We need to talk about boar bristle hair brushes, and their amazing benefits for the hair. It’s amazing how quickly cultures can forget the benefits of something that was very widely used and loved in the past. Boar bristle hair brushes are a perfect example of this.
This article is going to be all about boar bristle brushes:
We’re going to talk about:
*The main benefits of boar bristle brushing
*How women used boar bristle brushes in history to care for their long, beautiful locks. (Men used them too!)
*How boar bristle brushes can help you go longer between washes, and why that is important
*The main type of boar bristle brush that I recommend to everyone, and why
*How to properly keep a boar bristle brush clean
*How those with thick curly hair like me can incorporate boar bristle brushing into their routines, and a demonstration of how I use it.
So let’s jump into it.
The Benefits of Boar Bristle Brushes
When most people think of a hair brush, they think of a tool that is designed to detangle the hair. These brushes have rigid, relatively distantly spaced bristles, made of plastic or wood. A boar bristle brush, even though it is called by the same name, is a different animal entirely.
I personally only use and recommend a 100% boar bristle brush, as opposed to the kinds with stiff nylon detangling bristles mixed in. More on that soon. With a 100% boar bristle brush, it is not a detangling tool whatsoever. Rather, it is a tool designed to clean the hair, distribute your scalp’s natural conditioning oils throughout your hair, and smooth, style, and soften your hair.
A 100% boar bristle brush of the type used in history has very closely packed boar bristles, that basically form a uniform surface across the top of the bristles. For most people ,unless you have thin or fine hair, this type of brush won’t penetrate into your hair or detangle it, which actually makes it perfect for hair health. More on that in a moment. This does mean that it is necessary to first detangle the hair with something else first - be it your fingers (what I use), or a wooden comb or brush if that works for you.
Most of us have heard the old adage of brushing the hair with “100 strokes a night” that many women in history would aim for. Until I discovered the magic of boar bristle brushes, this saying confused me. I associated brushing of the hair with modern detangling brushes that caused me pain, tugging at my scalp, losing lots of hair, and hair breakage. A 100% BBB however, can easily be used for 100 strokes a night, because there is very little change of it causing hair breakage, since it is not aiming to detangle the hair. Rather, it cleans and smooths the hair and scalp, and distributes natural scalp oils throughout the hair length which increases shine, lustre, and texture.
The longer or curlier your hair is, the more a boar bristle brush can be useful, because it does a great job at bringing the scalp oils all the way down to your ends, which otherwise would have a hard time getting all the way down there.
Boar bristle brushing also does a great job at stimulating your scalp and follicles gently, which can help increase hair growth, as well as bring balance to your scalp, whether it is too dry or too oily.
So now let’s briefly talk about how women and people used BBB’s in history.
Where To Buy a Boar Bristle Brush
Boar Bristle Brush History
In Western cultures, throughout the 1800’s and much of the 1900’s, there was likely not a person around who didn’t own and use a boar bristle brush. Now, since the advent of plastic brushes and combs, as well as a reliance on the commercial beauty industry’s chemical hair concoctions, boar bristle brushing has largely been forgotten.
Boar bristle brushes are mentioned in almost every historical hair care manual I have personally referenced from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. In every one, it is mentioned as a very important tool for maintaining hair health, increasing shine, and mechanically cleansing the hair and scalp without the need for frequent hair washing.
Middle class and wealthy women who could afford maids would have their hair brushed out every night, and they believed this greatly contributed to their hair’s health and shine. It makes perfect sense that they used it in this way, since they didn’t have the massive beauty industry that we have today, producing bottles and bottles of various products that we apparently “need” for healthy hair.
Boar bristle brushes represent a long human tradition of a slower, more methodical, less consumptive way of caring for the hair. Precursors for the boar bristle brush included wooden and bone combs, which could fulfill some of the same functions like distributing natural oils and mechanically cleaning the scalp.
A boar bristle brush is essentially a tool that one buys once, and it can actually replace bottles and bottles of commercial hair products like shampoos and styling products that you would otherwise have to keep buying and re-buying. How? A boar bristle brush is one of the best hair care tools for lengthening the amount of time we can go between hair washes. It is also an almost miraculous way of styling, smoothing, and softening the hair, without the need for any commercial styling products.
