Hairbrushes are the genius concoction someone made up when they strapped a bunch of combs together, god only knows how long ago. Today, there is a massive selection of tools available, with newfangled modifications or incredibly well-made old-fashioned models, and basically all of them can help in some way.
But how do you chose when presented with so many options?!
By breaking down the categories of brushes most used in the salon and at home, you can gain a better understanding of what you can do to help achieve a style or perform proper maintenance on your hair.
Brushes are used for a variety of tasks. They are not only for detangling; this is but one action of one type of hairbrush. Brushes are used to condition, shape, style, and polish the hair. They can be used to sculpt and mold curls, smooth and straighten texture, or to physically polish the cuticle layer into smoothness. I couldn’t style my own hair to save my life before figuring out how to actually use a damned hairbrush properly.
Bristles are the most obvious feature of a brush, and can be easily assessed to categorize a brush. Are they metal, plastic, or natural material?
A metal bristle, like on the Ion Titanium Vented Ionic Brush, likely indicates a styling-only brush not suited to detangle or groom.
A plastic bristle on its own, like on the Brush Strokes Wooden Cushion Paddle Brush, is likely a detangling brush and can be used for light duty styling.
Natural bristles, as on the Brush Strokes Oval Boar Bristle Cushion Paddle Brush, were the first type to become available, and are very suitable for grooming, but not always detangling, and are used for a specific type of styling.
Combination bristle brushes, like the Mason Pearson Bristle & Nylon Hair Brush, are great for triple duty; they can detangle, groom, and have enough tension for styling.
Your choice in bristle depends on your styling needs and preferences. Natural bristles can be made from boar hair, which is obviously not vegan, and sometimes a loofah-like fiber, but this has little tension. A vegan alternative to boar bristle brushes is nylon, but this can create static and does not create as much shine as boar. Plastic bristles can be rubber tipped, for easy detangling, or left uncapped to allow more grabbing power for styling.
After bristles, look at the body of the brush, where the bristles are sticking out. If you can see through the brush, it is vented. This means it was created to be used with a blowdryer to allow the air to flow through it. Vented brushes are usually made of wood, plastic, metal, or coated metal.
Rubber-based brushes can be either cushioned or hard. A hard rubber brush base, like that of the Denman D4, reduces static and polishes the cuticle as hair is being brushed. A cushioned rubber base, like Jilbere's Ergo-Grip Oval Cushion Brush, is meant to give way when met with resistance. This provides two things: reduced breakage when detangling, and loose tension when using to style, which is useful when a light hand is needed in styling to preserve curl (or lack thereof).
When the bristles are coming directly out of wood or plastic, the base is not an important part of the design, nor are they meant to even make contact with the hair.
Another important feature of the body of the brush is the shape. Handles are generally similar. They are sometimes ergonomic and comfort-based, and sometimes just plain cut wood. Professional-grade tools tend to have more comfort than mainstream brands.
Look at the shape of the brush; they come in either round, paddle, or Denman. Paddle-style brushes are either rectangular or oval-shaped, or any width of rectangle. Flat brushes are for straightening, detangling, and grooming. Denman is actually a brand that manufactures all types of brushes, but also the commonly used name of a specific type of styling brush with a curved hard rubber base. Other brands make them, but they are not labeled as Denman brushes, though they are often referred to as such.
Round brushes get their own section because their creation revolutionized the possibilities of styling hair with a blow dryer. They behave as giant hot tools, as they heat up and work with the hair to shape it into a long-lasting and shiny style.
The amount of curl depends on the size of the brush. A round brush smaller than 1½ inches will add more volume and curl, while a larger than 2-inch barrel will provide a more smoothing effect. The length of the hair and original texture also plays a role in the end result, but round brushes provide the tension and help with the dexterity needed to expertly polish hair strands.
Some prefer vented round brushes, some boar bristles, like with the Beautique Thermal Ceramic. I personally love a vented medium sized brush with a ceramic coating, like Ion's Anti-Frizz Thermal Round Brush. It is versatile enough to create curl or smoothness, and provides excellent body. A ceramic coating heats up to help further polish the cuticle.
These are obviously not the only types of brushes available for use or on the market. Brushes exist that mimic smoothing irons, have microfiber bristles, oil-infused bristles, concave shapes, conical shapes, extra-large shapes, and countless other innovations. Honorable mention goes to the tangle teezer, a traditional-style club brushes like Acca Kappa's, looped bristle wig brushes like Scalpmaster's, and rattail teasing brushes.
I can already hear some people gearing up to tell me that they can’t ever brush their hair, usually due to texture. It is important to remember that there are important benefits to hair brushing, such as distributing sebum from the scalp to the lengths, something curly girlies have an even harder time achieving naturally, which is why occasionally brushing is almost more important.
Some common myths about brushing are simply not to ever do it. It is true that improper brushing technique can harm the hair, but correct, gentle brushing and detangling is good for the hair, as it provides scalp stimulation and grooms the cuticle. Curls are not harmed or broken by brushing, only slightly loosened.
At absolute minimum, hair and scalp should be thoroughly brushed before washing and carefully detangled after, no matter what texture you posses.