Combing = Damage?

The science snippet for today comes from MH who sent me an article (oooo I love references!) and asked 'Can you post some research on the damage that combing can cause (whether wet or dry)?'

Now before I create panic and mayhem, let me just state clearly that it is normal for some damage to occur to hair in the process of grooming it. The real concern comes if grooming causes more damage to the hair instead of helping it look neat.

Ok, having said that, let's look at what the research says

Damage from dry combing hair
1. The combing motion can cause hair to loop or knot (more force needed to comb, more chance of breakage)
2. Hair breakage - Long segments (where hair breaks off closer to the scalp) and short segments (breakage at the ends) of hair are often seen, with many more short segments.
3. Cuticle damage (chipping or breaking) due to increased rubbing (very aggressive combing can actually strip the cuticle completely off)
4. Last and probably most important - the more times you comb, the more the hair breaks.

Damage from wet combing damage
1. The presence of water allows the hair to clump which decreases short segment breaking but increases long segments. (Meaning the ends break less but breakage does still happen)
2. Increased hair swelling (caused by water uptake) can damage the cuticle (meaning damage to the cement that keeps the cuticle layers together, leading to cuticle weakness and chipping)
3. Unlike dry combing - increasing the number of comb strokes does NOT cause more breakage (probably because there is less friction between the wet hair and the comb)

I could go on but I think I'll stop here for today. Before I sign off, I would just mention that there are ways to reduce the amount of damage happening to the hair. You can read them here on Friday!

Int J Cosmet Sci, pg 76, 2008 (thanks to MH)
J Cosmet Sci, pg 477-84, 2007
Chemical and Physical Behaviour of Hair by Clarence Robbins
J Soc Cosmet Chem, pg 39-52, 1995


  1. I do most of my tangle control by finger-combing my hair really well as I'm washing it. I feel like there's less resistance (the shampoo is slippery) and I would be getting it wet anyway, so there's no extra damage from that. I've heard lots of people say wet combing is a lot worse for hair than dry combing, so I've wondered if I should brush it out really well before washing. I'm wondering if the increase in long segment breakage is super significant? I'm trying to grow my hair out to waist length so that worries me a little. I'm looking forward to your Friday post!

  2. Is this a tease??

  3. @Anon - the Friday part is a teaser :) but the rest of the post is not at all. Yes combing does cause damage but there are ways to lessen it. Ariel may have got one of the ways - some shampoos are better than others. There are other ways too, I'll discuss on Friday.

  4. Ooh! That interesting, I washed my hair a couple days ago and I got a lot of very long strands of hair, but whenever I dry comb I get small ones. Glad to know that's normal. It's also great knowing I can wet comb as many times as I want without fear. Thanks! Can't wait until Friday!

    I love this blog.

    It's the only blog that gets to the science of afro-textured hair.

  5. Friction causes stress which equals breakage. Pure and simple. However, we must comb our hair. For this reason we use care when combing.

    Splits ends look ugly so we must trim our hair.
    Very Simple

  6. I've read that wet hair is more elastic, therefore more prone to being pulled and broken if manipulated too much (like in combing or brushing). What's the science behind that?

    Personally, I get a lot less shed hairs if I limit detangling, combing, or brushing to when my hair is wet and covered in conditioner. I get significant shed hairs if I comb wet with no product, or dry.

  7. i can't comb my hair it tears at my scalp(tenderheaded?) I'd rather brush my hair cause I feel it gets the knots out better. Since combing tends to Increase the knots and tangles

    My hair is usually dry(i've accepted it and I'm not wasting any more money on it) so whatever I do it won't work so I've decideded to leave the hair alone and let it do it's own thing

    but for me brushing while wet wasn't too bad it actually removes hair that needed to be shed as opposed to using a comb


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