Detangling hair without damaging it requires time and a gentle touch. Removing snarls from wet hair requires even more patience and gentleness. A detangling brush aka “wet brush” with flexible, ball-tipped bristles is the best hair care tool for getting tangles out of not only wet but also dry tresses, especially for long, thick, curly, long or damaged hair that gets knotted easily.
In today’s review, I'll explain why and when it's important to use "wet brushes" and sharing my favorite detangling brushes to help protect the health and beauty of your mane.
A “Wet Brush” Helps Remove Snarls Gently Without Damaging Your Hair
If you are lucky enough to have the type of hair that rarely gets knots and can be combed through easily, without tugging, after a shampoo or swim, I envy you! For everyone else, whose locks are prone to tangling and breaking (especially when wet), there are two very important things you will need to minimize damage to your mane when you are trying to persuade your snarled strands to separate.
The first is plenty of patience, since you will need to coax the strands apart only a few inches at a time, starting with the last two or three inches and slowly working your way up toward the scalp, moving to the next section only after the one you are working on is completely tangle-free.
The second thing you will need is a good quality "wet brush", i.e., a detangling brush designed to help you remove snarls from either dry or wet hair.
Keeping the Hair Shaft's Cuticle Healthy Is the Key to Smooth, Shiny, Strong Hair
Cuticle Damage = Fragile, Dull, Frizzy Hair and Split Ends
When we talk about hair, we usually are referring to the shaft (the visible portion outside the scalp). The cortex, which forms the majority of the shaft, is responsible for the hair's strength/elasticity, color and texture. (Very thick hairs may also have a thin core called the medulla.) The hair shaft's outermost layer, the cuticle, is composed of smooth, flat keratin cells arranged compactly in overlapping, downward-facing rows, similar to roof tiles or fish scales. The cuticle protects the cortex (and medulla, if there is one) against damage and controls how much moisture can enter it.
The health of your hair depends largely on the integrity of the cuticle. If the cuticle is abraded, worn away, stretched, cracked, or otherwise damaged, it can no longer protect the cortex. Without an intact protective cuticle, the helix-shaped keratin protein strands (which are like coiled springs) are no longer held securely in place and can stick out, creating a frizzy appearance and weakening the hair fibers.
Healthy hair looks shiny because the cuticle is smooth and intact, so light reflects off a smooth surface at the same angle. Damaged hair looks dull because the cuticle's overlapping cells no longer lay down flat, so light refracts off the uneven surface at different angles.
Since hair grows from the roots, the ends are the oldest part and, therefore, have had the most cumulative exposure to physical, chemical and environmental damage. The cuticle on the ends of the shaft has had the most wear and tear, and the exposed cortex is what we call split ends. (For more information about the chemical, mechanical and environmental factors that cause hair damage, please see my Olaplex No.0 Intensive Bond Building Hair Treatment + No.3 Hair Perfector Product Review.)
The Benefits of Using a Wet Brush for Detangling Dry or Wet Hair
Thinner, More Flexible Bristles Are Gentler on Snarled Tresses
Paddle brushes and other hairbrushes designed to be used only on dry hair often have thick, stiff bristles. For example, 100% boar bristle brushes are good for adding shine to healthy tresses because they help distribute the oils from the scalp along the shaft.
However, because these shorter, stiff bristles have very little “give,” when they encounter a snag they tend to get stuck in the knot. Since the hair is more elastic and more fragile, especially when it is wet, those tangled strands will break rather than slide apart when they are under tension from the stiff bristles.
By contrast, a "wet brush" designed specifically for detangling both wet and dry hair has smooth, flexible bristles that can glide along the strands without abrading the cuticle or causing tears or cracks. Some stretching and breaking is inevitable when you are trying to brush out snarls, especially if your hair is long, thick, wavy, fragile or damaged and tangles easily even when it is dry. But a detangling brush, especially one with long, ball-tipped bristles, will help minimize the damage to the cuticle when used on dry or wet hair.