Let’s briefly touch on the beautiful historical hair styles and looks that women were able to achieve by using boar bristle brushes. Most of us are probably at least vaguely familiar with the beautiful "finger waves" of various old Hollywood stars. We also see more of a unified curl pattern in Victorian and Edwardian women's long hair. We almost never see curls like these anymore - where the hair forms a unified body, like the surface of an ocean. This was achieved through brushing out either natural or artificial curls with a boar bristle brush. When we see curls and waves styled in the modern way, these curls and waves are usually all individual curls, which of course is beautiful in its own way, but typically requires lots of curly hair styling products to achieve.
So now let’s talk about how boar bristle brushes can help you go longer between washes, and why that is important
Dry-Cleansing Hair with a Boar Bristle Brush
What is the main reason our modern western culture has forgotten boar bristle brushing? I largely attribute this to the advent of indoor running water, plumbing, and showers in every home, not to mention the take over of the beauty industry with its commercial products. In order to have nice looking hair today, most people rely on frequent washing of their hair, and styling it with commercial products and heat tools.
Historically, frequent bathing or washing of the hair was not really an option, and this is where boar bristle brushes came in. Boar bristles brushes are an amazingly effective means of dry-cleansing the hair. This is something that most modern people aren’t even aware is an option - that we can actually clean our hair and scalp when dry, but it is indeed true.
There are typically always two ways to clean something - either with water and soap or surfactants, or mechanically. A boar bristle brush is a great mechanical way to clean the scalp and hair, since its fine closely packed bristles get right into the scalp, picking up oil and and any scalp build up and brushing it out of the hair. While doing this, it also does a great job at stimulating the scalp, which is a bonus!
While cleaning the hair, it also conditions it, because the it draws the oils from the scalp all the way down the hair strands. This is where scalp oils are supposed to end up! Rather than always shampooing the oils straight off of our scalp, these oils are meant to be the ultimate conditioning product for our hair strands. If you have long or curly hair, it is even more important to draw these oils down from the scalp, because it is that much harder for the oils to get down there on their own.
Personally, I have been using a boar bristle brush much more recently, since researching my previous videos helped me see a lot of the benefits of it. It has helped me greatly draw out the time between washes greatly. I was already only washing my hair once a week, but I have been able to wash my hair even less frequently than that thanks to boar bristle brushing. How? It helps me alleviate any visible oil at my scalp area, but most of all, it helps me keep my hair looking conditioned and nice and smooth when otherwise it would have looked dry and bedraggled if I passed a week without washing and re-conditioning it.
Types of Boar Bristle Brushes and What I Recommend
Nowadays, there are certainly boar bristle brushes on the market, but there are different types and many of them have been modernized to various degrees to fit in with our modern hair care practices.
I am going to start with the type of boar bristle brush I recommend - this is a 100% boar bristle brush, with soft-medium stiffness of bristles, in a paddle form of some sort - this may be an oval, a square, or a rectangle. What is mostly important is that it is a flat brush, not a round cylindrical brush like what you see hair stylists use for blowouts.
Before we go any further, we need to discuss the different types of boar bristle brushes and their applications. There are two main types on the market today: 100% boar bristles, and mixed boar bristle brushes. The mixed boar bristle brushes contain evenly spaced nylon bristles mixed throughout the boar bristles. The main point is that these nylon or wooden bristles are stiffer and probably a bit longer than the boar bristles, so they penetrate into the hair more, detangling as you get the benefits of boar bristles. Typically, these mixed brushes are recommended for someone like me with thicker hair, while the 100% boar bristle brushes are recommended for thinner, finer hair types. A well known example of a mixed boar bristle brush is the Denman brush.
I use and recommend a 100% boar bristle brush even though my hair is thick, for a few reasons. First of all, the entire premise of why I am attracted to boar bristle brushes in the first place is because they have stood the test of time. All of those Victorian and Edwardian ladies with the super long hair were using boar bristle brushes in their hair. However, they were using 100 % boar bristle brushes, not the modern kind with nylon bristles mixed in. So obviously, there is a way to make these brushes work for all hair types, and I have figured that out for my own hair, which I will be demonstrating in the next section.
