For other uses, see Comb (disambiguation).
A modern plastic comb.

A comb is a toothed device used for styling, cleaning and managing hair and scalp. Combs are among the oldest tools found by archaeologists,[1] having been discovered in very refined forms from settlements dating back to 5,000 years ago in Persia.[2]


Combs consist of a shaft and teeth that are placed at a perpendicular angle to the shaft. Combs can be made out of a number of materials, most commonly plastic, metal or wood. Combs made from ivory[3] and tortoiseshell[4] were once common but concerns for the animals that produce them have reduced their usage. When made from wood, combs are largely made of boxwood, cherry wood or other fine-grained wood. Good quality wooden combs are usually handmade and polished.[5]

Combs can vary in shape according to function. Hairdressing combs may have a thin, tapered handle for parting hair and close teeth. Common hair combs usually have wider teeth half way and finer teeth for the rest of the comb.[6] Hot combs were used solely for straightening hair during the colonial era in North America.[7]

A Punjabi wooden comb.

A hairbrush comes in both manual and electric models.[8] It is larger than a comb, is also commonly used for shaping, styling and cleaning hair.[9] A combination comb and hairbrush was patented in the 19th century.[10]

Uses and types

Modern artisan brass and coated stainless steel combs
Local artisan cutting and filing animal horn to make combs in Alappuzha, Kerala
Indian metal comb for keeping hair in place, adorned with a pair of birds. After removing the central stopper, perfume can be poured into the opening in order to moisten the teeth of the comb and the hair of the wearer.

Combs can be used for many purposes. Historically, their main purpose was securing long hair in place; decorating the hair; matting sections of hair for locking; or keeping a kippah or skullcap in place. In Spain, a peineta is a large decorative comb to keep a mantilla in place.[11][12]

In industry and craft, combs are used in separating cotton fibres from seeds and other debris (the cotton gin, a mechanized version of the comb, is one of the machines that ushered the Industrial Revolution). A comb is used to distribute colours in paper marbling to make the swirling colour patterns in comb-marbled paper.[13]

Combs are also a favorite tool for police investigators to collect hair and dandruff samples that can be used in ascertaining dead or living persons' identities, as well as their state of health, toxicological profiles, and so forth.[14]

Making music

Stringing a plant's leaf or a piece of paper over one side of the comb and humming with cropped lips on the opposite side dramatically increases the high-frequency harmonic content of the hum produced by the human voice box, and the resulting spread sound spectrum can be modulated by changing the resonating frequency of the oral cavity.[15]

This was the inspiration for the kazoo. Moreover, the comb is also a lamellophone. Comb teeth have harmonic qualities of their own, determined by their shape, length, and material. A comb with teeth of unequal length, capable of producing different notes when picked, eventually evolved into the thumb piano[16] and musical box.[17]

Afro pick

Ashanti comb - an example of Afro pick.

This type of comb has loose, thick teeth and is usually used on kinky or Afro-textured hair. It is longer and thinner than the typical comb, and is is sometimes worn in the hair.[18][19]

Nit comb

A Stone Age nit comb.

Specialized combs such as "flea combs" or "nit combs" can be used to remove macroscopic parasites and cause them damage by combing.[20] A comb with teeth fine enough to remove nits is sometimes called a "fine-toothed comb", as in the metaphoric usage "go over [something] with a fine-toothed comb", meaning "search [something] closely and in detail". Sometimes in this meaning, "fine-toothed comb" has been reanalysed as "fine toothcomb" and then shortened to "toothcomb", or changed into forms such as "the finest of toothcombs".[21]


Sharing combs is a common cause of parasitic infections much like sharing a hat, as one user can leave a comb with eggs or live parasites, facilitating the transmission of lice, fleas, mites, fungi, and other undesirables. Siblings are also more likely to pass on nits to each other if they share a comb, so it is advisable to buy each child their own comb.[22]

A modern artisan metal comb and leather sheath

Unbreakable plastic comb

An unbreakable plastic comb is a comb that, despite being made of plastic rather than (more expensive) metal, does not shatter into multiple pieces if dropped on a hard surface such as bathroom tiles, a hardwood floor, or a pavement.[23] Such combs were introduced in the middle of the twentieth century.[24] Today most plastic combs are unbreakable as technology has reached a point of understanding the causation of brittleness in these products.[25]

Modern artisan combs

Modern artisan combs crafted from a wide variety of new and recycled materials have become popular over recent years. Used skateboard decks, vinyl records, brass, titanium alloy, acrylic and exotic wood are just a few of the materials being used.