Use a "Wet Brush" to Detangle Dry Hair Before a Shampoo or Swim, Then Towel Dry and Detangle Again
When your hair is wet, the shaft absorbs water and swells, causing the edges of the protective cuticle's overlapping "tiles" (cells) to lift a bit, exposing more of the softer and more porous cortex layer. That's why your tresses are weaker and more vulnerable to stretching, breaking, and other damage than when they are dry, and why it's important to use a brush with thin, flexible, rounded or ball-tipped bristles and slide it through the strands slowly and gently.
Before you shampoo or go for a swim, it's a good idea to use a "wet brush" to detangle your hair while it's still dry, so there will be fewer knots and snarls to unravel after you get out of the water, when your wet hair will be more vulnerable to damage from a brush.
Make sure to dry your wet hair with a soft, very absorbent microfiber hair towel or turban to gently wick away as much moisture as possible before you begin to detangle, brush or style it. (See my VOLO Hero Premium Microfiber Hair Towel Product Review to learn more about the hair towel/turban that has earned my highest recommendation.) Then use a “wet brush” with thin, flexible and, ideally, ball-tipped bristles to gently ease any tangled strands apart and minimize potential damage to the all-important protective cuticle layer.
Always Use a Detangling Brush to Remove Snarls, Whether Your Hair Is Wet or Dry
If you find a lot of strands in your shower drain or your hairbrush, or if your mane is frizzy, breaks or gets tangled easily even when it's dry, those are signs that the cuticle has been damaged.
If that's the case (as it is for most of us who are past our twenties), you definitely will benefit from using a detangling brush on your dry hair, either exclusively or to remove any snarls before you use your regular hairbrush.
My Picks for the Best Wet Brushes (AKA Detangling Brushes)
Many years ago, the stylist at my hair salon explained that the reason my formerly smooth, silky long locks were becoming frizzy, dull, brittle and increasingly prone to snarls was the cumulative damage to the cuticle from decades of coloring, highlighting and heat styling. One of the things he recommended was to stop using my beloved (and expensive) Kent boar bristle hairbrush and switch to a good quality "wet brush" instead, since the more detangling I had to do, the more damage a brush with dense clusters of short, stiff, boar bristles would create. Since then, I have tried several different brands and styles of detangling brushes and the Wet Brush brand has worked the best for me.
Wet Brush makes many different styles and models of detangling brushes, all featuring the brand's smooth, ball-tipped, flexible IntelliFlex bristles that glide through snarls more easily than others I have tried. In fact, Wet Brush states that independent clinical trials showed that the brand's exclusive IntelliFlex bristles are less damaging than a traditional styling brush and use less force than another leading detangling brush. The brand says its IntelliFlex bristles cause 19% less damage and use 56% less force.
Another advantage of the ball-tipped bristles is that they are good for massaging the scalp gently, without causing any damage.
For the past several years, I have been using the Wet Brush Pro Flex Dry Paddle, a vented paddle detangling brush with a flexible head that conforms to the scalp better than a traditional, rigid brush head.This Wet Brush model is one of several styles that are vented to promote air flow while blow drying. (I assume "dry paddle" means "drying paddle.") When I was blow drying my hair, the wide vents worked really well for that purpose
I have been using this brush on my long, easily tangled mane for several years and it has held up fine. However, there have been some customer reviews complaining that this and other vented Wet Brush models break too easily. If they were using enough force to break the sturdy plastic, I suspect that they were tugging too hard and trying to force the bristles through stubborn knots and snarls, rather than using the bristles to gently work them apart to avoid damaging the cuticle and causing the enmeshed strands to break. If my guess is correct, then the allegedly premature breakage of the brush head may well have been caused by user error, rather than a materials or design flaw.
Last year, I decided to stop blow drying my hair, so I no longer need a vented paddle detangling brush. These days, after I towel-dry and detangle my tresses, either I let it finish air drying naturally or use my oval hot air brush, which is virtually identical to the REVLON One-Step Hair Dryer And Volumizer Hot Air Brush and produces very similar results to what I could achieve with a blow dryer and a vented round brush, but much more easily.
As a result, I have been looking at some of the company's non-vented models. Here are the front-runners under consideration.
- The Original Wet Brush detangler. This was the brand's first product, which appears to still be its most popular model.
