Nafrobelle’s Ultimate Guide to Detangling Natural Hair

I had originally planned on covering a more controversial topic this week, but after some consideration, I decided to write a post about detangling natural hair instead. Though the topic has been covered and recovered several times over by now, many naturals still struggle with detangling, so (apparently) you can never have too many vlogs/blogs that are dedicated to the subject.

twa
Yes, ya’ll. I know. I have a TWA right now, so I don’t have to do much detangling. I have, however, been natural for 5 years, so my hair has been longer. I’m not just talking out of my arse here. I’ve tried all of the methods I mention in this blog post before. I promise.

Musings about my original intentions aside, I’d like to jump right into things. I have a lot to cover, so I don’t want to waste too much time on this intro. Having said this, let’s get started. I hope you enjoy this guide and leave here with a better idea of how best to detangle your natural hair.

3 Ways to Detangle Natural Hair

Generally speaking, there are three ways to detangle natural hair. You can choose between the following three methods (or even combine them):

  1. Dry detangling
  2. Detangling your hair with a bit of product and/or oil
  3. Tackling your tangles and knots while your hair is soaking wet

While all three methods can be effective, there are situations in which you’ll prefer one method over the other. In fact, you might even find that you prefer one method over all of the others every single time you detangle your hair.

I’ve dedicated a section to each of these methods below, starting with dry detangling. I tried to be as thorough as possible, including everything from the reasoning behind these methods to some of the science behind them.

1. Dry Detangling

I’m going to wager that dry detangling isn’t too popular in the natural hair community. There is a good reason for that lack of popularity. Textured hair is prone to dryness and breakage, so dealing with it at its driest without the aid of product is not fun or particularly effective in some cases.

So why would anyone choose to do it?

Well, simply put, sometimes you just don’t want to work with product while styling your hair or prepping it for wash day. And why wouldn’t you want to do that? Here’s a short list of reasons why you might be avoiding product:

  • You have fine natural hair and you’re not planning on washing your hair soon. Loading your hair with creams and oils can cause buildup, which can affect your hair’s moisture levels and appearance.
  • You have low porosity hair and don’t want to risk putting product on your hair since you know your hair won’t absorb that product.
  • You’re planning on washing your hair, but you have oily hair and don’t want to add any oils or butters to your hair since doing so would give you more to wash out. Detangling your hair in the shower is also out of the question for some reason.
  • You’re prepping your hair for a style or treatment which requires that you apply as little product as possible beforehand.
  • You don’t want your hair to shrink because you’re looking to flaunt your length and stunt on everyone you know. ← If this ain’t me, ya’ll…

    women with natural hair
    When you’re going to rock a stretched style, the last thing you want your hair to do is shrink during the styling process. Dry detangling comes in handy in these situations.

So How Do You Dry Detangle?

As I mentioned earlier, dry detangling requires that you use little to no product. You can technically use a small amount of product while keeping your hair “dry,” but be sure that the amount of product you use is negligible.

The only tools that you’ll need are your fingers and/or your detangling brush or comb, though I wouldn’t recommend using brushes or combs for dry detangling sessions. You might also need some clips to divide your hair into manageable sections. After you’ve gathered all of the necessary tools, repeat the following steps until you’ve detangled your entire head of hair:

  1. Begin with your section of choice. Start from the bottom of that section and begin working out the tangles and knots with your fingers/comb. Be careful not to rush since your hair is fragile when it’s dry.
  2. Work your way up the section as you detangle your hair. Work all the way up to your roots, and detangle those as well. Neglecting your roots may cause them to “loc” over time.
  3. Run through the section once more, making sure that you’ve taken care of any problematic tangles.
  4. Twist the section or make a bantu knot (to keep the detangled hair out of the way) and start on the next section.

*Note that you can use these same steps and tools for the other detangling methods listed here as well.*

Cons of Dry Detangling

Detangling your natural hair while it’s dry comes with some obvious disadvantages. First and foremost, you have to be extremely careful when working with your hair since you’re not adding moisture to it. This might be especially true if you have fine hair because your strands will be much easier to break than thicker strands.

