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When I first discovered that my hair was naturally wavy and found the curly girl method, I was confused by hearing “Do not brush wavy hair!”. I had spent my whole life brushing my hair after getting out of the shower, and at the start of each day, at minimum.
I also grew up hearing things like “Your hair is a mess, it needs brushed!” So, I thought of brushing your hair as an essential part of taking care of your hair and keeping it from looking bad.
For those of you who are where I was a few years ago, I wanted to dive deeper into why you shouldn’t brush wavy hair. Hopefully, this will help you understand the benefits of not brushing wavy hair.
Why You Shouldn’t Brush Wavy Hair
Brushing naturally wavy hair can flatten it or pull it straight. Similar to how a curl is made by twisting a lot of hairs around a curling iron to form 1 curl, natural waves are made up of large groups of hair. Brushing or combing hair will separate the hairs, destroying the wave.
Wavy hair is often more delicate than curly hair, so it has to be treated gently to avoid destroying waves. Even curly hair can sometimes be flattened, pulled straight, or made “poofy” if brushed or combed.
I find the visualization of using a curling iron helpful. When a straight-haired person using a curling iron to make a single curl, they wrap hundreds of hair around the iron to make 1 curl. Natural curls and natural waves work the same way. 100+ hairs with the same pattern will create a group that becomes 1 wave.
If you brush or comb your hair (or even rake your fingers through your hair) this will break your waves apart making them skinnier and potentially more fragile. Many people with wavy hair don’t know they have wavy hair until they stop brushing it. Brushing makes that big of a difference in hair pattern!
Brushing wavy hair disrupts your gel or mousse
Most people with naturally wavy hair will choose to use gel or mousse to help preserve their natural texture longer. If you brush your hair when it has gel or mousse in it, you’ll lose many of the benefits that the gel or mousse had to offer.
Products with hold try to help hold your waves together, but a brush can force them apart. Gel and mousse try to assist with frizz, but brushing will introduce more frizz.
Brushing introduces POOF.
I did a whole blog post about how to make your wavy hair less poofy. It’s no coincidence that this post talked about brushing or combing wavy hair pretty high up! For years I thought my hair was straight but frizzy and poofy. That’s just what happens when you brush wavy hair.
Brushing wavy hair doesn’t fix frizz.
When people with straight hair get a bit of frizz, it’s often because their hairs aren’t well aligned. So re-aligning them with a brush or a comb fixes the frizz. This is why straight-haired people often ask people with wavy or curly hair why they don’t just brush their hair to help with fizz. I did a post on my other blog that showed before and after brushing wavy hair to help show why it’s not a great idea!
If you’re struggling with frizz, these other posts of mine can help!
When you can brush wavy hair
The strictest form of the curly girl method recommends never brushing or combing your hair with anything other than your fingers. As I went into more detail in on my How To Fix Tangled Wavy Hair post, I think most people with wavy hair will want to use a brush or a comb while in the shower.
It can be really tough, even seemingly impossible, to get tangles worked through with just your fingers. Many people make a slight modification to the curly girl method for themselves, for the sake of being able to comb or brush out tangles in the shower. Typically this is done while conditioner is in their hair, to reduce friction and try to do as little damage as possible while detangling.
Even though my hair is not tangle-prone anymore, I like to use a wide tooth comb while in the shower. It’s just nice to get my hair sorted and aligned. Others choose to use Denman or other brushes while in the shower to de-tangle. My post about fixing tangles has some other specific brush and comb recommendations.
The other main way that wavy or curly haired people will use a brush is to distribute product evenly throughout their hair. The most common type of brush for this use is a Denman brush. People will add in their leave-in conditioner, then brush with the Denman to distribute it evenly. Then add-in their gel and brush it again, etc.
Another way that some people modify the curly girl method to brush their hair, is for assisting with curl clumping during the styling phase. They’ll use a Denman brush to section their hair and apply tension in a way to help enhance their curls. When done around the whole head, this can create really evenly sized curl-clumps, and encourage waves or curls to form in the same direction, as well.
