How To: Detangle Natural Hair
Why is Detangling Natural Hair SO Important?
If you are natural, detangling is one of the most important aspects of your healthy hair care journey.
If you do not detangle your hair effectively; then within an instant, you will destroy the hair length that has taken months to accomplish.
Many people neglect to detangle curly hair and recklessly rip and tear through knots and tangles.
The process of detangling is one of the most important steps in accomplishing longer natural, afro-textured hair. You must master it. Or, you risk becoming sucked into the cycle of chronic hair-breakage.
So, WHY should YOU Detangle your Naturally Curly Hair?
- Prevent reckless destruction of hair length
- Reduce tangles and knots, dramatically
- Efficiently manage curly hair during cleansing, moisturizing, and styling
Detangling natural Afro-textured hair can be as simple or as complicated as you need it to be. Some people use their fingers the whole way through, while others don’t stop separating their hair until the bristles of a Denman brush can easily glide through.
There are TWO Ways to Detangle Natural Hair:
You can detangle your natural hair while it is saturated with a water-based conditioner and work a wide-tooth comb from tip to root. Or, you can lubricate your hair with oil and use your fingers to move through your head strand-by-strand. The first example is called Wet-Detangling; and the second example is called Dry-Detangling.
The BEST WAY to Detangle Natural Hair?
- Dry-Detangle hair: recommended for fine, natural hair and before styling hair
- Wet-Detangle hair: (Pre-Poo method) add plastic Cap (1 hr); moisten hair using water, conditioner, and/or a moisturizer
- Rinse hair: cleanse hair and apply shampoo and conditioner while hair is still within sections
How to Detangle Natural Afro-Textured, Curly Hair:
The Four S(s)
Detangling natural, afro-textured hair can be summed up into what I call the four Ss. There are four key things you must do when detangling natural hair: (1) stretch hair, (2) soften hair, (3) section hair, and (4) separate hair.
Four EASY Steps to Detangle Natural Hair:
- Stretch Hair: Bantu-Knots/ Two-Strand Chunky Twist (optional)
- Soften Hair: use water or oil
- Section Hair: at least four sections using either a comb or your fingers
- Separate Hair: using your fingers and/or a comb or brush
1. Stretch Hair: Bantu-Knots/ Chunky Twist (optional)
You can stretch your hair in a number of ways. Some common methods that I’ve seen women use are: bantu-knots, chunky-two-strand twist, and banding.
The time and amount of effort you have to invest in detangling your natural hair can be greatly reduced by your hairstyle choices from week-to-week.
If you make a conscious effort to wear hairstyles that keep the hair strands within a separated and stretched state; then you will reduce the possibility of your hair strands becoming entangled.
Protective hairstyles very effective because they keep the hair strands locked together where they are less likely to move unpredictably and create tangles.
2. Soften Hair: use water or oil
Moisturize to reduce friction:
There are several effective ways to completely detangle a full head of kinky, curly hair. You can start the process with dry hair and lubricate your way through your tresses using a light oil such as Olive Oil or Coconut Oil.
Or, you can coat your hair with a water-based hair conditioner (rinse-out or leave-in will suffice) and work your way through each section. The key ingredient to a successful detangling session is beginning the process with soft hair. Soft hair can result from both an oil and/or a water-based conditioner.
Hair products that reduce friction:
I am not extremely selective about the ingredients nor products that I use while Pre-Poo detangling my hair since the substance will be rinsed away. I try to use hair products that are less-expensive or are available in bulk.
When Pre-Poo detangling your hair, you should have two goals: (1) reduce friction; and (2) remove tangles. Use hair products that will soften the hair and reduce tension, such as oil and conditioner. Soft hair is less likely to snap while detangling.
3. Section Hair: four sections or more, start with your fingers
When detangling your hair, it's best to work from the outside-in. Start with large sections of hair and continuously work your way into smaller, more manageable sections until your hair is fully detangled, strand-by-strand.
Use your fingers to place your hair into four sections. As you move forward, proceed to create however many more sub-sections you desire. When your hair is within sections, it is easier to gain control over the detangling process.
Think: divide and conquer! I usually create smaller sections within the four big sections. I end up with eight sections. Then I begin to dry-detangle my hair.
Four Tips for Achieving Completely Detangled Hair
- Use your fingers
- Start with four sections
- Dry-detangle your hair, finally
- Wet-detangle your hair
Preparation for Detangling: (create chart for fine/coarse hair)
4. Separate Hair: using your fingers and/or a comb or brush
Separating the hair strands is the most important, yet most challenging aspect of detangling naturally curly hair.
The number one rule is to start with the ends of your hair. Separate your hair strands at the ends and carefully move your way up until you get to the hair at the scalp.
