A comb is a tool consisting of a shaft that holds a row of teeth for pulling through the hair to clean, untangle, or style it. Combs have been used since prehistoric times, having been discovered in very refined forms from settlements dating back to 5,000 years ago in Africa.
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 and tortoiseshell 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.
Combs come in various shapes and sizes depending on what they are used for. A hairdressing comb may have a thin, tapered handle for parting hair and close teeth. Common hair combs usually have wider teeth halfway and finer teeth for the rest of the comb. Hot combs were used solely for straightening hair during the colonial era in North America.
A hairbrush comes in both manual and electric models. It is larger than a comb, and is also commonly used for shaping, styling, and cleaning hair. A combination comb and hairbrush was patented in the 19th century.
Uses and types
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 dreadlocks, or keeping a kippah or skullcap in place. In Spain, a peineta is a large decorative comb used to keep a mantilla in place.
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 in the Industrial Revolution). A comb is used to distribute colors in paper marbling to make the swirling colour patterns in comb-marbled paper.
Combs are also a tool used by 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.
Specialized combs such as "flea combs" or "nit combs" can be used to remove macroscopic parasites and cause them damage by combing. 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 to search 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".
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.
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 pavement. Such combs were introduced in the mid-twentieth century. Today most plastic combs are unbreakable as technology has reached a point of understanding the causation of brittleness in these products.
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, sterling silver, and exotic wood are a few of the materials being used.
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. This was the inspiration for the kazoo, a membranophone.
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 and music box.
Ancient Egyptian comb, c. fifteenth century BC
Etruscan comb, c. seventh century BC
Scythian comb, c. 400 BC
Ancient Roman comb
The world's oldest runic inscription (160 AD) on the Vimose comb, Denmark
A liturgical comb, possibly made in Italy, fifteenth century
A set of combs found on the 16th-century ship Mary Rose
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.
A Punjabi wooden comb
Head louse comb
Bamboo comb of the Kanak people
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