Oh detangling, the step that most naturals hate! This is the part of wash day that used to literally make me cry – I mean actual real tears – until I figured out how to do it the right way.
I went from spending three to four HOURS detangling my hair with each wash, to now only 20 minutes. Are you struggling with hair that’s always a tangled mess? You can drastically cut down your detangling time by following these tips.
When should I detangle?
The best time to detangle depends on how tangled your hair is.
If your hair is in good condition, you can detangle during the conditioning step. If your hair is very dry, matted, or damaged, you will need to do some prep work before fully detangling your hair.
Don’t worry, as you follow this guide and the condition of your hair improves, your detangling sessions will get shorter and easier!
Basic Detangling Tips
Tip 1 - Finger Detangling
Begin your detangling process with your fingers. You can do this while your pre-shampoo oil or conditioner is in your hair. I do not recommend detangling while shampooing.
Tip 2 - Wide Tooth Comb
Use a wide tooth comb instead of a brush. Because the bristles on a brush are closer together, it is much more difficult to avoid pulling and snagging your hair. Our goal is to retain as much hair as possible, so we don't want to rip it out unnecessarily.
Tip 3 - Shower Detangling
Try detangling in the shower - Use your wide tooth comb and allow the water to run through your hair, rinsing the conditioner out as you comb. This is much faster and easier than detangling outside the shower.
Tip 4 - Extra Detangling
This is an optional step. After you have gone through your hair with a wide tooth comb (or your fingers) to get the larger knots out, you can follow up with a detangling brush for a more thorough detangling. However, this is not always necessary. Personally, I very rarely use a detangling brush in my hair.
Tip 5 - Trimming
If your ends need to be trimmed, you will have a more difficult time detangling. Stick to your trimming schedule (more on that later).
Tip 6 - Hydration
The better your hair's hydration status, the easier detangling will be. Stick to your deep conditioning schedule.
Detangling severely matted hair
For hair that is very tangled due to long term protective styling, or lack of maintenance, detangling will require more time and effort. Here are some ways you can get through the process without damaging your hair.
Step 1 - Use Oil
Oil your hair before starting. If your hair is very matted from being in a protective style or because you've gone too long without detangling, it can help to apply an oil to your hair before you start combing. You can do a hot oil treatment, cover with a shower cap, or leave it uncovered.
Heavier oils work best for this purpose, but you can use whatever oil you prefer. Indara Naturals Organic Pre-Shampoo Oil contains a blend of rich, nourishing oils that are great for softening dry, matted hair.
Apply the oil from root to tip and let it sit for at least an hour. If you like, you can cover your hair and leave your oil in overnight.
Step 2 - Patiently work through each section
Be patient. Don't pull or yank knots out of your hair. If your hair is very tangled or matted, turn on your favorite show or some music and prepare to be there for a while.
Begin dividing your hair into sections. Carefully separate your hair with your fingers. Start separating at the ends and work your way up to the root. Begin with your fingers only, not a comb. The oil treatment should lubricate your strands and make them easier to separate, but you still need to be careful.
Apply some oil to your fingertips to ensure that each strand is well coated. The goal here is to get your hair into 4-8 sections to make the detangling process easier. Be careful when pulling the sections apart. If you run into a knot, pull one or two strands at a time to loosen them from the knot.
Continue to separate the hair with your fingers once you have created your smaller sections. Re-oil as needed and carefully work through individual knots.
As you detangle you will find that large knots are usually caused by shed hair (sometimes a single strand!) that has wrapped itself around the surrounding hairs.
This is why you should not cut knots out, as most of the hair is healthy and can be saved with a little patience.
Step 3 - Deep Condition
Deep condition for 20 minutes or longer after you have detangled using your fingers. Do this prior to shampooing your hair. The conditioner will further loosen any remaining knots and make your hair easier to comb through.
The main goal here is detangling, not conditioning. You will still need to clean your hair once you finish these steps.
