Have you ever wonder how some women have an enviable level of fullness to their ponytails, without having that much hair to play with? One word: backcombing. Yup, that much-maligned 1980s concept is back, rehashed and remixed in a friendlier, more everyday-appropriate version. Beehives aren’t the be all and end all of full, sexy hair after all, and gone are the days of the exaggerated ’80s rat’s nest, where having a crazy three-foot halo of hair around your head was just a regular Tuesday. Knowing how to backcomb hair for a naturally full look, mainly, is a crucial skill to have under your belt: You never know when you’ll need to infuse some heft into your next hairstyle.
Backcombing is the process of combing your hair against the grain or direction of hair growth, typically from ends to roots. Doing so creates a small puff of hair at the mid-shaft ideal for plumping hair up in voluminous styles, such as a beehive, fauxhawk and so on. However, there are also loads of ways to infuse volume into your locks that doesn’t entail wearing it in an elaborate, vintage-inspired updo, or, by the same token, incur six months’ worth of damage—and a gargantuan detangling effort—onto strands (hellooo, beach bombshell fullness!).
Knowing how to backcomb hair properly can help save you so much damage in the long run, and it’s a skill you can easily add on whenever you feel your current look needs a little oomph. It’s just one of those basic life skills that never leave you, and that once mastered, will always come in handy when the time is right.
Remember, when in doubt, be conservative! With backcombing, less is more—you can always go back to an area and pump it up if need be, but the breakage you risk from an overzealous tease? That’s something you can’t take back! Scroll on:
Backcombing Hair for Everyday Volume
Start on clean hair.
Dirty hair tends to go limp quicker, so ensure hair doesn’t have any reason to deflate by washing it beforehand. We like the gentle clarifying and bodifying properties in the revolutionary co-washing system, TRESemmé Beauty-Full Volume Pre-Wash Conditioner and Beauty-Full Volume Shampoo. Rinse well and power-dry.
Otherwise, refresh roots with a dry shampoo.*
You may also skip the wash in a pinch and use a dry shampoo instead to sop up any excess oils and sebum. We like the refresh our scalp gets from Bed Head by TIGI Oh Bee Hive! Dry Shampoo.
Massage product in.
Shake the product into your hair to properly diffuse and get rid of any telltale white flakes. Gently tugging hair upwards while massaging also imparts some volume at the root even before you start backcombing. You can also give it a well-meaning blast with the blow-dryer.
Using a fine-toothed comb, part hair in whichever direction you like. We suggest a subtle side part for everyday glamour.
When learning how to backcomb hair, the first thing to keep in mind is to avoid going through the same area twice. Hold your section up high, then run the comb from the end to the roots around three times to create a fuzzy patch of hair. Repeat on all sections.
Go from ends to roots.
For your side sections, work from the outside in, backcombing on the underside of the section to keep the tops smooth. Which shouldn’t really matter that much, since we shall…
Smoothen the base.
Once you’ve achieved your desired level of pouf all around, comb over each section as you normally would—front to back—using a very light hand. This will help smoothen hair and remove any rough, natty-looking areas.
Refine the ends.
Go over the tips a bit to detangle and smooth over any knots.
Finish with hairspray.
Mist hair all over with a light, even coating of flexible-hold hairspray, like Dove Style+Care Strength & Shine Flexible Hold Hairspray. In for another beloved ’80s trick? Go on and do a headflip, before heading out the door. You’re done!
Know how to backcomb hair but still in for an ’80s hairstyles redux? Check out our roundup of the best retro-fab looks from Stranger Things.