Thinning shears can elevate a hairstyle from bulky and shapeless to something layered and intentional. It’s often one of those final steps your barber does to finesse the look; you know, that moment when they snip away at your hair with a pair of toothy scissors that seem only halfway effective. And that’s by design: Typically, one side of the shears has a row of teeth that chops at hair in designated sections; the other blade is without teeth. The result is hair with less volume, but in a balanced way. It also cooperates better when styling. Some thinning shears are also used to build a balanced taper along the back and sides of the head.
To better learn about the best thinning shears out there, we spoke with Olivia Gomez, who has been barbering for 20+ years and cuts hair at Church Barbershop in San Francisco. Here are her two cents on the topic, as well as her advice for the types of hair and styles best suited for thinning shears. We also get a few of Gomez’s favorite picks in the process, but note that these aren’t likely something you will be using at home: “I would leave [thinning shear usage] to the professionals,” she says. “But, if you’re willing to experiment, I would do some major research and first learn on a mannequin head before touching your own hair, to avoid major damage that can lead to hair breakage and a funky grow-out.”
The Best Hair Types and Styles for Thinning Shears
Ultimately, the best candidates for thinning shears are those whose hair isn’t already thin or fine—after all, the idea is to thin out the bulk. So, people with thick, coarse, and medium-length hair will experience the best results from this. Anything overly long probably weighs itself down, and anything too short won’t require thinning or else it’ll look spotty.
“Fine hair doesn’t have enough elasticity in the hair cuticles to support the type of cut the thinning shear is made to do,” Gomez explains. “Their task is de-bulking and removing excess layers that create weight, and heaviness.
What to Look For in Thinning Shears
If you’re a grooming professional or want to own a pair of thinning shears at home, then look for tools with ultimate sharpness and smaller teeth, Gomez says. On the sharpness front, look for Japanese steel. And as for the teeth: “The smaller the teeth the better they blend evenly as well as de-bulking hair.” Shears with a smaller amount of teeth are likely going to focus more on texturizing than on thinning—albeit larger teeth that are more spread out due to their smaller count. Typically, anything between 25-50 teeth will be target thinning.
The Difference Between Thinning Shears and Texturizing Shears
Don’t mistake thinning shears with texturizing shears, which are another set of scissors used by barbers; in the case of texturizing shears, the result is more volume and definition—by way of having more texture and movement in the strands. They have even fewer teeth than thinning shears, with even wider gaps in between. Texturizing shears are best for people with thin, fine, and thinning hair—essentially the opposite candidate of thinning shears, since the aim is to build volume as opposed to removing it. Texturizing scissors target the ends of the hair while thinning shears work through the bulk, anywhere from 1 inch above the scalp to two inches below the ends. While thinning shears have anywhere from 25 to 50 teeth, texturizing shears have something closer to 15.
The Best Thinning Shears
Here are the three best thinning shear brands to consider, according to Gomez.
44/20 460-EX Thinning Shears
44/20 is more or less the standard in shears, says Gomez. Its numerous options are popular among barbers, stylists and even pet groomers. “The 44/20s blend and de-bulk excessive hair with precision,” she adds. The brand has numerous thinning shears, and Gomez reminds that the smaller the teeth count, the better.
Mizutani Ichi Nino San #3 Thinning Shears
Mizutani is a Japanese maker that is top in terms of quality, says Gomez. This is the brand’s most popular thinning shear, though it’s one of a quartet in a bigger set.
Joewell E-Series Thinning Shears
Joewell is another Japanese maker that Gomez loves. The brand has an entire range of thinning-shear options, and prices change with the amount of teeth.