March 20, 2014

The Ouch-Free Guide to Detangling Natural Hair

One of the most labor intensive aspects of the natural hair journey is detangling. It can also be the most confusing. Let's go ahead and break it down:

Step 1
When trying to decide the best course of action for detangling your hair, it is always best to start with an understanding of how your hair behaves.

Ask yourself, is your hair:
  • curly, or tightly coiled?
  • transitioning or completely natural?
  • incredibly tangle prone when loose in water?
  • weak, brittle, or easily broken?
Those four points will help you understand not only what tools will likely work best for your hair, but also what products and methods.

Necessary Tools

To detangle naturally coily or curly hair, there are a number of popular tools out there.

Determining which one is best for you is a matter of how you answered the questions above, and how much money you want to spend. Some of the best tools for detangling curly and coily hair are:

As you can see, the tools listed range from free to $70. I always recommend starting with the most affordable solution, and working your way up. My current mainstays for detangling are my fingers, and the Babyliss brush (only $1.99 at Sally Beauty Supply). I occasionally use my Q-Redew, but I try to reserve it more for steaming and refreshing my hair now. If you would like to give the Denman or a comb a try, go for it! But definitely pay attention to how your hair responds. Don't continue to use a tool after you can clearly see it's snatching your hair out.


Deciding what product to detangle with often times leaves us the most confused.

Conditioner? Oil? A DIY Cocktail? A specific detangling product? This is another one of those categories that is completely reflective of your hair and how much you're willing to spend.

If your hair benefits from being slathered in product, you're likely to opt for a conditioner. If you tend to be a minimalist, oil will likely be your go-to.

As far as money is concerned, inexpensive oils, conditioners, and DIY cocktails (conditioner + oil + water) fall on the more cost-effective end of the spectrum. On the more expensive end are products that work really well, but are not as cost-efficient.

Check out these popular product suggestions:

  • Coconut Oil
  • Sweet Almond Oil
  • Apricot Seed Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
How to Detangle
Here's where the rubber meets the road. Once you've determined what tools and products will likely work best for your hair, it's time to decide on a method. Are you going to detangle on soaking wet hair, damp, or dry? There are some definite benefits and drawbacks to each. Let’s spell them out:

Wet Detangling
  • Benefits: The easiest method to quickly detangle hair. The water and conditioner creates an enormous amount of slip, making it easy for the strands to glide past each other and release shed hair. Because hair is wet, it also has increased elasticity which can help prevent breakage. Wet detangling is frequently done in the shower, which makes it convenient to go right into cleansing and conditioning the hair without a lot of fuss.
  • Drawbacks: Requires a LOT of conditioner. I mean A LOT. Although this isn't a major concern, unless you are on a super strict budget. Definitely only use this method with one of the cost-efficient conditioners mentioned above. Also, although wet hair has improved elasticity, it has decreased tensile strength. Wet hair is weaker, and requires more gentle care.
Dry Detangling
  • Benefits: Uses less product overall. Most dry detangling is done with an oil, such as coconut. Because the hair is dry, it is stronger and can be less prone to breakage. You also have the added benefit of being able to stand in front of a mirror and see your hair, so you can determine how to best tackle tangles.
  • Drawbacks: Sometimes, oil alone is not enough to create the slip necessary for strands to glide past each other and detangle. This can result in knots and wisps of hair breaking.
Damp Detangling
  • Benefits: Damp detangling is like having the best of both worlds. Hair is wet enough for strands to glide past each other, but not wet enough to significantly decrease tensile strength. Damp detangling often involves a DIY cocktail, which can impart the perfect amount of moisture and conditioning, and double as a pre-poo treatment.
  • Drawbacks: Once your detangling is done, the cocktail has to be thrown out. There's no way to guarantee that any preservatives from the conditioner or other products can withstand being mixed in a spray bottle for weeks on end. This can be a waste of product, if you end up making too much regularly.
How do you detangle?

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