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Detangling 101

You can use a wide tooth comb or Denman brush to detangle your natural hair.
You can use a wide tooth comb or Denman brush to detangle your natural hair.
photo taken by Fern Illidge

Welcome! Come on in and sit with the class, Detangling 101 is about to begin.

Can anyone tell me why we should detangle?


For one, it is an important part of a healthy natural hair care regimen. Our session will begin, now:

Detangling natural hair

Detangling is using fingers, a comb, or brush to remove tangles and knots from the hair. There are three reasons you should detangle your natural hair:

  1. It removes shed hairs that get mixed, matted, and tangled into our natural hair which can cause breakage and split ends.
  2. Allows for easier styling and manipulation of your natural hair.
  3. Makes it easier to apply product to your natural hair. It also uses less product.

For those who want to achieve length, not detangling can lead to ripping and tearing your natural hair which, in an instant, can ruin any length you may have attained. Do not ‘split hairs’ over this (pun intended!) – detangling is a very necessary part of your natural hair regimen.

There are a few methods for detangling natural hair and you can find all kinds of variations on the web. The most commonly named methods are:

Finger detangling
This is when you use your fingers to find and untangle knots or remove shed hairs from your natural hair. Many naturals prefer this method as you can feel any knots or tangles and remove them rather than combing or brushing them out and possibly causing breakage and splits.

Conditioner detangling
You apply conditioner to your natural hair and remove knots or tangles with a wide-tooth comb or Denman brush. The conditioner gives your natural hair slip. Some naturals use their fingers first to remove shed hairs and tangles, and then finish up with a wide-tooth comb or brush.

Oil detangling
Similar to the above method, except you use an oil to your natural hair for slip and either finger detangle, or use a comb/brush.

Water detangling
Some naturals prefer to use water to saturate their hair and then detangle. Or you can jump in the shower to wash, condition, and detangle your natural hair under the running water – this makes for easier combing/brushing.

You may be asking how you should detangle your natural hair. Good question! Here are seven (7) Steps to Detangling Your Natural Hair:

  1. Section
    The importance of sectioning your hair when you’re ready to detangle cannot be stressed enough. It just makes life so much simpler! You can focus on detangling one small section at a time and avoiding the possible tearing of knots that cause breakage.
  2. Wet, Oil, or Condition
    Which you choose is totally your choice. Some naturals do a pre-poo, and use and oil like coconut oil on damp hair in sections.
  3. Finger detangle, first
    BE GENTLE. With the oil or conditioner or water in your hair, use your fingers to work through the tangles. Your fingers will feel knots and be able to pull shed hair away from the rest, as well as prevent friction that can occur with the use of combs and/or brushes. As long as you’re gentle, this part will make the later part easier.
  4. Apply more water, oil, or conditioner as needed
    Once you have worked through the obvious tangles with your fingers, add a little more to the section of hair for the next step.
  5. Use a Wide-Tooth Comb or Denman Brush
    And this means a w – i – d – e t – o – o – t – h comb! The wider the better. Or if you prefer a brush, the Denman is a great choice. Take each section, after finger detangling and adding more slip, and comb or brush through. Don’t forget: BE GENTLE.
  6. Start at the very ends and work your way up.
    BE GENTLE! The ends of your hair are the most fragile so this is the part that requires the most care and patience. If you rip a comb or brush through without regard for the health of your hair, you risk stunting any growth by causing splits and breakage. This is going to take a minute. That’s okay – turn on a movie, an audiobook, or your favorite marathon and slowly and carefully detangle each section.

  7. Twist the completed section and move on to the next.
    This makes the rest of your wash routine a much smoother and faster process. From this point you can shampoo or co-wash in sections, condition and deep condition in sections, and then style in sections. Keeping your hair in sections all the way through the wash process will keep your strands detangled and manageable.

Just a few extra moments of GENTLE detangling can make a huge difference in the health and growth of your natural hair. Consistency is key and a consistent detangling session as part of your natural hair regimen will increase your hair’s health and enhance optimal growth. Plus, it will make styling that much easier!

Not sure how to section your hair? Look for an article on sectioning to come soon.

Fern writes about caring for your natural hair on her blog. Check her bio for more information.

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