Plastic free combs are here!

Filed in Blog by on February 11, 2011 9 Comments
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Mrs Green and her glossy hair after using a bone comb

Mrs Green and her glossy hair after using a bone comb

One of my least favourite childhood memories is of having a plastic comb ripped through my hair every morning before school. I know my hair isn’t the easiest to manage and maybe my grumpy face wasn’t easy to manage on a school morning either. I have lots of very fine hair; it looks thick, but actually it tangles easily because there is so much of it.

One of the pleasures of getting older was being able to buy a brush and never having to suffer at the wrath of a mother who was late for work ever again!  I see history repeating itself when Little Miss Green holds her breath as I comb her hair too. I let her do it herself, but always go through and check afterwards; being as gentle as I can of course 😉

Unfortunately, now Little miss Green is back at school I have to be on headlice patrol. At her first school, headlice were rife. Nearly every week I had to comb them out and apply lotions and potions to keep them at bay. I bought a metal lice comb but felt really bad using it – surely pulling metal through someone’s hair is a recipe for split ends, tears and tantrums?

Then I decided I’d need to use the nit comb myself – there is little point de-lousing Little Miss green if she’s passed them to me and I end up reinfecting her. Oh the joys of motherhood.

Fortunately Sally from Natural Spa Supplies came to our rescue with an amazing plastic-free comb made from bone. Now before you start on the ‘cruelty’ route, I am assured that no animals are harmed in the making of these products! The combs are made from cow horn which is taken from domestic bull and cows at the end of their natural lives. However, Sally is in the process of finding something suitable for vegans too.

Sally, who is as passionate and dedicated about her trade (natural body care) as you can get  discovered just one ‘master horn comb maker’ in Morocco, aged 81. People have been working with horn for 20,000 years and Sally did not want this tradition to die out. She spoke to the maker and said she would buy everything he could make and that he was to train an apprentice so she could help save this tradition. As Sally points out, this maker is ‘living heritage’ and one of the last makers using ancient techniques, working entirely without machines. If he does not have enough demand to employ an apprentice, his knowledge, drawn deep from human history, is set to vanish.

Some of the unique bone combs Sally sells

Some of the unique bone combs Sally sells

Sally has sent me a bone comb to try and it’s an amazing experience to use one. Using the bone comb is invigorating; it’s a kind of spine-tingling experience, as if your scalp gets ‘woken up’ after years of using plastic and metal. Your hair and head feel alive and it’s like you’ve had a massage for the past 10 minutes.

Using the comb does require you to slow down, but in today’s hectic life, that’s no bad thing. To be honest, once you start using it, you WANT to slow down and savour each stroke. Yeah – sensual right? Who knew!
It’s kind of primal too, knowing you are using a natural material that has been used for thousands of years and has been crafted by hand. It certainly bought out my inner cave girl! Mind you, Sally is good at challenging the norm; she’s had me washing with clay, bathing with goats (don’t ask) and using crystals under my armpits!

Each comb is unique and has a personality of its own; which you would never get in a machine-cut comb, much less a plastic one. They are a comb for life (and after many, many years will safely biodegrade) and are believed to impart strength and accelerate the growth of hair. Unlike my metal nit comb or any other plastic comb, this comb is made from keratin so cannot harm or damage the hair. After use, your hair positively shines and glows with health.

I have to be honest, if you’re a five-second wonder with your hair routine, a bone comb is not for you. But if you’re after something which will benefit your hair in the long run, will last for life and is plastic free, then a bone comb might be just the thing for you. You don’t have to have nits to use one you know 😉

What do you think – does a bone comb appeal to you?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (9)

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  1. Teresa says:

    I have the same kind of hair as you; very fine lots of hair. As I get older it’s getting dry so it makes it more difficult to comb my hair so I invested in tangle teezer and use a wide toothed comb afterwards or a detangling comb which has teeth of two different lengths with the longer teeth alternating with two shorter teeth.

    I like wooden combs too.

  2. Similarly to yourselves and teresa, I have very fine hair, but lots of it.

    I tend to use a brush, rather than a comb, as i find it much easier to manage this way, However, I do own a gorgeous wooden comb, which can be snagging, but with a little time poured into my styling session, I can have pain free, gorgeous hair! My wooden comb was bought locally and I am unsure of supplier.

    I wanted to let you know that proffessional brush maker, Kent Brushes, produce a good wide range of wooden brushes. Unfortunately most of these have nylon, plastic or rubber bristles, but there is one beautiful brush, called the woody hog, which is made with wooden prongs, embedded into rubber.
    It can be found here

    Cebra Online have a similar design; which is created with entirely natural rubber and can be found here—wooden-bristles-1223-p.asp

    They also have amini, handbag friendly version, here

    Happy Styling 🙂

  3. Jen says:

    I have an ivory comb that my grandmother received as a birthday gift when she was about 12. She never had any daughters, so she gave it to me when I was about that age. I would never buy ivory products now, but I love using it, and I think of her whenever I do.

    I also bought a wooden comb at the body shop as a gift and it is reportedly great too.

