The Hair Channel

The golden rules of brushing your hair

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Anna Brech
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There can’t be much magic to brushing, right? Well – you’d be surprised.

More than simply correcting bed-hair, this everyday routine is actually key to maintaining great tresses.

“Brushing your hair stimulates the blood flow in your scalp,” says leading stylist Karine Jackson. “It helps exfoliate the dead skin cells, keeping the sebaceous glands stimulated which create natural oils to protect your hair.”

By honing our technique slightly, we could go a long way to making our locks healthier. And unlike colouring or a treatment, this method for better hair is simple and free.

From over-brushing to not cleaning the brush and tearing from the roots, some of Stylist’s favourite hairstylists and technicians explain common mistakes we all make: and how to correct them.

Plus, they provide a few extra nuggets of wisdom for brushing extensions and afro hair...

Wash your hairbrush regularly

“The first thing you should make sure of is that your brushes are clean to keep your hair dirt-free and tangle-free,” says Anya Dellicompagni, Francesco Group’s director of hairdressing.

“Brushing your hair distributes the oils, which – in moderation – helps to keep your hair healthy and shiny, maintaining a smooth finish and nourishing the strands,” says Anna Grotkamp, co-owner of Blowout Ibiza. “With a dirty, un-maintained brush, you are actually spreading all of the old product, dead skin and a build-up of natural oil that the brush is harbouring. Keep your brush in great condition by giving it a wash with your regular shampoo to avoid the build-up, and treat your hair to a healthy sheen.”

“Just like your makeup brushes, you should also wash your hair brush once a week,” says Craig Taylor, creative director at Hari’s Hair Salons. “The bristles can get clogged up from stray hairs as well as excess product build-up. Just think – when you use your brush on freshly clean hair the next day, you’re actually applying the product residue from the day before.” He recommends the following three steps for a good clean:

  • First remove any hair caught in the bristles and then run the brush under warm water
  • Add shampoo and work it into the bristles, creating a foam
  • Rinse the brush completely and set on a towel until dry

“Renew your hairbrushes often as they can deteriorate and harbour germs,” says Nicky Marcar, owner of Salon Ten. “Don’t forget to check the hairbrush for breakages, as worn out hairbrushes can damage the hair.”

“Don’t keep old tattered brushes, they can cause split ends if the bristles are worn or bent,” adds Edwina Hayes, owner of Street Life Hair.

Make sure you use the right kind of brush

“Make sure you know what type of hair you have,” says Roni Chapman, senior stylist at The Chapel. “It sounds obvious I know, but it affects the way you should brush it and what type of brush you should use. If you have straight hair, then I would recommend investing in a non-static brush. This means that when you brush your hair, it will help to keep the cuticles flat and increases the shine of your hair.”

“Use a paddle brush, as this is the best option for brushing your hair,” says Jordan Mooney, freelance hairstylist and Great Lengths educator. “The brush de-tangles your hair but remains gentle, as the bristles in the brush are further apart.”

“A big paddle brush is the best option for pretty much anyone,” says  Latenda Kalimba, owner of Latenda Hair salon. “However, if your hair is afro or prone to tangling, then it's best to choose a paddle brush with super soft bristles. The bristles should be sturdy enough to tug at tangles but yet gentle enough to not cause any damage during brushing.” 

“A common problem people have when it comes to brushing their hair is that they are using the wrong brushes,” says Neil Barton, owner of Neil Barton Hairdressing. “I recommend using a paddle brush for brushing hair when it’s dry. They are gentler as the teeth are further apart and they are great for stimulating and massaging the scalp.”

Brush from the ends up

“Always brush your hair from the ends up,” says Craig. “Starting from the bottom allows you to tackle tangles along the hair shaft without damage.”

“Always brush your hair from the bottom, working your way up to the top, as if you brush from the top down to the bottom you risk pulling your follicle out at its root,” says Karen Thomson, owner of KAM Hair and Body Spa.

“Don’t brush knotty hair from the roots to the ends, work from the ends up to the top,” agrees Katie Allan, creative manager at Charles Worthington Salons

“Always separate hair into sections and brush the hair layer by layer,” says Latenda.

Distribute oils from your roots

“Although starting from the bottom up is the best way to get rid of tangles, our hair still needs distribution of natural oils from the scalp to keep it healthy,” says Dylan Brittain, artistic director and owner of Rainbow Room George Square.

“To distribute the natural oils from the scalp down the hair, use a soft-bristle or paddle brush once or twice a week. Using a brush with hard bristles is likely to break the hair as you brush down.”

“Always pay special attention to brushing your roots, as that’s where all the natural oils are,” says Jordan. “These oils will not make your hair greasy, but naturally strengthen it.”

“Brushing your hair can give it a great shine because you’re spreading the natural oils to the ends,” says Karine.

