Is brushing good for hair?

Robin Peirce wonders if the practice of brushing a hundred times a day is good for hair. It’s no surprise this is associated with the Victorian era, when one could rely on one’s servants to do the actual brushing. It’s fallen out of favour now that the social order has been tipped and one has to rely on oneself for such things. That’s a good thing for hair, though, because all that brushing was a bad idea.

For the purpose of today’s lesson we can consider hair to have two components: the soft, fibrous inner core and the hard outer cuticle. The core gives hair its flexibility. The cuticle gives hair its strength and protects the core. When you look at healthy hair it is the cuticle that you see.

Bear in mind that I’m using “healthy” in the same sense as peddlers of shampoo and the like. Hair is dead matter and all the vitamins and essential oils in the world won’t bring it back. Would you really want undead hair anyway? I’d worry that it was arranging itself into outré styles when I wasn’t looking.

Anyway, dead or alive, hair looks and feels good when the cuticle is intact and tidy. Unhealthy hair is a different matter. When the cuticle wears off, as it inevitably does, the result is breaks and split ends where the fibrous core splays out like a paintbrush.

So keeping the cuticle in condition is of primary concern in hair care. It’s really a staged retreat in the face of relentless attack by everyday forces. These forces slowly weather the cuticle, patiently chipping bit by bit until it finally gives way. Brushing contributes to this weathering. The more you brush the faster the cuticle weathers and the worse your hair looks and feels in the long run.

If you have long hair remember that each strand has to survive year after year of friction, sunlight, wetting and other destructive factors. Imagine adding to that load by brushing more than you need to. It’s enough to make your hair stand on end.

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