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Hair Brushes 101


Mason Pearson Handy Bristle Brush 100% Boar Bristle

How do you know which hair brush is the right one for you? Simply follow along to brush-up on hair brush basics!

All hairbrushes are not created the same. Some are best for styling; others are ideal for creating smoothness. Hairdressing pros know that every brush has a specific styling purpose.

Check to see what type your stylist uses on your hair and ask why. If you like the results, buy the brush.

Here's what to look for when you shop for a great hair brush:

The Paddle Brush

The paddle brush, which is flat and wide, is best for brushing out long hair and for creating straight, smooth styles.

Think of a classic one-length style. It also gives you a mini scalp massage. Because of its size and shape, don't use this brush to style layers. It'll never add volume, which is what layers are for.

Cushion Style

This brush is best for medium-length hair that is naturally smooth and straight. The flat back of the brush reinforces the hair's sleekness.

You won't get any bend with this brush, although it, too, gives a scalp massage effect. Styles that this brush makes the most of are the box-shaped bob, the classic graduated cut and a disconnected outline. In the latter, hair appears to be more than one length; for example, the nape is shorter than the sides or vice versa. It's also called the bi-level cut.

Sculpting Brushes

Conair ProTech Smart Strip, Tourmaline, Ionic & Ceramic Nylon Medium Round Brush

This brush is great for backcombing to add volume to short, textured styles that need some movement.

It's also best for hairstyles which include short cuts, round layers and textured outlines. Think of choppy ends and razor enhanced perimeters.

Thermal Round Brush

These brushes are available in small, medium, large and jumbo-sized barrels.

When used with the heat of a blow dryer, the smaller round brushes act like rollers to create curl and movement. The larger round brushes smooth tresses and add body.

In both cases, the brush works because the metal core heats up, shaping the hair from the inside out. When you use your cool-shot feature (on your blow dryer), the metal core cools off. The length of your hair and the desired finished look determine which size brush to use.

Thermal Flat Brush

When used with the heat of a blow dryer, this brush acts like a flat iron that smoothes and straightens the hair, leaving it with no bend or lift. Again, the strongest effect comes from a metal base; although not all flat brushes have metal in them.

The brush provides an extreme, sleek finish; it is also vented to expedite drying time.

Brush How To Tips

Mason Pearson Handy Bristle Brush Boar Bristle Vented Brush

When used with the heat of a blow dryer, this brush acts like a flat iron that smoothes and straightens the hair, leaving it with no bend or lift.

Again, the strongest effect comes from a metal base; although not all flat brushes have metal in them. The brush provides an extreme, sleek finish; it is also vented to expedite drying time.

Whichever type of brush you use, hold the hair taut with the brush to create tension. This "stretches" the hair so it can form into the new shape. It also adds shine and polish to your finished look.

Do not use brushes on wet hair to de-tangle. Start with a wide-toothed comb, then use a brush to style hair after partially drying locks.

If your hair has a lot of static, it could be due to the weather, dry indoor office air or a fine hair type, but you can also get static if your brush has plastic bristles or tines. In this instance, switch to a natural bristle brush or mist hair spray on the brush and restyle.

Incidentally, while some stars swear by boar bristle brushes, other natural bristle brushes are similar.

Conair Mini Boar Quill Cushion Bristle Brush

Whenever you backcomb your hair, start with a small section at the crown, brush from an inch or so above the root area straight down, pick up another parting behind the first one and repeat.

You can use a sculpting brush for this, but often, a comb permits more control. Smooth the surface with a brush after using a comb to backcomb roots.

Other brush tips include:

  • Look for brushes that have ball tips that are molded as part of the bristle. Ball tips that are glued or otherwise attached can pull hair and cause breakage. Throw out brushes with broken tips.
  • Good brushes are an investment; if they are good quality and well cared for, they should last years.
  • The natural shedding of hair, scalp exfoliation and oils can build up on brushes and deter the performance.
  • To clean brushes, use the end of a tail comb to lift and loosen hair. Then soak brushes in warm water with a bit of cleansing shampoo. Rinse in clean, clear water and remove any remaining hair. Shake or pat the brush with a towel to remove excess moisture, then place the brush cushion-side down on a towel and allow to air-dry.

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- Revised Publication Date: 01/22/11

About Victoria Wurdinger

Victoria Wurdinger is an award-winning writer and researcher who specializes in business and beauty. She has written for dozens of magazines, including Longevity, Drug Store News, Beauty Digest, Drug & Cosmetic Industry, Modern Salon, Art Business News, British Hairdressers Journal, Celebrity Hairstyles, Color & Style, Beauty Store Business, Studio and Day Spa. Victoria has also authored several books, including "Competition Hairdesign," "Home Haircutting Made Easy," "The Photo Session Handbook" and "Multicultural Clients." She has won several American Society of Business Press Editors awards, not only for her writing but for her design and layout concepts.

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