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September 7, 2011

Dry, Damp or Wet Detangling Natural Hair


Tosha writes:

I'm confused. I've read several places that our hair is at its weakest when wet and manipulation should be kept to a minimal. Many of these articles recommend I detangle my hair while dry. Other articles mention the fragile nature of hair and argue against dry detangling. These articles recommend I detangle my wet hair with lots of conditioner. I lose hair using both methods. Which is the right one? How are you ladies detangling your hair?

CN Says:

Unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer. It's going to sound like a cop out (and a bit cliche), but 'no two heads are alike'. I've had success with both methods. I wrote an article on this earlier this year. See below!

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Hola Chicas,

After reading through the Best Practices- Detangling Dry or Wet comments, and reflecting on my own experiences and research around the web, there seems to be three common and effective detangling methods. Below, I'll list them and provide tips on how to execute each effectively.


Sink/Mirror Detangling
  • Apply an oil (olive, coconut, jojoba, grapeseed, avocado, etc.) to soften and lubricate the hair, and add slip. Be liberal. Some like to dampen the hair with water first, some don't. I don't.
  • Separate the hair into 4-8 sections for easier handling
  • Choose a section and detangle gently with fingers, bottom up, removing knots, tangles and shed hairs
  • OPTIONAL- Comb through with a wide tooth comb or paddle brush to be sure all shed hairs have been removed
  • Twist this section and move on to the next. Repeat until your entire head is lubed up, detangled, and twisted.
  • Once in the shower, you can (1) shampoo and condition in the twists/sections, (2) take them all down and be careful not to re-tangle with excessive handling during the wash and condition process, or (3) take down one section at time, shampoo, condition, re-twist. I personally take them all down and handle gently.

Shower Detangling

  • Thoroughly saturate hair with water in the shower, and divide into two (left and right)
  • Cleanse hair with shampoo-- one side at a time
  • Apply slippery conditioner of the day to both sides in a smooshing motion
  • Pass head back under the shower stream for a moment, for better distribution and added slip
  • Clip the hair up and out of the way while you complete shower rituals
  • Take down the right side and finger detangle (bottom up) -- detangling the rest under the water stream with your fingers or a shower comb (or Ouidad Double Detangler). Follow up with the left side. If the conditioner is washed away and tangles are left, add more conditioner, and repeat. The power of the water stream and the slip of the conditioner should make detangling a breeze!

Damp Detangling
  • Spritz dry hair with water and apply a conditioner or moisturizing butter to soften and add slip
  • Separate the hair into 4-8 sections for easier handling
  • Choose a section and detangle gently with fingers, moving from ends to roots, removing the knots and tangles
  • OPTIONAL- Comb through with a wide tooth or shower comb (some use a paddle brush)
  • Twist this section and move on to the next
  • Once in the shower, you can (1) shampoo and condition in the twists/sections, (2) take them all down and be careful not to re-tangle with excessive handling during the wash and condition process, or (3) take down one section at time, shampoo, condition, re-twist. I take them all down and handle gently.

My advice?

Try each detangling method (modify to your needs and schedule) and see which works best. How will you know which one is for you? Trust me, it'll be obvious-- excessive amounts of hair in the comb, hair blocking the shower drain, or tiny broken pieces on the sink, are all red flags. I quickly learned that I can't damp detangle. My hair gets stiff, brittle, and tangles more. Others can't shower detangle-- they loose excessive amounts of hair due to matting and shedding. Still others can't dry detangle due to breakage and impossible knotting. Some thrive on daily co-washing, others grow to waist length with once a month wash sessions. Natural hair care is trial and error. In the words of Wanda Sykes, 'it can be a damn science lab', and you won't know what works until you experiment a bit. I usually try routines for a month, assess, and proceed from there. Hopefully the list above will give you a starting point for your detangling routine! No matter which you choose, remember to be gentle, dammit!

What's your detangling routine? How's it working for you?
Don't forget to describe your hair (length and things of that nature)!

25 Chime in!:

MsDiva1658 said...

I prefer to detangle on damp hair. I use the mirror option. I spritz my hair with warm water mixed with some oil (evoo or evco), I separate it into 4 - 6 sections. I detangle each section with my fingers and then follow-up with a wide-tooth comb. Once detangled, I twist each section and then I can jump in the shower and proceed with my co-wash process. I apply conditioner and handle each section gently. Once I've completed the co-wash I re-twist and then complete the shower duties.

Ms. J said...