Move slowly and pay attention to areas of your hair that may be matted. Are you getting knots within the same areas of your head from week-to-week? Is your hair drier in certain areas?
Continue separating your hair until you run into a jam. If you are confronted with a knot, never try to remove it with force. Do not tear through tangles.
Five MUST-DOs When Detangling Natural Hair:
- Start with the ends
- If using a comb: hold hair mid-way to reduce tension on the hair strands
- Do not force fingers or comb through hair
- Do not tear through tangles
- When done detangling pin hair out of the way (use clamps, clips, claws)
Start by touching your hair softly. Always start with your hands and work your way towards whichever styling tool you prefer. Styling tools include a wide range of combs and brushes.
Common detangling tools are: wide-tooth combs, Denman brushes and such.
The types of combs and brushes can vary but their bristles and teeth should have gaps that create easy
movement through your curly hair,
without many jams and snaps.
Dry Detangling vs. Wet Detangling
There are two ways to detangle natural hair. The first is: dry detangling; and the second is: wet detangling.
Dry Detangling: EXTRA Precaution Method
Step 1: Soften Hair with an Oil:
Typically, I start the detangling process with dry-detangling. I only use oil and my fingers. Dry-detangling does not include the use of any combs or brushes, only your fingers. The goal is to lubricate the hair with an oily substance and immediately remove matted hair.
At this stage, I opt out of using substances that contain water to avoid increasing the amount of tangles that may already exist. I, simply, lubricate the hair and scout out obvious tangles and remove knots.
The type of oil is of little significance. As long as the oil softens the hair. I prefer Olive Oil because it distributes easily over the hair strands and instantly reduces friction. This is my so-called “preparing for the wide-tooth-comb” method.
Step 2: Use Hairstyles to STRETCH Hair:
If you have fine, fragile natural hair (like me), consider stretching the hair to further reduce tangles and knots.
You can stretch the hair via two-strand twist and/or bantu-knots.
Hair strands that are smoothed out will allow you to gauge better control over unpredictable, curly hair strands.
If you have thin, fragile naturally curly hair; then your hair is extremely vulnerable to breakage. You should become comfortable with taking extra precaution when manipulating your hair.
(Usually done RIGHT BEFORE Shampooing Hair: Pre-Poo Method)
Right before wet-detangling natural hair, I place a plastic cap over my hair for about an hour. Once the hair is moist, I add a rinse-out conditioner; and then I proceed to using a wide tooth comb to further detangle my hair.
On the first smooth stroke of the comb, I move to the next section. Only comb through each section of hair the minimum amount of times needed to get the comb completely through without any jams. There is no need to repeatedly move the comb unnecessarily through the hair simply for the sake of combing.
Five Step System for Wet-Detangling Natural Hair: (Pre-Poo Method)
- Moisten hair (via plastic cap, water, moisturizer )
- Section hair
- Apply moisturizer (conditioner, water)
- Rinse hair
- Apply shampoo and conditioner
Pre-Wash Method: Pre-Poo Technique:
The main point of Pre-Poo detangling is to remove stubborn tangles that will only worsen when confronted with water. Once the hair becomes wet, it will curl upon other hair strands resulting in knots.
To avoid tangling, keep your hair within sections even while rinsing the shampoo and conditioner out.
By placing your hair within loose chunky twist, you are using the most precaution and decreasing the likelihood of your hair tangling right back up and creating more work for yourself.
How to Reduce Tension? Take Precaution!
If you want longer, healthier hair; then wrestling with your hair is not okay--in any way. If your hair is matted and in dire need of being detangled; then every touch by your hands should be deliberate and gentle.
People have varying ideas of what gentle is; so, I will use the phrase super-gentle to echo its importance. In other words, what ever your idea of moving slow and being gentle is, take it down a notch.
Set Aside Time.
When you are preparing to detangle your hair, always set aside a decent amount of time where you can patiently separate your hair. There were times when I did not properly detangle my hair and I ended up with knots. There are no short-cuts. You have to invest alot of time into your healthy hair journey. Speeding through the process leads to dangerous mistakes and a more cumbersome detangling process.
Remove mats before they become knots. Once you have knots, you have already tipped the odds against your goals for stronger, longer hair. Try not to make a habit of neglecting your hair and causing irreversible damage to your fragile hair strands.
Wear Hairstyles that Reduce Detangling Time:
To reduce the amount of time you spend detangling each week, try wearing hairstyles that keep the hair stretched and separated.
For example, some women wear their hair in chunky twist and pin them up. Such hairstyles reduce detangling time and minimize knots and tangles.
So, when it's time to detangle your hair, the work is halfway done.
The best hairstyles for shortening the detangling process prevent the hair strands from becoming entangled. Loose hairstyles such as twist-outs and even mini-twist promote tangles.
Expect to Get Bored.
