Big Tease No time to wash your hair? Try this trick (hint: it’s not dry shampoo!)

Rodarte Fall 2011 hair No time to wash your hair? Try this trick (hint: its not dry shampoo!)

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.

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.

Nina Ricci Fall 2011 hair No time to wash your hair? Try this trick (hint: its not dry shampoo!)

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:

Fendi Spring 2012 hair No time to wash your hair? Try this trick (hint: its not dry shampoo!)

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

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

Kelly Bundy No time to wash your hair? Try this trick (hint: its not dry shampoo!)

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.)

Emilio Pucci Fall 2010 hair No time to wash your hair? Try this trick (hint: its not dry shampoo!)

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!)

Dove Dry Shampoo No time to wash your hair? Try this trick (hint: its not dry shampoo!)

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:

Mason Pearson brush No time to wash your hair? Try this trick (hint: its not dry shampoo!)

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:

LOreal Paris Elnett Hairspray No time to wash your hair? Try this trick (hint: its not dry shampoo!)

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.

What say you?

Have you ever backcombed your hair?
What’s in YOUR no-shower strategy—just dry shampoo, or will you try this now?
Are you a fan of the bedhead-style hair texture or do you prefer smooth and sleek?

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Monday, November 12/2012 at 3:05 pm

I expected something different. First there was the big hoopla with the deep side part and now back combing is the thing.
Really? I think you’re going through a phase of hair fatigue because your tricks are kinda lame.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, November 12/2012 at 3:40 pm

Haha! Well… that’s disappointing that you think it is “lame!” But thanks for sharing your feedback :)

Personally, I like very simple hair and simple changes that I can do at home on my own (like this or like you said, just changing up the part).

But I will certainly keep you in mind when something more complicated comes my way!


Monday, November 12/2012 at 5:01 pm

I don’t think any of these tricks are lame!! Like you Michell I believe it’s the simple things which make a big difference. I also like to look as though I’ve just jumped out of bed and look fabulous, even though I actually have a full face of make up and a sh!t ton of product in my hair. I actually thought the side part trick you posted about recently was amazing! I’ve tried it and I look SO much better and so different! So keep up the good work, you are not lame at all:)


Monday, November 12/2012 at 3:39 pm


What do tu mean by ‘top part of your hair?’ I’m sure this sounds dumb but w/o visuals I’m a bit lost.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, November 12/2012 at 3:49 pm

Good question! You can start at or a few inches above the temples. So you would pull up all the hair that grows above that point, as if you were doing a half-up hairstyle, and clip it up out of the way. Then just backcomb what’s left underneath. Once you let down the uppermost layer of hair it will hide the backcombing.

Or if you want maximum volume, you can work in layers, letting down a bit of hair at a time from your clip, and backcombing each layer until you get to the upper ones. Does that make sense? I hope so!


Courtney D.
Monday, November 12/2012 at 9:26 pm

Aww! For one thing, I love your tips! I’m very…protective…of my hair and don’t like to do too much to it, so I love simple things I can do to change my hair up without chopping it off or dying it.

And this is one of my fav things to do btw. I am all over the dry shampoo, tease the hair, part the front smoothly, and put it in a low pony-tail. BUT I’ve never thought about just leaving it down and leaving a good part in there. Ah! I’m so doing this. I only wash my hair every 3 or so days, so this is awesome.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 10:15 am

Awesome that you are already doing this! My decision to put it up or down usually depends on how bad my bangs are… if they’re super-flat I find a ponytail or half-up style looks a bit better.


Monday, November 12/2012 at 9:39 pm

I don’t think any of these tricks are lame, either… I quite enjoyed them. In fact, I read quite a few beauty blogs and I find yours the most exciting, Michelle. I never know when you are going to tell us to stop wearing so much make-up, or do a review on Poo-Pourri, etc.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 10:16 am

Haha! That’s so nice to hear, thank you :)


Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 12:10 am

Oooh, will give this a try! What other brush would you recommend other than boar bristles? I cannot do boar/pig anything! thanks


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 10:21 am

You could try it with a nylon bristle paddle brush, like Denman:
Not sure how it would compare to the Mason Pearson though as I haven’t compared…

Or if you’re ok with a tighter tease (and a bit more work combing it back out) then I would use a comb. Not a wide-tooth one… you want one where the teeth are close together.


Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 1:40 am

I actually really like that picture of Christina Applegate. In fact, I have peroxide hair, dark brows, fair skin, green eyes, and a penchant for red lips and nails. Did I just find my beauty icon in a “don’t” photo? Uh oh.

That said, if I could have any hair colour it would probably be the one on the model in the first photo. Yay for dirty hair – I shampoo once a week and rinse + condition it when I shower. Super clean dry hair suxxxx!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 10:23 am

Ha! Okay I took another look at Kelly and it’s all good except for the layers… if her hair was all one length then I’d be all over it. Well maybe with a bit of blush :)

I agree, the Rodarte model’s hair colour is gorgeous!


Thursday, November 15/2012 at 4:56 pm

I think my taste just naturally leans closer to kitschy than glam (admitting it is the first step to recovery, right?)


Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 6:14 am

Simplicity is best! Subtle changes are what its all about. People now a days are so used to being fake that they forget their natural beauty. You don’t have to dye your hair bleach blonde or bright red for a makeover or change.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 10:24 am

I couldn’t have said it better myself! :)


Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 9:50 am

So… it’s not dry shampoo but use it in your first step?


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 10:25 am

Well you certainly don’t have to but if your hair isn’t clean then dry shampoo can only help! It absorbs the oil on your scalp, adds some texture and body and helps styles last longer…


Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 11:16 am

This is definitely my go-to trick! But because my hair is super long, instead of spraying it AFTER teasing, I sprinkle volumizing powder (Got2be, the green one!) on BEFORE I tease. Works wonders!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, December 4/2012 at 5:00 pm

Ooh those are good too! I use the Kevin Murphy one.


ana p
Tuesday, November 13/2012 at 6:40 pm

Ah, the tease…. I love it and have tried to be quiet about it, in fear of being judged for being dated or high maintenance. BUT, these techniques are super.
TIP: to brush the tease out before you wash, it helps to put a little argan or jojoba oil in your hair. A little. :)

These oils won’t weigh your hair down, I find some oils are very hard to wash away. This step helps with less breakage.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, December 4/2012 at 5:01 pm

Thanks for the tip! Will try that next time I do a hard-core tease. :)


Thursday, November 15/2012 at 3:28 am

I love this trick! And I don’t think it’s lame at all! I love simple tricks that make a noticeable difference! I actually do the same trick and wrote about it on my bog too!:) If you want visuals I have them here:)


Thursday, November 15/2012 at 1:09 pm

I thought I was alone in supporting this old school technique for insta-volume! Back combing has taken a back seat to all those dry shampoos nowadays, but it really is the one trick that works in pinch! And this is coming from a blow-dry addict! I actually carry around a fine tooth comb in my clutch when I go out because it’s nice and flat and doesn’t take up a lot of space in clutches. Thanks for sharing, Michelle.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, December 4/2012 at 5:02 pm

Oh interesting, I never thought to carry a tool with me for teasing-on-the-go. Good idea!


Friday, November 16/2012 at 10:44 am

I think this is a great tip – and good timing too! Whenever I go a little long between cuts (like right now), it’s hard to keep any good volume in my hair for more than a day (and I am not a fan of daily washing!). I never considered teasing, but it sounds like it might do the trick.


Sunday, March 17/2013 at 9:42 pm

Hmmmm… I’d love to try this, but my (very long) hair is incredibly fine and I already have issues avoiding dreadlocks. Plus my scalp burns with dry shampoo and I end up having to wash it out… (that’s happened with multiple brands now).

I’ve been looking for ideas to give my clean hair a bit more grab for styling (and maybe volume) without using too many harsh sprays. Any further advice?


Erica Miner
Wednesday, March 20/2013 at 6:56 pm

I like the textured, bed head look from time to time. Will give this a go and thanks for sharing! I will stay way from the Bundy look though, I leave that for my sister.

I thought, however that dry shampoo was not part of this equation?


Sunday, August 11/2013 at 10:20 am

Did I miss something?
I thought it said (hint: It’s not dry shampoo)
Yet step one says Dove Dry Shampoo. Yes, it says optional but why mention it if the title specifically says It’s not dry shampoo.
Not all of us have this lying around especially if we’ve been sick and need to go out as you had to do.
Would have preferred it not even mentioned.


Wednesday, August 14/2013 at 4:51 pm

I know this is an old article, but I was redirected here from Bustle and I wanted to say that your article is super helpful but I need pictures. Please, for the sake of the stylishly inept, give us the play by play in picture form!


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