Hairstylist Alex Polillo gives the 411 on the best brushes and when to use them.
As the red-carpet hairstylist to such sleek-coiffed ingenues as Emilia Clarke and Felicity Jones, Alex Polillo knows his way around a hairbrush. Indeed, he was instrumental in helping VIOLET GREY select the very best brushes for our shelves. Leveraging years of behind-the-scenes experience, the hair savant opened a West Hollywood salon, Mare, in 2016 with fellow hairstylist Mara Roszak and colorist Denis De Souza, to bring his skills to the masses. We tapped him for his pro tips on choosing the right brush or comb—whether for detangling freshly washed hair or executing the perfectly shiny blowout. Polillo’s instruction manual, and tools of choice, below.
As a general rule, enlist a comb for wet hair, a brush for dry. “Just go mellow on the comb unless your hair is wet,” Polillo cautions. “If you’re using a cutting comb on dry hair, you’re ripping out your hair or breaking it.”
“The whole point of maintenance brushing is to get the tangles out of your hair, invigorate your scalp, and disperse the natural oils throughout hair,” Polillo says. How regularly you do this depends on your hair type, although those who go in for regular blowouts should brush daily to keep things shiny and smooth. Note that it’s not the number of strokes that counts (you don’t have to get to 100), but the fact that you’re brushing it in the first place.
FINE AND OILY HAIR: Brush once or twice a day to keep grease levels down.
CURLY OR COARSE HAIR: “If you have coarse hair, or it’s prone to getting frizzy or puffy, you don’t really need to brush for maintenance,” Polillo says. Instead, give it a comb-through while in the shower.
The most common types of brush bristles are nylon and boar. You will find wire and metal ones in some brushes, but Polillo is not a fan. He notes there is no hard and fast rule for which bristle is best for certain types of hair—it is more important just to start with a quality brush. “I use the same brush on every single client I have, ranging from hair that’s like cotton candy to women with hair down to their butt that takes two hours to blow-dry.” Here, a cheat sheet on the key components.
NYLON: Ideal for detangling.
BOAR: Great for maintenance and shine. “They get the best grip, so you can get a better blow-dry,” and they are best for distributing hair’s natural oils to promote growth.
NYLON AND BOAR: A real power pair, combination nylon-and-boar-bristle brushes simultaneously detangle and smooth and straighten.
Just like your makeup brushes, hairbrushes need regular cleaning. Use a brush cleaner (a little handheld gadget with nylon bristles) to remove stray hairs and product buildup—Mason Pearson’s Junior Mixture comes with one that Polillo is partial to. If the bristles aren’t natural, rinse out the brush with water and let them air dry. “You can wash bristle brushes too,” says Polillo, “but they might smell a little funky afterward.” While he cleans his brushes after every use, for those of us at home he recommends doing so after every couple of uses.
brush & COMB
“This brush is really nice for brushing out wet or dry hair. It’s also good for maintenance. The fine bristles take the oil that’s produced by the sebaceous gland in your scalp and draw it all the way down to the ends, which really helps people trying to grow their hair longer.”
“This is my favorite brush—it lasts forever. I can have this and two round brushes in my bag and I’m good. I tease with it, I brush out a set of rollers, it’s great for getting out knots, and I even use it on damp hair. This one isn’t going to smell up your whole suitcase if the boar bristles get damp. The size, which is smaller than the standard Mason Pearson, is great for bringing on set or in a carry-on.”
“Round brushes are best for blow-drying, given that heat and pressure are what make a good blowout. Use the brush to pull hair tight for tension when you use your hairdryer, and it will leave hair looking like silk. The smaller version is better if you want to blow out your bangs or if you have have shorter hair, while the larger is ideal for longer or thicker hair—the bigger the round brush, the larger the sections you can dry at once.”