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

by Destri on February 10, 2012

How To Backcomb Your Hair
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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. Backcombing Comb With Tail – Great overall comb that will work great on all hair types with a little pick at the end to help parting hair
  2. Three Row Teasing Brush With Natural Bristles - This style is great for all hair types, but really helps giving a tight tease on thinner hair
  3. Plastic Three Row Teasing Comb – The comb that I use – great overall comb for most hair types that provides a tight tease
  4. Large Hair Pick  – 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 Aquage Uplifting Foam, a volumizing spray like Kenra Volume Spray, or a volumizing mousse like Paul Mitchell Extra Body Sculpting Foam.  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:

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 side swept bangs 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
  • Backcombing even makes a ponytail look hot

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,


Linked to Tatertots & Jello and Skip To My Lou


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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Tina February 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm

I am going to print this off and hang on my mirror! LOVE IT! And I know I have been quite absent but the new layout of TMH looks FAB!
Way to go Des!


Fruitful Fusion February 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm

I LOVED this post! Thank you Destri! Loads of great tips on how to do something nice with my boring hair. The links to your pins were great too. I’d love to see a video!


Jileen February 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Loved it! A video would be great! Thanks Destri and Suzanne!


Laura February 10, 2012 at 6:26 pm

This is wonderful thank you! I’ve never really understood it and my ponytails are always so boring. But my issue is that I have naturally curly hair. How do you back comb without the curl falling out completely? It always looks like a frizzy frizzy mess. Any tips for styling curly hair in this way would be super helpful as I hate straightening my hair.


vanessa @ silly eagle books February 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm

wow. this is awesome! thanks so much–i’m off to try it!


Jess February 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Always wondered what the secret to these amazing styles was. Thanks for a great tutorial!


Daneilia February 17, 2012 at 9:34 pm

I love hair tips. But my issue is I have really curly/wavy hair. So it’s easy to tangle my hair or keep it moisturized. So the less damage done to my hair the better. Anyways, thank you for sharing :)


Dreena Tischler February 18, 2012 at 10:03 pm

You have no idea how much I needed this; it is almost making me look forward to dressing for church! First Rachel Ray taught me how to dry my hair and now you have given me the volume. I think I love you!


Destri February 19, 2012 at 6:30 am

Thanks Dreena, you made my morning :). I have a video I just finished up to add to the post. I just need to get it edited – It’s a tad long :)


Mandi February 19, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Thank you so much for the tips! And for the get rid of the mess tip! I wondered how to get the nest out without ripping all my hair out!! I have tons of curly hair and need someway to fix it up and wondered how to do all those cutsy styles!! Awesome blog!!


Heidi February 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

Very helpful, looking forward to the video and the bobby pin tutorial.


Jeni February 29, 2012 at 2:09 am

Um…video please…I’m VERY hair challenged…. I had limp gain in 1996. :-P


Jeni February 29, 2012 at 2:10 am

Hair…not gain….stupid predictive txt. >:-|


Destri March 10, 2012 at 9:50 am

LOL! I hate that too! Video’s are coming. I have had a little problem with my video camera not being compatible with my mac, but we’re figuring it out :)


Maranda March 2, 2012 at 3:56 am

Thanks so much for posting this! I think people often take forgranted that everyone knows how to do the styling basics…but somehow some of us never learned! I cannot wait until you post your bobby pin tutorial. My sister is amazed that I’m just barely starting to use them and I’m not at all good at it : )


Deb Hogarty April 1, 2012 at 9:20 am

I have been a Hairdresser for 31yrs and I know how hard it is for clients to get the “tease”.. You have done a wonderful job..
Thanks..Next time my clients can’t ( after many times of extra attention) get it..I will send them here…lol


Destri April 11, 2012 at 6:45 am

Thanks so much Deb!


rosyink April 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm

So helpful and educational! I would love to see a video. Could you do a tutorial on this too?:


Destri April 11, 2012 at 6:03 am

That’s too funny, I actually pinned that same image ages ago with an idea to use it – and since you’re requesting how can I not?!
Videos are coming soon, I just had a problem with my camera not being compatible with my mac, but we’ve figured it out.


Natalie April 18, 2012 at 9:26 pm

A very good tutorial! But since I have curly hair, I am scared to try it! The curls don’t start until about 5-6 inches away from my scalp, so the top of my hair is always so flat and boring. Will backcombing damage curly hair?


Destri April 19, 2012 at 8:27 am

Thanks Natalie!

I would say that backcombing will damage any hair to a certain extent, but not in a way that will trash it (unless you are starting with extremely damaged hair) . It actually just creates natural texture.
As for your curls, I think the best way to get volume is with diffusing. If done right and with the right product, you would require very little as far as backcombing.
Curly hair tends to support its self when using bobby pins, so no need to use it then. you can do so much with product and a good haircut. Do you have layers? A lot of times when you take some of the length off the top layers, it removes weight allowing the curls to bounce up.

