Home All Things Natural Hair Detangling Natural Hair: Ultimate No-Fuss Guide

Detangling Natural Hair: Ultimate No-Fuss Guide

by Kristal C

Ugh.

You understand exactly this response.

::runs fingers through the hair::

Kink. Kink. Knot. Pull. Ouch!

The dread comes: It’s time to detangle.

Before you tear out handfuls of hair in frustration or rush to find salons that detangle hair, you got this sis.

It is all about the mantra, KISS: Keep It Simple, Sister. We have been doing this for years. This mindset and approach to our natural hair care make a difference!

In this KISS guide to detangling, we will show you each step of the process so you can no doubt succeed at your next detangling session. If you stick with this to the end (or just jump ahead…lol), we have a cool flowchart that consolidates the main points of this article information to use for your next detangling session.

Detangling natural hair does not have to be as bad as you think (or have experienced). With the proper steps and tools, you can definitely rock the process!

So change that attitude into an I CAN DO THIS attitude, and let’s walk through the next best detangling session you have ever experienced.

Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links and we earn a commission if you purchase through those links at no cost to you at all. We recommend these products because we have found them helpful in our natural hair journey.

Detangling 101: What is it?

For starters (because we have new women on this natural hair walk) and even the experienced, it’s always good to go back to the basics. So, what is natural hair detangling?

Detangling is the process of unloosing knots and tangles and thoroughly removing old shed hairs from the head.

The time required for detangling can range anywhere from 15-20 minutes to 1 or more hours. This range is very dependent on the following factors:

  • length of natural hair
  • hair thickness texture
  • time since last detangling session
  • number of sections used during detangling
  • use of detangler tools or not

Regardless of how long it takes to detangle, it is very important to not rush this process. Cutting corners and rushing through can lead to a painful experience for yourself (or the stylee), frustration, hair breakage, damage, and hair loss.

But guess what, all of that is very preventable.

If you find that you are lacking time and cannot devote enough time to properly detangle your natural hair, consider postponing for another time. An improper rush detangling job will never be worth the negative consequences for the sake of time. Ever.

General Rules

  • No rushing.
  • More shrinkage can lead to more tangles.
  • Longer hair can lead to more tangles.
  • Stretched hair can reduce the amount of tangles.
  • Extended styles can be more proned to tangles.
  • Playing in your hair can lead to tangles.
  • Going to bed without nighttime protection can cause tangles.

Benefits of Detangling

  • More manageable hair for styling and handling
  • Reduces the risk of matting and locking
  • Better length retention

Best Time to Detangle Hair

Did you know that there are optimal times to detangle your hair?

Most natural women will tell you that detangling on dry hair is a huge no-no. We believe it is still possible to detangle on dry natural hair under extreme care. However, it is important to note that more breakage and damage can occur under this condition and is not really advised. Natural hair is less elastic when dry so extra tension from detangling can lead to more damage than it is worth.

This is why we always detangle our hair when it is damp and saturated with some type of slip product. This time is usually a part of our routine wash day. Considering this, there are three timeframes you can choose to detangle your hair:

1. Before Washing of Hair

Wearing loose styles such as wash ‘n’ gos, twist outs, and braid outs over the course of several days can promote shrinkage and tangles. Additionally, protective styles such as braids and twists can become frizzy after weeks of wear; if not careful, they can start to tangle and lock. And let’s not forget those beloved braid extensions, passion twists, a faux locs.

After some time matting can occur at the base of the extensions as a result of normal hair shedding and lint collecting at the roots.

Recommended Read: Braid Removal: Read These 5 Time-saving Tips First

In these cases, detangling before washing the hair is a great option!

Detangling at this point of our wash day is during what we call “Pre-pooing”. Pre-pooing is simply applying a conditioning or other slip product to hair to soften it to help loosen knots and tangles.

We like detangling before washing our hair because the hair is much smoother to work with for the remaining parts of our wash day. We are not fussing with shed hairs and tangles and therefore can focus more on cleansing the scalp and conditioning the hair.

2. During Conditioning of Hair

This is another great time to detangle your natural hair. If your hair is not too tangled from the get-go, opting to detangle while conditioning your hair has its benefits!

Note: It is not recommended to detangle your natural hair during shampooing. The cleansing process slightly raises the cuticle due to the charge and pH of shampoo products. The cuticle in a slightly raised position makes the hair more fragile and susceptible to breakage upon tension. Therefore, it is beneficial to wait until conditioning to detangle your hair.

The above note is some techie hair stuff (which I love). If you do too and want more information, definitely check out this short article about The Junk Science of Opening/Closing the Hair Cuticle (new window).

