Story time: A couple of my friends have been using the same version of a metal paddle brush—which exists for reasons I cannot explain—for the past decade and a half or so. Sounds weird, but we bought them in bulk together during one of those beauty sales the girls that the upperclassman put on when we were in junior-high. Some of us (me) moved on, tested hundreds of brushes in the years since (still me), and settled on a Target-brand wide-tooth comb for in-shower use, a round 1907 thermal round brush for my blowouts, and a Tangle Teezer for when my hair contorts itself into one huge knot.
My sister, however, is still using that ratted, half-coagulated paddle brush for everything from detangling in the shower to blowing out her hair. (Don’t even ask me how she blow-dries with a paddle brush. It’s painful to watch.) I’ve tried to convince her replace that brush a dozen times or so, but her hair is miraculously in decent shape and she can get by with thrice-yearly trims, so she insists it’s doing the job. Which brings me to my question: Does your hair brush even really matter?
“The bristles on the brush make all the difference on what the brush is actually doing to your hair,” says NYC-based hairstylist DJ Quintero, who leans well into the “probably yes” camp. Meaning, if you’re seeing frizz, damage, and a general lack of shine despite washing every few days and using the right products for your hair, your brush might not be working for your hair type—and it could be the reason for your bad hair days. “Boar bristles are most forgiving to hair and scalp and are gentle,” says Quintero, who recommends these types of brushes for thin or damaged hair. He likes the Mason Pearson, a favorite of just about every expert, but also loves the new Christophe Robin brush, which isn’t in the U.S. just yet. “The wider the bristles, the easier it is to get through the hair, but if you need to get product distributed evenly, you’ll probably need bristles that are packed more densely.”
So what’s the worst that can happen if you’re using the wrong brush for your hair type or styling need? “You can damage your hair while brushing, whether it be wet, which is when your hair is most vulnerable to breakage, or dry,” says Quintero, who recommends a wide-tooth comb or Harry Josh’s The Wet Brush for in-shower brushing—only after you’ve conditioned to “cause less stress on your strands”—or wet styling. “Some people are very rough when brushing out their hair, so having the right one can save you from breaking it off or pulling it right out.”
But since you’re totally already using separate brushes for wet and dry hair (right?), how often do you really have to swap either of them out? Not unlike a toothbrush or a Beautyblender, they have a limited lifetime. “Even if you don’t see the bristles breaking, which which can cause damage on the hair, your brush is still collecting dandruff, dead skin, and hair product, all of which contribute to bacteria buildup,” says Quinterto, who recommends you wash your brushes on a weekly basis with soap and hot water. “Depending on how much and often you use your brush, [you should replace it] once or twice a year.” So, uh, that decade-old brush you’ve been hanging on to really, really has to go.