Marcia Brady did it 100 times on each side. Alexa Chung has claimed she skips it in order to get her It-Girl texture. Brushing your hair, something that seems simple, is a topic rife with debate. How often should we do it? Is there a right way to do it? Or, worse, a wrong way?
After we conducted our no-brush experiment, more than a few of you started waxing poetic about how infrequently you do it. All of this got me wondering whether we're doing too little (or, perhaps, too much) of it.
Turns out, opinions are split. "Brushing as a mechanical exercise is not something we'd advocate," Elizabeth Cunnane-Phillips, expert trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Clinic, says. "You're creating fiber-to-fiber friction, which has the potential to create weakness or snap a part of the hair." Cunnane-Phillips also advised me against brushing my hair to remove knots, something I normally do before every shampoo.
But, there are experts who claim the exact opposite — that brushing your hair can be healthy. "The brush helps pull natural oils from the scalp through the hair shaft, keeping the hair healthy and moisturized," Mia Santiago, a stylist at Sally Hershberger Uptown, says. "Hair that's straight or has a slight wave is fine to brush more often. If you have curly hair, it's important not to brush too much — it will only add to the frizz."
Confused and conflicted, I set out to find a middle ground. Cunnane-Phillips advises against brushing your hair when it's wet. "Instead, finger-comb with conditioner when you're in the shower, and [apply a] leave-in when you get out," she says. If your hair is super dry and knotted, she also suggests using the leave-in to help smooth out kinks.
Whatever you do, do not yank a comb through a particularly snarled section. "If there is an area that is especially knotty, take a second to grab a wide-tooth comb and gently remove it," Santiago says.
The brush you choose is also important. Both Cunnane-Phillips and Santiago suggest one with flexible, plastic bristles. "Think of the traditional paddle brush," Cunnane-Philips says. "The bristles are widely spaced and plastic, and [the brushes] have a padded base, so they have give." Anything too tightly packed — like a boar-bristle — is going to pull on your strands. Santiago says she’s a fan of the Tangle Teezer, which has very flexible bristles. But, she says, it's best to save the classic boar-nylon mixtures for heat styling — denser bristles help conduct heat, which adds shine and polish.
Cunnane-Philips adds that she's fine with using brushes for styling. "You just have to make sure you're using a brush that is appropriate for your hair type," she says. For example, a round brush is good for blowouts on fine or wavy hair, but if you're coarse or curly, it's best to leave the tools to the pros.
So, when should you use your Tangle Teezer or paddle brush? Whenever you have small, easy-to-handle knots — and only on completely dry hair. "If you meet resistance, stop," Cunnane-Phillips says. If your hair is especially matted, it's probably best to get it wet, finger-comb some conditioner through it, and start from scratch. And, again, do not yank.
I was surprised by most of this, but intrigued. As a girl with curly hair, I typically only brushed right before showering to break up the knots, and then again as soon as I got out. But, I test-drove these tips, only finger-combing in the shower, and I'm happy to report that, after a week, my hair doesn't only feel better, but my curls are much bouncier. Hair brush, it's been real, but I think it's time we broke up. It's not you — wait, who am I kidding? It's totally you.
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