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Comb vs. Brush: Is There a Difference?

Written by Alexa Adler
Comb vs. Brush: Is There a Difference?

Your hair’s health is an accumulation of lots of different factors. The products you use, the environment you’re in, and the diet you eat all play a role in determining what your hair looks like and how quickly it grows

But there are also styling choices that impact your hair’s health. You’re probably already familiar with some. These days, we really encourage people to minimize their heat styling, keeping blow drying, straightening, and curling to one day a week, max.

It’s also a good idea to wear your hair in loose ponytails rather than tight ones and switch up your hairstyles regularly to avoid tension-related hair thinning. All of these choices make a difference. Even the smallest choices, like what you use to detangle your hair and when you choose to do it. We’re talking about the age-old debate: comb vs. brush. Is there really a difference? And which one is better for hair health? Keep reading to get all the details on how to protect your hair best when detangling it.

What Are the Key Differences Between Combs and Brushes?

There are a few obvious differences between brushes and combs, but because we like to be thorough, let’s talk about what separates these two devices.

Combs

Combs are handheld strips with teeth all along them. The distance between the teeth determines how the hair is combed. Wide tooth combs leave you with thick hair clumps, while fine tooth combs leave you with smooth, thin clumps that resemble what you get with brushing. It’s natural for hair to clump together and knot when it air dries without being brushed. Combs are slightly less effective at detangling dry hair because they require more leverage to work the teeth through the hair strands.

That said, on wet hair, they can actually be less damaging. More on that later.

Brushes

Brushes are held by a handle with bristles at the end which separate and detangle the hair. 

Brushes come in all sizes, and you’ll find that their bristles can be made of anything, from boar hair to wood to silicon to plastic. Brushes also come in a variety of head shapes. You can use a flat brush, a circular brush, a curved brush, or a brush designed to be used in the shower on wet hair. Whether you use a comb or a brush, you’re putting your hair through some damage every time you brush your hair. It’s why your hair brush or comb will generally have some stray hairs on them after they pass through your scalp and strands — p.s., when was the last time you cleaned your hair brush? 

We’re willing to bet it was too long. Go do that, please! Hair shedding happens during detangling because individual hairs loop around the bristles of a brush or the teeth of a comb. When we pass a brush or comb through the hair, we create tension, which pulls at these hairs, shaking them loose from the scalp. 

It’s very normal to lose some hair during brushing, but if we’re talking about pure statistics here, we should say that brushes are slightly more damaging than combs when it comes to hair breakage.

Picking the Right Tool For Your Hair Type

When deciding whether you want to use a brush or a comb, it’s important to consider your hair type and curl pattern. When it comes to type, ask yourself, do you have thick hair or fine hair? Is your hair especially prone to breakage? That will determine what it can and can’t handle. Your curl pattern is a bit more complicated. Your curl pattern is the natural wave of your hair. It’s what happens to your hair strands when they air dry without brushing. Curl pattern considers both the wave itself as well as how tightly it’s coiled. 

Strictly speaking, the curl pattern system of classifying hair types is a bit of an inexact science that fails to describe all the ways in which hair presents itself. These days, people are advocating for an even wider spectrum of curl and coil patterns that better represents hair types of all kinds. 

We’re all for it. In the meantime, let’s talk about the basics.

A scalp brush helps to exfoliate debris from the scalp and stimulate blood flow to your hair follicles...

There are four types of official curl patterns, and they’re labeled simply as types one through four. Type one hair is pretty straight, while type four is tightly coiled and curly. For a more detailed explanation of curl patterns, check out our blog on the topic here.

Generally speaking, it’s harder to brush through curly hair, especially when it’s dry. If you have curly hair, you’ll know what happens next. First, your hair will expand and get ‘fluffy.’

Second, your brush will probably get stuck halfway down on a stubborn knot. And third, your hair brush will basically look like a wig, considering how much hair you’ll pull out when you do finally get it through brushing your hair. That’s why brushing really isn’t recommended for dry curly hair. Generally, it’s recommended that those with thick, curly hair use wide-tooth combs or wet brushes rather than a traditional brush. Comb the hair when it’s wet and has product in it to protect your curls and prevent additional breakage, then dry gently with a microfiber towel to avoid frizz.

On the other end of the spectrum, you want to avoid ever using a brush while your hair is wet. Wet hair is far more fragile than dry hair, and the bristles on a brush can do real damage, especially if you brush your hair every time you shower. If you have straighter hair, you can generally use a brush, though it’s a good idea to choose a bristle style that works for how you’re doing your hair. 

If you have fine hair prone to static electricity, wooden bristles can help you easily remove static and frizz. Metal bristles can be tough on the scalp and should be avoided, especially when using heat styling. 

The heat can warm the bristles on the brush, making them all the more damaging to your scalp. Boar bristles are great for long, straight hair as they can easily detangle the hair and gently stimulate blood flow to the scalp, encouraging new hair growth.

This brings us to our last point on brushes!

Whether You’re Team Comb or Team Brush, Scalp Brush

No matter how you detangle your hair, a scalp brush is one of the best items you can add to your hair care routine. Unlike traditional hair brushes or combs, a scalp brush is not focused on detangling your hair. Instead, it’s all about exfoliating the surface of the scalp. Scalp brushes are generally small, handheld tools that fit on your palm. They’ve usually got small silicone bristles. When you use a scalp brush, you apply it directly to your head, gently swirling the brush around, lifting dirt, oil, and leftover products from your scalp. You actually do this before you shower, which helps your regular shampoo work so much harder. Once you see how clean your hair and scalp feel after a scalp brush, you’ll never look back. The gentle motion is soothing and relaxing but also effective at helping cleanse your scalp. What’s more, the light exfoliation on your scalp helps increase circulation to your hair follicles, which has been proven to encourage healthy hair growth, leading to the appearance of thicker hair.

Try a scalp brush and see if it’s what your hair care routine has been missing. Speaking from experience, it's a real highlight of our Sunday night routine.

Closing the Loop on the Comb vs. Brush Debate

Brushing your hair is important. If you don’t regularly detangle, your hair could start to knot and mat, making it impossible to manage and even more difficult to clean. At the same time, too much brushing can wreak havoc on your hair strands, leading to breakage, split ends, and hair thinning. Like most things in hair care, the key is balance. Whether you choose to use a comb or a brush, the key is to use it gently. Don’t yank anything through your hair unless you’re okay with seeing it in the shower drain or stuck to your brush. Hair is fragile and should be treated as such.

And when choosing a brush, don’t forget the importance of introducing a specially-designed scalp brush into your routine. The best way to support a healthy head of hair is by maintaining a clear, balanced scalp. A scalp brush helps to exfoliate debris from the scalp and stimulate blood flow to your hair follicles, and it doesn’t hurt that it feels ahhhmazing. See for yourself.

Scalp Brush
Scalp Brush

Our exfoliating scalp brush helps remove build-up from flaking, styling products, or other impurities. Gently dry brush the scalp in circular motions before washing, or in the shower while you lather your shampoo with gentle front-to-back strokes. Added bonus: a cleaner scalp means thicker and healthier looking hair. It just so happens to feel really really good, too.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.