Curly Hair Conundrums: Brushing and Combing

Skin Care



Curly- and some wavy-haired people do not brush their hair the same way as everyone else. My friends with stick straight hair often try to talk to me about brushes as though these aren’t totally foreign objects to me. Once I realized my hair was curly, I got rid of my brushes and embraced a life without bristles. For me, like many, it’s painful and hairstyle-ruining to run anything through my hair once its dry. Though not everyone forgoes brushes altogether and for good reasons (but more on that later).

And even without brushes, I still need something to comb and detangle because my hair will resemble that of someone who’s been living in the wilderness full of knots and foreign objects if I don’t do something (that might be an exaggeration).

“Brushing” Curly Hair When Wet

When hair is wet and coated in conditioner is one of the easiest times to brush through locks.

Curly-hair, for the most part, shouldn’t be brushed in the traditional sense of the word. “Detangling” is a more appropriate term. While there are some curly-haired people who forego running anything through their tresses altogether (though I wouldn’t recommend it), there are many, many of us who require detangling.

First and foremost, the easiest time to do serious detangling will be in the shower while you’re conditioning (Hair Rules). Whether you use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers (I’ll get to the best combs for different hair types later), you’ll be able to get through your knots without your eyes welling up if you comb through while you have a thick layer of conditioner in. And as Anthony Dickey explains in Hair Rules, it’s best to leave just enough conditioner in for optimum softness.

I personally find it even easier if I simultaneously have water running through my hair, but that is absolutely not always true for all curly hair types.

Note also that depending on how often you wash or co-washing, you might feel like you have enough hair for a wig in your comb or hand. That’s totally normal (unless you notice a marked increase on a personal level) — when your hair sheds it doesn’t slip out as easily as that of your straight-haired counterparts.

Brushing Curly Hair When Damp or Dry

A ball-tipped brush may snag more easily in curly hair because it creates more resistance. Though everyone’s hair is different, so really focus on how well a tool moves in your hair.

There are reasons to brush your hair when dry or mostly dry, as much as you might have resisted it as someone with curly hair. Perhaps you’re looking to style it in some way, or maybe you want to spread out the natural oils — which can really do wonders for hair.

No matter which you choose, this must be done very slowly. Because hair is dry and there’s no conditioning agent, you’ll be more likely to snag hair, causing it to break (Naturally Curly).

The best method is to section hair into manageable chunks, either into layers or into different sides of the scalp. Brush from the bottom moving upward so you’re not pulling all the knots out from the top down all at once. The more slowly you go, the less frizz you’ll have.

What Kind of Tools to Use

Combs are the best tools (besides fingers) because they have the least resistance, but sometimes there are reasons to use brushes.

Not everyone can use the same tools for detangling. The coarsest, curliest, kinkiest hair will likely have to finger-comb for a few reasons. One being that it’s much easier to manipulate fingers to get through hair and two being that, unlike the easily-snapped teeth of a comb, you won’t break your tools (I hope).

In fact, fingers are one of the best options for anyone with curly hair because you’ll be gentler and pull out less hair. However, if you opt to use a comb, it’s best to use one with wide teeth that will be more gracious with your hair (Naturally Curly).

As for brushes, a ball-tipped, nylon brush is more likely to get tangled in your tresses. However, everyone’s hair is different and I’ve known people who swear by ball-tipped brushes — just focus on how the tool works in your hair.

If you’re looking to spread out the oils before a shower, a boar bristle brush will do the best spreading (though it will make curls frizzy). Just take note that using a brush on curly hair without too much pain is something done slowly. A boar bristle brush used in any other way will almost certainly cause a great deal of breakage.

Bottom Line

Taking care of curly hair is about trial and error and finding the best solution for you.

It’s important to detangle curly hair because it’s more prone to knotting up and that can compromise your curls. And even if your hair is wavy and you don’t think you’ll be ruining your waves, taking a brush or comb to your strands dry could create a lot of unnecessary frizz. When you have curly hair, you can comb and brush it, but the maintenance is far different than for those with straight hair — so don’t try to use the same tactics as your straight-haired friends.

My personal favorite method is to brush my hair while wet with conditioner in it using my fingers or a wide-toothed comb. But, as many people know, having curly hair means experimenting with what works best with your hair. Good luck and let us know about how you manage your hair.



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