Let’s be honest ladies having some sort of irritation down there is relatively normal. From uncomfy undies to the monthly period pain, UTIs and thrush, these things are all normal parts of life we almost come to expect. As women we are not naive that things down there sometimes aren’t quite right so when we decide to ‘put the fun between our legs’ aka a bike, it is normal for us to feel some discomfort.
From your first time sitting on a proper road bike or triathlon bike saddle you probably would have noticed they are very different from the cushy bike saddles from your childhood or even the one on your fixie commuter bike. A key thing to remember is that these saddles really aren’t designed to be comfortable. While they shouldn’t be down right painful they shouldn't be something you can happily recline on either as they are designed for ‘work’.
One of the main issues we experience as triathletes is the annoying ingrown hair. With the intention to look great in our bathers and general grooming, the friction caused by tight lycra and bike saddles can make training very uncomfortable.
To help ease our worries Katia Kaye-Berghan, Advanced Dermal Specialist at Advanced Skin and Beauty Clinic shares the best ways to deal with ingrown hairs and get us back on the bike faster.
Identify ingrown hairs
If you have ever waxed or shaved down there you would be no stranger to the pesky ingrown hair. It appears as a red raised bump similar to a pimple. They are not dangerous as such but can be painful and itchy, and if not taken care of properly can turn into a deep boil type sore.
An ingrown hair is a blocked follicle that has a hair trying to come through to the surface but can’t get through. This could be due to a combination of things from pressure, oil or dead skin build up, so the hair turns around on itself like a coil. Sometimes they will turn into essentially a pimple and other times you will be able to see the hair coil below the surface of the skin like a black line. You should be able to identify if the bump is an ingrown hair based on its location. Places like the underarm, bikini line and legs are common places for ingrown hairs to occur.
For cyclists the ingrown hair is very common as the friction between your skin, fabric of your kit and the seat is high. “Tight clothing, wet suits or sitting for extended periods of time will block the follicle because you are not getting the circulation required,” says Katia, “If there is rubbing and you are creating a chafe on the skin that will generate even more pressure on the skin and stop the hair from breaking out.”
What to do
Firstly don’t be ashamed and don’t be afraid to ask says Katia, “Everybody, everybody, gets them.”
Secondly, don’t dig at it! If it starts to turn blue or purple then admit it you have been picking at it! “Basically this is post inflammatory hyper pigmentation in the area where your skin is starting to almost get a tan from the inflammation,” says Katia. “By digging at ingrown hairs you are going to create scar tissue.”
Thirdly, while it can be very satisfying to pluck out the ingrown hair, don’t. “You actually want to leave it there so that the skin can heal around it. Let the hair naturally fall out so there is a pathway for it to come out. If that scar tissue reforms abnormally you are going to get a recurring ingrown hair in that exact same spot all the time.”
The good news
Most ingrown hairs can be cleared up within 7-10 days if treated stat. Your best bet is avoidance by figuring out what works for you. Listen to your body, recognise the symptoms and treat the area if anything is not quite right.
Increase your distances on the bike slowly so your body gets used to being in the saddle for prolonged periods of time so it's not a shock to the system and the rubbing isn’t too great. Remember that if riding for long hours pain and irritation is part of the fun but you can get through it. Use a good chamois cream or body glide to help with lubricating the area and keeping it clean.
Set a routine
We all have a beauty routine for our faces so why shouldn’t we have one for the rest of our body. Scrub the friction prone areas everyday with gentle scrub or mit and follow with a soothing lotion. If ingrown hairs become a problem then integrate the use of serums or salicylic wipes.
Use an ingrown hair serum which contains a combination of Vitamin A (to help healing) and salicylic acid which helps to immediately exfoliate the area and deep cleans the pores and the follicle, and reduce inflammation. You can get these in wipes, creams or sprays (which are great for hard to reach places).
If you stop activity it will help the healing but of course we can’t always do that. In this case Katia recommends treating the trouble areas every night with a serum cream or wipe to help inflammation in the area. Exfoliation with a mit or scrub will also help.
Shave or wax? Everybody is different. If it more convenient to shave then shave. The best way to target ingrowns is laser hair removal especially if you want to avoid scarring from ingrown hairs.
Avoid the Ouch!
Get a proper bike fit Also, testing out different saddles might do the trick. Most bike stores will let you test out a saddle for a week or so before you commit to one.
No nickers! Take em off ladies cycling is a commando type of sport!
Get Creamy Chamois Cream or body glide is heaven's gift for anyone experiencing discomfort.
Find the perfect shammy - The shammy refers to the padded area on your bike shorts. The padding, shape and size can vary from bike short to bike short so it is important that you investigate each pair of shorts before purchasing them.
Stay clean - While we all enjoy a post ride coffee getting out of your bike shorts after a ride, especially a long one, is essential to keeping everything down there in good shape.
Practice good hygiene - Wash with a gentle yet strong soap. If you are frequently experiencing ingrown hair try using an anti-ingrown hair treatment that contains salicylic acid as this helps calm the area and remove and bacteria.
Keep it clean - Ladies, please no dirty knicks! If you really have not had the chance to do the washing that week but have to ride, use a thin panty liner on the inside to cover the any old sweat.
Stephanie Dunbar is a media professional with a love for triathlon. She recently completed her first Ironman at Port Macquarie and is a regular contributor and sub editor for the TriChicks Hub.