I guess I don't do any of the methods CurlyNikki listed. I wet my entire head and lather with detangling shampoo (I use Miss Jessie's Super Slip Sudsy Shampoo). I shampoo twice and the second time I let it sit on my hair for about 10 minutes. After that I comb through it with my Ouidad Double Detangling comb. I have shoulder length 4a/b hair and doing it this way makes my hair combable in about 5 minutes! I don't comb my hair every day or night with most of the styles I wear, So when I wash I have a week or 2 worth of shedding being combed out. I let the shampoo do the detangling for me and then comb it.

Anonymous said...

Dry, out of the shower solamente.

Anonymous said...

I have 3c/4a, collarbone length hair.

Most often, I detangle on wet hair in the shower. I saturate my hair with water and apply a generous amount of leave-in, usually SM Raw Shea Restorative Conditioner or DevaCurl HeavenInHair. Then I use my fingers to detangle in sections, starting at the ends and working to the roots. When detangling the crown, I usually bend over so my hair hangs straight down. After detangling my entire head with my fingers, sometimes I follow up with a wide-toothed comb but not always. Then I quickly pass my hair back under the shower stream to rinse out a little bit of the conditioner, run my fingers through it one more time, and I'm done. The entire process takes about 10 minutes.

Sometimes I detangle on damp hair. I just spritz my hair with water and apply a generous amount of SM Curl&Style Milk throughout my hair. Then I use my fingers to very gently detangle in sections, starting at the ends and working down near the roots. It usually takes just a few minutes.

Lorian said...

I start with dry hair and saturate with a silicony conditioner like HEHH or HETT. Anything cheap and slippery. Then I detangle in sections. I was like you not knowing whether to do wet or dry, my hair is fragile and the sectioning doesn't work out in the shower...I feel like more ripping and breakage occurs. Conditioner gives just the right amount of "wetness"and being out of the shower and dry, hair won't overstretch and sectioning is easier...plus you don't clog your drain or have the feeling of hair all over your nakiness.

Anonymous said...

I would never recommend dry detangling on kinky or very curly hair. The hair needs some sort of lubrication to help prevent breakage. Notice every method mentioned about has lubrication and is not technically "dry."

Anonymous said...

I do number 1. It helps before I get in the shower and I lose less strands in the process.

Anonymous said...

I finger detangle with condish in sections,i find i have less tangling and breakage that way plus its a way of getting to know my hair.

Anonymous said...

Help Ms. Nikki!

I'm 16 and I've been trying to understand my hair. I've been natural all my life because my dad as a single father usually just braided my hair in micros and left for 6 months at a time. He let me start to take care of my own hair for a while back and I've only now just started actually taking care of it after years of ponytails. anyways, my hair is fine and long but when i tried damp detangling loads of hair came out what do I do? am i missing someting?

Tia said...

I have BSL thick hair and I ONLY shower detangle. This has been a saving grace for my length retention and ends. I shed a lot and detangling in the shower prevents those shed hairs from creating a tangled mess.

mangomadness said...

My hair is tightly coiled and is collarbone length. I do 'Sink/Mirror Detangling' (damp hair w/ oil; 8 or 10 sections; fingers only; twist shampooing and ACV rinsing with twists intact). It takes me 30 minutes to detangle my hair.

Seeing what I'm doing in the mirror allows me to be more gentle while detangling. Dampening and oiling my hair helps me detangle with ease while not having excessive breakage due to detangling soaking wet coils. Washing in twists keeps my hair detangled thoughout the process.

Anonymous said...

I wash and condition in braids and finger detangle each braid. I was using a comb once a week to detangle, but found that I lose less hair when finger detangling.

Anonymous said...

Like Tia, I shed TONS of hair even though I henna monthly. I know they are shed hairs because the bulbs are attached. My hair is super thick and coarse. I've gone from APL to BSL in about 6mos and I partially attribute it to figuring out how to de-tangle my hair

I'll do a dry semi-detangle with an oil on my hair (usually either coconut oil or olive oil) to remove as many shed hairs as possible prior to washing. After washing/conditioning I'll throw some HEHH on my sectioned hair by the palm full.
It took me a while to figure out how to de-tangle in the shower so maybe this'll help you. Instead of letting the water run steadily on your hair just run the section you're de-tangling under the shower so that it's soaking wet. I'll use my fingers as well as my Ouidad double detangler. If my hair starts to loose the slip I'll pass it back under the water & add condish until I get up to the roots. Once I've finished that section I'll braid/twist and clip it out of the way and then it's on to the next one...

