So much of our identity is tangled up in our tresses. Our hair shows the world who we are—or who we want to be. And our combs and brushes play a big role in getting it to that point—so to say we rely on them heavily would be an understatement.
But what would happen if you were asked to give up your hairbrush for an entire week? Would your mane go crazy? Could it affect the way you feel about yourself in the day-to-day?
Actually, bidding farewell to your brush could benefit your strands (if not your confidence). Over time, brushing can lead to significant weakening and damage to your hair. Not good.
Of course, we had to know for sure if ditching the bristles could make our manes look better. So we decided to test that theory with six of our brave staffers. Their hair types run the gamut, and their experiences did, too. Some found the week liberating, while others found it insanely stressful. Most of them came to one final conclusion: Maybe we don’t need our brushes as much as we think we do.
Type: Straight, long, and thick
I am the laziest beauty junkie around, which means I love me some new products but hate fussing with my hair and makeup. For my daily three-step hair routine, I shower in the morning, give my hair a quick rough-dry, then brush it through so that my locks dry straight on my commute. But this morning was different.
After I finished blow-drying, I automatically reached for my boar-bristle hairbrush. It took all my willpower to unwrap each finger from the handle and let the brush go. Not to be thwarted, I reached for my Moroccan Oil instead and ran a few drops through my ends so that I wouldn’t be left with a tangled, gross mess. The day turned out to be one of those rapid-fire Mondays with me whizzing from one meeting to the next without a second thought about what I ate—let alone looked like—so my hair was fine (I think).
The next day, I had to be on camera for a quick video shoot, so I was forced to look at myself in the mirror and contend with the fact that, yes, I had not run a brush through my hair today. I have that annoying hair texture that’s not really straight and not quite wavy. Without some manipulating, it looks like I left a ponytail in my hair for too long.
By the third day, this not-brushing thing was starting to catch up to me. My hair felt tangled, icky, and just not cute. I have what I consider to be typical Asian hair, which means I’ve got an oily scalp—oil that needs to be distributed down to the ends of my hair so that I don’t end up with buildup and gunky roots. I actually wailed out loud, “I want a hairbrush!” like a petulant child while sitting at my desk. In my office. Next to the people I manage. I gathered the hunk of hair, twisted it into a bun, and called it a day.
On the last day (hurrah!), my $10 umbrella folded on me twice on my way to work during a lovely NYC downpour. I arrived to work with my hair un-brushed, wet, and smelling faintly of our city’s signature scents. I can’t tell you how happy I was that I could brush my hair again.
My usual hair game is to wear it down and proud, but not being able to brush made it feel like a mop of tangles, which compelled me to get it up and out of the way in a workday bun. While not brushing probably didn’t make my hair look too different (thanks to a healthy dollop of conditioner in the shower), I was convinced I looked like I had been fished out of a sewage drain.
While, yes, I’m always a fan of finding out the low-maintenance way of achieving a makeup or hair look, I think brushing your hair is nonnegotiable, like showering (though plenty of people do manage to wiggle out of that one).
This experiment proved that while brushing my hair doesn’t make a substantial difference in how I may look, skipping it has a disproportionate effect on my self-perception. So even though this knowledge is liberating, I’m not planning on throwing away my hairbrush any time soon. Though, I might not pack it for an overnight stay at the boyfriend’s anymore.
Hair Type: Short and straight
“For the first day, not brushing my hair made me feel anxious. I am a bit compulsive with my grooming, particularly with my hairbrush. It’s the thing that I do when I get up from my desk, before I go to a meeting, when I get back from a walk outside. The anxiety did dissipate, and afterward I just wound up feeling less tidy than usual.
“The rainy, muggy weather during the no-hairbrush week also added to this sense of untidiness. I panicked when I realized the forecast for the week was the rainiest and most humid in recent memory, meaning my inherently lifeless hair would be that much less responsive to any product additions. But, I resolved to be much more hands-on — literally — with my grooming, and to leave the rest to the forces of nature.
“The experiment was liberating in the sense that I wasn’t exuding anxious energy through over-brushing of my hair, so I had other places to put it. I do think it was also liberating not to have a ‘perfectly placed’ attitude toward my hair look…the hairbrush gives me the sense that everything is in order, which is never actually the case for more than a couple of minutes.”
“I found myself using only super-gentle shampoo and comparably more conditioner, for fear of unmanageable tangles. I also left my hair more damp than I would after getting out of the shower (I normally towel-dry pretty intensely). I would wait until my hair had air-dried a bit more than normal, and then I would blow it dry with my fingers more slowly as opposed to a more swift blow dry with my trusty hairbrush.