Detangling during your regular conditioning gives your hair the slip needed to ease those pesky tangles free. Following deep conditioning, the hair is nicely moisturized, smooth, and elastic which make a great formula for detangling.

And do not forget the water! Running water over the section of hair relaxes it and help with the detangling process.

Just be mindful that the more tangles your hair, the longer you can possibly spend in the shower. There have been times I have run out of warm water while detangling super knotty hair. Not fun. One tip is to turn the water off while detangling your hair. Saves resources and heat! Another tip is to save the tough job outside the shower either beforehand or after washing and conditioning.

3. After Conditioning of Hair

An advantage to saving detangling until after cleansing and conditioning is that you can proceed right into styling the hair.

With children, in particular, detangling after washing/conditioning is preferred so they are not in the tub for extended amounts of time. Depending on the child’s temperament, they may lose patience and get bored in the same environment too long.

Since detangling can take longer than washing and conditioning, waiting afterward can give children more options for entertainment such as movies, tv, books, snacks, and games. Additionally, these options can help detract from the detangling process if the child is not too fond of it in the first place (especially if tender-headed).

Hopefully, with the resources in this guide, they would not mind the detangling process AS much in the first place. Nevertheless, it is always ideal to be as efficient (yet thorough) when working with children and their natural hair.

Top Detangler Tools You Will Ever Need

You know you are already equip with a set of your own detangler tools: your fingers!

Yep, many women use their fingers as one way to detangle their natural hair. Fingers are gentle on the hair, and you have full awareness of the amount of tension applied to your hair while removing tangles and knots. For some women, finger detangling is very sufficient and all they use for their detangling needs. For many other women, finger detangling is followed up with the use of two types of detangler tools: combs and brushes.

1. Combs

Detangler combs are very useful when detangling and are in the tool boxes of most natural hair women. There are many combs available on the market that are specifically designed for detangling natural hair. One comb NOT to use is a fine-toothed comb. Teeth that close together is almost guaranteed to cause breakage and give you a major headache. Instead, opt for a wide-tooth comb for your detangling needs.

Our Detangler Comb Recommendations:

2. Brushes

A good detangler brush is not one that only detangles natural hair, but can be used to distribute hair products, smoothes, and shingles the hair. We love a multi-purpose brush! The Denman Brush is ever so popular in the natural hair community as well as the Tangle Teezer. They are huge favorites in our house! My tender-headed daughter hardly ever flinches during her detangling sessions since using the Tangle Teezer specifically. The Denman Brush is a very sturdy brush that works wonders on my thick hair.

Brushes do a great job in removing loose shed hairs thoroughly. The keys to using detangler brushes are to make sure you use good slip products, start at the very end of the hair section, and gently detangle as you work your way towards the roots.

Our Detangler Brush Recommendations:

How to Modify Your Denman Brush

If you own a Denman Brush just to discover you do not like it or it is too rough on your hair, have you considered modifying it? Essentially you can reduce the number of rows on your Denman brush to help decrease the amount of tension it can add to your hair while detangling

The following pictorial shows the steps to modifying your Denman Brush. This is very useful especially if you have a 7 or 9-row brush. Try the following modification and see if that works better for you before tossing the whole brush away.

Detangling Natural Hair

3. Hair Clips

Hair clips are essential tools and can be used in a variety of instances. Using hair clips help keep sections out the way and help the detangling process move in an orderly fashion. Our top kind of hair clip is the alligator clip.

Best Products to Use to Detangle Hair

There is no magic product on that market that will melt away your tangles better than the next. A primary feature of a good product to look for is that it has great slip in order to help glide through the hair and help ease the process of detangling natural hair. Some common products used for detanging include:

  • Regular or deep conditioner (can add oil to provide extra slip)
    • Cheap conditioners are good options during the pre-pooing phase
  • Leave-in conditioner (after washing and conditioning your hair)
  • Detangler spray
  • DIY homemade product (see next section below)

Our Recommended Detangling Products:

Simple DIY Homemade Detangler Recipe

Making your own homemade detangler spray is a great and affordable option for many women. Most of the ingredients to make a detangler spray are likely found around your home. A basic DIY detangler spray recipe includes:

  • 2-3 squirts (or tablespoons) of your favorite conditioner
  • 1/2 tablespoon of oil (such as olive, avocado, jojoba)
  • a few drops of favorite essential oil (we love the tingling and freshness of peppermint)
  • 2 tablespoons of aloe vera juice (optional)

Add all the ingredients in a spray bottle and fill with distilled water. Shake (vigorously) to incorporate all the ingredients before applying to hair and detangling.

