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Which Hair Brush is Right for Your Hair?

Dear Nicki,
Which hair brush is the best kind to buy? I'm confused on which ones to buy and when. -Natalie
Dear Natalie, Believe it or not, there is an actual science to hair brushing, with 100,000-200,000 hairs on each person's head being brushed at an approximate speed of 10 cm/sec. It sounds like a Physics 101 problem, but fortunately experts have already determined which brush shapes, designs, and bristle types are catered best to specific hair types and styles. It seems almost everyone could have their hair managed better with a different type of brush! I'll describe some of the most popular types of brushes for managing each type of hair below. Note that I did not include any wooden brushes, simply because many modern plastic brushes fight static more effectively, having carbon filaments included within the brush. I also included larger brushes, because more surface area is covered with each stroke with larger brushes.  This means less strokes to cover your head, so you'll have less damage over time!  Bigger brushes = better hair! :-)

Thick, straight hair: Rubber-cushioned, ball-tipped, nylon brush 

Rubber cushioning makes brushing thick hair easier, as the cushion expands and retracts with the thickness of your hair. Nylon bristles are thicker and stronger than boar bristle brushes, making it easier to move through thick hair, but also move more slowly, preventing static. The ball-tipping also helps in this arena, reducing the amount of drag and resistance on your hair so you don't look like Einstein! Try the Revlon RV2641 Soft Touch Porcupine Brush. Of course, if your thick, straight hair tends to get a lot of tangles, you may want to forgo the ball-tipping. In that case, I love the Scalpmaster 12 Row Wire Bristle Brush #125 ($19.99, Amazon.com).

Fine to medium straight hair: Wide-spaced, ball-tipped, boar- or wire-bristle brush

For centuries, boar bristles were only considered to be high-quality if they were white, meaning that they were not dyed. However, in recent times, it has become much more economical to import boar bristles from China and Japan, from which countries the boar bristles are black. Within the black-bristled brushes, those that are supple tend to come from domesticated boars, and manage the hair less effectively. On the other end of the spectrum, those that are slightly more dry from "wild" boars are best for redistributing oils throughout the hair. Boar and wire bristles are lighter and finer than nylon bristles, so boar and wire bristles move more quickly and easily, creating more volume with every stroke of the brush. Wide spacing enables more hair to be grabbed with each stroke of the brush. Those with shoulder-length or above hair may prefer ball-tipped brushes, as these have more resistance and less static, whereas those with longer hair may prefer non-ball-tipped brushes, as these tend to get tangled less. Try the Scalpmaster 12 Row Wire Bristle Brush #125 ($19.99, Amazon.com).

Thick, curly hair: Boar-bristle brush (for straightening only)

You may think that nylon bristles are stronger and move more slowly, so they would be more suitable for straightening, but think again. Prior to undergoing straightening, curly hair gets the most impact from the redistribution of natural hair oils and higher velocity that comes from a boar-bristle brush. Due to the fact curly hair already provides a good deal of resistance, ball-tipping is not necessary. Try the Sephora Collection Boar Detanging Brush ($24.00, Amazon.com).

Short or layered hair: Round, spiral brush

Round, spiral brushes are great for those with short and/or layered hairstyles: Use one with a 1" barrel to recreate a fresh-looking hairstyle, every time you blow dry your hair. An excellent one is the Conair 88014 Tourmaline Round Brush ($5.99, Amazon.com), which holds the heat better than many older varieties.  

And one styling tool everyone needs: A pin-tail comb

Pin-tail combs are the bomb because they are so versatile. Use it after a shower to restyle and detangle; use it before a big night out to set your part or tease your hair. It's amazing how often I use mine! Try the Champion Pin Tail Comb ($13.99, Amazon.com).

Bottom Line

I hope the above helps you! Do you still have questions? What questions about hair can I research for you? Let me know on Facebook or Twitter!
Date: June 6 2012 at 7:22 AM
Hair Care, Q&A

Comments (3)

  1. Leah
    June 7 2012 at 9:29 AM

    I love my Mason Pearson. It's expensive, but I take good care of it so it'll live forever. It does an amazing job straightening my long hair. I have the Popular model with both boar and nylon bristles and have started giving it as major gifts for special occasions. I have yet to hear a bad thing from any of the recipients.

  2. Joanna
    June 7 2012 at 2:01 PM

    I have the wide spaced ball tip brush and really does wonder for my fine hair. Great post.

  3. Alyzze
    June 11 2012 at 8:41 PM

    What about kinky Afro-American hair? I know its a lot more delicate whether in its natural state as virgin kinky hair or in the more popular relaxed hair style ( which generally is more damaged due to the chemical processing). I have the latter, are there suggestions on the best brushes to use? Or would a comb be better and less damaging?

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