There is no better feeling than gliding a hairbrush seamlessly through your hair. The bristles gently massage your scalp as your hair becomes softer and smoother with each pass of the brush. It's almost like you're in a dream, until you're transported back to reality by the tug and snap of your brush catching on a knot. Hair damage used to be something we associated with heat or chemicals, but the simple act of brushing can do some serious harm if you're not careful.
There are so many differing opinions about the best way to brush your hair—what brush to use, how often to do it, whether products should be involved—and depending on your hair type and texture, some sources say you shouldn't be brushing at all. What once seemed like the easiest step in a beauty routine has led to some heated controversies, and one question has particularly divided the haircare community: is it bad to brush your hair when it's wet?
Like many other aspects of haircare, the answer to this question is highly conditional based on the texture of your hair. Hair is extremely individualistic, meaning, what works for one person often does not work for another. To help us understand what conditions are best for brushing hair, we turned to three experts in the world of hair: dermatologist Dr. Nianda Reid, trichologist Shab Reslan, and hairstylist Michelle O'Connor. Scroll ahead to see what they have to say about brushing wet hair.
Meet the Expert
- Michelle O’Connor is a professional hairstylist and the Artistic Director at Matrix.
- Nianda Reid, MD, MBA, is a board-certified dermatologist in Philadelphia, and the co-owner of Embrace Dermatology and Aesthetics, LLC.
- Shab Reslan is a certified trichologist and hairstylist based in New York City, specializing in hair growth and scalp health. She hosts the Hair Like Hers podcast and is the founder of the soon-to-launch hair health platform, Leona, which matches women with hair growth solutions using AI technology.
How Brushing Should Work
At the risk of stating the obvious, brushing is designed to improve the health of your hair by detangling it. Reid says when done correctly, hair brushing is important to prevent knots and tangles and decrease breakage. There are many different types of brushes and combs that can be used to detangle the hair. For many, brushing their wet hair is a natural part of their post-shower routine. But in some cases, especially when done too vigorously, brushing can become harmful to the health of your hair and cause the very breakage it seeks to prevent.
Is Brushing Wet Hair Safe?
For those with straight hair, brushing wet hair can potentially cause more harm than dry brushing. "The number one thing to keep in mind when brushing your hair is that it is in the most vulnerable and sensitive state when it’s wet," Reslan cautions. "Brushing it in that condition can actually over stretch, over pull, and ultimately tear your hair. Hair is in its strongest state when it’s dry." O'Connor adds that any type of rigorous pulling and tugging is going to be harmful to the hair, especially when wet.
For those with curly or textured hair, the opposite is true. Anyone who has tried to brush out natural curls can attest to just how wrong brushing curly hair dry is. From the horrible tugging and tangling it takes to get the brush through, to the Princess Diaries-inspired result (Mia before her makeover), its an all-around don't. Brushing curly or textured hair when it is wet actually helps reduce breakage and trauma to the hair follicles and keep the curly pattern intact, Reid explains. For hair patterns that have a lot of elasticity and stretch, there is a need for hydration or moisture in addition to some kind of detangling spray, conditioner, or oil to make the slip of gliding through the hair much easier, O'Connor adds.
How Should I Brush My Hair?
Our experts agree that for all hair types, preventing tangles and breakage starts in the shower. "I don’t believe in brushing is always necessary," Reslan explains. "Instead, the focus should be not to tangle your hair in the shower when you're shampooing and conditioning." O'Connor is a fan of detangling with your fingers, since actually touching the hair to remove tangles allows for a gentler approach.
Our experts encourage those with straight hair to wait until hair is dry to do any further brushing. For those of you with curly hair, the best time to brush or detangle is before you shampoo and pre-poo treatments can make this detangling process easier. O'Connor explains that shampooing raises the cuticle in order to remove the dirt and oils properly. A raised cuticle on curly and coily hair means more tangling. After you’ve rinsed out the shampoo, your hair will still be mostly detangled and you can then finish with another coat of conditioner to seal the cuticle back down and brush through one last time, according to O'Connor.
How Often Should I Brush My Hair?
The frequency of hair brushing is dependent on you and your personal preference, as well as your hair type, Reid explains. The bottom line is that you should brush your hair when it's necessary, and for straight hair that may be to groom for the day or to detangle pre- or post-washing. For curly hair, O'Connor says to brush every three to seven days depending on your wash days. Determine the right frequency for you based on your hair type that will minimize breakage. If you are experiencing breakage or hair loss, consult your dermatologist for an evaluation.
What Type of Brush Should I Use?
No matter when you're brushing, it's important to ensure that you are using the right tools and approach. Reid feels it's best to start from the bottom to the top when it comes to brushing for detangling purposes. She also says it's important to separate hair into sections to make brushing easier, especially in curly hair. Both Reid and Reslan recommend boar bristle brushes, but for different reasons. Reid names Briogeo's Vegan Boar Bristle Hair Brush as her pick for thicker, curly hair, while Reslan says it's better for straightening or smoothing hair. O'Connor recommends the Felicia Leatherwood or the Kazmaleje brands for brushes. The Floppy Brush is Reslan's pick for all hair types, as the silicone bristles are super gentle and don’t pull on the hair.
The Final Takeaway
Brushing your hair when it's wet can be a good or bad thing depending on your hair type and texture. For straight hair, brushing the hair when wet can cause breakage. Alternatively, those with curly hair need to provide adequate moisture in the form of water, detangling spray, leave-in conditioner, or oil in order to prevent damage while brushing.