Step 4 - Complete Detangling
Finish the process. There are two ways to proceed after deep conditioning. You can use your detangling tool (a wide tooth comb or a detangling brush) to gently detangle your hair while the conditioner is still in, or you can detangle under running water (in the shower).
I find it easier and faster to detangle in the shower, but choose the method that works best for you. Be sure to keep your hair separated into sections as you are combing.
Step 5 - Cleanse, Condition, & Style
Proceed with your wash day routine. Once you have finished your intense detangling session, you can proceed with your normal washing, conditioning, moisturizing, and styling routine.
Pro tip: Be gentle! Do not tug and rip the comb through your hair! Always detangle gently and use your fingers to separate knots that you are not able to comb through.
If your hair is not matted, the detangling process is much simpler. Here are my best tips for cutting your detangling time and reducing the amount of breakage and shedding from your detangling sessions.
1. Unlike with matted hair, the pre-oil treatment is optional. If you need extra moisture and softness, this is a great way to give your hair a boost, but if you're short on time or just feeling lazy, it's ok to skip this step.
2. You do not need to pre-detangle prior to washing. You can jump straight into the shower and cleanse your hair and scalp. Follow up with a deep conditioner (or a rinse out conditioner if you're short on time or don't need the extra hydration).
3. Use your detangling tool to gently comb through your hair - under running water in the shower, or outside of the shower with conditioner in your hair.
4. If your comb or brush hits a knot, STOP! Use your fingers to work out any knots and do not try to comb or brush through them. We want to avoid pulling hair out from the root, which is what happens when you pull and tug with a comb or brush. As always, patience is key.
Remember, this process will get easier as the health of your hair improves!
Of course, the easiest thing to do is to prevent tangles in the first place. Here are some tips that will help you keep tangles at bay so that you don’t have as much work to do on wash day.
1. Don’t keep protective styles in for too long. Keeping styles for longer than a month can cause your hair to begin locking, which can make the style harder to take out.
2. Box braids can be left in for up to 2 months, but for other styles I recommend taking them out after a month and giving your hair a thorough wash and condition before re-installing. If you do leave a style like braids in for more than two weeks, make sure you are still washing and moisturizing your hair regularly.
3. Cover your hair with a silk (or satin) bonnet or scarf at night. Sleeping with loose hair is a recipe for disaster. Do yourself a favor and wrap it up.
4. Avoid wearing loose styles like puffs and afros without properly moisturizing. When your hair is loose, you need to make sure it is adequately moisturized.
5. Don’t go too many days without applying more moisturizer or your hair will dry out and become more tangled.
A general rule of thumb is to moisturize every 3 days, but you will be able to tell by how your hair feels. If your hair is in excellent condition and you’re using the right products, you will not need to moisturize as often.
How will I know when I’m done detangling?
This is an important lesson to learn about your natural hair, so I hope you're paying attention here. Your hair does not need to be fully detangled at all times! What does that mean? You don't need to be able to run a fine tooth comb through your hair.
The goal of detangling is to remove shed hair and large knots. Kinky hair is called kinky hair because it is prone to kinks and knots. Our hair likes to curl around itself. Combing and brushing your hair to death to get rid of every little tangle is not necessary. Below are a few rules of thumb to follow.
1. Wide tooth comb - Use a wide tooth comb (or your fingers) as your first detangling step. If you are wearing a puff, afro, or wash and go, you may be able to stop at this step.
2. Secondary detangler - ex. Denman Brush, EZ Detangler, etc. - use this tool AFTER you have detangled with the wide tooth comb first. Add this step if you are wearing braids, twists, cornrows, etc. and need more thorough detangling. You can also use this step for your wash and go depending on the method you are using to set your curls.
3. Final detangler - ex. blow dryer comb, Tangle Teezer, etc. - use a tool with smaller spacing between the teeth if you are wearing a blow out or silk press and need your hair to have zero tangles.
Pro Tip: Use seamless combs and brushes to prevent snagging your hair when combing. This will reduce split ends and breakage.
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