When we were young, any kind of detangling tool for our hair fell into, at most, two categories: brushes and combs. Both were my mortal enemies as a child, as my mom desperately tried to undo the mass of knots that is my hair's natural state. But one day I woke up and suddenly found that the list of two tools had expanded overnight to: round brushes, wet brushes, paddle brushes, wide-toothed combs, boar-bristle brushes...But no one ever explained what each one did, or if I needed all of them. So I'm here to walk you through the secret language of hair brushes.
The kind of brush you should use depends on your hair type and preferred styling. What you use when your hair is wet and freshly washed isn't the same as the brush you use when it's styling time. Brushing your hair does more than you might think, too: Along with detangling, brushes can energize the scalp and help evenly distribute oils so you can have a healthy head of hair. With the brush market so heavily saturated right now, picking the perfect one for your hair goals can be difficult. For all price points, hair types, and styles, use this hair brush guide to figure out which tool needs a spot on your vanity.
Before getting into the anatomy of brushes, a quick word on combs. The spacing between each tooth will tell you what kind of hair the comb is best for. For curly-haired ladies who don't brush their hair outside of the shower, wide-tooth combs (with larger spaces between each tooth) are great options, because they detangle without breaking up the natural curl pattern. If you have fine hair, combs with less space between each tooth works well. Combs with a spike on one end and very little space between each tooth are great for running alongside a flat-iron for super-sleek hair, or for sectioning hair before a blowout.
The word "detangling" might transport you into a youthful memory of being violently attacked by a hairbrush (is that just me?) but, truth be told, most brushes are technically detangling brushes. However, brushes that are branded as "detangling brushes" actually serve a unique purpose. Hair is fragile, and ripping, tearing, and breaking are all harmful practices that occur when we brush our hair too aggressively or with the wrong style of brush. This is especially true when hair is wet and at its most delicate.
Detangling brushes are most often specifically designed to be gentle enough to use on wet hair, though they can be used on dry hair as well if your hair isn't super thick. This is a great staple for most women to own, unless they have curl patterns that don't react well to any kind of brushing. If your hair is prone to tangles and a comb won't cut it, bring a detangling brush into the shower with you to eliminate any knots and work product through your hair evenly.
Paddle brushes are the wilder, more specialized sisters of detangling brushes. They work best on women with long, thick hair, since they're often too large and unwieldy on short or thin hair. Most paddle brushes are designed for dry hair, as a daily detangler and smoother (picture: That scene from Tangled where Rapunzel spends an hour brushing her hair on the floor).
For women with straight to wavy hair who aren't looking for complex styling, paddle brushes can also be used to blow-dry hair straight. They're also super effective post heat-styling to brush out curling-wand curls or to keep a blow-out looking natural, so we don't end up with meme-able hair.
Round brushes may be the most elusive brushes of all time. Yes, we see them a lot and understand that we should probably own one, but there are so many variations that seem to remain mysterious. A quick rundown: Round brushes are perfect for creating that voluminous, classic wavy blowout that we all hope to run into an ex with. However, there are so many different sizes of round brush, with different types of bristles, and those two details will determine exactly what your style looks like.
This is a general rule: the smaller the barrel of a round brush, the more curly or wavy your hair will be after blow-drying. This is because you hair can wrap around the brush more times, therefore giving more of a wave. The exception to this rule is for pixie cuts or bangs, where small-barrel round brushes should be used to effectively style. Larger barrel round brushes are better for created a sleek blowout, and a medium barrel is most commonly used for that classic wavy blowout. Of course, this is all dependent on your length of hair. A medium-barrel brush on chin-length hair will produce a sleeker look, because the hair doesn't have the length to wrap around the brush as well as long hair would.
Boar bristle brushes for a long time have been considered to be the most effective and healthy type of bristle for hair maintenance. They're gentler than most other bristles, so for ladies who suffer from breakage or shedding, it might be worth investing in a brush that is either entirely boar-bristle, or a mixture of boar-bristle and another material. If your hair is pretty easy to maintain, go forth with whichever brush lets you achieve all your hair goals.
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