection and inhibit the development of inflammatory disorders including folliculitis barbae and sycosis barbae.
As an anti-inflammatory, this oil can calm the swelling, itching and redness that often accompanies razor bumps and prevent infection that can result from scratching the affected areas.
Tea tree oil can penetrate deep within blocked hair follicles to break up plugs of oil, dead skin and other debris. This action prevents ingrown hair that typically results from blocked pores.
Lastly, this oil can accelerate wound healing and heal ingrown hair. One small study compared conventional treatment with tea tree oil against S. Aureus bacteria. Nine of the 10 people experienced a decrease in healing time compared to conventional treatment alone.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Ingrown Hair
When purchasing this oil for treating ingrown hair, opt for organic, 100% tea tree oil. Store your product in an opaque, airtight container in a cool, dark place to ensure a long shelf-life.
To avoid irritation, you must dilute tea tree oil before applying it to your skin. Combine it with a carrier oil such as jojoba, grapeseed or sweet almond oil at a ratio of 1 drop tea tree oil to 12 drops carrier oil.
Perform a spot-test first to determine if you have an allergy. Using a cotton swab, apply the mixture to the ingrown hair and allow it to absorb.
Repeat this process twice daily until the ingrown hair has healed. If the oil causes you irritation at any point, rinse it off and avoid using it.
Other Essential Oils for Ingrown hair
If tea tree oil is not right for you, there are other essential oils with the same healing properties to offer similar benefits.
Chamomile oil has been proven to reduce the discomfort and irritation associated with inflammatory conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, sunburn and cold sores. It can offer the same soothing effect when applied to ingrown hair, razor bumps and inflammation.
Lemongrass oil has traditionally been used for wound healing and anti-inflammatory purposes. Apply it to an ingrown hair to promote faster healing, soothe discomfort and reduce the severity of razor bumps and inflammation.
Peppermint oil can effectively soothe inflammation and reduce itchiness. When applied to ingrown hair, it can help to minimize irritation and ease razor bumps.
Usually caused by improper shaving techniques or hair breakage due to tweezing or waxing, ingrown hair can affect anyone, but is most common among those with thick, curly hair. Although they typically heal on their own, they can become inflamed and form razor bumps, or lead to infection.
Tea tree oil is an effective treatment for ingrown hair, as it can accelerate healing, ward off infection and aid in prevention. In place of tea tree oil, other essential oils such as chamomile, lemongrass and peppermint oil can provide similar benefits.
- Nussbaum D, Friedman A. Pseudofolliculitis Barbae: A Review of Current Treatment Options. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019 Mar 1;18(3):246-250. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30909328/
- Gray, J. and McMichael, A.J. (2016), Pseudofolliculitis barbae: understanding the condition and the role of facial grooming. Int J Cosmet Sci, 38: 24-27. https://doi.org/10.1111/ics.12331
- Sun KL, Chang JM. Special types of folliculitis which should be differentiated from acne. Dermatoendocrinol. 2017 Sep 27;9(1):e1356519. doi:10.1080/19381980.2017.1356519
- Pazyar N, Yaghoobi R, Bagherani N, Kazerouni A. A review of applications of tea tree oil in dermatology. Int J Dermatol. 2013 Jul;52(7):784-90. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2012.05654.x
- Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006;19(1):50-62. doi:10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006
- Halcón L, Milkus K. Staphylococcus aureus and wounds: a review of tea tree oil as a promising antimicrobial. Am J Infect Control. 2004 Nov;32(7):402-8. doi:10.1016/S0196655304003657
- Chin KB, Cordell B. The effect of tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) on wound healing using a dressing model. J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Dec;19(12):942-5. doi:10.1089/acm.2012.0787
- Babar Ali, Naser Ali Al-Wabel, Saiba Shams, Aftab Ahamad, Shah Alam Khan, Firoz Anwar. Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, Volume 5, Issue 8, 2015, Pages 601-611, ISSN 2221-1691. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apjtb.2015.05.007
- Shah G, Shri R, Panchal V, Sharma N, Singh B, Mann AS. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Cymbopogon citratus, stapf (Lemon grass). J Adv Pharm Technol Res. 2011;2(1):3-8. doi:10.4103/2231-4040.79796
- Herro E, Jacob SE. Mentha piperita (peppermint). Dermatitis. 2010 Nov-Dec;21(6):327-9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21144345/