Is it worth it? An act worth brushing up

Dull, dry, lifeless tresses? Spend up to pounds 80 on a top-of-the-range hairbrush and you, too, could flick your glossy mane with the best of them

IT MUST have been about the same time that Douglas Coupland gave us the phrase "bad hair day" in his novel Shampoo Planet, that our collective consciousness finally confessed its obsession with hair.

The amount of time and money we now spend on our hair is as bewildering as the number of new products that appear every day.

The Mason Pearson brush is probably the oldest, mass-market beauty product around, but it is still a staple to many and certainly one of the most highly valued.

The Mason Pearson Brothers invented their pneumatic, rubber-cushioned hairbrush in 1885, and had the spired, multiple-tuft design patented in 1905. Originally all the brushes were made with wooden backs, but as plastics became available for non-military use in the 1940s, so the demand for wood fell.

A few years ago, in response to public demand, production of the wooden- back was resurrected. It comes in a choice of nylon tufts, natural bristle, or a mixture of the two. The pure bristle type can cost up to pounds 80. Each wirey strand must be shed, without encouragement, from the back of a wild boar.

The purpose of brushing is to remove knots, make your hair look groomed and give it volume and a silkier texture. How does this work? As our friend Jennifer Anniston would say, "Now for the science bit".

Our hair consists of overlapping layers of dead keratin cells, the same fibrous protein found in nails and skin. When these scales are damaged, or ungroomed, no light is reflected and your hair appears dull and lifeless. When the layers lie flat and smooth, each strand reflects the light, making your hair shine.

When choosing your hairbrush, obviously the first thing you check for is the sing-a-long factor. Is it gonna cut it as a stand-in microphone for those private, rock star moments?

Second most important? Self defence. How much time will it buy you when whipped from the handbag and smacked about the chops of any potential assailant?

General consensus on the merits of the real bristle brush is pretty mixed. Some accuse them of putting undue stress on your roots and causing unnatural levels of moulting. Others value the follicle stimulating qualities. The cranial equivalent of raking the lawn, it gets the natural oil (sebum) flowing, although too much of this will cause greasiness.

"The most common way to damage long hair is towel drying," says London superstylist, Trevor Sorbie. "Friction disturbs the cuticles that coat each hair. The thing is you can't fix damaged hair, but you can prevent it happening. It has to be treated with respect. Brush one section at a time so you're not tugging on too many knots at once."

But can it ever be worth spending over pounds 60 on a hairbrush? Sorbie thinks so.

"If your long hair is your crowning glory, then it's certainly worth investing in a quality bristle brush. I spent pounds 70 or pounds 80 on a Mason Pearson which is the king of brushes. It's my desert island hair tool, and I`m bald."

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