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Here’s Everything You Need to Know About How to Brush Your Hair the Right Way

Manage your mane and promote overall hair health with these brushing techniques and tips from pro stylists

You’ve probably been brushing your hair for as long as you can remember. At some point, you were likely given a brush and taught to rake it through your tresses to freshen them up. Maybe you go through the motions of brushing quickly when getting ready in the morning, or perhaps you look forward to leisurely brushing before going to bed. No matter when or where you brush, though, chances are you haven’t given much thought to how you brush and whether you’re doing it with the right tool for your hair. And other than the obvious — that brushing prevents knots from forming in your strands — are you aware of the other benefits proper brushing can bring to your mane? Do you know when to brush versus when to comb?

If these questions have you feeling like more of a brushing beginner than ever, don’t worry. It’s never too late to learn how to brush hair correctly so you can really reap the benefits of this practice. “Hair brushing is such an awesome way to weave ritual into your self-care routine, from keeping your scalp healthy and stimulated while pulling oils from your congested roots to your dry ends, to just checking in with yourself and taking the time to slow down and care for your body,“ says Bree Ritter, a hairstylist and educator for Hairstory. “Brushing helps disperse natural oils we produce and helps rid us of all the hairs that we lose a day — an average 50 to 100 — which can help with future knotting and breakage.”

Related: Scalp Brush Benefits: How This Inexpensive Tool Can Help Regrow Thinning Hair

Now that you know how important brushing truly is for hair health, get ready to level up your brushing game with this comprehensive, pro stylist-backed guide on how to brush hair. You’ll also learn what to use to detangle for the very best results, from brushes to styling products.

woman properly brushing hair
kzenon/Getty

Is there a right way to brush hair?

White there’s no single right way to brush all hair, there’s a right way to brush your hair to keep it looking and feeling healthy. This means there’s a specific technique for brushing — and a certain type of brush — that’s best suited to your texture and length to ensure your hair stays tangle-free, your natural oils get distributed throughout your strands for protection and dryness prevention and that your scalp gets regularly exfoliated to encourage new hair growth.

Related: 11 Best Hair Growth Products for Women Over 50 to Treat Thinning, According to Hair Loss Experts

Depending on your hair type, you might find the state of your hair — whether wet or dry — also can impact the outcome of your brushing. So you’ll want to optimize when and maybe even where you brush, too. And if your hair tends to tangle in between washes, certain styling products can make brushing easier so you don’t do any damage to your strands as you brush. Read on to discover each of these difference makers for your unique mane.

What to avoid when brushing hair

As a rule, brushing should make your hair more manageable and be done in a gentle way that strengthens hair — not damages it. For that reason, celebrity hairstylist Sophie Rose Gutterman says your hair shouldn’t already be so tangled that it can’t actually be brushed easily. “If the hair feels knotted to the point that it doesn’t feel like a brush will help, proceed with caution,” says Gutterman. “Brushing can make a knot worse.” Untangling a knot is typically a job that requires pairing a rich conditioner or mask with a comb to patiently work that individual problem area out.

Essentially, you don’t want to brush hair when it’s in any weakened state. That’s why most stylists advise against brushing soaking wet hair, when in or straight out of the shower. “Hair becomes more elastic when it is wet and is more likely to snap and break when it’s brushed like that, which is why I’m such a stan for dry brushing,” says Ritter.

The big exception to this rule, though? Naturally curly hair and even some wavy types. “When the hair is curly, the only time I recommend brushing the hair is in the shower with conditioner in it,” says Gutterman. “You can brush the hair when it’s dry, but this will cause a lot of frizz because you’re breaking up the natural texture. This is so important because not only does the water help with the detangling, but you can also use a mask in place of a conditioner and treat your hair at the same time.”

Related: Here’s How Hair Plopping — the Viral Curl-Drying Technique — Adds Definition, Bounce + Shine: No Heat Needed

How to brush hair (properly)

mature woman brushing hair at ends
FG Trade/Getty

Remember that brushing trick you might have learned when you were younger? Where you flip your head upside down and run the brush through the back bottom layer of your hair, from the nape of your neck to the ends, then flip your head up and brush from the ends upward, working through the shafts in sections until you get to the crown and can finally glide the brush fully downward on your strands? Well, turns out this method is a tried-and-true way of working your natural oils through your hair for manageability and shine.

As a technique, it adheres to something most stylists advocate for, regardless of hair texture: starting at the ends with steady, downward strokes and gradually working your way up the hair shaft in sections before brushing scalp-down to the ends. This can help reduce how much tugging or strain you put on your hair as you brush it, since you’re gently detangling from the bottom up as you go. You don’t have to flip over your head first, if you don’t want to. But you should brush from the tips to the top of your head, working in sections, especially if your hair is prone to tangling.

“If your hair is super tangly and you have issues with snagging and ripping it while detangling it, try starting from the bottom and slowly working your way up, methodically working through it until you get to the top,” says Ritter. “Then focus on bringing all that stagnation from the scalp back down and brushing those natural oils through your ends.”

Related: Hair Experts’ Top 5 Tips for a Healthy Scalp to Help Reverse Hair Loss, Dandruff and More

How often you should brush your hair

As far as how much to brush at a given time, maybe you’ve heard the figure of 100 strokes thrown around, but honestly, it’s less important to hit a certain number versus just thoroughly addressing your whole head. Brushing should feel soothing — not stressful — so keep that in mind as you move the brush through your strands.

As far as how often to brush, you’ll have to experiment to see what works best for your hair type there, too. “Depending on how long you go in between washes, you definitely want to maintain the hair by brushing to prevent tangles and breakage,” says Gutterman.

