AHAs vs. BHAs: Which Is Better for Ingrown Hairs?

Ingrowns are an unavoidable consequence of hair removal — but what’s the best way to manage them? While there’s a consensus that exfoliation is the key, social media is abuzz with debate about which active ingredient takes the top spot.

So which is better for preventing and treating ingrown hairs: alpha hydroxy acid, or beta hydroxy acid? We’ve got the answer.

Woman shaving her leg can create ingrown hairs treatable with Body Smoothing System by SLMD Skincare

What causes ingrown hairs?

Understanding the cause of ingrown hairs provides a clue about the most effective remedy. Also known as razor bumps, ingrown hairs are red bumps caused by hair that’s gotten trapped beneath the skin. They’re more common in people with curly hair, since it has a tendency to curve back into the skin — but can affect people of all skin and hair types. Shaving, waxing, threading or plucking hair increases the chances of developing ingrowns.

How do you treat ingrown hairs?

Minimizing ingrown hairs involves two key strategies:

  • Consistent skin care. Regular exfoliation and choosing non-occlusive products will help keep hairs free from becoming obstructed as they regrow.
  • Proper shaving techniques. Shaving in the direction of hair with a single blade will help prevent hair from being cut beneath the skin’s surface.

What’s the best acid for treating ingrown hairs?

As we mentioned, keeping skin exfoliated is one of the best ways to minimize ingrown hairs. But how do you choose between alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic and lactic) and beta hydroxy acid (like salicylic)? It all comes down to the chemical differences between these active ingredients:

  • Glycolic acid is a water soluble molecule that penetrates into skin’s dead, outer layers to loosen the cellular bonds.
  • Salicylic acid is an oil soluble molecule capable of penetrating into sebum-filled pores and clearing out dead skin and oil.

Because ingrown hairs typically happen when hair becomes trapped beneath a layer of skin (rather than as a result of an oil-clogged pore), glycolic acid is the more effective choice.

Glycolic Acid Body Scrub and Body Lotion treat ingrown hairs by SLMD Skincare

Which glycolic acid products get rid of ingrown hairs?

Exfoliating and moisturizing daily can make a big difference in minimizing the incidence of ingrown hairs. SLMD Body Smoothing System is a combination approach which includes:

  • Glycolic Acid Body Scrub contains both physical and chemical exfoliants — self-dissolving granules plus glycolic and lactic acids — to slough away dead skin cells.
  • Glycolic Acid Body Lotion continues exfoliating while also moisturizing with shea butter — apply on still-damp skin to seal in hydration.

Dr. Lee’s last word

Glycolic acid is one of my favorite active ingredients because it’s a powerful exfoliant that’s generally well-tolerated by all skin types. It’s excellent for managing dry, bumpy skin known as keratosis pilaris, and it also helps treat and prevent ingrown hairs.

—Dr. Sandra Lee


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