The fine art of backcombing

It was this picture of Drew Barrymore attending the Grey Gardens premiere in LA last week that finally shattered my denial about the return of backcombing.


Ever since a disastrous blow-dry in which the stylist got stuck in a kind of backcombing vicious cycle, leaving me with a big, stiff, bumpy barnet that looked like it might collapse if you stuck a finger into its matted, puffed-up centre, I’ve been extremely wary of trying to tease more volume out of my hair. But now it looks like backcombing's officially, well, back.


As the go-to method for stylists creating the voluminous, statement hair that dominated the a/w 09 catwalks, it was backcombing-a-go-go during the shows last month. Now it’s being embraced on the red-carpet and – if my impeccably backcombed colleagues are anything to go by – in front of bedroom mirrors nationwide as well.

Which means it’s time for this Beauty Director to put bad blow-dries behind her (all I did was ask for volume, for goodness’ sake!) and give it a go. But not without knowing exactly how the professionals do it first.

I buzzed leading backstage stylist Danilo for a step-by-step account, and the first thing I learnt was that we shouldn’t really be calling it backcombing. (Fine by me.) He calls the method French Lacing, and the way he does it gives the desired effect but is less harsh than forcing the hair straight down the shaft. It’s prettier, too.

Here’s how:

1. Starting with the back, underneath bit, take a section of your hair and hold it at the top. Spray a little hairspray all over.

2. Comb a brush down the length of the hair pulling the brush – and this is the key – outwards - as you go. It creates a softer, finer section of volume than the nest effect you get with ‘normal’ backcombing. And because the hair’s not compacted down, you’ll get a smoother outline once you’re done. Start at the bottom of the section and work up in about three separate movements (though it depends on the length of your hair).

3. Once you’ve finished one layer of hair, gently comb it out and smooth it over with the brush so you get volume underneath with none of the scarecrow effect on top, just a beautiful, aerated look. Or you can smooth each section as you go – it helps keep an eye on how much oomph you’re adding.

4. Finish with a blast of hairspray all over. Pantene Pro V Ice Shine Ultimate Hold Hairspray, £2.93, is budget but brilliant.

Finally, a tip from me: if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Paris, drop in to professional supply shop Delorme on Le Passage De L’Industrie for their wooden teasing brushes – they’re the best for the job. Stuck at home? A Mason Pearson Handy Size Bristle Brush, £57.25 available from, is most session stylists’ secret weapon.

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