  4. Mrs Green says:

    @Teresa: I’d never heard of a tangle teezer! I like the idea of a comb with different length teeth; I bet that works really well.

    @Michelle Morgan: I usually brush first and then use the comb or I think it would be too painful. Like you point out, one has to be patient to get the results! Thanks for sharing the links; I have one of those really expensive ones with natural boar bristles in it, can’t remember the name – Mason something or other. Loving that little dolphin handbag brush though 🙂

    @Jen: How lovely that you have this comb Jen. It will have the wonderful energies of your grandmother in it 🙂 (and although we don’t support ivory now, it wouldn’t be quite so special if it was plastic, would it 😉 )

  5. Christine says:

    I’m not sure the phrase “The combs are made from cow horn which is taken from domestic bull and cows at the end of their natural lives” can be quite accurate. Not many bulls or cows get to live out their lives to it’s natural conclusion. Most are slaughtered.

  6. Mrs Green says:

    @Christine: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Christine – I have asked Sally, who supplies the combs for her comments 🙂

  7. @Christine: Thank you for the interesting observation. On the website, I have written, ‘Cow horn is only taken from domestic bulls and cows after the end of their life.’ It would read better if I added the word ‘healthy’ … at the end of the healthy life of the cow! However I’d like to explain more …

    A milk cow is one of the most productive animals for mankind and gives far more food calories than a cow raised exclusively for the meat trade. Diary cows in Morocco tend to have a longer life than bulls and most of the combs are made from the horn of female cows. There is a growing demand for milk production in Morocco and output has increased threefold over the last 30 years. Peasants are encouraged to keep cattle if they can provide well for them. Cattle also form an important part in religious observation and they may be sacrificed at the Islamic festival, Eid Al Adha where 1/3 of the meat is distributed to the poor. Typically, Moroccans eat ¼ of the meat than people in the UK and the poor eat very little. 95% of the meat is sold on a local scale in the souks as opposed to supermarkets. Neither cows nor bulls are ever slaughtered for their horn; however, in Morocco every part of the animal carcass is used.

    Moroccan agriculture is characterized by subsistence farmers and small holders with a handful of larger scale dairies. According to an instructional document prepared for Moroccan peasant farmers, L’élevage des vaches Laitières, dairy cows are replaced after 9-10 years and bulls after 7 years. Only cows which lead a natural life (grazing outdoors, sometimes with supplementary feed rations) will produce good quality horn. Cows raised in intensive conditions, fed a diet of concentrates will not produce quality horn.

    In this country many cows are slaughtered after just 3 years of lactation, although organic cattle, raised in natural conditions may live for 7 years, but not as long as they do in Morocco. In this country, most cattle are cruelly debudded (that is the horns of chemically destroyed or surgically removed) and so the horn is not available, although cow horn is in great demand by biodynamic growers for improving and energizing the soil. Not only do we largely preclude the production of horn in this country, we also burn the hides! What a waste!

    In the wild, cattle can live for longer, about 13-15 years but many do not reach their natural life span. According to Cindy Engel, author of Wild Health, the natural death of animals from old age in the wild is intensely sad, as the animal often excludes itself from the herd and may have suffered from malnutrition for a long time due to worn teeth, immobility and pain due to lameness etc. Even in the throws of dying the animal is not safe from predators.

    Another way to examine this issue is to look at what happens when cattle can not be slaughtered once they reach the end of their healthy life. In most states of India the killing of a cow is a serious crime, (Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2010) giving a sentence of up to 7 years in prison, a fine, confiscation of property etc. This means that peasants are forced to keep a cow alive for possibly 5 years or more past its useful life even when the cow is ill, producing a huge burden on the peasant. Sometimes the cow is abandoned where it will eventually die of starvation or disease, or in the cities from eating plastic bags. A few retirement preserves (Goshallas) and adoption schemes have been set up but they do not meet demand. This ban also means that traditional occupations based on the leather, button, horn industry will suffer and if it is assumed that 1/3 of India’s cow population is unproductive for humans, they are still busy producing methane, contributing to global warming. Muslims and Christians, other non-Hindu religious groups and some hill tribes along with argue that this ban affects their food choices and will drive inflation in meat prices sourced from other animals.

    It is a difficult issue. The death of any animal whether natural or intentional is upsetting. However or whenever they die, it is a shame to waste the resources of their horns, hooves, hide, bones etc.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Sally Mittuch: Really interesting information, Sally – thanks for responding to Christine’s comment and thank you Christine for raising such an interesting discussion 🙂

  9. Sally says:

    Dear Christine and Rachel,

    just a little more to add on to this. I was speaking to a biodymanic farmer in Essex the other day. He has been keeping cattle for 4 years now and will have calves this year. He’s going to leave the calves to suckle rather than taking them away at two weeks and he and his neighbours will share the cows’ milk with the calves. He expect his cows to still be producing calves and milk into their teens. He keesp a native breed which he said is much healthier and longer living than the typical milk breeds (Holstein and Friesian). He said that his friend has a native breed of cow of 15 years who still produces calves and milk. We need more farmers like this who really look after their animals well and help them to lead long and healthy lives.

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