Because you’ll have to work with such care, this process will also take you longer than the other two on this list. You won’t have the slip which conditioners and oils can provide, so you’ll have to take your time.

Furthermore, dry detangling isn’t ideal when your hair is so tangled that it resembles a bird’s nest. You’re absolutely going to want to use some product when your hair is tangled beyond belief, which means that you’ll want to use the method I’ll be discussing next in those cases.

2. Detangling Using Product

This method is probably the most well-loved of the three mentioned here. There are several reasons for this. Here are some common ones:

  • Using product can speed up the detangling process. If you don’t have a ton of free time, this might be the method for you.
  • Conditioners, creams, and oils can help minimize breakage. They add some extra slip that aids in working knots and tangles out.
  • Some products (i.e. oils) have properties that can prep your hair for wash day. Coconut and olive oil, for example, have been known to penetrate the hair shaft. Oils can also safeguard your natural hair against hygral fatigue.

So How Do You Detangle With Product?

Detangling with product is much the same as detangling with no product. The only real difference is that you’ll have to apply the product before you begin detangling.

The type of product you use will affect the process in some way. Let’s take a look at the effects your product can have on your detangling session:

Oils

As I said not too long ago, some oils have properties that can prepare your hair for wash day. Coconut and olive are the most notable of those oils since they can actually penetrate the hair shaft.

olive oil
Olive oil is a great detangler (and one of my personal favorites). It’s also packed with vitamins (A and E) that can help keep your natural hair strong and healthy.

The magic, though, doesn’t just instantly happen. You must give these oils time to do their business. For this reason, some women opt to “pre-poo” by leaving these oils (or others) in their hair overnight or for extended periods of time.

Women who can’t afford to wait this long just apply indirect heat to their hair instead. They often do so by putting plastic bags or special caps over their hair and waiting for some amount of time.

After the time has elapsed, they remove the caps and just go to work on their hair. They usually find that their natural hair is softer and easier to detangle once they begin.

*Those of you who want to use oils to detangle and are NOT looking to wash your hair immediately afterward should limit your use of oil. You should also look into some light oils that won’t cause too much buildup if you have fine or low porosity hair.*

Conditioners

Conditioners can be used alone or in conjunction with oils to detangle natural hair. While many naturals find that conditioner is effective, there are two problems that you might run into if you choose to use conditioner.

The first of those problems is the shrinkage which conditioners bring on. Conditioners are water-based products, so they infuse your hair with some degree of water. The shrinkage they cause can make detangling harder if your hair shrinks up before you can finish detangling it.

That is to say, once you’ve smothered your hair in conditioner, finishing your task quickly is in your best interest.

The second problem has already been addressed by natural hair vlogger NappyFu. As she points out in the video I’ve linked to, conditioner is technically designed to be applied after shampoo. When you apply conditioner to your hair and then shampoo it, you’re setting yourself up to rinse away all of the goodies that conditioner deposited.

Which is technically a waste of money.

In any case, conditioners do detangle well. If you’re going to detangle with them, just remember to recondition your natural hair after you shampoo.

And, needless to say, you should complete this process with a cheap conditioner. You have to apply a generous amount of conditioner (and I do mean GENEROUS) to get good results, and ain’t nobody got time (or money) to buy another ten-dollar bottle of conditioner each week.

At the very least, I know I don’t.

To be fair here, though, you can use your deep conditioner to help detangle your hair if the product has a lot of slip. This should be done after you’ve used your cheap conditioner to get most of the detangling done.

deep conditioner
Like I said, you can do some detangling during the deep conditioning step. Just make sure that your deep conditioner has some slip. My personal favorite deep conditioner with slip is currently the TGIN Honey Miracle Hair Mask.

*If you’re using a DIY hair product, just add lots of nutrient-dense oils to it. This should give it some slip. You can also incorporate some other ingredients which provide amazing slip (e.g. marshmallow root).*

Cons of Detangling with Product

Using product might be popular, but it still has its faults. As I said above, using some products (e.g. conditioners) causes natural hair to shrink, which makes detangling harder for some people because the hair is more likely to tangle when it shrinks. I also mentioned that using conditioner in this way is not economical, so we don’t need to rehash that point.

