Is a hairbrush with natural bristles better than one with synthetic bristles? In most cases, no, says Stephen Lane, owner of Manhattan's Stephen Lane Hair Salon in New York City. While the type of brush you should use depends on hair type and the style you're after, synthetic is generally his bristle of choice. Natural boar bristles were once considered superior since they better absorb and distribute oil throughout the hair. But these days, we wash daily, so oil distribution isn't so important.
That may be good news for your pocketbook―synthetic brushes are cheaper―but it's no excuse to skimp on quality. Synthetic bristles that are "glued" on, for example, often fall apart after repeated blow-dryings. If buying a brush with a round metal barrel, make sure the bristles are "mechanically fastened" (it'll say so on the packaging).
"A poor brush can make styling difficult," says Lane, who feels that the type of brush you use is more important than your brand of shampoo or conditioner. For synthetic brushes, try Technique; for boar brushes, Mason Pearson―both available at beauty-supply stores.
Lane offers more tips for choosing the right brush.
For fine, thin hair, use a large round synthetic brush with sparse nylon bristles and a metal barrel while blow-drying to add body and curl.
To detangle wet or dry hair, use a flat paddle brush with synthetic bristles.
To straighten curly hair, use a combination of nylon and boar bristles on a large round wooden barrel.
For that superstraight, shaggy look, blow-dry first with a round synthetic brush, then use a flat boar brush on the ends to take out the bend.