Secondly, I prefer 100% boar bristle brushes because I exclusively finger detangle my hair, due to the fact that any sort of inanimate detangling tool like a brush or comb is more likely to cause damage and breakage than my fingers will. My fingers can feel and negotiate knots rather than just mindlessly ripping through them.
Okay. Let’s say you have straight hair and you have an awesome wooden brush or comb that you use to detangle your hair - like many historical ladies did, I might add. Great, more power to you. I would still argue that it is better to separate the functions of a boar bristle brush - ie. dry cleansing, stimulating the scalp, and smoothing and styling the hair - from the function of detangling. That way, you can be very mindful about how you detangle your hair with your detangling comb or brush or fingers first, and then go in with the boar bristle brush to your hearts desire, even to do the proverbial “100 strokes a night” with no worries of it causing breakage or damage to your hair. Sometimes things tools work best when they only do one function, rather than attempting to combine multiple functions in one.
Boar Bristle Brushes and Curly Hair
Okay, now that we have covered all of this background information, I’d like to get into a very frequently asked question I have been getting. That is - can or should I use a boar bristle brush if I have curly hair? Great question.
Now of course, I don’t think anyone needs to use a boar bristle brush to have healthy hair. In fact, for most of my own hair growth journey I was only using my fingers in my hair because I hadn’t yet figured out how to incorporate a boar bristle brush into my curly routine. So if you have curly hair and you are happily finger detangling, great. You don’t need to do anything else. I would say that if you are drawn to a boar bristle brush and it’s benefits, then use it, but do so in a mindful and deliberate way.
I will put a caveat here that if you are a curly haired person who loves having defined, separated curls every day, then a boar bristle brush may not be for you, or at least not on most days - because it does tend to brush out curls to some degree. It may give you that old Hollywood look that we discussed earlier, or it is certainly possibly that it will tend to straighten out your hair the more you use it. An easy solution to this is to only use the boar bristle brush once - and that is the night before you plan to wash it. If you are using a pre-poo treatment like an oil or masque, you can first detangle and BBB your hair, then apply the pre-poo treatment. Or, you could use a boar bristle scalp brush and only use it at your hair roots for the scalp and follicle benefits without brushing through your curls.
When I use a boar bristle brush, I wait at least 3-5 days after washing my hair to begin using it. Why? Because I enjoy having defined curls on those first few days, and also because it takes a few days for my curly pattern to settle down enough where I am ready to begin finger detangling it.
However, the boar bristle brush has proved to be a very useful tool for me, as it has allowed me to draw out the time between washes, by keeping my hair looking clean and nice on those days when I am wearing it up in protective styles anyways. In other words, on the first couple days after washing, my curls look nice and defined, and that is when I would wear it loose - so I don’t use the brush on those days. Once I am only wearing my hair up in protective styles for the rest of the days before washing, that is when I incorporate BBB’ing into my routine. I don’t choose to use a BBB every night - usually it is every third night of those days when I am wearing my hair up. Simply because I don’t want to let me enthusiasm get the better of me and do too much of a good thing.
How to Clean a Boar Bristle Brush (and why you should)
Since a boar bristle brush is such an effective means of dry-cleansing your hair, it effectively means that the brush itself is going to be picking up a whole lot of oils and scalp buildup from your hair. It would be a shame if you brushed your hair one night, getting it nice and clean and smooth looking, only to put that same dirty stuff into your hair the next day. That is why I aim to clean my brush after every use, especially if my hair is feeling oily, or I have been putting actual oils in my hair that the brush would have picked up.
I have developed a very easy way to do this right at my bathroom sink - watch the video to see the demonstration.
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If you have heard all of these benefits of boar bristle brushing and are thinking, great! I want to buy one! I will have some links for boar bristle brushes on Amazon that you can purchase. I will say that ever since my first historical hair care article and video, it seems that a lot of you have been buying these brushes and so my top picks on Amazon are often out of stock. I will have links for my top picks, which may be out of stock, and then some links for other ones that I find that may not be my top picks, but are still pretty good. I will say that my ideal boar bristle brush would actually be an exact replica of a historical one, because they were gorgeous, and have longer bristles than what we see on modern brushes. I may try to find an actual antique one at some point and if I do, I will surely make a video about it.
Where To Buy a Boar Bristle Brush
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