While the hairbrush was only patented in 1870 by Samuel Firey and later improved upon and modified into its modern form Lyda Newman in 1898, it’s clear that this essential grooming tool has been relied on through the ages. Just look to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art, which depicts men and women who clearly used some sort of forerunner to our modern brush. Today we often think of hairbrushing as a means to an end — a way to go from tangled to smooth — but there’s an art to the method that’s worth revisiting.
The Quiet Benefits of Hair Brushing
The obvious perk of brushing your hair is ensuring you don’t look like you just rolled off your bed and out your door. However, consistent and methodical hair brushing offers other benefits that are easily forgotten.
Nixes Dead Skin Cells: One of the primary therapeutic goals of brushing is to literally sweep away dead skin cells from the scalp’s surface. “We all have buildup of dead skin cells, and we all naturally shed some of those cells — some worse than others. Removing that layer is a key to our scalp health and yields more luscious locks,” says Dr. Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist based in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Distributes Sebum Down the Shaft: You’ve probably noticed that the mid-shaft and ends of your hair tend to look and feel drier than hair at your root. This is because there’s a concentration of sebum (the moisturizing oil produced by your skin) at your scalp. “Brushing moves the natural sebum from the root downward, which nourishes and coats the hair strands. This keeps them supple, strong, and healthy,” says Dr. Shamban.
Stimulates the Follicle: “The idea here is that massaging the scalp via a hairbrush can encourage blood flow circulation to the follicle,” says Dhiran Mistry, a celebrity stylist at New York City’s prestigious David Mallett Salon. The science is still out, but some swear that this boosts hair growth. At the very least, it feels good and encourages a happy, healthy scalp.
A Three-Step Guide to Brushing Your Hair
You might have heard the old “100 strokes a day” hair brushing rule. While a full 100 isn’t actually required, taking a few minutes to mindfully groom your hair — versus a quick and aggressive run-through — can make all the difference. For the full exfoliation, sebum-moving, and circulation benefits outlined above, follow the below steps before going to bed.
- Starting at the roots, use firm, stimulatory, small strokes — about three inches in length — to lift away dead skin cells from your scalp.
- “Add a touch of heat to your scalp with a hair dryer, which helps soften the natural sebaceous layer,” says Dr. Shamban. Afterward, go back in with your brush at the crown, this time moving halfway down the shaft with each stroke. Do this one small section at a time. Hold our hair as you work your way down each section in order to prevent unnecessary tugging; this is especially important if your hair has tangles.
- As the last step, flip your head over and start at the back brushing your hair from root to tip. This can increase blood flow to the scalp and potentially stimulate growth. You can use your fingers as a guide.
This can be repeated as often as once nightly on dry hair. Mistry notes that thicker hair benefits from brushing more frequently, while fine hair can get away with less since it’s more susceptible to breakage. If you’re coming out of the shower, use a wide-toothed comb or your fingers instead of a regular brush. A detangling product is also helpful.
In the mornings, you can do an abbreviated version of the above.
A Quick Hairbrush Buying Guide
Hairbrushes run the gamut in price, but is it worth it to splurge? Ultimately, it’s all about how much you’re willing to invest. While a drugstore or mid-range brush can get the smoothing job done, it’s true that investing in a higher-quality hairbrush can actually foster a healthier scalp and prettier hair.
“The weight and ergonomic design of a more expensive brush may help in terms of comfort and control, grip, pressure, and technique,” explains Dr. Shamban. She adds that a hairbrush’s real magic lies in the bristles, and that luxury brushes are often made with densely packed, natural (usually boar) bristles that better exfoliate, stimulate, and spread sebum.
In terms of selecting a brush for your hair type, dense boar bristles are ideal for medium to fine hair (think Mason Pearson’s iconic Boar Brush), and brushes with wider-set bristles and/or a mixture of nylon and boar are better for thick or textured hair (like Harry Josh’s Premium Oval Brush). For hair that’s ultra-thick and/or tangle-prone, we recommend a wide-tooth comb or wood-bristle brush for gentle soothing and detangling (such as Tek Paddle with Long Pins).
A military style hairbrush is an oval-shaped, handle-free boar-bristle brush that fits in the palm of your hands and is ideal for men or anyone with short hair for a smooth, slick finish (Caswell Massey makes a beautiful one).
Whatever hairbrush you land on, just remember that no tool — regardless of the price tag — does its job if you aren’t diligent!