What the Heck Is This Hairbrush For?


Remember in The Little Mermaid when Scuttle the seagull gives Ariel that fork and says it’s for her hair (“A dinglehopper!”)? That’s kind of how brushes are, in general: exotic, a little confusing, and often involving a flounder. How, exactly, is a round brush different from a paddle brush different from a detangler or styler or heck, a comb, for that matter? If they all just keep your hair from turning into a terribly sad, unintentional version of Bob Marley's dreads, why does such variety even exist? Well, we're here to say that there is, in fact, a method to Goody's and Mason Pearson's madness. Each brush has its purpose, each person his or her ideal suite of brushes. And don't we all deserve the best brushes for our unique, precious follicles? We set out to decode what, exactly, different brushes are good for, and now we’re passing the information on to you:

Paddle Brush
Scarves, hats, fuzzy coats: all delightful layering items that will make your hair stand on end like you’ve been napping on a Van de Graaff generator. And that’s why paddle brushes are key in winter. The big, flat shape is smoothing and anti-static, so it’s the ideal fix for sweater hair, hat hair, and run-of-the-mill frizzies. This brush is also perhaps the best thing ever to happen to thick, straight hair. If this is your hair type and you do not own one of these brushes, you need this thing like Miley Cyrus needs a mouth guard. Also, if you have lank, fine locks, try just using a paddle brush on your ends—don’t want to get too smooth and lose all the volume up top.

Round Brush
Ever gotten a blow out? Then you are acquainted with the round brush, which can leave you with perfectly straightened hair, big angel curls, a flip, or the classic anchorwoman turn-under—all the fancy lady options. These come in a number of sizes, but the important thing to note is that the larger the barrel, the softer the curve it produces. A tiny barrel is great for styling bangs, and a huge barrel is ideal for creating volume and straight-styling waves or curls. However, it’s not strictly about the size  (as is true in so many cases...we hear); it’s about how you use it. In a pinch, any round brush can help you blow-dry your way to a much better place than you'd have been otherwise. Just don’t get your hair too wound up around said brush; no one wants (wants to require) an emergency pixie cut.

Detangling Brush
You know how people are always telling you not to brush your hair while it’s wet? Well, those people are wrong (pug dressed as a Pumpkin Spice Latte wrong). Detangling combs (e.g, the Tangle Teezer, or other similar styles) work very well in wet hair, especially if you want to smooth your strands without using heat styling tools. If you have straight hair, using a detangler can help you avoid blow-drying altogether. Just towel dry, then comb it out and let the desert-like heat from your radiator do the rest. The same is true for wavy and curly hair, with one caveat: make sure you're well-conditioned (adding a dollop of oil or curl cream is a good idea) so that the brush doesn’t cause breakage. You might not end up with as much volume, but you also won’t have as many split ends.

Classic Styling Brush
This is a weird catchall of a brush. Some of them have vents. Some have cushions. Some are too tiny to do much and designed, as far as we can tell, to be really, really useless cell phone charms? Suffice it to say, this brush is a generalist—it's the one you want in your purse—and it's more about the bristles than the actual shape. If you want smoothing/oil redistribution to fight winter roughness and wind, get a version with boar bristles. For detangling, simple plastic with wider spaced bristles is best. Avoid versions that have those little balls at the end of each bristle; they can snag on knots and curls, too. And if you find yourself contemplating a metal or wire bristle brush, OMG stop. They're only suitable for wigs, so unless you're an American Girl doll (are you Samantha? We really, really wanted to be Samantha), keep walkin' sister.

Photos by Mathea Millman. 

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  • http://taliashulze.com/ Talia

    I'm the one at holiday family parties with some tipsy aunt/sister/cousin sticking her hands in my hair all 'You swear to god you don't flat iron it how is it so smoooooooooth!' so yeah I can definitely vouch for the power of a good detangling brush and some sweet air-dry action.
    Please don't pet the Talia.

  • http://www.downtownhautefashion.blogspot.com/ Leslie
  • Chloe

    Samantha was the best!

  • Marleen

    I treasure my Tangle Teezer, works very well on my hair!


  • Randi

    I don't actually brush my hair because it robs my hair of the potential wave thing that sometimes happen every three full moons when stars are aligned the forces are with me. Combing through the ends with my fingers in the shower usually keeps the dreadlocks away for the most part.

  • Isabel

    I have the red conair brush in the pictures and I LOVE it.
    Got it for $10 from Walgreens or somewhere when I was on holiday in America, then it got lost/stolen by cousins, and I couldn't find it in England! :( after almost a year I went back to America on another holiday and bought it again. NEVER letting it out of my sight when family is visiting again!

  • Behind the Mirror

    I just bought the paddle brush from sephora and it is amazing! Did a hair brush post a while back with details of my love and purchase.

  • Lindsay

    I have to disagree with your opinion on the Sephora travel brush - the one that you said is too tiny to be useful. I love mine! It's small enough for my purse, and is perfect for some touch-up brushing!

  • babelincoln

    Purchased the tangle teaser because of this article & already received it in the mail today! Will report back on how it works in comparison to my wet brush...

    Also, how nice of Refinery29 to copy your article less than one week later: http://www.refinery29.com/best-hairbrushes?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=post#slide-1

    • babelincoln

      BAM! tangle teaser is 2x as good as the wet brush. Although they have completely different methods, so i'd guess its particular to hair type (i have thin hair and the wet brush would snap it from time to time)...


DENMAN D14 Handbag Size Classic Styling Brush
Color Express Round Brush with Boar Bristles
Cricket RPM-8 Round Brush
Goody Start. Style. Finish. Paddle Brush
SEPHORA COLLECTION Large Detangling Brush
Goody So Smooth Cushion Brush, 1 ea
Mason Pearson
Mason Pearson ‘Pocket’ Boar Bristle Brush for Fine to Normal Hair
Spornette Super Looper Brush for Hairpieces