Updated 15 January 2014

Why brushing your hair is crucial

Brushing is an important part of grooming and hygiene, and is good for your hair - but only in moderation.

It was once thought that 100 strokes of the brush each night before bed gave beautiful hair. That’s now considered really excessive, but brushing remains an important part of grooming and hygiene, and is good for your hair in moderation.

Overzealous brushing can lead to or exacerbate hair loss. It’s natural to lose a few hairs every day, but if you experience a major increase in hair loss or notice a bald patch or thinning hair developing, you should see a dermatologist.
Why brush?

• Gentle brushing makes hair shine by flattening the cuticles (the outer layer of the hair shaft), which makes the hairs more reflective. Styling with a brush can also add volume to flat hair.  
• Brushing cleans the hair and scalp. It removes old hair, dead skin cells, chemical products and other deposits. Otherwise, these can encourage bacteria and clog the scalp’s pores and follicles.
• Brushing stimulates the capillaries of the scalp, increasing blood circulation and the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the hair follicles. Some say this encourages hair growth, even strengthening the roots and diminishing hair loss.
• The sebaceous glands produce sebum, a protective oil and natural conditioner. Brushing stimulates these glands and distributes sebum from the base of the hair along the shaft, making hair stronger, more resilient, less dry, smoother and shinier. Excess sebum may otherwise gather greasily on the scalp.

Brushing better

Straight hair? If you have straight or wavy hair, you should never brush your hair while it’s wet. Wet hair is weak, elastic and vulnerable to breakage.
- Try to style and handle wet hair as little as possible.
- If you must, use a wide-toothed comb while the hair still has conditioner in it, starting from the bottom and working gently up to the roots.
- Don’t tousle your hair with a towel – this is too rough and tangles the hair. Rather slowly wring out your hair, using your hands. Then air-dry, or wrap your hair in a towel. Wait until it’s almost dry before styling it.

• Curly hair? People with curly or textured hair, on the other hand, shouldn’t brush their hair when it’s dry – this will just create frizz. Tightly curled hair isn’t as weakened by moisture, and can be untangled and styled while damp, using a brush, comb or fingers.
- Use a hair pick if you don’t want to flatten down your curls.
- If you really need to untangle dry hair, comb with damp fingers.
- Use conditioner or anti-frizz hair products.

Brush from the bottom. Brushing long hair with strokes all the way from the roots can cause tugging and breakage. A gentler technique, especially if your hair is knotty, is to start brushing with short strokes from the bottom, moving from tips to roots, untangling in sections until the brush passes easily down the whole length of the hair.

• Be gentle.
- Avoid tugging vigorously on your hair as you brush or style it.
- Most hair needs brushing only two or three times a day, and just a few strokes.
- Generally, avoid handling your hair too much: wash, brush, style and use hair-care products in moderation.
- Excessive heat damages hair, so go easy on blow-drying and using flat-irons – and use the low heat setting.
- To avoid struggling with knots, use a moisturising conditioner or detangling spray.

Use the right brush for the job: Brushes come in a bewildering variety of shapes and sizes – ask your hairdresser for advice in choosing. Take into account the thickness and length of your hair, the sensitivity of your scalp and your preferred hairstyle.
- A paddle brush is a wide, flat brush that detangles and smoothes most hair types.
- Round-barrel brushes are used for styling hair and setting it in a curl.
- If you have short or very fine hair, use a thinner, softer-bristled brush.
- A natural-bristle brush is versatile, gentle and gives a glossy, smooth finish. Experts recommend boar's bristles. Nylon bristles are suited to detangling, but can pull – they’re suggested for people with thick hair. Sometimes a mix of natural and nylon bristles is best.
- A rubber cushion on the brush lets the bristles adjust to your head’s contours.

• Clean up. It’s important for hygiene reasons to keep brushes clean. Regularly remove hair from the brush and wash it at least once a month to remove oils, hair products, dust and other residue that you don’t want to transfer back to your head. Use warm water and a little shampoo; or soak in baking soda dissolved in water, before rinsing thoroughly. An old toothbrush is helpful for scrubbing between bristles. Replace your brush if it’s losing bristles.

(Health24, December 2013)

- Kiderman A et al. The effect of brushing on hair loss in women. 2009. The Journal of Dermatological Treatment.
- Robbins C and Kamath Y. Hair breakage during combing. 2007. Journal of Cosmetic Science.


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