The Best Methods For Detangling Natural Hair

As a semi-rookie natural whose been transitioning for ten months now, detangling is still something I've yet to master. Honestly, I can't even say I've gotten very close. I know the basics: always use conditioner for slip, be patient, take it on section by section, etc., etc. But, there's also a lot of conflicting information out there: do you detangle when your hair is wet or dry? Is a wide-tooth comb best or is using your fingers the way to go? And, what's all this talk about a Denman brush? 

While it isn't news that detangling natural hair is no easy feat, I'd almost make the argument that for those transitioning, it's a whole other kind of nightmare. Think about it: You're not only dealing with your new, curly texture coming in, but you also have your relaxed, straight hair of yesteryear — which is super fragile and probably in a constant state of breaking off — to deal with, too. It's like a real-life War of the Worlds, only it's on your head. 

So, in order to make the process of smoothing out those inevitable knots a tiny bit easier for those already natural and transitioning alike, I hit up some hair experts for advice. Their tips and trick will help to (hopefully) make wash day something you can look forward to (probably not, let's be real) — or, at least, a process you don't dread. And, if you have any detangling tips and tricks you swear by that we haven't touched upon, please feel free to post them in the comments. Sharing is caring, after all. 
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
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The Dreaded Line Of Demarcation
While dealing with the two different textures of hair is frustrating, what really causes the most huffs and puffs for those in the process of transitioning is the line of demarcation — or, where your new growth meets your straight strands. It's not only where most of the tangles and matting take place, but also the point where your hair is the weakest. Since that area is so fragile, Carol's Daughter founder Lisa Price recommends being mindful to not tug and pull when detangling, but rather combing gently from the ends and working your way up the hair shaft.

"Once you approach [the point of demarcation], pull apart what you can with your fingers and gently go through it with a comb," Price says. Of course, when you come across these knots and snarls, whether you're transitioning or 100% natural, conditioner and adequate slip is always key to loosening any knots you might encounter.  

Dry Vs. Wet Detangling
Edwin Batista, the Director of Education for Carol's Daughter, suggests considering your level of hair damage before deciding whether to deal with your snarls wet or dry. While he, and most of the experts I spoke to, recommend detangling your hair right after a shower, there are some exceptions.

"You can opt for detangling while your hair is dry if you’re experiencing excessive damage or shedding," he recommends. While Price notes that if you know you're going to be starting out with tangles — whether that's due to stretching out your time between washes or the way you styled your hair — detangling before you get your hair wet might be to your advantage. She suggests using coconut oil to aid in the process. "Some people put coconut oil on their fingers and start to work the hair apart before they even bring a comb into it," she says. "You can also use conditioner on dry hair if you know you already have a tangled mess."

According to Price, dry tangled hair is 65% more likely to break during the detangling process, while wet tangled hair is 95% more likely. But, despite this (not so) fun fact, she prefers the latter method because it allows whatever your tool of choice — whether that's a comb, brush, or your fingers, to glide through the hair a wee bit easier. "Recognizing that it’s more fragile when wet just means to do it with conditioner and do it with care," she advises.

A great approach to this is what Batista calls the ponytail method. Create an invisible ponytail with your hands and, using a wide tooth comb, start to detangle the end portion first. "You don’t want to take a comb and dig it into your scalp and hope and pray to God that the comb will glide through," he says. "You start at the end and work your way up to the scalp...make sure that you’re holding firmly to that hair so you’re causing the least amount of tension and stress to the root portion."   
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Prevention Is Key
While knots and snarls are pretty unavoidable, there are some practices you can keep in mind to help lessen the struggle. Anu Prestonia, the founder of natural hair salon Khamit Kinks mentions regular trims as an easy way to help keep your tangles at bay and split ends from traveling up the hair shaft. "Most people don’t realize that when the hair isn’t trimmed on a regular basis, it knots up at the end and tangles," she says. "But, once the hair is cut and blunt on the ends, it doesn’t.”

She suggests getting a minor cut at least once every season — so, every three months or so — to truly make a difference. "A lot of people are so concerned about length that, even when they have a trim, they don’t have enough taken off,” she adds. "So, it’s a waste of time and money. You really have to cut that dead hair off."

Another contributing factor to knots happens during the cleansing process, explains Batista. "A lot of women jump in the shower, they take the jug of shampoo, and start scrubbing [their hair] like it was a doormat that they were trying to get a stain out of," he mentions. "The reality is, you really should be shampooing your hair as if you were being filmed on television — focusing on the scalp, and letting the water and product run down your hair." This will help lessen the mount of tangles you experience in the long run, while allowing you to fulfill your hair commercial fantasies, because you know you have them. 

Last but not least, tangles also occur when the hair encounters friction. Kim Etheredge, one of the co-founders of Mixed Chicks, suggests pulling your hair into a pineapple style at night to avoid unneeded friction while sleeping. "If you take your hair and put it on the top of your head in a loose ponytail, it helps eliminate the excessive need for detangling," she says. "That way you’re just sleeping on the back of your hair, and not on your curls."
 She also notes that silk or satin bonnets and pillowcases can keep your curls in place and lessen tangles. 
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Patience, Patience, & More Patience
At the end of the day, detangling isn't something any of us truly enjoy doing. But, since natural hair is one of the most delicate textures, it's even more important to exercise the act of being patient while doing so. As I can tell you from experience, trying to go through the process in a rush is almost worse, and more damaging, than not doing it at all. As much as we'd like to hope and pray that it could be a one and done operation, it's not. It's important to keep in mind that it will take time. "I feel like sometimes we’re just rushing and we want to be efficient and we think ‘Ugh, this should only take five minutes,’ and in rushing you take shortcuts and you really can’t," warns Price. “If you don’t have the time, don’t wash it right now or don’t detangle it right now. Do it when you have that time to dedicate to it."

While you're slowly but surely working that comb through your hair and come across those inevitable knots, might we reiterate that conditioner is a natural girl’s best weapon. "If you have a knot in your hair. It can always be worked out with product," notes Etheredge. "It’s like the old tale of when you have gum in your hair. You can always work things out."    
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