Dark and lovley said...

damp detangling works best for me. I would be in the shower for hours if i did it in there. I tried dry detangling but my hair and scalp were not happy with it.
So now i apply oil all over then spritz and condition each section as i work my way though my hair 8 sections (4 each side)adding water when till near dripping I detangle with a wide comb and wash in braids.

My hair is collar bone length (at the bottom) and very ... poffy tight pencil coils but it refuses to do the clumping of tightly curly method, any water and it goes into its cotton ball sections (so far twist outs are out of the question, if i pull the sections apart it goes fussy and if ther is a mist in the air it goes poofy)

Anonymous said...

detangling is breaking my heart, I loose too much hair. I'm on the verge of cutting it all off, after this evening's wash fiasco. I thought a monthly wash would improve things, it just meant I lost 4 times as much. feeling very disillusioned at the moment, considering going back to locks.

Anonymous said...

I use the sink mirror method. I want see what's going on plus I don't want to turn into a prune in the shower..lol I have 4C neck length hair with lots of shrinkage. I spray my hair with water n evo then proceed in sections to detangle with condish.
It works fine, my question is do you have to detangle with every wash?

Anonymous said...

NO DRY DETANGLING! NO NO NO! Now that I've become stern with myself I will never do it again. LOL. First when my hair is dry it is impossible to comb through. So that's one reason I don't detangling dry. Even if I try to section it, takes way too long because the sections have to be so small. All I hear are ***snap*** ***pop*** and those dread single strand knots! GRRRR! So for me... I either dampen with spray bottle or use the Straightening Mist by Just for me (which works wonders for my 4a hair - just spray, let sit for a few minutes and work it through section by section) I also may wash in the shower, condition. Get out of shower and detangling, then rinse out in sink. (would take to long to detangle in the shower. Water bill is high enough as it is! Anyhow those are my detangling regimens I do. I have many methods to try and reduce hair breakage. I hear a lot of people use water and EVO as well. I'll try that next.

Anonymous said...

why do you lose so much hair when you wear a protective style, such a cornrow once you take the braid out?

Ebony said...

Hey ladies. Not sure if you've heard of Africa's Best Kids Organics Shea Butter Detangling Moisturizning Lotion (Mouthful right?) but it has worked wonders for my hair during the detangling process. I have pretty thick, collar bone length hair (when stretched) and I use this product along with a wide tooth comb. I recently got a con air brand detangling comb, and I'm finding that because the teeth a bit thicker than a regular comb, I am losing less hair...I then follow up with a more standar wide tooth. Hair loss each week is close to undetectable. Hope this helps anyone out there looking for a detangling aid. In the past, I'd detangle pretty effortlessly before washing, but my hair would be back in its tangled state afterward and I'd have to do the whole process over. This week, I'm gonna try Detangling after the wash, when the conditioner is still in. Wish me luck! :)

Ebony said...

Just re-read my comment. Soooo many typos. Sorry ya'll. I'm sure you still get my point :)

mrsleggett said...

If I'm not mistaken, it's because we shed hair everyday anywhere from 130 to 150 strands of hair, some less. If you were you're hair in a protective style that shed hair stays their until you some through your hair to get rid of them. So, if you go 2 weeks without combing your hair because it's in a protective style, once you do comb through you're going to see all the shed hair that was just sitting there! If that makes sense!

mrsleggett said...

sorry for the typos...lol

Natural Noni said...

I prefer the shower detangling method with my shower comb and hercule contour comb. I do reapply conditioner. I wash once a week. I do my coconut oil prepoo first. Then I apply a cleansing conditioner(no poo for me), then I twist. I clarify once a month with shea moisture purification mask. I was using the damp method but after reaching APL it just was too time consuming and this is quick, easy breezy and less messy, love it!

Natural Noni said...

I use Tresemme' Naturals Conditioner right now, after I apply the cleansing conditioner. Scrunch that in my hair and detangle w/t my shower comb, reapply less conditioner and detangle w/t my hercules contour. I would just use the Tresemme to cleanse my scalp too but I really wanted something that was meant to cleanse my hair, since I wash just once a week. I love this method!

Shanay said...

I detangle my hair in the shower when it's soaking wet. My hair cannot be dry because my hair will start breakig off. I put one of my conditioners products on my hair and use my denman brush. Starting from the back and work my way to the front. I get less hair when I detangle.

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