How To Backcomb Your Hair (without looking like a…)

by Destri on February 10, 2012

How To Backcomb Your Hair

I had a few titles running around in my head like How To Backcomb Your Hair So You Don’t Look Like You Walked Off An 80’s Movie Set or So You don’t Look Like My 1996 Yearbook Photo or my personal favorite Without Looking Like You Had An All Night Party With A Teething Baby And Toddler In Your Bed – and forgot to check the mirror before you ran out the door first thing in the morning to get diapers.  Have you ever done that?  Yep, that’s a big check for me.  Then I found that photo and it made me giggle, so I settled on So You Don’t Look Like An 80’s Rockstar.

You have no doubt seen all the fabulous hairstyle tutorials around the internet, but after trying them out may have been a little disappointed with the outcome.  If you’re lucky, you have that enviable hair that pretty much does itself and that new style works like a charm.

Unfortunately, most of us have a hair type that needs a little help.  A lot of times all you need to pull off that hot hairstyle is a little backcombing – and I don’t just mean for volume and big hair. It actually is the base of many sleek styles too.

As a matter of fact I’d dare say that 90% of all these great hairstyles you are seeing have backcombing involved.  So to make them work – you have to master the tease, and I’m going to show you how.  Catch me after the jump!

To prevent this post from becoming a novel I’m going to first show you the best overall backcombing method, and then techniques of backcombing to achieve certain looks.

The Right Tools

Best Backcombing Tools

First things first, you have to have the right tools to get the best results.  The above combs are all designed specifically for backcombing. They provide a tight tease that doesn’t fall out (that a brush cannot provide in most hair types), and overall less mess and damage.  You can buy all of these at Sally Beauty Supply.

  1. – Great overall comb that will work great on all hair types with a little pick at the end to help parting hair
  2. - This style is great for all hair types, but really helps giving a tight tease on thinner hair
  3. – The comb that I use – great overall comb for most hair types that provides a tight tease
  4.   – Best for curly hair, hair with a lot of texture, and hairstyles that require a lighter tease

You can use a brush or regular comb for backcombing, these styles of combs will just provide a longer lasting style and make the job a whole lot easier.

The one brush I will tell you not to use is any type with round tips at the ends of the bristles – they create a mess and damage when used this way.

The Right Hair

This is where most people go wrong – you have to start with the right hair to achieve a certain look.  Wait, the right hair?  I can’t change my hair type!  Settle down, let me explain. The texture of your hair will make or break any hairstyle. If you have freshly washed hair with no product in it and you attempt a big full bodied hairstyle, it would be very difficult to pull off.

There are a few ways you can improve and change the texture of your hair:

  • add a finishing product that adds texture such as a volumizing mousse, texture spray, root lift
  • If you have glassy hair, use a volumizing shampoo and conditioner
  • have your stylist add texture the next time you get your hair cut – this one thing is life changing!
  • give your hair a day or two

Now let’s break that down

Finishing Products – There are many hair products that will help add texture and “dirty up” your hair.  My personal favorites are root lifts like , a volumizing spray like , or a volumizing mousse like .  Depending on hair type and thickness will depend on what product to use. You can find drugstore brand equivalents, just look for similar terms.

-I have normal hair but don’t like the feeling of product in my hair so the uplifting foam is perfect as it is only applied to the roots.

-If you have super clean “slippery” hair, you might want to try the uplifting foam and the volumizing spray on dry hair.

-If you have fine limp hair, you might try all three.

Don’t be afraid to play around with the combinations and follow instructions on the label.

Volumizing Shampoo And Conditioner – These types of cleansers and rinses actually work in the cuticle to make the hair plump up by raising the cuticle layer, resulting in hair that is more manageable. This is great for natural hair that has little damage (virgin hair), glassy/slippery hair, thin limp hair.  Read the label to see how the product works – some coat the hair, you don’t want that.

Have Texture “Cut” In – The next time you have your hair done, ask the stylist to add some texture. There are many ways to do this, each stylist having their own way of going about it, often depending on the hair type.  So I won’t tell you how to tell them how to do it ;).  The basic concept is to create shorter hairs near the scalp (but not too close!) that aid in the backcombing process. Those short hairs provide a base, without them on certain hair types, it’s really hard to tease hair.  I have to have this to do anything with my hair.