I had purchased an Original Wet Brush detangler in basic black quite a few years ago, which was my first introduction to this brand. I used that one for several years, until my checked luggage went astray when we flew home from a trip abroad and never turned up. Fortunately, it was one of the less expensive items I had to replace! (That was when I decided to try one of the company's then-new vented paddle brushes.)
Since I no longer need a vented paddle brush for blow drying, I'm seriously considering going back to The Original Wet Brush, especially now that it comes in a gorgeous new aqua color that is exclusive to Amazon.
I love any shade of aqua, turquoise, teal, etc., so the Amazon-exclusive edition of this tried-and-true detangling brush is very appealing.
If aqua isn't your color, you'll be happy to know that it also comes in black as well as a rainbow of other colors, as well as in vibrant prints, such as daisy garden, dark floral, Aztec, sea life and even fun leopard, tiger and zebra animal prints. No matter your color preferences or taste, you're sure to find something you like among the many choices. (There's even a Wet Brush with a pink unicorn print, twinkling LED lights and the saying, "follow your dreams" that many teenage girls would probably adore!)
- The Wet Brush Shine Enhancer. This style has a mix of long IntelliFlex bristles and spaced-out tufts of shorter boar bristles. It's great for detangling and brushing second-day hair in one go.
The smooth, ball-tipped, flexible IntelliFlex bristles glide through the hair, allowing you to work out snarls gently without damaging the cuticle. At the same time, the shorter boar bristle tufts help redistribute the oils from your scalp along the length of the shaft, smoothing down the cuticle and adding shine.
Since the boar bristles are fairly short, the much longer IntelliFlex bristles only allow them to glide along the surface layers of the hair, where the shine is needed, without penetrating deeper and getting caught in any knots or snarls.
It's also fantastic for brushing out dry shampoo, which for some reason always makes my long hair tangle like crazy, even though I always use a detangling brush before applying the dry shampoo to my roots!
Although it is theoretically okay to use on wet or dry strands, I would be reluctant to use a brush with even short boar bristles on my long, damaged hair when it is still damp. So, I probably will end up getting the Original Wet Brush for detangling just before going into the water and after my hair has been towel dried, and also the Wet Brush Shine Enhancer on my dry hair as my "regular" brush, since my hair is in need of frequent detangling even when it is dry.
Wet Brush now makes a line of round blow-drying brushes with different types of bristles designed to stand up to the heat of a blow dryer. If I ever go back to blow-drying my hair, I will definitely look into getting one of these, rather than a vented paddle brush.
The brand recently introduced the Wet Brush Go Green Collection, a line of "earth-friendly" detangling brushes, treatment brushes and treatment combs that feature handles made from "an all-natural biodegradable plant starch" that it claims "will naturally break down in a landfill within 5 years."
Although this collection is too new for me to feel confident about the durability of the plant-based plastic that provides their structure, I will be interested to see the reviews in another year or two. I would be thrilled to have a more environmentally friendly option for my favorite detangling hairbrush!
Wet Brushes for Men, Kids and Pets
Men's hair needs TLC, too, which is why there is Wet Brush Men's Detangler. It is longer and narrower than the women's models and is designed to be used on "straight, curly, textured, thick and wavy hair including beards." It has the same signature IntelliFlex bristles and works well on both wet and dry hair, The guys, however, have to settle for a couple of basic color choices.
Anyone who either had long hair when they were a kid or has had a long-haired young daughter or son knows that brushing out those tangled locks can be a daily or nightly battle between the parent and child. Fortunately, there is also a Wet Brush Kids Detangler to take the tears out of this dreaded routine task. The kids' version is a smaller-scale version of the Original detangling brush and comes in cheerful prints, including one with ice cream bars.
The company also makes detangling and grooming brushes and combs for pets, which I think would make great gifts for pet owners.
The Best Wet Brushes for Detangling Your Hair Without Damage product review by Margaret Schindel
Read My Other Hair Care Reviews:
- Olaplex No.0 Intensive Bond Building Hair Treatment + No.3 Hair Perfector Product Review
- VOLO Hero Premium Microfiber Hair Towel Product Review
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