For those with straighter hair, she recommends brushing at least twice a day, maybe once in the morning after you wake up and once before bed. If you have drier hair, you might want to add an extra session to keep the oils moving from your scalp to the ends throughout the day. Those with curly and very wavy textures, though, might only brush their hair when washing it in the shower (of course, you might need to detangle in between washes by dampening your hair and using your fingers or a comb to gently separate pieces or smooth messy coils). No matter your hair type, Gutterman says not to skip over your scalp when brushing, since it helps to exfoliate the area, which, again, promotes circulation as well as new hair growth.

How to brush hair based on hair type

mature woman brushing curly hair
AzmanL/Getty

The tricky thing about hair brushing is that there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. “Everyone’s hair is different, and there are as many types of tools as there are hair types and then some,” says Ritter. “People with straighter hair can probably just brush their hair and have it look pretty similar to how it was before, whereas people with very curly hair notice their hair changes dramatically from its set curl pattern when brushed out.” This is why straight hair types, again, can dry brush and brush somewhat damp, if the latter is carefully done with a brush that’s specifically designed for wet hair (but more on that later). On the other hand, it’s not advised to brush curly hair that isn’t wet, damp or thoroughly hydrated with a product that has a considerable amount of slip, or lubrication; otherwise, you risk breakage.

The best hair brushes

Turns out the type of brush you use matters, too. “The main difference in brushes varies when it comes to styling/hair health,” says Ritter. “Just about everyone can use one type of brush (or scalp massager) for exfoliating their scalp, but they may differ in which styling tool they gravitate towards. Finding that tool is its own journey, and you have to figure out what is right for you and your hair.” Add one of these pro picks to your brushing arsenal by choosing based on your hair type and whether you’re going to brush dry or wet.

Best brush for straight to wavy hair (damp/wet)

That Girl That Did Your Hair Knotty Brush
That Girl That Did Your Hair

That Girl That Did Your Hair Knotty Brush

For straight to wavy textures, Gutterman likes the Knotty Brush, which can be used on dry or damp hair, though Gutterman recommends it specifically for careful wet brushing. “It has a unique hole in the middle, making it easy to clean,” she says. “The bristles are also great for scalp exfoliation.”

Best brush for curly hair (wet)

Detangler Brush by Felicia Leatherwood
Brush With The Best/Felicia Leatherwood/Amazon

Detangler Brush by Felicia Leatherwood

“This brush is best for my curly girlies in the shower,” says Gutterman of Felicia Leatherwood’s brush with widely-spaced, thick acrylic-plastic flexi-bristles, perfect for upholding natural curl and coil patterns without snagging them or causing split ends. “Notice there is no vent or space that will harbor bacteria. You can keep this in the shower and use it to detangle the hair while treating it with conditioner.”

Best brush for detangling straight to wavy hair (dry)

Paul Mitchell Pro Tools 427 Paddle Brush
Paul Mitchell

Paul Mitchell Pro Tools 427 Paddle Brush

Gutterman says Sheila Stotts’ Untangle Brush is the “most iconic brush” for dry detangling, thanks to its metal bristles that are soft on the scalp and strands. It’s $39, though, so she says Paul Mitchell’s Paddle Brush is a decent, half-priced dupe that can also be used for blow drying. “It also comes in two sizes so you can put one in your purse,” she adds.

When do you brush hair vs. comb hair

To answer that question, Ritter likes to think of brushing versus combing this way: She turns to brushes for broad strokes and combs for detail work. What does that mean exactly? You might grab a comb to carefully detangle a particularly bad knot, for example, or to section or part your hair. But, no matter your hair type, the brush is what you’ll want to use for most of your detangling and smoothing needs to promote overall hair health.

How to comb hair

Similar to brushing, Ritter says it’s best to start at the bottom of your hair and work your way up when combing, especially if you have tangly hair. As is the case with brushing, combing this way prevents breakage and damage.

The best products to use to help detangle hair

Need a little help in the detangling department? In addition to using the right brush for your tresses, any of these products can help you get the job done.

Unite 7 Seconds Leave In Detangler
Unite/Planet Beauty

Unite 7 Seconds Leave In Detangler

“I like this for detangling on wet hair because it also has heat protection,” says Gutterman of Unite 7 Second Detangler, a leave-in conditioner spray. A few spritzes are all you need to seal your strands’ cuticle and make it a bit more manageable before brushing or styling.

Hairstory Massaging Scalp Brush
Hairstory

Hairstory Massaging Scalp Brush

For Ritter, detangling starts in the shower, no matter your hair type. She recommends using the Hairstory Massaging Scalp Brush while you are washing to ensure you’re removing dirt and build-up from your scalp. That way, brushing the hair is easier, says Ritter, and “the oils are able to travel to the ends without anything in the way.” 

All About Curls Divine Treatment Mask
All About Curls/Amazon

All About Curls Divine Treatment Mask

“The All About Curls Divine Treatment Mask is a great mask to use when detangling in the shower and will help heal the hair while using it,” says Gutterman, who consults with the brand. She recommends it for curly and wavy textures.

Kerastase Elixir Ultime L'Huile Original Hair Oil
Kerastase

Kerastase Elixir Ultime L’Huile Original Hair Oil

“The Kerastase gold oil is great to add to dry hair, mids to ends, prior to brushing,” says Gutterman. “This nourishing oil will moisturize and act as a treatment in the hair as well.” A little goes a long way; dispense just a few drops and work it through your strands with your hands to distribute it before brushing.

KMS Therma Shape Quick Blow Dry
KMS

KMS Therma Shape Quick Blow Dry

“Another little hack that might seem weird: This KMS Heat Protection Spray has been a secret detangle hack of mine for years,” says Ritter. “The slip in it is great, and since it’s not water-based, it doesn’t make the hair too elastic.”


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