The need to brush long hair 100 times a day is a beauty myth that seems to be very persistent. Perhaps you’ve heard it from a grandparent, read it in a book, or stumbled upon it in a beauty magazine. But where did this claim originate, and is there any merit to it? Let’s dive into the history and modern understanding of this beauty lore.
The belief that brushing your hair a hundred times a day would make it shinier and healthier dates back to at least the Victorian era. In those days, personal hygiene practices weren’t as effective or as widespread as they are today. Daily baths might not have been feasible due to limited water supply or lack of modern plumbing. Consequently, the act of brushing hair, which helped to distribute oils and remove dirt and dust, became a vital part of personal grooming.
One example from 1886 suggests: ”A lady’s hair should be brushed for at least ten minutes three times a day, morning, noon and night, with a brush of moderate hardness. The hair should be separated, one lock after another, in order that the head itself may be well brushed and the scurf removed. In brushing or combing begin at the extreme points; in combing, hold the portion of hair just above that through which the comb is passing, firmly between the first and second fingers, so that, if it becomes entangled, it may draw from that point and not from the roots. Jerking the comb violently through tangled hair breaks off much of it, rendering it uneven and uncontrollable. About once a month it is well to clip off the ends of the hair with shears, to make it even”.
This advice to brush hair so much has been passed down through generations and further popularized by media and advertisements for haircare products throughout the 20th century. Women were sold on the idea that rigorous and frequent brushing was the secret to achieving lustrous, Rapunzel-like locks. At the core of this belief was the fact that brushing can distribute the scalp’s natural oils along the hair shaft, leading to a smoother, shinier appearance.
However, this ‘100 strokes a day’ rule likely owes some of its longevity to the types of hair brushes used historically. Boar bristle brushes, popular in the past, are much gentler on hair compared to many modern brushes. Natural bristle brushes can effectively distribute sebum — the oil produced by the scalp — and impart a healthy shine to the hair. Nonetheless, even with these gentler tools, 100 strokes would still be excessive for most people and potentially lead to hair damage.
Fast forward to the present day, the advancements in our understanding of hair biology and care have largely debunked the ‘100 strokes a day’ practice. Hair experts and dermatologists caution against over-brushing, warning that it can lead to a range of hair health issues.
Excessive brushing can strip away the hair cuticle and cause physical harm to the hair shaft, leading to fraying and breakage. This not only results in shorter hair over time, but also split ends that can make hair appear frizzy and dull. Over-brushing might also irritate the skin and stimulate excess oil production for those with already oily scalps, leading to greasier hair.
The truth is, hair care is highly individual, depending on factors such as hair type, scalp condition, and lifestyle. For most people, hair should be brushed to detangle and style, but not excessively. The number of strokes necessary varies from person to person, but it’s safe to say that it’s far less than a hundred.
For those with straight, wavy, or loosely curly hair, brushing can indeed help distribute oils and keep hair healthy. However, this should be done with a quality brush — ideally, a paddle brush or one with soft, natural bristles. Those with tightly curly or coily hair types often find that it’s best to use a wide-toothed comb or a special detangling brush, and to do so when the hair is damp and well-conditioned to minimize breakage.
Moreover, the health of your hair relies on much more than just how often you brush it. It’s also influenced by factors such as diet, air humidity, avoiding excessive heat and chemical treatments, and using quality hair care products that suit your hair type and scalp condition.
In conclusion, while the adage of ‘100 strokes a day’ seems to be entrenched in hair care folklore, modern understanding advises against this practice. Instead, gentle care, individualized routines, and nourishment from within are the keys to luscious, healthy locks. So, put down that brush after a few strokes, and remember that sometimes, less truly is more.
Chapman FM, Chapman CC. The American Encyclopedia of Practical Knowledge Containing Practical and Systematic Treatises on Subjects Connected with the Interests of Every Individual, Alphabetically Arranged, and Especially Designed for Popular Use ... Law, King & Law; 1886. 1354 p.
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Dawber R. Cosmetic and medical causes of hair weathering. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2002 Dec;1(4):196–201.
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