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16 Secrets Your Hairbrush Wishes You Knew

Time for some tress-saving tool talk! From how to brush for shiny hair to the best bristles for your hair type, these all-important beauty implements take you through the mane points.

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Your hair is most prone to damage when wet

“Gingerly detangle with patience,” advises Elizabeth Maloy, a stylist at the Yves Durif Salon in New York City. To minimize tress stress, use a wide-tooth comb or a brush with very flexible bristles.

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Brush your hair from ends to roots, not the other way around

You should start from the bottom and work your way up instead, says Good Housekeeping. Trying to untangle your hair from the roots puts a lot of unnecessary stress on your strands that can lead to breakage.

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Too much brushing can damage your hair

“The Marcia Brady rule that you have to brush 100 times a day is not true,” Melissa Piliang, MD, a dermatologist specializing in hair loss at the Cleveland Clinic, told Today. Over-brushing can damage the cuticle, your hair’s protective outer layer. Three to four strokes are generally enough to remove any knots or reshape your style.

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You probably need to clean your brush more

Hairbrushes keep the outer layer of the hair smooth and help redistribute oil from the scalp, but they don’t work as well when they’re filled with hair or the residue from hair products, says Piliang. She recommends that you clean your brush every week or so, more frequently if you have longer hair. A sure sign your brush is due for a detox? You start to see product residue form on the bristles. Washing how-tos: First, remove any hair from your brush. Then dissolve a tablespoon of shampoo in a basin of water, swish the brush around for a few minutes, rinse it thoroughly, and air dry.

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iStock/Savas Keskiner

You should give hair a pre-shampoo brushing

This preliminary step loosens dirt and product buildup (so it’s easier to wash it away) and pulls the protective oils from your scalp down the shaft towards the ends, where hair needs them most. It also makes for fewer post-shampoo tangles.

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You may be using the wrong brush

Finding your ideal hairbrush can save lots of time, frustration, and money. “Size, shape, vented, ceramic…all the choices are overwhelming,” says Maloy. “We went through a three-day boot camp in beauty school to learn what brush to use depending on the type of hair and desired style.” For general guidelines, read on. For specific suggestions, ask your hairstylist.

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iStock/Stephan Zabel

Boar-bristle brushes give hair the most shine

They’re pricey, but these brushes are worth their weight in gleam. “The bristles actually redistribute the oils from your scalp throughout the hair shaft, giving hair that healthy, glossy shine,” hairstylist Michael Dueñas told Allure. They’re ideal for smoothing coarse, frizzy, and curly hair while blow-drying (“They deliver maximum control to unruly hair,” says Maloy), and for boosting body while styling.

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Nylon bristles are nice for straightening

Nylon-bristle brushes are best for straight hairstyles, or any time you want hair to lay flat. The bristles are usually spaced farther apart than boar and achieve a medium-to-strong grip on all hair types, especially those with fine to medium strands, says Good Housekeeping.

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Do a bristle check

Avoid brushes with bristles that are metal-tipped or too sharp, since they can scratch the scalp and tear hair. Look for bristles with rounded or balled tips, and run the bristles over the inside of your arm to check for smoothness before buying.

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The right brush shape is essential

Brushes tend to fall into two schools: flat and round. Choosing the right shape for you depends on whether you’re trying to flatten your hair or create volume. “Someone with coarse, dry, thick hair is looking for deflation rather than inflation—flat brushes are made for detangling and smoothing the hair down,” Fadi Mourad, Bumble and bumble’s vice president of product development and innovation, told Vogue. “Round brushes create body, lift, shape, and bend”—qualities that fine-haired folks often naturally lack.

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iStock/Milan Markovic

Brush size is important

As a general rule, the longer the hair, the bigger the brush. Why? While shorter hair is more easily controlled with a smaller brush, long hair usually gets tangled up in one.

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iStock/Stepan Popov

Some hair needs more “give”

Fine, thin, or fragile (read damaged) hair needs more TLC. To the rescue: Cushion brushes, which feature bristles secured into a bed that’s cushioned with air, gives a little to reduce tension when you’re brushing.

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You hold the brush wrong when blow drying

Holding the hairdryer with your dominant hand and working the brush with the weaker one is very common. But while it feels more natural to hold the larger, heavier item with your stronger hand, you need the better dexterity of your dominant hand to better control the brush and get the job done in less time and with less exertion, says Retrain yourself to do it the right way, and you’ll see better, smoother results with less dry time overall.

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The right brush helps control static

If your hair is charged up, consider using a brush made with negative ion technology, suggests Maloy. Bristles infused with these ions help close the cuticle, sealing in moisture and making hair smooth and less static-y. The next-best thing: a brush with metal, boar, or other natural bristles. Avoid plastic, an insulating material that holds static very well, according to Good Housekeeping.

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Some brushes can (blessedly!) speed blow drying

Less drying time means healthier hair, so arming yourself with the right brush is a real win-win. One option—particularly for the initial stages of blow-drying, when you’re trying to dry (vs. style) hair — is a vent brush, which has openings in the base that allow warm air to circulate through hair and down to the roots for faster drying. Another alternative is a brush coated with ceramic, the most popular barrel material. Like ceramic cookware, a ceramic barrel maintains a healthy level of heat to aid in drying, says Prevention. Most ceramic brushes have holes through the barrel (center) to allow both sides of the hair to dry. Bonus: If you’re using a dryer that emits negative ions to speed drying, ceramic-coated brushes will increase the effects of the ions.

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Brushes don’t last forever

Once you find a brush you love, it’s hard to say adieu. But it’s important to replace your brush when the bristles begin to fray or break off, since that can damage hair. A good-quality brush should last at least three years, says Prevention.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest