The Hair Channel

Six golden rules for backcombing your hair

Posted by
Stylist Team
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Backcombing is a great way of achieving instant volume and lift.

Depending on the style you’re after, you can go full-on bouffant  (hello, 80s throwback) or a something a little more subtle. Either way, this time-honoured method is more than capable of packing a visual punch.

While backcombing – or teasing, as it’s sometimes known - can seem daunting, it’s an easy enough technique once you know what you’re doing.

Master the correct method and you won’t cause any damage or breakage to your hair, either.

Here are six golden rules to get you started on the wondrous art of backcombing. Say hello to your recipe for party-ready pizzazz:

Backcombing: a great way of creating instant drama
Backcombing: a great way of creating instant drama and oomph

1. Use a good hairbrush

Your very first step should be to invest in a hairbrush that’s been specifically designed to tackle backcombing, such as Tangle Teezer's new volumising hairbrush. This will create added friction against the hair, working with you as you build volume and hold.

2. Create added texture

Backcombing will naturally work best with hair that’s one or several days’ old. That gives it the residue grit and texture that will hold when you start creating lift. Alternatively, you can wash your hair with a volumising shampoo and conditioner before you get started, so it’s bouncy and malleable. 

It's all about the va va voom
It's all about the va va voom

3. Divide and rule

Section the front of your hair off at either side, and secure with grips or elastics. This frees you up to concentrate on the back and crown of the hair, where the backcombing will take place. Divide this section into compact, manageable strips of around 1-2 inches in width. This creates a tight, controlled basis from which to start teasing. Go for slimmer sections if you want more volume, or wider ones for a looser look.

4. Use short strokes 

Before you begin backcombing each section of hair, make sure you brush it through normally so it begins smooth and tangle-free. Hold each section taut and backcomb the underside down in three short strokes. Don’t go for long strokes, or backcomb the whole length of hair, otherwise you’ll lose control and consistency of the look. Focus on the area closest to the root to create powerful volume. You could add a little hairspray to the roots as you go too, for added hold. 

Kate Moss goes overboard with the look, at the height of the grunge-filled '90s
Kate Moss goes overboard with the look, at the height of the grunge-esque '90s

5. Be gentle and consistent

Slow and steady wins the race with backcombing. The key (and most difficult) part is achieving uniformity. To do this, you need to be fluid and consistent with your brushing movement. Use the same three-short-strokes technique for each section of hair, and make sure each section is roughly the same width. This ensures the resulting style isn’t lumpy or uneven. Be firm but gentle; tearing through your hair will result in follicle damage, as well as risking the classic bird’s nest vibe that you’re trying to avoid.

6. Take care when you’re brushing it out

When you’re ready to brush the back-combing out, again be gentle and easy with it. Tearing at your hair will cause unnecessary damage. Instead, use a de-tangling brush with soft bristles and lightly brush through the styling. Start from the ends and work your way up to the roots in small, delicate movements. Make sure you do this before you shower (otherwise you’ll end up with a viscous clump of knots). As an extra act of kindness to your locks, use moisturising conditioner or hair mask in your next shower, and brush through as you wash.

Images: iStock and Rex Features