If you are an inspiring natural hair kitchenista, play around with different recipes to see what gives you great slip. For those who are more of the bare minimal type, diluting a few squirts of conditioner and a dab of oil in a spray bottle with some water may be just what does the trick!

Steps to a Rocking Pain-Free Detangling Session

1. Section hair

Detangling works best if done in sections. The goal is for you have good control of your hair during this process. Not for your hair to overtake you. Trust me, I know how thiat feels!

Four sections of hair is a great starting point. With your fingers or a wide-toothed comb, separate hair down the middle first (from forehead to nape). Then divide the two sections in half (from ear to ear) to create your four sections.

If you have shorter natural hair, four sections of hair is plenty enough or you may not need to section at all especially for TWA (teeny weeny afros). If your hair is longer and/or thick, continue breaking the previous four sections into 8 or more sections as desired. The more sections, the easier to thoroughly detangle the hair.

2. Apply product

Start with one section, typically in the back of the head, and clip away all other sections if necessary.

Apply your detangling product of choice liberally to the section especially focusing on the ends. It is a good idea to incorporate the product in hair in a downward motion.

3. Finger Detangle

Finger detangling is an excellent way to start detangling your hair especially if it is extra knotty or tangled. Working through these knots/tangles with your fingers first allows you to gently work them loose without applying too much tension you may experience with a comb or brush. This type of tension can risk pulling out too much hair or breaking off the hair.

To finger detangle, start at the ends and gently glide fingers through hair. Whenever you come across a tangle or knot, gently pull it outwardly to ease apart instead of downward. Pulling down on knots and tangles only tighten them thus making it harder to separate and detangle. It is best to be deliberate and take your time during this process.

Ultimately, if knots are absolutely too tight, it is best to cut right above the knot to help salvage the section of hair.

Some women opt to finger detangle their entire head of hair and that is perfectly okay. This is the most gentle way of detangling but can take longer to complete versus using a detangler tool. To finger detangle the entire section to remove loose and shed hairs, glide fingers throughout the section of hair to collect the hairs while keeping the section taut.

Once the section is free of knots and shed hairs, twist the section to prevent retangling, and repeat steps 2 and 3 on other sections of hair.

If you need extra detangling, using a detangler tool is very beneficial for a thorough process.

4. Use a Detangler Tool

After finger detangling the section to clear away major knots and tangles, you can either continue detangling up the section with your fingers or use a detangler tool.

Starting at the end of the section and firmly holding the section taut with one hand, slowly maneuver your detangler tool (comb or brush) to remove tangles and shed hairs. Once the tool can easily glide through that part of the section, gradually move right above the detangled portion and repeat the process along the section towards the root.

It is important to make sure the bottom portion of the section is free of tangles before moving up along the section of the hair. Otherwise, you will tighten knots and tangles thus making the process more difficult.

Make sure to keep the section of hair taut to prevent re-tangling and spritz hair with water (or add additional product) as needed to add more slip and glide.

Once the section of hair is free of tangles and shed hairs, twist or loosely braid the section before moving on to next section.

Video: How to Detangle Natural Hair

Detangling Matted Hair

Matted hair is a state where your hair is very tangled beyond the usual tangling for normal wear. Hair that is matted is more likely a result of

  • going without properly detangling the natural hair for an extended period
  • having extensions in hair for more than eight weeks (matting at the roots)
  • not wearing nighttime protection especially when wearing loose hairstyles such as a wash ‘n’ go, afro, twist out, or braid out

When the hair is matted, it is very difficult to maneuver fingers, a comb, or a brush through the hair. In the case of extensions, lint collected at the base of the extension can cause matting.

In order to tackle matted hair, you will need to invest much more time and patience in the detangling process. The first focus is to soften the hair. You can do this by damping your hair with water and applying a very generous amount of conditioner into the hair. Adding oils such as olive, coconut (warmed), and avocado can help produce more slip to help loosen the matted section of hair.

Allow the product to sit for 30-60 minutes in the hair, covered with a plastic cap. After this period and the hair has soften, start separating a small section of hair into even smaller and manageable sections with your fingers first.

Take particular care to loosen hair outwardly and not downward to prevent tightening any matted sections. Continue using your fingers along the section of hair until your fingers can glide through the length of the section. Twist and clip away the unmatted section before moving to another smaller section of matted hair. Repeat until all the matted hair has been separated. You can follow up with a detangler tool to get a thorough removal of knots and shed hairs if necessary.

Note: Do not shampoo hair in a matted state. It will only worsen the condition. Fully detangle matted hair from tip to root before cleansing your head.

