The History of the Hairbrush

Published: 25th May 2007
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We may think of hairbrushes as utilitarian tools for grooming - but it hasn't always been that way. Once upon a time, comb, hairbrush and mirror sets were treasured luxuries that were often given as gifts to new brides, or as romantic anniversary gifts from husbands to wives. Even today, a popular baby gift is 'Baby's First Brush' in pink, blue or gender-neutral yellow with silky soft bristles. And why not? Even the Bible refers to hair as a woman's crowning glory. It's only to be expected that grooming tools for proper care of hair would be important.

Hair brushes are ubiquitous. They occupy a rather unique place in our culture. How many of us have a memory of sitting on a stool at mother's feet while she dragged a brush through our tangles? Who hasn't held a hairbrush to their lips and sung along with the radio? There's something sensual, appealing and comforting about having your hair brushed. Having your hair brushed is one of the most deliciously decadent and sensuous treats in the world - and yet, there's a sweet innocence to it.

The earliest hairbrushes, some historian theorize, were made of natural materials like porcupine quills which could be used to pick through hair and tug out knots. Animal hair brushes were originally used for painting some 2.5 million years ago, and the theory is that those brushes were later adapted for use in hair grooming. There's no note in history to name the person who first thought of drilling holes into a wooden paddle and inserting firm animal hairs into those holes, but whoever it was certainly can claim the title of genius. In the centuries since, the hairbrush has undergone some evolution, but the basic design remains the same - a handle, a paddle (also called a club or a block), and bristles (or teeth).

These days, many of us simply pick up a hairbrush at the corner drug store or department store without paying much attention to quality, design and materials. This, say hair care professional, is one of the worst things that you can do for your hair. The brush that you use every day has more to do with how your hair looks and feels than the expensive shampoos and conditioners that people pay for without blinking.

According to those who work with hair every day, the best brush for most people is one made of genuine boar bristles. Boar bristle hairbrushes do more than detangle and style hair. The natural material picks up sebum - your hair's natural oil - and distributes it evenly from scalp to ends. It gently massages the scalp to stimulate healthy sebum production, and smoothes the shaft of the hair to make it shiny and manageable.

For coarser, thicker hair, nylon bristles may be more appropriate. A bit stiffer than boar bristle, the nylon bristles can detangle and work through thick waves without tugging or pulling. For curly, wavy or thick hair, a nylon and acrylic half-round brush is ideal for daily hairbrushing needs.

Why not get the best of both worlds? Boar and nylon combination brushes have the firmness needed to get through thick hair, and the natural qualities of boar hair bristles. While it's easy to walk into any store and buy a cheap hairbrush, you really owe it to your hair to use the best hairbrush you can get. Fine construction pays off - while a beech wood brush with 100% boar bristles will cost a bit more than a molded plastic one from the corner store, it will last years and keep your hair healthy, shiny and soft.


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