“I didn’t love the way my hair looked after forgoing the brush for a week, so my conclusion is that I’m better off sticking to what I know (and love!): my brush. That said, it was as fun as I thought it would be to try something new. On a psychological level, questioning a beauty habit that I formed years ago and have almost subconsciously observed for so long was actually really engaging.”
Hair Type: Mid-length and wavy
“As someone who already only brushes my hair before taking a shower or when I need to pull it back, my experiment felt reversed. I have fine but wavy hair, and when I brush through clean curls, the results are rarely flattering. My hair thrives off having a little texture to it to keep the wave I prefer.
“So, I brushed my hair for the before photo (something I would never do on the same day that I showered) and went about my Monday with very sad hair. During the week, I found my shower drain more clogged than usual, but my hair texture had no noticeable difference, since being brush-free is business as usual.”
“By the end of the week, my hair was back to its wavy state. I only had to deal with more stray hairs in the shower from not brushing my hair prior to showering. I did not have to change my habits at all, except for dealing with fluffier hair in the before photo, which I attempted to tame down with hairspray.
“After the experiment, I continued not brushing my hair. I’ll likely only brush it before I get in the shower.”
Hair Type: Fine, short, and wavy
“It rained on the first day, so my hair was already kind of angry at me. It wasn’t exactly a great way to start off the week. Before I wasn’t allowed to brush my hair, I went brush crazy, trying to tame the humidity and frizz.
“On day two, I had a really crazy, Twilight-related dream (it’s a side effect of the job). As such, I was tossing and turning and woke up with some really serious bedhead, which I couldn’t tame. I am going to be honest: I used a wide-toothed comb after my shower. If I didn’t, someone may have accidentally captured me and taken me to a pound.
“Halfway through the experiment, I had to present in front of the entire editorial team. As such, I put in some curl-enhancing product with the hope that I would look ‘tousled’ as opposed to unkempt. I prefaced my presentation by saying my hair was messier than usual because the beauty editors here are using me for some sadistic experiment. Everyone said my hair looked ‘voluminous.’ So, I felt good.”
“I didn’t have time to shower in the morning of day four, so I don’t know if the resulting assessment is directly related to that or if I actually was going insane. I went to a show for the Northside Festival that night and couldn’t stop envisioning some sort of film settling on my head. Pretty sure it was psychosomatic, but I kept subconsciously itching my scalp to make sure it wasn’t covered in goo. It actually was quite weird.
“Oddly enough, out of all of the days, the last day was the one that I thought my hair looked best. Because it is so fine, I really do need to brush it, but this experiment has made me think about the amount I do so. Though, after they snapped my picture, I ran upstairs and ran a comb through my hair, and it was fabulous.”
Hair Type: Thin but voluminous
“I have a lot of hair. The strands are very fine, but in terms of volume, it’s endless. I’ve always kept it long and in its naturally straight style, and that meant I had to brush my hair twice a day, in the morning and at night, or I’d grow a rat’s nest the size of a tumbleweed at the base of my neck. Once, when I was 10, a hairstylist was forced to just cut one off my scalp — and her scissors couldn’t get through it.
“Last year I switched up my lifelong super-long, straight style by chopping off several inches and perming it because #YOLO and whatnot. Instantly, I noticed I didn’t have to brush as much, but still, the fear of the knots lived on. And, after a windy day or a bad night’s sleep of tossing and turning I’d still have to spend 10 wincing minutes with the paddle brush. So, needless to say, this experiment was scary.
“The other tricky thing for me is that I need to wash my hair every day, period. Plus, I now workout five days a week, and that means I really must. Conscious that I can’t brush out the tangles after I wash, I try not to suds up my hair too much when I lather. I finger-comb the conditioner through my strands, too, which eliminates some post-workout snarls. Maybe that’s cheating, but I have a life to lead, people.”
“Further cheating or stroke of brilliance? When in doubt I just put my hair up. If it’s windy, it goes up. When I sleep, it goes up. When I work out, it’s in a bun, not a ponytail. But, by day three, I’ll admit my scalp’s getting a little tired of supporting the weight of my heavyweight hair in a bun all the time. I slept with it down the night before, and it’s fine.
“It was really humid the week of the experiment, so maybe this is a coincidence, but my hair felt really flat and a little heavy. Typically, I only use one product in it — a small dollop of wavy-hair cream — and it felt like it wasn’t washing out all the way.
“On the last day, two people asked if I got a haircut. Turns out, everyone asked Leila Brillson the same thing. I guess my flat-hair theory was wrong because everyone seemed to think my locks looked shorter and wavier.
“Overall, this experiment didn’t rock my world in a good or bad way. I was glad to be able to give it a brush on the last day. Honestly, if someone told me taking a brush break would help my hair in the long run, I’d totally do this again.”