Skip to main content

No Time to Wash Your Hair? Try This Backcombing Trick

No dry shampoo required.

I had some AMAZING beauty synchronicity last week. That's when the same idea or revelation emerges from two, seemingly unrelated sources and then BAM! It hits you. Like it was meant to happen. It's a beautiful thing.

Let me explain.

From The Styling Edit Archives

Earlier in the week, on the tail end of a cold that I've been fighting off lately, I had to venture out in the evening for a soirée that I did NOT want to attend. Like, I would rather have stayed at home in my pajamas and cleaned the bathroom kind of dread, okay?

Needless to say, it wasn't worthy of clean hair. Don't get me wrong—I'm a water baby and a shampoo glutton, so I could easily shower three times a day if I had the inclination. But the whole blow-drying and styling business, now that my hair's so long, takes forEVer. Yet because it's so fine and straight, somewhere between 24 and 48 hours post-wash, it falls so flat that flat irons are jealous.

And that's when it came to me. I was going to backcomb my hair like it was nobody's business.

Betcha forget about that one, didn't you? It's all dry shampoo this and dry shampoo that lately, so I don't blame you. And I'm not knocking dry shampoo at all—in fact, the two work in tandem to produce hair so good that you'll probably want to keep it going even MORE days without washing it! (That is, in fact, what happened to me.)

Anyway, back to my story for a second. Not only did I re-discover how much I loved backcombed hair that night... but when I went for a blowout later on in the week, my stylist brought it up AS WELL without me evening mentioning it. (I would've got the chills if it was something important, I swear.) Anyway, I was telling her how I wanted her blow-dry to last at least through Friday night, and whaddaya know: she went so far as to demonstrate the correct teasing technique for me.

And now I'm going to tell you! But first, let's talk about what it should look like.

Backcombing can look totally modern—I swear

It may have come out of the '60s, sure, but the goal with backcombing isn't to go all retro with a bouffant or anything. I mean, you CAN if you want to (the photo above with the height at the crown is from Nina Ricci and it's pretty cute), but there's certainly more to it than that. Or this, from Fendi:

Eeks no! I suggest you leave such literal interpretations for the runway.

We also don't want to go Kelly Bundy with this either:

Those layers! Please say no to layers.

No, what I mean with this whole backcombing thing is to use it as a way to give your hair more body, and that cool, gritty texture that is so on trend these days. Here's an example from Pucci a few seasons back. (Plus, see the pic at the very top of this post—that's from Rodarte.)

This is good hair, right? So now let's get into how to make it happen.

How to backcomb your hair

Step one (optional)

Start by generously spraying dry shampoo all through your roots and even the lengths for added grip. I've tried so many, but my favourite is still Dove's. (Read this post if you missed my rave review!)

Work it into your roots with your fingers to help soak up any oils (ew) and then give it a good brush through.

Step two

Section off the top part of your hair—when you lift it up from the crown you should see a horseshoe shape. This hair at the crown should be enough to give you a little volume... but if you want more, then you can start at the very bottom and work your way up in several layers. (I like to go crazy, so I tease everything except the uppermost layers, which you want to keep smooth.) UPDATE: I forgot to mention that it's probably a good idea to clip these up to get them out of your way while you're teasing the hair underneath. (Although my hairstylist didn't... but it does make it easier.)

Step three

Take a section of hair that's about one to two inches wide and hold it straight out from your head (straight up if it's on top, or out to the side if it's a lower layer). I like a paddle brush instead of a comb to do the actual backcombing—it makes the teasing not so tight, so it's easier to brush out of your hair the next day.

I suggest a Mason Pearson (the Cadillac of brushes) or similar:

Focusing on the section of hair closest to the roots, brush in the direction of the roots in three quick strokes. Voilà! See how you just created some crazy-ass volume? Dry shampoo can do many things, but it certainly can't do THAT.

Step four

Optional: spray the roots that you just backcombed with hairspray to really lock them in place. (I've only done this when I've been styling my own hair for a BIG night out—which last week wasn't, obvi—but I can attest to the fact that this REALLY helps the look last.) I've had the best results with old reliable Elnett:

Step five

Repeat the teasing on the remaining sections all over your head, leaving the very top layers smooth to conceal your wizardry. Remember that you're after a rough, beachy texture here instead of smooth perfection, so keep it kinda on the messy side and just go with it. You can wear your hair down, half-up, or pull it into a bun or ponytail—you'll be amazed at how thick it feels all of a sudden.

Step six

Essential step! The next day (or day after that even!), BEFORE you wash it, make sure you're diligent about brushing out the backcombing (i.e. in the opposite direction) all over your head, or it'll be a bitch to get the tangles out.

And that's pretty much it! My only caution would be not to make this a super-regular habit, or you could risk damaging your hair from all the manipulation. As long as you're gentle, though, it should be smooth sailing.