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How to Brush Curly Hair Without Disrupting Your Curls

For girls with curls, there are plenty of benefits to hair brushing: it adds shine, detangles hair, and you can exfoliate your scalp.
05 Apr 2021
Of course, these benefits only exist if you know how to brush curly hair correctly. Aside from heat tools, there’s probably no other tool than a hair brush that can cause so much minor and major damage to hair. If not done properly, or with the best curly hair brush for your curl type, you may be in for long-term—if not permanent—disruption to your curl pattern.

Before you toss all your brushes in the trash, take note of these details that will hopefully help you learn how to detangle curly hair in a way that allows you to prevent damage, excess stretching, and even reduce frizz. Brushing curly hair is good, but how you do it will make a big difference in how intact you keep your curls. Here, find all of our best curly hair tips from how often you should brush your hair, the products you should use, why patience is key, and why even your baby hairs deserve a little love too. Follow this guide, and you’ll be sure never to risk damaging your curls through brushing ever again.

Does combing hair ruin curls?

The short answer is no. That is, if done correctly. The reality is that no matter your texture, making sure that hair is properly detangled is a must. Curls are no different. However, proper brushing of curly hair requires different methods, a little more time, the best hair brush, and a lot more hydration. So long as you keep those four things in mind, you won’t have to worry about hair brushing resulting in damage.

Is it better to brush curly hair wet or dry?

When it comes to brushing curly hair, it’s always a better idea to do so when the curls are wet. Aside from it making it an easier task on your arms, it’s much better for the integrity of the curls. First, you won’t have to worry about the curls frizzing. Anyone who’s ever tried hair brushing out dry curls knows an undefined, frizz-filled look is what will inevitably follow. That’s not the case, however, when kinky hair is wet. On the flip-side, hair brushing while wet will actually add definition, increasing the integrity of the curl and making detangling time a much smoother ride.

Secondly, brushing curly hair while dry can not only ruin the pattern, but the tension can actually cause breakage. This is particularly true for tighter textures, making it something to greatly consider when detangling 4C hair. Luckily things like a detangling brush for 4C hair, specifically, exist, which makes brushing even easier.

Then there’s the subject of knotted hair. Adding moisture and hydration can actually loosen and soften tangled hair, which can eliminate the risks of chunks of coils potentially shedding during the hair brushing process.

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Should brushing my curly hair be hard or hurt?

When done properly the answer is no. Now, that’s not to say that brushing curly hair is a particularly quick task. Depending on the density and curl pattern, the time it takes for hair brushing may vary. But remember, patience is always key and always worth it when thinking about curl health.

For those with thicker hair, a way to make the process easier is to separate the hair into multiple sections. First, split the hair into two even parts horizontally. From there, divide those two sections into thirds, creating six parts total. After that, saturate the hair in moisturizer, water, or both, and comb from the bottom first, working your way up to the roots and lightly using the hair brush to rid of any tangles. Once one section is fully detangled, style it into a two-strand twist to avoid interference with the rest of the hair. As soon as the full head is detangled, undo all six twists and lightly go through the hair once more with your hair brush, creating uniform curls.

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 you can keep in mind to help make sure you make a good choice.

Get a good grip. No 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. If you have a good grip on it, chances are you’ll be less likely to pull at your curls in a way that will cause damage.

Choose the right bristles. Material matters, and textured and curly hairstyles need boar or nylon bristles. While some hair textures may be able to handle plastic or other synthetic materials, curls generally cannot. 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 and ultimately weaken and break hair off.

Skip the balls. For curls, try to avoid brushes with those scalp massaging balls at the tip. They can potentially get tangled in your curls and cause more knots.

Look for wider spaces. The tighter or more close together the bristles are on your curly hair brush, the more of a smoothing effect you’ll get—but this may not be what you always want, especially with curls. If you’re slicking your hair into a ponytail, a dense boar bristle 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, on the other hand, the more spread out the bristles are on the brush head, the better. Even if the bristles are more separated, look for ones that are a bit more stiff or sturdy. You need something with a bit of tension. 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 unnecessary curl disruption.

What can I 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 even just 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 “brush.” The key to frizz-free brushing with your fingers is to use a hair serum or lightweight oil on the tips of your fingers to provide moisture and smooth down frizz.

How To Brush Curly Hair

Brushing your curls is an essential part of how to take care of curly hair, and there are a few steps that you can take to properly brush without causing too much snagging or making hair frizzy. Here’s how to detangle and brush curly hair:

Step 1. Add moisture. Only brush curly hair when it’s wet, damp, or has a layer of slip between strands and the bristles. Brushing dry hair is an instant recipe for frizz and will loosen your curls right out of shape. If after washing curly hair (with a sulfate-free shampoo), your style needs more moisture, turn to your favorite curly hair products. Add a leave-in conditioner like Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Leave-In Conditioner or a moisturizing cream like Healthy Hair Butter to keep hair hydrated as you start brushing your curly hair.

Step 2. Detangle thoroughly. Wondering how to detangle curly hair without losing curls? The 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. In order to do this, make sure that hair is knot-free by applying a good coating of detangler. The more slip in the detangler, the better, as this will help the brush glide through hair a lot easier.

Step 3. Work from the bottom. Whether 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 tugging and potential hair shedding that can happen when you tug strands at the follicles.

Step 4. Brush evenly. You 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 5. Brush baby hairs, too. As we’ve covered, curls should never be brushed when dry. Before working on your edges, 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 which type of curly hair brush you’re using, opting for a smaller brush to slick your edges and baby hair.

How often should you brush your hair?

When it comes to how to detangle curly hair, frequency is key. Brushing curly hair too often is a bad idea. In order to maintain the integrity of your curls, try to keep contact between your brush and curls to a minimum if possible. A good recommendation is to brush hair with the same frequency with which you wash your strands, but what works best can vary based on hair type.

When should you brush curly hair?

We touched on this before, but let’s talk more about when you should (and should not) brush your curls. A common curl question is whether you should brush wet, curly hair, and as you now know, the answer is yes.

While other hair types are encouraged not to brush hair when it’s wet, as it’s true this is when hair is most fragile, with curls brushing dry hair just won’t do. The key is to use a hair brush that’s safe for wet strands and to make sure you’re especially gentle. It’s also smart to finish your shower with a hair mask or deep conditioner for curly hair, so your strands are properly prepped for brushing.

4 Curly Hair Brushing Tips

Besides following our tutorial on how to brush correctly, we have a few more tips you might find helpful. Keep these in mind the next time you pick up your brush.

1. Work in sections. No 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 at different parts of your hair. You may also find that you need different brushes for different parts of your hair. A wider bristle brush may work better on tighter curls, whereas a more dense one helps separate looser curls a lot more effortlessly.

2. Use hair oil. One of, if not the, most important tips is to keep hair hydrated when brushing. Slicking it with a hair oil or hair serum before and as you style will help keep the individual strands flexible and prevent them from drying out.

3. Spritz with hairspray. Don’t discount how helpful hairspray can be. Use it directly on your brush instead of your hair to avoid static and control flyaways. A volumizing spray that offers hold, like the Cactus Rose Water Volume Spray, can also help.

4. Don’t move too slow. While 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. You should brush through your spirals straight after applying your products.

One final tip: Before you hit the shower with your hair brush, make sure you know How to Wash Curly Hair (and How Often to Do It).

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