For a while I was using advice from this Manes By Mell video that recommended using a Denman brush to style. I found that it was really helpful for making the back of my head less of a mess. However, it caused my clumps to be smaller and a bit more stretched out. I suspect this routine is a better option for tighter or more self-supporting waves than what I have.
I enjoyed doing it to experiment though. Ultimately, I think so many aspects of wavy hair care come down to learning what works for your specific hair through trial and error.
Is it unhygienic to not brush your hair?
I think this question gets danced around, but is in the back of the minds of people when they first learn that most people with textured hair don’t’ brush it. I think it’s part of hearing ‘your hair is a mess, go find your brush’ type sentiments as kids. Many of us grew up associating brushing hair with part of a regular hygiene routine.
It’s not dirty to not brush your hair. Brushing hair doesn’t clean it in any way. It may help pull out hairs that have shed from the scalp. However, there is no harm in these staying in your hair until you brush your hair in the shower on your next wash day.
If you’re new to learning how to embrace your naturally wavy hair, here are some more blog posts that you may be interested in:
How to get naturally wavy hair to last longer
i noticed that sometimes my waves actually spring up better after brushing. But I now use a detangler (the perfect) rather than a stiff brush. I’m finding that sometimes they’re more stringy and weighed down with no brushing. I now question any “never do this to x hair” advice, even from the curly community. This is only true if its on the oilier side though, if i brush it when it looks “dry” then yeah poof and frizz city. My hypothesis is that sometimes all the oil is getting stuck near the top weighing everything down and brushing with brush made for keeping curls intact can help distribute it to those ends that need the oil to spring back up. And its a light brush, def if i used a stiff paddle brush and went at it hard liek i was taught when i was young it looks a lot like your after picture. But if i start from the ends and work my way up with a detangler for curls and just give it a once over, it looks less like 90s mall hair and more like voluminous bouncy waves. Also I have the same problem with Mell’s styling videos! They make my waves so stringy and limp, we need those big clumps.
Hi, what’s the best way to loosen waves that are too tight/too springy? Thanks
Emily Evert says
Sometimes people who want really big, (sometimes called “beachy waves”) will brush out their waves to get that effect. If you don’t necessarily want those big clumps and less definition but just want it looser, what I would recommend would vary depending on what you’re currently doing. If you’re currently diffusing, I’d suggest air drying instead, as that usually results in looser waves. If you’re currently scrunching your hair, you could not scrunch to get looser waves. If you’re currently using a hard hold gel or mousse, you might get looser waves if you use a light hold product instead, or even not using any product.
I can’t brush or comb my hair in the shower, it becomes too tangled to do that. So I’m not really sure when to brush my hair now
Emily Evert says
If it is easier (requires notably less physical force) to detangle your hair when it is dry, then I’d do that. The logic behind detangling hair while it’s wet with conditioner in it, is based on how hair is more flexible/less rigid when wet so it won’t break off as easily. But I’ve also read recently in a book on hair chemistry that sometimes really damaged hair will have a poor reaction to hair products that makes it even more rigid after shampooing than it would be dry. So for those people, I think dry brushing would be less damaging. Ultimately you want to be as gentle as possible to try to keep the process of combing or brushing from outright breaking off hairs, or in doing damage that will leave the hair weaker ad more prone to snapping off when brushed again in the future.
With you getting a lot of tangles I’d recommend reading up on clarifying and protein-moisture balance to see if you could make some changes in your routine that could reduce your tangles.
Oh no! I think this is why I’ve noticed my hair becoming more straighter…is there any way to fix it? I don’t want to use any curling irons or other tools to curl my hair.
Emily Evert says
Brushing your hair will just leave it straighter until your next wash day. Once you get it wet again, it’ll reset the hydrogen bonds in your hair that will help it return to your natural pattern, so no worries! If you mean that your hair has consistently gotten straighter over time though? That isn’t due to brushing. If it’s been a fairly rapid change (over the course of a few weeks or less), your hair could be over-moisturized and needing protein. If it’s gotten straighter more slowly, that’s probably just natural changes due to age. Especially if you’ve experienced a change in hormones such as pregnancy or menopause. For some, hormone changes make their hair curlier, and for others it makes it straighter. The other possibility would be damage? If you’ve bleached or dyed your hair that damage can make it straighter for some.