Friday, 17 June 2011

How To: Finger Combing

What is finger combing? 

Finger combing is the process of using your fingers to style and detangle the hair. This process can be used either instead of using a comb/brush or in conjunction with those tools to prevent matting of the hair.

Why not just use a comb/brush?

Combing can cause damage. Ramaprasad et al.(2008) found that whether or not the hair was combed dry or wet, combing still caused damage to the hair shaft. When combed dry, the abrasive force of the comb resulted in cuticle thinning. Combing the hair while wet caused the cuticle to break. Regardless of how gentle you are with the comb and how wide the teeth are spaced, every time the comb touches a hair strand, it can cause the cuticle to break or thin.

I haven't found an article dedicated to the damage brushes cause to the hair (it could be the keywords I have been using), but based on the research on comb damage, I would assume that brushing can cause damage as well.

Benefits of Finger Combing:

  • Less breakage. Before, no matter how gentle I was with the comb or how wide the teeth were spaced, I would ALWAYS have some broken pieces. Since switching to finger combing, all I see coming out are the naturally shed hairs. 
  • No more mid-strand splits. I used to get mid-strand splits because of my Denman brush. Now the only time I see mid strand splits is from the previous Denman brush fiasco.
  • Less detangling time. I have very dense hair so I had to be very careful while detangling. The crown of my head used to be the worse! It is the thickest part of my hair. 
  • Gentle knot removal. With combs, by the time you realize there is a knot, you have already passed through it causing breakage. When you finger comb, you are able to feel for the knots and remove them with care.
  • More connected to hair. It's easy to overlook a lot of what is going on with your hair when you use a comb. Because I'm using my fingers, I am able to tell if my split ends are getting bad, when I need a trim, and when my hair is healthy by just feeling how my hair responds.
  • Less hair loss. I usually only lose shed hair when I finger comb. Before I used to think that every time you detangle that you should lose bunches of hair. It was only after I stopped combing and brushing did I realize that a lot of the extra hair I was losing was hair that I was breaking off.
  • Less frizziness. I have cottony textured hair and my hair gets frizzy very easily. When I use a comb or brush, my curls  just disappear. When I finger comb, I have a lot more definition.
  • I am no longer afraid of detangling. Enough said.

How do I finger comb?

You will need:
  • Metal free hair ties
  • Well manicured hands. Your nails don't have to be short for finger combing to work. Just make sure you don't have jagged nails...I'm not sure why you would want jagged nails anyway, but I digress!
  • Moisturizer of your choice
  • Oil of your choice to seal


Start by smoothing your hands all over your hair. Get a general idea of the state of your hair. Feel for knots and matting and remove styling tools you may have in your hair (i.e. bobby pins).

Next, use your fingers to separate your hair into four sections (or however many sections you can make). Having sectioned hair will make it easier to work with.

Once sectioned, choose a section that you want to start with. It doesn't have to be in any particular order. I just happened to start in the back.

Moisten the hair in that section to make it more pliable. It doesn't have to be wet, just damp enough to release some of the shed hair and knots you may have.

Divide that section into smaller pieces. Once in those sections, take your hands and smooth it down the length of the hair. Do this repeatedly until you have freed your hair of the shed hairs.

Pull the shed hairs out of your hair

Separate that section more to get the shed hairs that may be still caught in your hair. Also, if you find a knot, do the same motion to remove the knot.

Braid that chunk of hair up and work on the other sections.

When you are finished with that whole part, tie it off with your metal free hair tie and continue with the rest of your hair

The end result should look like this

I look like Medusa! Raar!

You are done. Your hair is ready to be styled or tied for bed. 

How often should I finger comb?

It is really up to you. I would say any time you would comb your hair is the time you could finger comb. The point of finger combing is to remove shed hairs and knots in order to prevent matting.

How dedicated are you to finger combing? 

I don't own a comb or brush and I can't remember the last time a comb touched my hair. I will never go back to combing or brushing.

What about styling/ parting?

I would suggest using a rat tailed comb for parting. The tail end works well for creating defined lines. Many styles don't require much styling with a comb.

Do you have any final words?

Finger combing is a great way to keep your hair detangled and prevent knots. In the end, it's really up to you if you still want to use combs or brushes. Fingercombing may  not work for everyone's preferences or lifestyle, but if you are experiencing breakage every time you brush or comb, give finger combing a try and see if it works for you.

From this

To this

This is all the hair I lost. 

  • Ram Ramaprasad, K. K., Ruetsch, S. B., Weigmann, H. D., & Kamath, Y. K. (2008). Combing damage to hair cuticle structure. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 30(1), 76. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2494.2007.00403_4.x


  1. I haven used a comb/brush to detangle in almost a year. Finger combing is the best thing for my tightly coiled hair. I have less breakage and splits than when I used a comb. I will not be picking up a comb anytime soon (except for parting).

  2. Have you noticed that you are trimming less often? Or is it the same rate? It's so weird how once you stop relying on a comb, the thought of a comb touching your hair makes you cringe. Maybe that's just me:P

  3. My ends stay in better shape for longer because of fonger-combing so I trim less. The thought or a comb touching my hair makes me cringe too. Haha