Avoid over-brushing

“I would advise only brushing your hair twice a day, in the morning and in the evening to keep it shiny, healthy and tangle-free,” says Anya. “Never over-brush, as this can make your hair weaker and cause split ends.”

“You should avoid over-brushing your hair when it doesn't need it and save the brushing for once, maybe twice a day if necessary,” says Roni.

“Don’t over brush hair as this can cause more breakage. Brushing too often can also cause static from the friction,” says Craig. “Focus on the quality of the brushing, not the number of strokes. Eliminate the knots and you’re done.”

“The '100 strokes a night’ is a myth,” adds Karine. However, she says, “iff you’re growing your hair, brushing is great to stimulate the blood flow which encourages healthy hair growth.”

De-tangle from the ends, using  sections

“If hair is knotty don’t start brushing from the roots. This will make it worse by pushing all the knots into one ball,” says Karine.

“Split the hair into four sections, hold the hair gently between the ends and the root, and then start brushing gently from the ends. You think it will take longer but it doesn’t and it’s much better for the hair: the knots will fall out quicker.”

“By brushing from the top, you could be tightening any tangles that are there, and tearing these will lead to fly-aways,” says Anna. “Gently de-tangle from the end.”

“Move up the hair shaft a few inches at a time, removing tangles in small sections,” says Craig.

“A soft bristled grooming brush is best for tangled hair,” says Edwina. “Gliding it softly over hair avoids breakage.”

Be very gentle with wet hair

“Don’t brush your hair when it is wet, as that is when hair is most vulnerable,” says Jordan. “You’ll find that when the hair is damp, the shaft of your hair becomes weakened.”

“Never brush your hair when it’s wet; this stretches the hair and can cause it to break,” says Karine.

“Hair is weak and more prone to snapping as the hair fibres get filled with moisture, causing them to stretch,” says Craig. “Because the strands are now weaker, breakage is much more common. Blot dry your hair before de-tangling.”  

“Wet hair is weaker and can be damaged more easily,” says Karen. “Avoid using a proper brush until your hair is dry.”

“Only afro hair can be brushed whilst wet, all other hair types should avoid too much manipulation whilst hair is wet,” says Latenda. “Water weakens the hair shaft and leaves hair vulnerable.”


Don’t dry brush curly hair

“Don’t brush dry curly hair if you like the natural curl,” says Katie. “It will go fluffy. But if you have used a heated appliance such as a dryer or tong to create curls then brushing with a soft brush is OK for a relaxed wave.”

“As a general rule, for curly hair, never brush it when it's dry,” says Roni. “I cannot stress this enough, not only will it make your hair go frizzy, and could lead to damage.  A lot of brushes are quite tough and could end up splitting your hair. When you do need to brush it, the most effective way would be to use a comb when it's wet and comb it through. Then you can dry it with a diffuser in order to maximise your texture.” 

Don’t tear though your hair

Being gentle when brushing your hair is my top tip,” says Dean Jones, owner of Dean Jones Hairdressing. “Always be kind and never drag the brush through your hair if it is tangled.”

“You shouldn't hear a ripping sound when brushing you hair -  this is breakage so be avoided at all costs,” says Edwina.

Extra brushing tips for bonded extensions

“Make sure you use the recommended brush which is designed to eliminate matting and preserve the longevity of the bond,” says Amanda Jackson, hair extensionist and creative hair specialist.

“Always section hair off and start on the underneath, make sure you brush from the root to mid lengths and going over the bonds. Then holding the hair with one hand from the mid lengths continue to brush the ends- this with minimise undue tension on the natural hair.

“Never just brush from below the bond and never back brush from the root to bond area as this will cause matting.”

Extra brushing tips for afro hair

“When it comes to brushing my afro hair, there are several protocols I follow,” says beauty journalist Sue Omar.

“If my hair is in its natural state, then the brushing ritual begins in the bathroom, both before and during the cleansing process. That’s because I have very thick, shoulder-length curls that can get easily tangled if I don’t divide my hair into sections and take the utmost care when brushing from tip (always start at the tip to avoid breakage) to root. 

“I like to spritz some water onto my strands to hydrate my curls, which makes it easier to de-tangle and brush through each section. I also like to brush my hair in the shower as I condition my strands as it makes it easier to manage once dry and is less likely to break. After styling my hair, I would only reach for a brush to smooth-down any flyaways or frizz throughout the day.

“If my hair is in a weave with some of my natural hair left out at the edges and parting then I have to treat these two textures differently when brushing. My natural hair leave-out will need to be brushed in the same way that I comb my natural hair. Whereas the human hair extensions can be groomed when dry with a lightweight serum instead, from the root-down, so that it blends in with my natural hair seamlessly and lies flat.”

Images unless stated otherwise: iStock


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.