One of my favourite articles on natural(ish) hair care dates back to the early 1900s, and is written by Mlle. Aline Vallandri, a woman who is famous for the length and health of her hair. The article is accompanied by a rather shocking (to modern eyes, at least) photograph of her with her hair… which drags at her feet. When you see the photo, you can understand the fame:
I say natural-ish because, while turn of the century hair care embodied a lot of today’s natural hair care ideals (like infrequent washings and boar bristle brushes), it also advocated things like singeing (which is as bad of an idea as it sounds) and mercury tinctures. So, best not to follow all the advice in a 1905 ladies magazine.
Anyhow, one of the most striking things in this article is the woman’s description of her brushing routine. It is positively laborious, though she writes it off as nothing (though mentioning her lady’s maid does most of the work). She writes:
Although I so strongly disapprove of washing the head with water, it is possible, as I have said, to keep the scalp and the hair quite clean by brushing it. To do this, perfectly clean brushes are absolutely necessary. My own brushes are washed every day. When once a brush has been used it is never allowed to touch my hair again until it has been thoroughly washed and dried. Doing this regularly becomes a matter of routine, and it takes scarcely any time at all, although I know only too well that when these things are done only occasionally they seem to take a great deal of time. Another reason for brushes taking so much time when they are only washed occasionally is that they are really dirty, and to clean dirty brushes must necessarily take longer than to wash those which have only been used once. If you think of it, it is no more nice to brush your hair with dirty brushes which have not been washed for two or three weeks than it is to dry your face with a towel which has not been washed for the same time.
Clearly washing brushes & combs was pretty serious business back then. But, once you’ve switched to natural hair care, along with a boar bristle brush and a wide toothed wooden comb, you’ll get it.
I’ve always been good about washing my natural bristle brushes, and for good reason—it just makes sense. It’s a natural bristle, advocated for on the basis that it can absorb and re-distribute the oils your scalp produces. So, like my hair, natural bristle brushes need to be washed. This process is simple enough—I just wet the brush, swipe the bristles across a shampoo bar a couple times, and then work up a good lather against my palm. Rinse, dry, and done.
My comb was a bit more… alarming? Ick. It snuck up on me. Tightly tined plastic combs don’t really get dirty beyond collecting a few hairs, so I wasn’t on the lookout for it with my wooden one. Then, one day, I noticed a substance sort of like toejam or bellybutton lint caked deep in the prongs of my comb—ew. It was just lint from pillowcases and clothing packed down with natural hair oils, but a few months of accumulation sure looked awful. To get this scum off, I use a thin, flat, and relatively sharp instrument—the tip of a vegetable peeler (the part designed for scooping out rotten bits of potatoes) works really nicely here.
Going in between the tines, you can scrape and scoop all this schmag off. Then, I finish up with a quick scrubbing using a short-bristled brush and a bit of a shampoo bar. Much better!
So, there you have it. If you haven’t washed your brushes and combs recently, hop to it!