To comb or not to comb?

So on Monday, we discussed the kind of damage that can result from combing which left the next question, what can you do to reduce it?

Science has a couple of answers

1. Conditioner has been shown to reduce damage during combing. Shampoooing alone then combing leads to much more damage (J Soc Cosmet Chem, pg 347-371, 1993). Shampooing with a conditioning shampoo (i.e silicone containing) has been shown also to reduce damage. Why? The conditioner is thought to deposit onto the hair reducing the amount of charge on the surface and allowing the comb to go through easier.

2. Reducing the number of strokes of the comb or brush - meaning only comb for as much as you need to and nothing more. Why? The less you comb, the less you damage the hair.

Here are a couple more suggestions from me.

1. Choose a wide tooth comb. The less teeth there are, the less hair the comb is exposed to and therefore the less damage you do.

2. Consider finger combing. This is probably best for very curly hair but does require patience and for you to embrace the shrinkage of your hair. I think when done properly, finger combing can significantly reduce breakage of super curly hair. IF not done properly, there is probably little difference than with using a comb - if you pull the hair, snap through knots etc, this is exactly what a comb would do. My fav finger combing video comes from Lisa Akbari ( she does plenty of product plugging in this video but I'm directing you to it for the concept - ok here's the link )

So is combing wet better than combing dry? I don't really know the answer to that. I think that both can be damaging.

Well it is now over to you. What is your combing style? Mine is finger comb most times with conditioner but sometimes without. I am firmly in the group of small toothed combs are evil as are the denman brushes (no offence to the company, the brush is a good quality brush with good bristles - ie smooth and well spaced but woe betide you if you have fine hair it will be splitsville).

Additional sources - please see Monday link above!


  1. But how does finger combing address shed hair? I mean, great, I get rid of tangles, but how do I clear out all that shed hair? How do I get the hair to clump? Finger combing wouldn't help at all if I wanted to put my hair into a ponytail. It wouldn't be smooth. I have 4a/b super coily hair. I have been using my Denman but it has too many teeth and I suspect it has been pulling out my hair. I have taken out several rows of teeth on my Denman, but I'm still wary of using it.

  2. Hi Izzy - I have been finger combing for about a year now and I have not had a problem with removing any shed hair. The key is to place hair in sections and work through. If you have shorter hair this may be 10 or more sections but for me 6-8 sections, 20-30 minutes and patience works. I have styled my hair in a variety of ways including a poofytail (aka ponytail), bun, etc.

    I am also a 4a/b but I don't let my hair clump up because it usually all ends in tangles and despair for me. I think if you want clumped hair then you do have to use a comb or brush to achieve this. Teri of tightlycurly (see link to the side)is the hair clumping guru.

    I really cannot emphasise enough that hair is personal and you must find a method that works for you.

    If you have been combing or brushing and your hair is thriving, there is no need to change anything that you are doing.

    1. I have 3b to c type curls and I have been considering the finger combing method because my hair is extremely long now, and it is sensitive to any sort of offense. I agree 100% about the Denman brush because these days if I use it my hair turns to frizz. I first switched over to one of those handmade wide tooth combs, but over time I began to realize that trying to comb my hair thoroughly is pointless. It tangled the moment I stop combing it, and I do not think that is bad, I think that is just the nature of it. I have found a method that works better for me, especially since my long hair needs volume and having to wet it reduces my volume (I cannot get a comb through my hair dry and even if I did it a little, it would frizz my curls). So my new method is simply to do somewhat small braids at night. In each section where I braid I am able to work out any knots with scissors and unravel tangles with my hands. Putting coconut oil on my ends and only separating the hairs at the ends helps me not to tangle it up by braiding. During the day time when I leave the house I take out the braids and spritz a bit of water to make my hair get its curl back, then I put on coconut oil and aloe vera. I do not put any commercial products on it. I have just started this method but my hope is to be able to comb only once a week or every two weeks, and then at that just with my fingers and coconut oil, or my homemade avocado conditioner. I am hoping this will maximize my hair volume. I will be writing about this on my next blog post. If you browse my posts I have a ton of info on using household stuff only on your hair.

  3. I mostly finger comb, sometimes following up with a wide tooth comb. I never use a brush or anything like that. If my hair has been in an out style (twistout, etc.) I finger detangle wet hair with conditioner in, it after washing.

