Curly hair needs a lot of maintenance to get the most defined and sculpted shape possible. One thing that can be either an enemy or best friend of curly hair is the hair brush. The truth is there are plenty of benefits to hair brushing: It adds shine, detangles hair, and you can exfoliate your scalp. Of course, these benefits only exist if you know how to brush curly hair correctly.
Aside from flat irons, blow dryers, and other hot tools, there’s probably no other hair device than a hair brush that can cause so much minor and major damage to hair. If not done properly, or with the best hair brush for curly hair, you may be in for long-term — if not permanent — disruption to your curl pattern when you brush.
Before you toss all your brushes in the trash, take note of the details in this guide that will help you learn how to detangle curly hair without damaging it. Here, find the answers to all the questions you may have about brushing curly natural hair — from how often you should brush your hair to the products you should use, why patience is key, and why even your baby hairs deserve a little love too.
Is It Better to Brush Curly Hair Wet or Dry?
When it comes to brushing curly hair, it’s best to do so when the hair is wet. Brushing wet hair makes it easier to maintain the integrity of the curl's shape since the water creates a slick surface to detangle any knots. Anyone who’s ever tried brushing out dry curls knows an undefined, frizz-filled look may follow.
The ultimate goal of brushing your hair is to get out knots. The best way to brush curly hair is to add detangling products like the Hair Milk 4-In-1 Combing Creme. When applied to wet hair this combing cream instantly detangles curly hair by adding moisture and hydration to loosen and soften tangled curls. Using a detangling product can eliminate the risk of chunks of coils potentially shedding during the hair-brushing process.
The tricky thing is that it’s not recommended for most straight and wavy hair types to brush wet hair, per the Cleveland Clinic, since hair is at its most fragile state when soaked. Curly hair is an exception to this rule, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The key is to use a hair brush that’s safe for wet strands and to make sure you’re especially gentle.
Brushing curly hair while it’s dry can not only ruin the pattern but also cause hair breakage from the tension of tugging on the hair. This is particularly true for tighter curl textures (4A, 4B, and 4C hair), making it something to greatly consider when detangling hair. Thankfully there are a plethora of detangling brushes in the beauty world for different hair types (more on those below).
What is the Best Brush for Curly Hair?
Before diving into a tutorial on hair brushing, let’s talk through how to pick the best brushes for different curl types. When you break down the anatomy of a hair brush, there are two main components to consider: the bristles and the handle. Finding the best curly hair brush for you is a matter of preference, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
The GripNo matter how loose or tight your curls are, you should feel comfortable maneuvering the tool around different parts of your head. If the handle is too short, you may have a hard time getting a good grip, and if it’s too thick, it may be uncomfortable to grip for an extended amount of time like when you’re detangling your hair. If you have a good grip on the brush, chances are you’ll be less likely to pull at your curls in a way that will cause damage or split ends .
The BristlesWhile some hair textures may be able to handle plastic or other synthetic materials, curls generally cannot. Instead, reach for brushes with bristles made of nylon. If your hair cuticle is already compromised due to dryness (which many curls are), there’s a chance that a roughly textured bristle will cause even more friction and snagging, ultimately weakening and breaking hair.
The Tooth SpacingThe tighter (or close together) the bristles are on your curly hair brush, the more of a smoothing effect you’ll get — but this may not always be what you want depending on the desired curl look. If you’re slicking your hair into a ponytail, a brush with little space in between the bristles is going to help lay down any flyaways or shorter pieces around your head. For detangling and defining curls the more spread out the bristles are on the brush head, the better. This gives hair space to untangle without major tugging.
The MaterialIf you’ve ever broken a brush with your curly hair, you’re not alone. Avoid this by finding brushes with stiff or sturdy bristles that’ll hold up to curly hair. It will be harder for more flexible bristles to work their way through tighter or more dense curls like 4C hair. This may also cause unwanted curl disruption. We recommend brushes with bristles made of nylon, a synthetic material that is highly flexible and durable to keep up with thick hair.
What to use Instead of a Brush on Curly Hair?
The best tool to use on curls when you don’t have a brush handy is your fingers. Of course, there are certain curly hairstyles that only a brush can handle, but for things like detangling, gathering curls into a ponytail, and smoothing messy curls, fingers serve as a safe and effective curly hair care tool .
The benefit of using your fingers on curls is that you can work hair moisturizers and other moisturizing products through your hair a lot better as you smooth and finger brush. The key to frizz-free brushing with your fingers is to use a hair serum or lightweight hair oil, like the Goddess Strength 7 Oil Blend Scalp & Hair Oil. Apply it to the tips of your fingers and comb the oil through strands to provide moisture and smooth down frizz.
Another option is to use a comb. Combs are curl-friendly for detangling and styling hair. Almost all protective hairstyles will require a comb of some sort to keep parts sharp as well as sectioning hair precisely when adding hair extensions.
What’s the Difference Between Using a Brush or Comb on Curly Hair?The main difference between using a brush or comb on curly hair comes down to how much hair you have. Brushes are good to use when you’re detangling hair and you have a lot of it. The bristles will work through knots faster than a wide-tooth comb which would require you to part your hair in numerous sections to work the thin item through your hair. Combs will guarantee less frizz and less pulling since you need to be more intentional with this tool.
Some combs will have handles and some won’t — similar to brushes. Always go for one with a handle to get a good grip on the tool. The last thing you want is a broken comb from pulling too hard or one that slips out of your hands if using a lot of styling products. Both hair tools will detangle hair and can be used for different hairstyles, but it will ultimately come down to your preference.
Should it Hurt to Brush Curly Hair?It shouldn’t be painful to brush your hair when done properly. Now, that’s not to say that brushing curly hair is a particularly quick task. The time it takes to detangle and brush hair may vary based on hair density, curl pattern, and hair length. Remember, patience is always key and always worth it when thinking about curl health.
