The Key to Great Hairstyling: Your Hairbrush

All hairbrushes are not created equal: Some work as styling aids, others detangle wet locks, still others are used exclusively for creating smoothness. Which brush you choose should depend on what type of look you want to achieve and what type of hair and cut you have.

A lot of stylists will swear by boar-bristle brushes, saying they're head and shoulders above those with nylon or synthetic tines. Professional coiffeurs at Linda Tam's Beauty Salon in New York say bristle type is less important than overall hairbrush quality and how you care for your tools. First, says Tam, choose your brush well.


Paddle brush:

Flat and wide, this is a great tool for brushing out long hair and creating smooth styles that need to lie flat. It's not good for styles with layers, because it encourages hair to be straight rather than fluffy and full of volume.


Sculpting brush:

A medium-sized brush that has lots of bristles that can grab and hold your hair on one direction as you blow dry or apply hairspray. A sculpting brush can be good for back combing too, if you have long enough hair. This is a good tool for short cuts, cuts with a lot of texture (choppy cuts or razor cuts) and soft layers.


Cushion-style brush:

If you've got medium to long hair that's not overly curly, then a flat-backed cushion brush is a must for you. It's a wonderful tool for classic, sleek looks like a bob or a pageboy. The flat back helps keep the style smooth as you gently curl or flatten the ends.


Round brushes:

You can get round brushes in just about any size. The small ones are great for adding volume to short hair, medium ones work for curly hair that you want to straighten without removing volume, and large ones infuse longer hair with classic waves. Thick and curly hair does not respond well to any type of round bristle brush until the hair's been slightly blown out and the curl somewhat relaxed. Even so, use the brush with caution; coarse hair can grab onto brush bristles and get into a tangled mess.

For added control, get a thermal round brush (all sizes available), which has a metal core that heats up, shaping hair from the inside out.


Thermal flat brush:

This works exactly like the thermal round brush, with one difference: It smoothes and straightens hair, taking out any bend or lift. This kind of brush has two big advantages: Its vented surface will really cut down on drying time if you use it just as a brush with your blow dryer, and when you heat up the metal core you'll get a sleek, flat finish with a lot of shine.

Look for bristles that have molded ball tips on the ends, says Tam. Ball tips that are glued or stuck onto the bristle end can pull hair and cause a lot of breakage. Don't hang onto any brushes that have broken tips '- throw them away!

Don't forget to clean your brushes. A good set can last a long time, so it's important to give them a cleaning now and again to get rid of the shedding hair, scalp secretions and hair oils. The best way to keep them clean: Use a comb to lift out and loosen stray hair, then soak brushes in warm water with a bit of shampoo. Rinse them in clean water and remove any hair that remains. Pat them with a towel and then lay them bristle-side-up to dry.


Recommended Products

Wooden round brush
Beyer-Imports has all sorts of hairstyling goodies, all of them made from wood and using only the best boar bristles. The round brushes are a safe bet for almost any hair type, and the natural bristles don't generate static electricity.
Price: $14.90 for a small round brush

The Handy Bristle
Made by Mason Pearson, England's finest brush maker, this old-fashioned brush stimulates the scalp while working its magic on your tresses; it's good for fine or normal hair of any length. Mason Pearson has a ton of other brushes available as well, including the smart Handy Nylon Detangler Brush for wet hair. Most products are made with either boar bristle or a mix of boar and synthetic tines.
Price: $125

Ceramic ionic hot-air brush
Conair delivers one of the best around, and it comes in a variety of sizes. The hot metal interior will give you all-day hold, without burning your ends as curling irons are prone to do. You can get round ones that add curl and volume or flat brushes for a straight look.
Price: $29.99 and up

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