Detangling can be bored-some, especially when you are just starting off and have never committed hours to managing your hair. Achieving long, healthy hair requires discipline. And we all know that disciplined-behavior can often be the opposite of having fun.
If you become slightly bored while detangling your hair; then it's safe to say you are touching your hair as softly as you possible can. You are most likely using the most precaution to avoid running into jams and knots.
Move as slow as possible. Moving your fingers through your hair--extremely slow--will help you to focus on the task at hand. This is similar to the effect deep-breathing exercises have on reducing one’s heart-rate. Moving your hands in slow motion will help you to become relaxed and calm.
When you are detangling your hair, it is important to become calm and remain patient. Do not bring daily emotions into your detangling session. If you are consumed by situations that upset you; then there is no way that you can focus on your hair. Before you know it, your hands will have picked-up the pace of your thoughts, which are often rapid and sporadic.
Hands that are moving at an unpredictable pace will not sense subtle tangles and knots. It is important to establish a steady pace while detangling your hair. Remember, if you break an inch of hair; then you have created a 2-month delay in reaching your longer-hair-length goals.
- Move as slow as possible
- Become calm and remain patient
- Establish a steady pace
Analyze the Condition of Your Hair.
Once you are calm, cool, and collected, immediately start analyzing the condition of your hair. As you separate your hair, make conscious analysis about the condition of your hair. What are you seeing? Is your hair thin or thick? Does your hair appear dry or moisturized? Are you noticing knots and/or tangles? Is your hair matted and difficult to separate? Is the condition of your hair getting better or worse?
Analyze your hair care techniques. For example, if your hair is dry; then you need to UP your moisturizing routine . If your hair is tangled; then you need to improve your hairstyle choices, possibly increase the use of protective styling.
Build a Relationship With Your Hair.
The detangling session is a great time to build a relationship with your hair. Make note of any obvious changes within your hair. Pick a day, preferably once a week, and observe the condition of your hair. Are you noticing more or less breakage, unusual shedding...dryness...brittleness?
An observation can be as simple as the amount of shedding you are experiencing to a sudden shift in your hair’s moisture content.
Determine if there are mats, tangles, knots, and/or dryness -- that you can prevent, correct and eliminate next time around. The time you set aside for detangling should also be used to grade your hair tactics throughout the week.
Create a game plan for every area that you find problematic. For example, if your hair is dry--add moisture more frequently and/or examine the ingredients of the moisturizers you are using...is it water-based?
Quick solution for obvious problems you may notice: (create chart)
During the first year of being natural, I only used my fingers to style and detangle my hair. I didn’t even use a comb to part bangs. I enjoyed allowing my fingers to explore my hair and become familiar with its texture and health. I still trust my fingers the most while grooming my hair.
As my hair continues to grow, it has become increasingly difficult to completely separate my tangled hair strands. My fingers were not as reliable as they once were when my hair was much shorter.
Upon examination, I realized that solely using my fingers to detangle my hair was not thoroughly removing shed hair. The hair that was shedding was becoming matted and tangled into other hair strands.
Instead of the shed hair strands departing my head, they would stick around and attach onto other hair strands. My hair eventually filled with knots. I was discouraged by the size of the knots and how difficult they were becoming to remove. More importantly, I was frustrated by the hair-length that I was losing along the way.
I was reluctantly becoming an expert at removing single-strand knots.
Finally, it dawned on me that the increased knotting was linked to my limited detangling techniques. It was time to move beyond simply using my fingers to detangle my natural hair.
Move beyond your fingers.
Your fingers are a great resource for beginning the detangling process. But as your hair changes, so should your detangling techniques. Stay in tune with which haircare techniques are working and more importantly those that don’t.
Your fingers have limited range when it comes to releasing mats and knots, especially those that reside near the root of your hair. I added a wide-tooth comb to my detangling routine; and I have been experiencing far less knots.
Your fingers work well in the beginning of the detangling process, particularly while sectioning your hair; and removing obvious tangles. However, your fingers are too thick and can not move between the hair strands and thoroughly detangle curly hair. They are great for staging the detangling process. Your fingers can sense a knot and prevent reckless friction .
Is YOUR Hair Improving?
The key to long natural hair is preventing breakage all around. The detangling process is the perfect situation to thoroughly examine the condition of your hair. By going long periods without getting those curls in check, they will become increasingly difficult to control. If you somehow develop knots, they will become impossible to remove without cutting them out.
By not following preventive methods, you will unnecessarily lose inches of hair within an instant. Enter the detangling process armed with the best hair care tactics and the most patient attitude that you can possibly muster.
A few extra minutes of the right preparation can save you the agony that follows speedy, neglectful hair care techniques. A detangling regimen that is frequent and comprehensive will help your hair to flourish. Every short-cut will lead to road that cheats you out of loger hair.