Thursday, February 28, 2013

Deconstructing The Hairbrush

Late last year, I decided to do a revamp of the tools and products I used on my hair. If you caught the feature I did on some Conair hair dryers last October, that was just a part of the process. I inspected every gadget that I owned: curling irons, flat irons, a hair setter and a slew of hair brushes and combs. I sorted all the hair products, tossed things that were old or past their date, and then I went about to get a little advice on what I should be using and what I didn't need. The thing is, I don't style my hair very often. I generally keep it long but on a typical day, I just pull it back into a pony tail. The priority is to keep frizz at bay and to tame flyaways.

Growing up, I relied on Denman hairbrushes. It wasn't a decision I arrived at after much deliberation. My sister used to buy them, so I did too. The oldest hairbrush I have that's still functional is one I'd bought about eight years back, the Denman Classic Noir Styling Brush D3BW, which is a black and white version of the original D3 classic styling brush with 7 rows of nylon pins.

Denman Classic Noir Styling Brush D3BW

It's a perfectly good all-purpose hairbrush that you can also use to style the hair with heat. But admittedly, it's a bit small for my needs. It may be better suited to shorter hairstyles (like a bob) and the curve makes it great for rounding those bottoms perfectly.

I buy new brushes and combs periodically but never armed with the research I had when I placed my order with Folica (all the brushes featured here, except for the Chi, are available on their website). I bought a bunch of brushes and after going through some of them, I thought it would be good to outline my thoughts on each one. So here are a few things I've learned along the way in this hair experiment, and a few hairbrushes you may want to consider getting next time.

The Mason Pearson with the oval cushion is perhaps the most celebrated hair brush among the ones I've read about. But really, I cannot justify spending a hundred dollars on one. I did try a couple of inexpensive substitutes, neither of which had me jumping up and down with enthusiasm.

Spornette 21 Classic Cushion Stylish Oval with nylon bristles

Sonia Kashuk Hair Brush (large)

Sonia Kashuk Hair Brush with boar and nylon bristles

According to a brief hairbrush guide I found in an old issue of Allure magazine (Aug 2012, page 94), an oval-cushioned brush is designed for detangling dry hair and the bristles are supposedly great for making hair shiny. But in the end, because my hair is really long and thick, I feel that this isn't a very good style of hairbrush for me.

I have fantasies of giving myself beautifying blowouts in the comfort of my own bathroom so I purchased a wooden round Spornette. I think they're great to use while blow-drying and are quite affordable. The boar bristles grab hold of the hairs very well while the longer nylon bristles can reach deeper into the hair when needed. Although I never quite end up with Disney Princess hair, I know it's not the fault of the brush. I just don't have the skills or the patience. But I'm glad I got this handy tool. Someday I'll get there.

Spornette G 36 XL Porcupine Brush

boar with nylon bristles

One time, I latched on to the Chi bandwagon and armed with a 20% coupon at Ulta, I thought I'd pick up one of these ceramic round brushes. The idea here is that if you use it while blowdrying, the barrel heats up like an iron. I thought that this was meant to give volume and curl but I'm not sure I could achieve anything at all using this brush. When I dig a little too deep in, the bristles kind of hurt too. Perhaps again, it's my lack of skills but I have a hard time using this brush. It doesn't hold on to the hair the way I want it to and I much prefer the Spornette. However, I have seen a stylist at Sweet & Sassy use a similar kind of brush to blowdry my daughter's hair (her hair is finer, not anywhere near as thick as mine and falls just past the shoulders). While not designed for fine or fragile hair, I think it does help speed up the drying process with medium hair.

Chi Turbo CB02 Ceramic Round Nylon Brush

nylon bristles and a ceramic barrel

If static is a problem, the large-vented Static-Free Fast Flo by Cricket is very comfortable to use. I've found that it works well on both thin and thick hair of any length. I have a large one for myself and a little one that's probably designed for the purse but which I've designated for my little girl.

