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Is backcombing bad for your hair?

Katy’s combing question: A lot if my friends backcomb their hair. They say it adds more volume. My hair is fairly short and I tried this but I looked like a bird’s nest. What type of products would you recommend for people with short thin hair who are looking for a little extra volume boost for their hair?

The Right Brain’s reply:

Good question, Katy. The answer is a combination of hair biology and product chemistry.

What is backcombing?

As the name implies, backcombing means you literally comb your hair backwards. Instead of moving the comb from root to tip, you reverse the direction and comb your hair from tip to root. This kind of combing is also known as “teasing.” It’s an old stylist trick to give your hair more volume.

The good news – it works

Does it really work? You bet! Why? Because you’re combing your hair against the grain, so to speak. Look at your hair under a microscope, or, if you don’t have a microscope handy, you can look at the picture at the right. The hair is covered by small scales, known as cuticles, that make a hair shaft look a little like the bark on a palm tree. As the hair grows, the cuticles form in such a way that the leading edge is facing toward the end of your hair shaft.

When you back comb, you’re scraping the edge of the cuticle in the opposition direction. This action causes lifts the cuticle up and makes it stand away from the hair shaft. The more cuticles you lift up, the more volume your hair will have because each little piece of cuticle will push away the hair shaft laying next to it. You can create tons of volume by combing this way.

The bad news – it’s damaging

The bad news is that back combing is very bad for your hair. When you lift up those little pieces of cuticle, they never return to their nice flat arrangement, no matter what you do to your hair. Instead, they become increasingly loose and eventually break off. Once you remove enough layers of cuticles, your hair shaft will be damaged and you’ll create a split end. If it helps you to visualize it, think of cuticles like the shingles on the roof of a house. When they lay nice and flat they form a protective barrier on the roof that keeps the rain out of your bedroom. But when the shingles become loose, they break off and the next thing you know, the roof leaks and you’ve got a water stained carpet. That’s how cuticles work on your hair. Except for the part about staining your carpet.

Is there any safe way to boost volume?

Are there any good products that will allow you to boost volume without requiring you to scrape off your cuticle layer by layer? Sure, you can use a styling product to give the hair fibers some stiffness. Mousses and root boost stylers can coat your hair, providing some interaction that makes the fibers lift up and stand apart to it temporarily creates volume. Of course, this kind of volume disappears once you wash the product out of your hair. But does ANYTHING really last in this crazy modern world we live in? Here are few products you might try:

5 Popular Volume Boosters

Tresemme Volume Big Boost Root Lift Spray

Catwalk Root Boost

Paul Mitchell Root Boost

Redken Full Frame Volumizing Mousse

Rusk Full Volume Mousse

What’s your favorite tip or trick for adding volume to your hair? Leave a comment and share your secrets with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.

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