Further Tips to Detangling Natural Hair:

1. Trimmed Hair is Easier to Detangle

As much as we find reasons to keep on to those ends, natural hair that is trimmed regularly is easier to detangle. Our natural hair is susceptible to single strand knots due to the likelihood of our hair curling onto itself. That along with split, frayed, damaged, and uneven ends can create a formula for more knots and tangles. If you find that detangling your natural hair is taking much longer than it normally should, a trim may be the answer. Even a slight dusting can make a difference to your detangling session so do not fear the scissors!

2. Detangle on a Regular Basis

Detangling sessions run smoothly when you detangle on a regular basis. If you are not wearing your hair in a longer term protective style, once a week is a great starting frequency for untangling your natural hair. On the flip side, resist the urge to detangle your hair everyday for this amount of over-manipulation of your curls can lead to damage and breakage. Find your balance. Many women find that detangling their natural hair between 2-4 times per month is plenty enough to keep those knots and tangles at bay.

3. Stretching your Natural Hair Can Reduce Tangling

Wearing your natural hair in stretched states such as braids, twists, and buns help prevent shrinkage and tangling of the ends. If you enjoy wearing wash ‘n’ go’s, try to balance that with more stretched styles to reduce as many tangles from week to week. Stretch styles also make great protective styles as well.

4. Know the Difference Between Shedding and Breakage

Be mindful of the difference between hair loss due to breakage and shedding.

It is normal to find loose hair after a detangling session. Typically we shed anywhere from 50-150 strands of hair daily. Make it a habit to examine the hairs you have lost after detangling.

How to tell the difference between a shed hair and broken hair?

You can tell if a hair has been shed when you see a tiny white bulb at the end of the strand.

detangling natural hair shed versus damaged hair

This is a natural hair loss and indicates that the strand has reached the end of its normal hair cycle. On the other hand, if you do not see a white bulb, this is an indicator that you are experiencing breakage. The most common type of breakage is splits which can occur anywhere along the hair strand especially at the ends. This type of hair loss can be due from using too much heat, excessive hair manipulation, and/or lack of moisture/protein balance.

Please re-evaluate the management of your hair and try to correct it as soon as possible in order to achieve better hair health and length retention.

5. Protect Your Hair Overnight

When wearing loose styles, you can minimize tangling (and major bed head) by gathering hair up into a loose high ponytail (the pineapple method) and covering the hair into a bonnet overnight.

Next Steps Following Detangling

After liberating your hair from knots and shed hairs, you have a fresh palate of hair to either start drying/stretching your hair in preparation for a style or just jump right into a style such as twists, bantu knots, braids, or curl set. I typically allow my hair to dry for about fifteen minutes before setting my hair into a protective style. For my daughter, I usually stretch her hair first before styling.

Recommended Reads:

The Wrap Up

Whew, you made it to the end (or at least gleaned what you need to know). It is our hope that you gained valuable insight on how to properly detangle your natural hair without the damage, pain, and frustration. Detangling is a critical aspect of managing and maintaining healthy natural hair. As you get accustomed to the proper tools and steps on detangling your natural hair, your sessions will leave you with a more positive experience and outlook of the process.

With consistent practice and patience, you will ease through your detangling sessions like a pro. Do not fall for the hype of some sort of holy grail product promising for the best detangling experience of your life. Most of the detangling process is about you and how you manage through with patience, intention, and awareness.

Bonus: Talking Points for Parents to Child

We at Beautifully Curled are all about education of natural hair care. As adults, we are responsible for guiding and teaching our young girls how to properly manage and engage in their own self-care early. Continuous education helps build a young girl’s confidence and gives her the solid foundation as she gradually transitions into her own care of her hair and body.

Parents, as you go through the process of detangling your child’s natural hair, discuss these main points:

  • Why detangling is important: Explain how our heads shed 50-150 strands of hair each day as part of a normal hair cycle. Tell them the difference between shed hair and damaged hair. Inform how detangling is important to help remove those loose, shed hairs accumulated over time which makes styling much easier and less painful.
  • Slip, slip, slip: Discuss how textured hair is more prone to damage and breakage when manipulated in a dry stage. Emphasize how it is very beneficial to add moisture and slip to our curly hair to help add elasticity (aka stretchiness) and prevent hair from breaking during the detangling process.

The Ultimate Detangling Natural Hair Cheat Sheet

Here is a quick guide outlining the detangling process along with some useful tips to use for your next detangling session.

Detangling Natural Hair Flowchart Cheat Sheet Guide
Detangling Natural Hair Guide

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