A brush can seem innocuous enough but using the wrong brush can cause a ton of damage.
Remember, just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. We caught up with trichologist and brand president/owner of Philip Kingsley, Anabel Kingsley, after discovering her— why didn’t we think of this— brush test.
The test is simple AF but can indicate if you need to switch it up. Basically, if you pass your brush over the back of your hand and it’s in any way painful, that means it’s causing unseen harm to your hair and scalp.
“Brushes are wonderful styling aids, but you need to be careful when you use them,” explains Anabel when going over the benefits of the brush test. “Incorrect brushing, and the wrong type of brush, can cause widespread damage to your hair and scalp so it is important to use a brush which will not cause further damage.”
Dr. Recommended Brushes
Anabel always recommends choosing a brush with long, widely spaced plastic bristles, not natural bristles. “Plastic bristles are smoother, blunter (more rounded at the tip) and kinder to your hair, while natural bristles are sharper, often barbed, and tufted close together which can rip and weaken the hairs cuticle layer. Above all, avoid brushes with metal prongs or barrels when styling as they will hold heat and can burn the hair.” This is important because hair lacks nerve endings so we can’t feel the damage.
So, though it seems like soft brushes are the answer, that’s not really the case. Although softer brushes, such as wet brushes or those with short bendy bristles, may make detangling feel less harsh they could actually be doing more damage, as you can’t ‘feel’ the tangles or knots. “Using a wide toothed brush, you will feel the snag in your hair, this will cause you to be more gentle when easing out the knot, reducing the potential for breakage instead of simply dragging the brush through which can cause hairs to simply snap.”
The Comb Test
Just like brushes, some combs are better for your hair than others. Anabel notes that the best combs are ‘saw-cut,’ where each tooth is cut into the comb, making them smoother. They are usually made from vulcanite (a type of hard rubber). “Good plastic saw-cut combs are also available, but vulcanite rubber is preferable due to its anti-static properties and ease of cleaning,” she advises. “Metal combs are the worst for your hair as their edges can lacerate individual strands. Cheaper plastic combs made in a mold should also be avoided, as they have join lines down the center of each tooth which can cut your hair shaft, remove hair cells and eventually weaken your hair.”
Instead of approaching your hair like an obstacle course, when brushing or combing, treat your locks like a cashmere sweater – be gentle. “Vigorous brushing can remove some of your hairs’ cuticle – the hair’s outer cell layer – which weakens it and causes breakage. Constant traction from brushing can also pull hair out, while sharp points are capable of removing the top layer of scalp skin,” explains Anabel.
Even though combs are gentler in general and better for your hair than brushes, they will not give you as much control when styling. “The best styling results are achieved when you use a comb to ease out tangles and a brush to style your hair into shape when blow-drying,” she continues. “Wet hair is swollen and stretched by as much as 20-30%, so roughly brushing your hair when wet can snap it like a rubber band. To avoid unnecessary breakage, use a comb, rather than a brush, to remove tangles after washing your hair, and always work tangles out starting from your ends. Use a de-tangling spray before brushing in the mornings, or at any time of day on knotted hair, to help remove tangles.”
And finally, “be careful not to pull or twist your hair too much when you blow-dry. The combination of heat and extra traction is more likely to cause hair breakage.”