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What Is a Bone Comb?

By Gregory Hanson
Updated May 21, 2024
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A bone comb is a type of comb crafted from either bone or horn. Such combs were among the earliest personal grooming implements crafted by humans and still offer some concrete benefits. This type of comb is especially likely to appeal to consumers who are interested in historical reenactment and to those who enjoy collecting unique arts and crafts objects.

Archaeologists have identified several types of bone comb that date back thousands of years. A comb can be carved fairly easily from a piece of animal bone or antler. A flat piece of material was prepared, which was essentially a comb blank. Then small grooves were cut in parallel to form the teeth of the comb, and in some cases, decorative elements were then added. Combs made of bone were practical and extremely common for thousands of years.

Bone and horn remained the standard materials for comb construction up until the advent of plastics in the 20th century. The mass production of inexpensive plastic combs led to their widespread adoption in place of bone combs. A bone comb may still be a better choice for certain consumers, however.

Long hair and hair that is prone to dryness or splitting may benefit from the use of a bone comb. Bone and horn both work with the natural oils present in hair, spreading them around instead of leeching them from the hair. Unlike plastic, which is impervious to natural oils, bone will absorb and re-distribute them more evenly throughout the hair. This process leads, over time, to stronger, healthier hair.

Combs made from bone are often much more visually appealing than their counterparts made from utilitarian plastic or metal. Bone is a natural material, and, as a result, no two bone combs will ever look quite alike. Each comb will possess a unique pattern and appearance, which some consumers may appreciate. Combs made from different types of horn and bone can possess unique and distinctive appearances.

A bone comb may also be decorated or carved. This practice was common in ancient times, when the wealthy would comb or decorate their hair with ornate combs of bone or ivory that were covered with elegant miniature carvings. Some artisans continue these practices. A hand-carved ornamental bone comb is not inexpensive, and a typical consumer might opt to treat one as a display piece rather than as a utilitarian grooming aid.

People interested in historical reenactment of any period before the modern era might wish to purchase bone combs as well. Simple bone combs in antique styles are available from major retailers. More unique, ornamental or primitive examples can often be purchased directly from the artisans who carve them.

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Discussion Comments
By ZipLine — On Jan 15, 2015

I have a sheep horn comb and I'm not sure if I like it or not. It is sturdy and works well but when it's wet, it smells like sheep. That has been the biggest downside of this comb for me. I try not to get it wet and I'm able to use it without issues that way. But I can't even think about using it in the shower or using it when my hair is wet because I can't stand the smell.

I think I should have just gotten a wood comb and I might go with that option when I decide to buy another comb.

By literally45 — On Jan 15, 2015

@SarahGen-- You can always check with the manufacturer about how the comb is made and how the bone is obtained. A lot of it is made form horns and I'm sure it is a by-product, that is, the horn is taken after the animal is slaughtered for meat production. You can also purchase from a company that is cruelty free, that is, doesn't test products on animals or doesn't harm animals to manufacture the product.

Like I said, most of natural combs are made from horns, rather than bone. So I've not worried about harm done to animals.

By SarahGen — On Jan 14, 2015

I have no doubt that a bone comb is healthier and safer for hair than its plastic counterpart. The only issue that worries me about it is whether animals are harmed just to make this product. If the bone used to make these combs are a by-product of the meat industry, that's okay. But animals shouldn't be killed just to use their bones for comb making.

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