    If my hair is in larger twists or braids, I detangle on dry hair, undoing each individual braid and redoing it after detangling and removing shed hair. My hair stays very moisturized and doesn't get very tangled when I wear it in braids, so I'm able to easily work with dry hair.

    If it's in small braids/twists and I'm planning on keeping the style, I redo individual braids, detangling as I go, after I wash and deep condition. Again, it stays detangled and moisturized, so not a lot of work detangling.

  4. Finger combing doesn't really work for me. I never can get all the shed hair out and then it will tangle or knot on my other hair so I have to use a wide tooth comb. I like the rake comb to be more specific. Combing is a breeze with it. I only comb my hair when it's wet and saturated with oils, which is how I condition my hair, or at least moistened with water and a hair cream or lotion. Either way, I do not comb my hair dry. That's just asking for snap, crackle, breakage! This method seems to work best for me. I normally comb my hair about 1-2 times a week.

  5. @Moni and Milan - I definitely agree it is really about keeping the hair moisturised.

  6. i mostly finger comb my hair (4B/C hair type). I use comb once every 2 months and i don't have any problem with breakage or removing shed hair.
    JC, is it possible to have healthy hair only with oils like coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil?
    Stay blessed.

  7. Hi Marie Grace - Your question is very intriguing. I am actually going to highlight some debates this coming week and one of them is along the lines of your question. Stay tuned!

  8. I load conditioner on to soaking wet hair, loosely section off and comb with a wide tooth. Before, I was using the denman brush and that did terrible damage to my hair!

  9. I think it is Marie Grace. 95% of the time, I only condition and detangle my hair with water and coconut oil or EVOO. Does right by my hair. I can get away with moisturizing with water and oils in the spring and summer. But when it's cold and dry out, I have to seal with something heavier like a creme (that has oils in it). One of these days, I'm going to try sealing with just castor oil and see what happens though b/c my hair really has a hard time absorbing shea butter.

  10. I saturate with conditioner. I use my fingers to section and stroke down the hair strands, thus removing the shed hair. I wash in sections, I dry in sections, and try not to be in a hurry.

    I always start with the hair ends. My hair tangles very easily.

    The only real combing happens when I use my Conair blow dryer with the built-in comb. Excellent tool. I use it infrequently.

  11. I mostly finger comb my 3c-4a very thick and curly hair with a conditioner in the shower or a leave-in out of the shower. Aussie Moist has the best slip for me and makes detangling a breeze. I also use it as a moisturizing leave-in spritz with a 1:4-1:5 cond/water ratio. If I try to detangle with Shea Butter or an oil on very wet hair it is only asking for big time trouble! They are just too heavy for that process and I wait until hair is about 70% air-dried before applying and then it is much easier to work it through and either twist or put back into puff, pony or bun.
    Haven't had any problem removing shed-hairs with finger detangling in sections.

  12. My hair is type 4a natural. I've been finger combing my hair for 2 months now and it's been working wonders!

    Since I started dealing with my hair in 6-8 sections whenever I shampoo/condition/detangle, I hardly even have tangles anymore. It's uncanny. Most of the time the shed hairs just slide right out as a result of sectioning.

  13. I'm not combing my hair dry any more, only when it is wet.

    However even when it is wet, I have to be very careful, because I have impatient combing hands and want to finish quickly. That's how I lose a lot of hair.

    I think sometimes fingercombing and combing with a wide tooth are both appropriate. If your hair is moisturized, then combing will always be easier no matter what method you use.

    The key is always patience and having a consistent method of combing. If you start from the bottom when you comb, keep doing that.

  14. I finger comb 100% of the time on damp, stretched hair once a week. I split my hair into 5-7 sections, spritz with a aloe vera/honey mix, detangle and put into loosely twisted sections.

    Finger combing is wonderful for my hair. It combined with keeping my hair stretched 99.9% of the time has made detangling a breeze.

    I have shoulder length 4a/b hair.

  15. Finger combing has not worked for me. I pull shed hair out as much as possible. But it takes me two hours to detangle, no matter what method. I have three types of texture on my head ranging from 3b, 3c and 4a and including heat damage. Transitioning has been a challenge. After one year will my hair train to tangle less?


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