See also


  1. "Internet Archaeol. 30. Ashby. An Atlas of Medieval Combs from Northern Europe. Summary". 2011-09-23. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  2. Vaux, William Sandys Wright (1850-01-01). Nineveh and Persepolis: An Historical Sketch of Ancient Assyria and Persia, with an Account of the Recent Researches in Those Countries. A. Hall, Virtue, & Company.
  3. Sandell, Hanne Tuborg; Sandell, Birger (1991-01-01). Archaeology and Environment in the Scoresby Sund Fjord. Museum Tusculanum Press. ISBN 9788763512084.
  4. White, Carolyn L. (2005-01-01). American Artifacts of Personal Adornment, 1680-1820: A Guide to Identification and Interpretation. Rowman Altamira. ISBN 9780759105898.
  5. Sherrow, Victoria (2006-01-01). Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313331459.
  6. Laing, Lloyd Robert (2006-06-29). The Archaeology of Celtic Britain and Ireland: C.AD 400 - 1200. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521838627.
  7. Hodder, Ian (1997-01-01). Interpreting Archaeology: Finding Meaning in the Past. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415157445.
  8. Corporation, Bonnier (1937-09-01). Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation. p. 39.
  9. Cooley, Arnold James (1866-01-01). The Toilet and Cosmetic Arts in Ancient and Modern Times. R. Hardwicke.
  10. The Canadian Patent Office Record and Register of Copyrights and Trade Marks. Patent Office. 1895-01-01. p. 437.
  11. Roberts, Edward A. (2014-04-10). A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Spanish Language with Families of Words based on Indo-European Roots: Volume II (H - Z and Appendix). Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 9781493191116.
  12. Sherrow, Victoria (2006-01-01). Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313331459.
  13. Wolfe, Richard J. (1990-01-01). Marbled Paper: Its History, Techniques, and Patterns : with Special Reference to the Relationship of Marbling to Bookbinding in Europe and the Western World. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812281888.
  14. O'Sullivan, Frank Dalton; Wright, Walter Edward (1940-01-01). Practical Instruction in Police Work and Detective Science: A Course of Instruction ... Containing Lecture-lessons for Law Enforcement Officers and Others. American Police Review Publishing Company.
  15. Green, Douglas (2001-01-01). The Everything Lawn Care Book: From Seed to Soil, Mowing to Fertilizing--hundreds of Tips for Growing a Beautiful Lawn. Adams Media. p. 23. ISBN 1580624871.
  16. Nicholls, David (1998-11-19). The Cambridge History of American Music. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521454292.
  17. Bulleid, Henry Anthony Vaughan (1994-09-25). Cylinder musical box technology: including makers, types, dating, and music. Almar Press.
  18. Moore, Jennifer Grayer (2015-12-14). Fashion Fads Through American History: Fitting Clothes into Context: Fitting Clothes into Context. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781610699020.
  19. Company, Johnson Publishing (1972-02-17). Jet. Johnson Publishing Company.
  20. Copeland, Lennie (2001-10-01). The Lice-Buster Book: What to Do When Your Child Comes Home with Head Lice. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 9780759526297.
  21. "". Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  22. Sinha, Meenakshi; Rajgopal, Reena; Banerjee, Suchismita (2012-06-01). All You Wanted To Know About Hair Care. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 9788120791022.
  23. Adams, Glenn Arthur (2001-06-09). A Likely Story. iUniverse. ISBN 9780595004294.
  24. Division, Great Britain Central Office of Information Reference (1951-01-01). Home Affairs Survey.
  25. International, A. S. M.; Lampman, Steve (2003-01-01). Characterization and Failure Analysis of Plastics. ASM International. ISBN 9781615030736.
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