I have a few tricks wen it comes to curly hair styling, I will have to get a post together!


Maddy June 28, 2012 at 6:52 am

I have very fine mid back length hair and could never get my hair to back comb. I read your tips but Instead of using root lift ect. I spray dry shampoo at the roots. It is light, airy and also helps with the oiliness if you are a day or two out on shampoo. It works like a dream in helping with the back combing!


Tracy @ The UnCoordinated Mommy November 13, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Thank you do much for this!! I aspire to do something really cool with this. But in the meantime I can at least make my mom-tail look fancier!! :)


Kamila November 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Great post! I was surprised that back-combing should be done from ends and great tip about putting pins. Added your website to favourites :) I am waiting for more tips about hairstyles.
All the best :)


Fay November 29, 2012 at 11:14 am

Please make a video. I’m a visual learner so need to see it. I have a very flat head so have had to back comb my hair to give myself a more normal profile. My hair shaft is fine and very silky though I have always had fairly thick hair (changed somewhat now since I became hypothyroid). Do you have any specific suggestions for me to create the shape I want for the back of my skull?


Destri December 7, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Hi Fay,
I am working on getting that video up :). IN the meantime, just make sure you have added texture in one of the ways mentioned, and then back comb all the way down the back. Then smooth to create the shape you want.


Betsy December 4, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Thank you for sharing. I LOVE teasing my hair and some of your tips will make it look so much better! I love forward to trying them out. I am somewhat confused about your last explanation about the braids, twists, and bobbypins.


Sarah December 5, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Thank you for this. I bookmarked it for future use. Great tips. Will this work on thick layered hair as well or any additional advice? Thanks! :)


Destri December 7, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Hi Sarah,

It will work on thick hair, you just want to make sure that you add a little texture via one of the ways mentioned, and you don’t get a too carried away! Thick hair generally doesn’t need very much!


Michael (the girl) December 29, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Thanks for all the tips! I am glad I read this blog!!


Mack January 4, 2013 at 6:41 am

I tried using cornstarch like a dry shampoo one time, and it made my hair rat up really big and poofy right at th roots. Plus it’s cheap!


Olive January 4, 2013 at 6:19 pm

This is awesome! Back combing is the singlehandedly the key to styling. Every time I tell that to my friends they think they are going to end up with a mess or 80′s hair. I’m going to send this to them so they know I’m not crazy!


Carey February 21, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Wonderful advice! I can’t wait to use this tomorrow. I just wanted to share a tip of my own; I just found out that the wavy side of the bobby pin is supposed to be scalp down and this has changed my life. They work SO much better now. Try it and you’ll be amazed. I can’t wait to see your video!


Willie February 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm

oh dear! Thanks for the tips, now I know how to do it right!


annie March 29, 2013 at 11:55 am

This is really awesome! I have a lot of hair and on the thick side, but my hair is slippery as anything and unless I use a ton of product, nothing stays. I’ll be giving backcombing a try for sure.

where can I find the bobby pin post? I can’t get them to stay in my hair for the life of me :P



Carol Ann April 18, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I would LOVE to see your video tutorial!!! Have you posted it? I couldn’t find one. If not, PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! post one!!!


Tammy April 21, 2013 at 8:40 am

Awesome. I have very fine hair and have never been able to accomplish teasing without looking a mess. Thank you so much.


Justeen June 12, 2013 at 6:46 am

It works!! For the past three years my hair, which used to be fine but a hell of a lot of it, has been thinning due to a medical condition. The natural shedding process has stayed at the same rate, but the re growing process has significantly slowed down. I have different amounts/thicknesses in different areas too. My hair is shoulder length.

I have been back combing with poor results. I get gaps/holes, it never looks equal and always goes flat again. My hair has always been my pride and joy and I have become resigned to the fact that it will never look good again.

However, having read and followed your instructions, I’ve had brilliant success.
I haved eradicated the gaps, it stays put and I don’t have annoying flyaway bits anymore. I looks great.

Thank you for taking the time to write this.


Tovah July 14, 2013 at 12:43 am

Wow! That is really comprehensive.

So many great ideas. I appreciate all the work you put into this.

Maybe, it’ll finally work for me. lol.


Christine July 28, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I LOVE THIS! My hair is always straight, limp, and boring… I wish I would’ve seen this first because I think I tried 1,000 things before I finally found something that worked for me. I’m still going to try this though! If you’re interested in trying out what worked for me you can get the instructions here and tell me what you think! xoxo, WearToStandOut


NicholaLloydy November 2, 2013 at 9:27 am

Ooooh thankyou so much for sharing this. Iv been backcombing my hair wrong for years!!


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