Give It A Day Or Two – Clean hair generally doesn’t want to do anything. If you have an event that you are counting on fabulous hair for like a wedding, family photos, a trip to the grocery store – make sure you wash it a at least the day before if not two. The trick is to style it on those days before. The product used creates texture, and if you backcomb your hair it will keep the hair away from the scalp preventing greasy roots.

The Best Overall Technique For Backcombing

First I’ll go over the basic steps to backcomb to get a uniform (not bumpy with holes) lifted style that you will use most when creating different hairstyles.

Suzanne was kind enough to be my model, she has thin hair that has a good amount of texture from highlights and her texture overall is great.  She has day old hair to start with. Comb your hair in general way you want the end style to be – parted where you want it, combed back at crown where wanted

Start at the crown and pull up a 1-2 inch section – the smaller the section the tighter the tease.  Comb it to smooth and remove any tangles.  With one hand tightly hold the ends of the section straight up from the scalp, holding the comp with the other.  Insert the comb mid-shaft and run the comb down the length of the hair towards the scalp, when you reach the scalp pull the comb out and continue back at mid-shaft, making quick short strokes until you have the desired height and fullness. Note: this is not the time to be dainty, get a little aggressive and show that hair who’s boss.

This is where the short hairs are coming in, they are what creates the “nest” while the long hairs stay firmly in your grasp.  Understanding that will help you get the idea behind backcombing.

Now take a section under the first – you can go straight back or to the side…and here comes the big life changing tip…

Combine that section with the first section – comb at the ends to smooth, and then backcomb it to the first section in the same fashion. When you go to the side, just lift up that top section, and hold it up with some of the back, than backcomb to that. This prevents holes, and lumps and the style falling out – in short everything that drives us nuts.

You will work around the head always making sure that all the sections are connected. Remember go bigger than you want the end result to be, and it will look like a hot mess until the next step.  Where you stop down the head depends on the style, but in some cases you will even backcomb the entire head – for instance:

  • For a
  • A there’s a reason her hair isn’t flat to her head, and it isn’t hairspray ;)
  • Even a needs all overall backcombing

Notice how smooth and sleek all those styles all look, even with backcombing which I guarantee they have. Which brings me to the next part..

Take the comb and lightly smooth out the top layer of hair, then spray with hairspray to set. You can lift that top layer and spray if needed to.

This is the general technique that is used for most hairstyles and is the base of most hairstyles. Just do this before any style, and then use pins and clips to change the look, which brings me to the next point…

Using Backcombing To Support Bobby Pins

There are oodles and oodles of fun styles out there that have you braiding, twisting, folding, and then bobby pinning your hair back. I love them!  But if you don’t provide a base for those pins to anchor to, chances are they’ll slip. That’s why backcombing and bobby pins are the best of friends.  Here’s how to do it:


Pull back the hair that will not be in the style – for instance the hair that will lay over the top, be in the braid or twist – and decide where the pins will go. For most style, you are pulling sections away from the face towards the back. So in this case flip the hair over, take up a section where the pins will go and make a tight “nest”.

Then take the hair that you are supposed to pull back, braid, twist, and pin it where the nest is. Then pull the top hair back over to conceal the pins.  Chances of those babies slippin out now is pretty slim.

This will work with any style you are using bobby pins with. With the 3 twists hairstyle I have you backcomb at the nape of the neck, because that is where the pins are placed.

Directional Backcombing

There are many hairstyles that have the hair sweeping a certain direction.  You follow the same steps as outlined above, just keep in consideration which way you want the hair to go. If you want the sides to go back, take long vertical sections along the side of the head, backcombing straight back starting at the side of the face.

If you have long you are fighting to keep out of your face, pull them in front of your face and up a little then backcomb underneath, while pulling to the side in one motion backcombing as you go.  Then smooth out the top.  This provides a little lift for them too.

A Few Last Things To Remember

  • To take out backcombing, start combing at the ends then work your way up. Do not rip through the hair, this causes unnecessary breakage
  • Backcomb hair first, smooth, and then curl
  • You can add little shots of hairspray at roots while backcombing for ultimate hold
  • To create a fuller top knot bun, backcomb the tail after tied up, smooth, then twist and pin

Okay, so that still turned out to be a novel! But I hope it helps you in the hairstyling department.  Am thinking I may add a video to the post, just to give you a better visual. We’ll see :)

Please share any tips you have in the comments, and I would love any feedback or questions you have to.

Oh, and next up – Bobby Pins.  They can be your best friend if you know how to use them right- I’ll show you how!

Thanks for reading and have a happy weekend,


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