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Choosing the Right Brush for Your Hair

Hairbrushes come in thousands of styles, materials, and designs. A low-end plastic brush costs as little as $1 and a hand-tied boar brush as much as $100. The average price for a decent brush is from $5 to $15. Knowing what brushes to buy begins with understanding the difference in bristles (boar, nylon, porcupine, and metal) as well as the four basic categories of brushes (vented, cushioned, round, and classic). Other than that, choosing a particular design really depends on your style of doing hair.

Types of bristles

A number of bristle patterns are available and they're used for different purposes, as shown in Table 1. Each one is designed to create different styles or to care for specific types of hair. Knowing their basic purposes helps you buy brushes that work for, instead of against, your hairstyling efforts.

Table 1: Brush Bristles and Their Life's Work

Bristle Type

Its Purpose

Best On

Boar

This bristle is the actual hair of a boar (hog). Boar bristles are considered ideal because they close the cuticle layer — the outside armor of your hair — and create shiny hair. Because boar bristles tend to be weak, manufacturers usually mix them with nylon bristles, so they don't collapse while you're brushing through the hair.

Boar bristles are natural, soft, flexible bristles that gently brush the hair and are suitable for use on children. Manufacturers often combine boar with nylon bristles to create a stronger styling ability.

Nylon

This name represents a catchall category for all types of bristles made of plastic, nylon, rubber, or similar materials. Nylon bristles can be soft and flexible or stiff and firm.

Nylon bristles offer little to maximum control, depending on how closely the bristles are placed and how flexible the material. As a rule, the stiffer and more closely spaced the bristle, the more control you have over the hair.

Porcupine

Before you imagine quills running through your hair, calm down. Porcupine is a term used for a tufted bristle — multiple bristles grouped together — that usually includes a combination of boar and nylon bristles. It's gentle, but it exerts a good hold on the hair.

This design is excellent for controlling fine hair, as well as for thoroughly brushing thick hair right down to the scalp.

Metal

Unless you're styling a wig, stay away from this category of bristles. Metal bristles — even with soft plastic tips — are too inflexible to safely use on human hair.

Not recommended for anything but wigs and hairpieces.

Adding some style

Trying to keep track of all the different styles of brushes can drive a perfectly sane person crazy, so you only need to be familiar with four basic categories: classic styling, cushioned, round, and vented. To be able to style any hair that comes your way, you should have at least one brush from each category. The following sections show you which brush or brushes you need for specific hairstyles.

Vented brush

This brush is an old-style sensation that made Farrah Fawcett's wings take flight. The brush has widely spaced, flexible bristles. Openings in the head (where the bristles are attached) allow for good airflow. Today, vented brushes are primarily used for drying hair because they offer superior airflow, making short work of moisture. Vented brushes maintain natural movement because their bristles never force the hair into a specific shape.

The ends of the sparsely spaced bristles have tiny, protective balls to guard against hair damage. Frequently check the tips of all your vented brushes. If even one ball is missing, the brush needs to be replaced because the exposed bristles can damage the hair.

Cushioned brush

This category of brushes includes the oval-shaped cushioned brush (padded head where the bristles are attached) for simply brushing out the hair and the flat paddle brush with an air cushion that's used exclusively for long hair. The latter is an invaluable tool, by the way, because the cushion and bristles are designed to collapse anytime they meet resistance; hence, they prevent long hair from being stretched, split, or broken.

Round brush

Many round brushes have wooden or plastic handles with a variety of grips that ensure good traction and fit your hand. Round brushes look exactly as named: They have a round, metal barrel for more defined movement. Use a round brush any time you want the hair to have some bend or curl, but not as much as curling irons or hot rollers would provide.

Shop this category of brushes carefully because many have heavy heads that put stress on your wrist while you blow-dry the hair. My absolute favorites are called thermal round stylers — round brushes with vented cores made of aluminum. The metal barrel fills with hot air from the blow dryer, while the vented holes create plenty of air circulation. This design enables you to dry the hair in half the time and create a crisper hair shape. The one caution is to keep the blow dryer moving and check your handiwork frequently to avoid over-drying, or possibly damaging the hair.

Classic styling

Classic styling brushes have a half-rounded head. They traditionally have five, seven, or nine rows of stiff nylon bristles — seven being the most popular. This style is referred to as a half round brush because the head of the brush has a rubberized, slightly rounded shape to create a slight bend in the hair. The classic styling brush is the tool of choice when creating smooth, sleek, precise hairstyles that aren't stick-straight.

Women often prefer to use a seven-row styling brush because it is lighter, smaller, and easier to handle when blow-drying hair. On the other hand, many men love to manhandle the hair by using a larger, nine-row brush that is wider, heavier, and styles a larger section of hair at one time.

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