The best way to limit pain when brushing your hair is to be gentle during the process. Section hair into pieces to not clump it together, which can make it harder for the brush to pass through. When in doubt, reach for a detangling product or leave-in conditioner like the Black Vanilla 4-In-1 Combing Creme to work through knots.
How to Brush Curly Hair
Brushing curls is an essential part of taking care of curly hair. There are a few steps that you can take to properly brush without causing too much snagging, which can lead to a sore scalp or frizzy curls. Here’s how to detangle and brush curly hair:
Step 1. Determine Your Curl PatternAs we’ve mentioned briefly before, different curl patterns may require a different brush or brushing technique. For the most part, any wide-tooth comb or brush with sturdy bristles will work for curly and coily hair types. However, you’ll want to part the hair in multiple sections — creating more parts for kinkier or tighter curls. This will guarantee less tugging and a more thorough detangling session.
Step 2. Add MoistureOnly brush curly hair when it’s wet, damp, or has a layer of slip between the strands and the bristles. Brushing dry hair is an instant recipe for frizz and will loosen your curls right out of shape.
On wash day, start with a pre-poo treatment like the Goddess Strength Ultra Shield Pre-Poo with Castor Oil For Curly Hair, which starts the detangling process through the strengthening and repairing formulation of castor oil, black cumin seed oil, and ginger. Follow up with a sulfate-free shampoo like the Goddess Strength Fortifying Shampoo with Castor Oil and the Goddess Strength Fortifying Conditioner with Castor Oil for more moisture to prep the hair to be brushed.
After showering, add a leave-in conditioner like Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Leave-In Conditioner to keep your hair hydrated as you start brushing your curls. This leave-in spray can also be used on dry hair to refresh curls between washes.
Step 3. Detangle ThoroughlyThe biggest benefit of using a brush on curls is that it can help smooth and separate them in a way that actually gives each coil more definition. To do this, make sure the hair is knot-free by applying a good coating of a hair detangler like the Hair Milk 4-In-1 Combing Creme. The more slip in the detangler, the better, as this will help the brush glide through hair a lot easier.
Step 4. Work From the BottomWhether you’re detangling or styling, if a brush is hitting your curls, you want to begin at the tips and work your way up to the roots. This helps reduce the amount of potential hair shedding and hair loss that can happen when you pull strands too hard at the follicles.
Step 5. Brush EvenlyYou also want to avoid brushing the same area too frequently. Over time, this can cause certain parts of your hair to lose their curl memory, leaving one section of your curls with tighter spirals and another with looser ones.
Step 6. Brush Baby Hairs, Too.As we’ve covered, curls should never be brushed when dry. Before working on your edges (aka baby hairs), make sure you have a hydrating edge gel, like the Black Vanilla Edge Control Smoother
, sandwiched in between your hair and the brush. For this step, you may want to switch up the type of hair brush you’re using, opting for a smaller brush (or comb) to slick your baby hairs. For the times you don’t have a micro brush on hand, you can use a clean toothbrush to slick down edges.
How Often Should You Brush Your Hair?
Brushing curly hair too often is a bad idea. To maintain the integrity of your curls, try to minimize how often you brush your hair to not disturb the curl pattern. A good recommendation is to brush your hair when you wash your strands. This can vary based on hair type.
Those with kinkier textures like 4A, 4B, or 4C hair may only brush or wash their hair once a week, while those with looser curl patterns may have a detangling session two to three times a week. A major factor in how often you brush your hair is the upkeep of your curls between washes. Make sure you’re wrapping your hair at night and detangling regularly to avoid eventually over-brushing.
4 Curly Hair-Brushing Tips
Now that you know the ins and outs of brushing curly hair, allow us to recap the most vital tips here. As always, keep in mind what works for you, and don’t be afraid to try something new for your best curls and coils possible.
1. Work in SectionsNo matter what your styling end goal is or where you are in your wash day process, it’s always best to work in sections, especially when brushing. You’ll have better control and less yanking when hair is sectioned since you’re working with smaller portions. You may also find that you need different brushes for different parts of the hair that may have tighter curl patterns. For example; It’s possible to have 3B hair in the front and 3C hair at the back of the hair. A wider bristle brush may work better on tighter curls, whereas a dense brush helps separate looser curls a lot more effortlessly.
2. Use Hair OilOne of the most important tips for detangling is to keep hair hydrated when brushing, detangling, and styling curls in general. Slicking it with a hair oil or hair serum before you style will help keep the individual strands flexible and prevent them from drying out. Choose a nourishing oil like the Born to Repair Reviving Hair Oil with Shea Butter
which strengthens and smooths hair with infused jojoba, coconut, olive, Amazonian nut, and babassu oils. Apply a small amount of oil to your hands before gently working your fingers through sectioned hair and you’ll end up with loosened knots that are easier to brush.
3. Spritz With a Hair RefresherDon’t discount how helpful a hairspray can be. When you’re in between wash days use a styling product that’ll dampen the hair while redefining curls. We recommend the versatile Coco Crème Curl Perfecting Water Coco Mist Spray
which instantly softens and moisturizes curls for a refreshed look. As you spray you can lightly detangle and finger coil strands, leading to springier curls and coils.
4. Move with IntentionWhile rushing to get through the task of brushing your hair is a bad idea, you don’t want to be too slow to pick up your hair brush either. You should brush through your spirals directly after applying your products so your hair is as wet as possible (but not soaked) when you do it. When any product is left on the hair for too long it starts to absorb into the strands in a way that makes it difficult to reshape and brush.
Next Up: How to Wash Curly Hair (And How Often To Do It