The XX Factor

You’ll Finally Be Able to Buy a “Smart” Hairbrush That Grades Your Hairbrushing Skills


“Smart” household objects are usually engineered to make life easier. Smart curtains slide open and shut along with the sun’s movements to make a home more energy efficient. Smart cribs hear when babies start crying and rock them back to sleep.

But some—nay, most—objects are just fine without sensors and corresponding apps. The hairbrush, for one, adequately performs its intended function with just a handle and bristles. Tangled hair needs a bunch of stiff-ish pegs to unsnarl it. Hairbrushes provide those stiff-ish pegs.

A forthcoming “smart” hairbrush, tricked out with a microphone and gyroscope, seems designed to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. This week at CES 2017, luxury hair-care line Kérastase and electronics company Withings announced plans to release a so-called “Hair Coach” later this year. For “under $200,” consumers will be able to purchase a sophisticated gadget to help them micromanage and stress over a simple daily task: detangling hair.

This product promises to serve the small market niche of people who can muster the energy to care about whether the pressure and frequency of their brushing technique meets industry standards. A normal-looking hairbrush, the Hair Coach will listen through its microphone to the sound of hair being brushed, detecting frizziness and split ends. Multi-axis load cells, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope will gauge the number, speed, and force of brush strokes, delivering immediate warnings of overly vigorous brushing. A conductivity sensor will sense whether hair is dry. Give the thing headlights and tires, and it’ll just about drive itself around San Francisco.

The data will get sent to an app that, taking into account weather reports of humidity and wind, will give users a “hair quality score” and Kérastase product recommendations. I could see this being useful for those people who need to win at everything and hate adulthood because no one gives them A-grades on their minor accomplishments anymore. Proper hair-brushing could be one more task to crush, and a daily mark of good brushing skills might be the ego-boosting day-starter some people need.

But for most of us, a hairbrush that judges our performance of one of life’s simplest and least consequential personal hygiene acts would make us want to tear our hair out. Imagine our president-elect intoning “WRONG” with every problematic brushstroke: This is that. This dystopian gadget (who’s looking at all our hair data?!) recalls the smart menstrual cup Kickstarted in 2015. No one needs to know the exact color and volume of one’s menstrual fluid—that information is far more likely to cause undue stress than successfully screen for any true disturbance in the menstrual force. If there’s a problem, pain or a noticeable-to-the-naked-eye change in menstruation will let you know.

Likewise, until my hair starts looking frizzier than I’d like or strangling me of its own accord, I’m going to assume my brushing habits are passable, if not exceptional. And unless your scalp is bleeding or your hair is falling out in clumps (a problem brushing can exacerbate), I suspect that yours are too. But hey, I’m no hair coach.