NatashaK asks… I have noticed that my hair looks its absolute best (volume + less frizz + not greasy) 3 days after I shampoo it. I was hoping to attain this effect faster (like on day 2), and I figure using my natural scalp oils is the best way to do that. My question is: What flipping hairbrush will best take some of my top-of-head oils all the way to the ends of my hair (about 2ft)? I have been using a paddle brush for as long as I can remember. I have a fear of combs fostered by a childhood filled with knotty hair and tears. I have found that bristle brushes don’t really get all the way through my hair (only brushes the top layer), but I haven’t picked one up in about 10 years and would be willing to try again.
The Right Brain responds:
Natasha, this is a really great question. I just wish we had an equally great answer. We couldn’t find any definitive information on this in the scientific literature but we do have some thoughts that could be helpful. There are two basic factors we’d look at in trying to answer this question: how well does the styling tool distribute oil and how much damage does it cause to the hair.
One article we found pointed out the intuitively obvious fact that different combs and brushes will work differently depending on their structure, “with the spacing between teeth or bristles having an influence. However, in principle, different comb or bristle materials may also have a different tendency for abrasion.” (1) We can also hypothesize that they will have different efficacy in spreading scalp oils throughout the hair. Theoretically, boar’s hair brushes would do a better job because they would have a greater affinity for oils than plastic brushes. This is purely an educated guess but we’d expect boar bristles to act as a better reservoir for scalp oils than plastic bristles.
A second study shows the importance of the brush or comb bristles configuration. It compared hair breakage resulting from use of three different styling implements; first a Goody flat paddle style brush with featuring plastic bristles with blue bulbous tips with a bristle bulb diameter of 0.2134 cm. (We’re not saying that’s a critical factor, we just like using phrases like “bristle bulb diameter.”) The second tool was a cylindric Prive styling brush also containing plastic bristles with a smaller bristle bulb diameter of 0.1118 cm. Finally an Ace comb of unspecified dimensions and, presumably, 0 cm bristle bulb diameter.
Results showed that both brushes and combs cause hair breakage because hairs become “looped” around individual bristles. Once they are looped, the friction increases and the hair can be pulled out or broken. Interestingly the data showed that brushing causes more long hairs to break while combing does just the opposite: it produces more short broken hairs.
This difference in breakage is apparently due to the fact that brushes create more looping higher up in the hair and tend to keep the ends apart. This is because brush bristles are further apart than the comb teeth and they are configured in multiple rows and columns. In addition, the brushes tend to distribute the hair over a wider area than a comb which tends to confine the hairs to a narrow path. In terms of oil distribution then, a brush could provide a better opportunity for even oil spreading. (2)
The Beauty Brains bottom line
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any hard data to answer your oil spreading question. Our best guess based on the information we’ve seen: use a wide tooth comb to detangle and a natural fiber bristle brush (like boar’s hair) to distribute oils through your hair. You’ll have to experiment to get the configuration that’s right for you, but at least now you know what to look for.
J. Cosmet. Sci., 61, 439–455 (November/December 2010) A statistical analysis of hair breakage. II. Repeated grooming experiments. Trefor A. Evans and Kimun Park.
J. Cosmet Sci., 58, 629-636 (November/December 2007) Hair breakage during combing IV: Brushing and combing hair. Clarence Robbins and Yash Kamath.