Cricket Fast Flo and Mini Fast Flo

Detangling wet hair, now that's a challenge I have with my daughter's hair. I personally use a wide-toothed comb if I must detangle my hair while wet but I rarely have to do this. With a 6 year old girl, detangling at night after washing helps speed up our mornings. From what I've read, a rectangular paddle brush should do the trick. But you know what? I really don't get paddle brushes. They never work for me. Although the ball-ended nylon pins feel good against the scalp, I find the shape weird when brushing hair even when the cushion is well-padded. I've tried a few and didn't particularly care for any of them. I'll take the comb anytime.

Denman D83 Large Paddle Brush

ball-ended nylon pins and air-cushioned natural rubber pad

For the 6 year old? I have another set for you to peruse.

Knot Genie Teeny Genie Detangling Brush

The Knot Genie - oh so awesome! The Teeny Genie is so much fun for the little one when she attempts to brush her own hair. The size and shape are easy for smaller hands to grasp. Plus it works surprisingly well. The combination of long and short teeth doesn't stress the hair. With some help from a spray detangler, those tangles get straightened out in record time. I paid a little more for it because I just bought it at the salon and didn't bother looking around for a deal but it's worth having for sure.

Denman D90 Pink Tangle Tamer

If you want a slightly more "normal-looking" brush that works similarly, Denman's Tangle Tamer has soft bristles (also a combination of long and short) and it can be used on wet or dry hair. The round padded cushion is also better suited to the style of my daughter's hair so I can curve the ends in after brushing it all out.

Which brings me back to the classic half-round brush that remains my favorite hairbrush of all time. If I've learned anything, for general-purpose hair brushing, I prefer nylon bristles spaced farther apart for my hair type and length. So, I decided to go for the Denman D41 Large 9 Row Volumizing Brush. I grab the brush, get the tangles out and neatly brush my hair back into my everyday ponytail. After 20 years, I say this style of hairbrush is still what I want. The big one for the vanity and the little one for the purse.

Denman D41 Large 9 Row Volumizing Brush

Denman D14 Small 5 Row Classic Styling Brush

Size and Bristle Placement Comparison at a glance
L-R: Denman D41- 9 Row, Denman D3BW - 7 Row, Denman D14 - 5 Row

All the Denman brushes I have are well-made and they last me years. They are ridiculously easy to use and also simple to care for. If you want to wash your brushes super thoroughly, the anti-static rubber pad can be pushed out from the handle and brushed clean. I use shampoo and an old child's toothbrush. After they are dry, you can slide them back into the handle. Some of the brushes fit extra snugly in there and I've found that the tiniest bit of baby oil can help slide them in faster. Most of the time though, I don't have any issues.

Denman Hair Brush disassembled

Sliding the rubber pad back into the handle

I do have a few other hairbrushes in my collection, like a smaller wooden round with boar bristles that I use specifically to straighten out some cowlicks by the hairline, some rat tail combs to part hair properly when attempting certain styles and I bought a Denman Thermoceramic Straightening Brush which I am now absolutely certain I don't need because I have straight hair but I have it. However, this post is quite long enough for me not to have to go into detail about every single brush and comb I have. Truthfully, I probably have a salon's worth of hair stuff to work with that it seems a pity I stick to a pony tail on a fairly regular basis. But I've heard that the pony tail has made such a bigtime comeback that someone's just opened a Pony Tail Bar. I think I need to find the closest one and see if I can get an appointment.


  1. My hair brush/comb collection is really the one Sonia Kashuk I've purchased (which I enjoy), plus all the free ones in hotel room kits! I barely rake my fingers through my hair, so it's sufficient for me, but my kids need some more. One has an incredible head of hair that is beyond thick and I need some detangling help, so thank you for the recommendations! I will check them out.

    1. I hope one of them works out for you :) and a bottle of spray detangler if you have the time...