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Is a Boar Bristle Brush Good or Bad for Your Hair?

Submitted via the FutureDerm.com Facebook page via private message:
Why do you advise readers to stick with a conventional plastic brush for hair health, instead of a boar bristle brush? I have read many places that boar bristle helps grow long healthy hair by spreading oil from the scalp along the strand. Boar bristle brushes are also nice because they remove loose hairs and clean out dust and lint. Are they actually bad for your hair? -Kendra
Dear Kendra, You are probably referring to my earlier post, Which Hair Brush is Best for My Hair?  Actually, I do recommend boar bristle brushes for the hair, as they do exactly what you said:  Distribute the hair and the natural oils of the scalp along the hair shaft, as well as pull dirt or dust particles off the hair. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when using a boar bristle brush:

1.)  Choose a boar bristle brush based upon the spacing between the bristles.

Flat hairbrush Narrow spaced brushes are best for thick hair. This is because less hair is grabbed with each stroke.
Easy to remember:  The thinner the hair, the thicker the space needs to be between the bristles! Boar bristles are lighter and finer than nylon bristles, so they move more quickly and easily than nylon bristles, creating more volume with every stroke.  This is a beautiful thing for those with fine to medium hair, but a nightmare for those with thick or curly hair. So the key for those with thin hair is to use a brush with wide spacing, so more hair can be grabbed with each stroke.  Try the Scalpmaster 12 Row Wire Bristle Brush #125 ($19.99, Amazon.com).  Those with thick hair, on the other hand, want narrow spacing so less hair is grabbed with each stroke - and less volume is introduced.  Try the Sephora Collection Boar Detanging Brush (shown right, $24.00, Amazon.com).

2.)  If your hair is short and oily, skip the boar bristle.

Hairbrush Nylon ball-tipped brushes are best for those with shoulder-length or shorter hair, as the ball tips provide resistance that prevents static. But these tips just get caught in longer hair. (Photo credit: chrisinplymouth)
Sure, I love a boar brush.  But if your hair is short (shoulder-length or above), you'd be better off with a nylon ball-tipped brush.  These brushes have more resistance as they travel through the hair, so they will introduce less static to your hair, allowing you to maintain your cute little bob or whatever 'do you are currently rocking Actually, 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 other varieties. Those with longer hair, on the other hand, may prefer non-ball-tipped, straight boar brushes, as these tend to get tangled in the hair less. I once got a round, ball-tipped nylon brush stuck in my hair...but that's another story...:-)

3.)  The Longer the Hair, the Bigger the Brush.

silver hairbrush The longer your hair, the bigger the paddle of your brush should be. (Photo credit: Joanna Bourne)
Similarly, let's consider the fact that those with long hair shouldn't use ball-tipped brushes.  That means their brush introduces static into their hair with each stroke. How to combat this?  Use a bigger brush!  Not only does this prevent static, but it also eliminates the probability that you will break your hair, as fewer strokes are needed.

4.)  Cost matters.

Few people disagree: Some of the best hairbrushes in the world are from Mason Pearson.
A high-end boar bristle brush is worth it.  Most cheap boar bristles brushes contain bristles from domesticated boars in China and Japan.  And as you might expect from a boar spending his days chillaxin' indoors, he has much softer bristles than his wild, untamed cousins.  But the softer bristles won't distribute oils through the hair as well as the harder, wilder ones. For this reason, a great investment is a boar bristle brush like one from Mason Pearson (starting at $67; Amazon.com).  The company is well-known for making world-class hair brushes; in fact, Princess Diana was known for carrying one.  That said, keeping things from a scientific perspective here, high-quality boar bristle brushes are well worth it for both efficacy as well as durability - the brush should last a lifetime with proper care and cleaning.

Bottom Line

When buying a boar-bristle brush, remember the following rules:
  • The thinner the hair, the wider the spacing between bristles needs to be.
  • The longer the hair, the bigger the brush needs to be.
  • If your hair is shoulder-length or shorter, forgo the boar bristle in place of a round nylon ball-tipped brush, which has greater resistance and introduces less static into your hair.  (And, as a bonus, is great for styling).
  • Cost matters.  Invest in a high-quality boar bristle brush.
 
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Date: July 3 2012 at 11:23 AM
Hair Care

Comments (7)

  1. Janessa
    July 10 2012 at 8:00 PM

    I have been looking into Mason Pearson brushes! They also have a comb. What do you recommend for thinning, short hair on an aging man? I'm thinking to gift my father lol.

  2. Nicki
    July 11 2012 at 8:48 AM

    @Janessa - Probably a wide-spaced boar-bristle brush!

  3. Kendra
    August 2 2012 at 1:14 PM

    Thanks Nicki! This was super helpful. I have one more question that may be of interest to other readers- I've read in multiple places that massaging the scalp regularly promotes scalp health and hair growth. Any research to back this up?

  4. Nicki
    August 2 2012 at 3:22 PM

    @Kendra - There is only anecdotal evidence supporting that massaging the scalp regularly promotes scalp health and hair growth, such as case studies like this one: http://www.amsciepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pr0.1994.74.3c.1315 However, I don't see any harm in massaging the scalp. It increases blood flow to the region, which can only be a good thing! Hope this helps, Nicki

  5. sue
    January 27 2013 at 3:08 AM

    Hi I have very very fine shoulder length curly frizzy hair that I straighten daily (pls don't ask me to keep it curly) I'm trying to grow it can you recommend the best brush for styling (not blow drying) to add shine, volume etc I can afford up to £40 thank you

  6. Sara
    January 26 2014 at 10:05 PM

    @sue Hi Sue I found a styling tool but it might be more than 40 but it is called Cool Touch Multistyler by InStyler. It adds Volume, Shine, Straightens and waves. You can also touch it without burning yourself, it hydrates hair and it makes dull hair more alive.

  7. Bertha
    February 15 2014 at 1:31 PM

    I have the exact same hair situation as Sue...very fine shoulder length curly frizzy hair. What would be the best boar bristle brush for me to use? Which Mason Pearson brush would be best for my hair type?

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