But what else is there to say here? Products are a godsend when it comes to detangling…right?

Perhaps, but, as it turns out, they can also work against your hair if you leave them in for too long. We like to think that our dry-as-the-Sahara-Desert natural hair needs all of the moisture in the world. This belief often tempts us to leave product in our hair for much longer than it actually needs to be there.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to over-condition your hair, regardless of how dry it is. Over-conditioned hair feels mushy and exhibits extreme elasticity. If you’re not sure what “extreme” elasticity looks like, you’ll be able to tell if you ever over-condition your hair; your hair strands will be so elastic that they’ll remind you of rubber bands.

And I’m speaking from personal experience here.

My advice to you? Don’t leave conditioner in your hair for hours and hours thinking that you’ll have the most moisturized, easy-to-detangle hair you’ve ever had. The only thing you’ll end up with is a mushy, hot mess.

3. Detangling Natural Hair in the Shower

If you recall correctly, the third option I promised to cover was detangling your natural hair while it’s soaking wet. Presumably, you’d be doing this in the shower.

In truth, you can technically mix elements of the previous method with this one. For our intents and purposes, however, we’re going to treat this method as a standalone one.

So why would anyone be interested in this method? Well, let’s see:

  • It’s fast. There is little to no preparatory work needed on your part. You just hop in the shower, wet your hair, and go to town.
  • There is no cleanup afterward. Everything just gets rinsed down the drain. Your housemates are happier because there aren’t globs of conditoner and strands of kinky hair lying around your bathroom.
  • Did I mention that it’s fast? It’s seriously awesome if you’re a lazy natural.

So How Do You Detangle Your Hair While It’s Soaking Wet?

You pretty much do everything that you do in the other steps. Just much more quickly.

You wet your hair, section it, apply any necessary product, detangle the sections (using the steps I provided in the section on dry detangling), shampoo the sections, condition your hair, seal it with it an oil or butter, and you’re done. That’s it.

If you want to skip the product or don’t need it, feel free to do so. I don’t personally know anyone who can detangle with water alone, but there are some naturals who claim that the water pressure greatly aids them in detangling their natural hair.

Cons of Detangling Your Hair While It’s Drenched In Water

There is one major con of taking this approach: For some of us, water worsens our tangles instead of helping us get rid of them. In other words, wetting our natural hair before we detangle it is disastrous.

shower detangling
Detangling in the shower is a quick solution for some women, but it’s a nightmare for some of us. The water does nothing but make our tangles and knots worse, which adds a whole lot of time to our detangling sessions.

Further still, this method is a no-go if your hair is really tangled, regardless of whether or not you usually take this approach. I cannot in good conscience recommend washing your hair in the shower if your hair is badly matted or more matted than usual. I suggest you use the second method if that’s the case.

Soaking your hair in water to detangle it has another con as well. Remember when I said that hair which lacks moisture is fragile? Well, the same is true of hair when it’s wet.

Water breaks down your hair’s hydrogen bonds, thereby making it more susceptible to certain types of damage. My fine 4a hair, for example, snaps somewhat easily when it’s wet, so I like to do some preliminary detangling (using tons of olive oil) before I hop in the shower and finish things up.

Finger Detangling Vs. Combing

We can’t have a discussion about detangling natural hair without talking about the different tools that are available to us. Two tools which you might use to help detangle your hair are your fingers and combs.

But which tool is better?

The truth? If you ask me, the answer is “neither.” Check out my reasoning below:

Finger Detangling

Detangling with your fingers is often praised as a more gentle option than detangling with a comb, and for good reason. Using your fingers allows you to feel each tangle and gently remove any knots you find.

But it’s not for everyone.

Why?

Well, for one, it takes much longer than using a comb for some of us. Finger detangling short or medium hair probably doesn’t take too long, but once your hair grows out, you might find that the gentleness is not worth the extra time.

Further still, finger detangling can actually be harmful if not done properly. Your fingers aren’t as good as combs at removing tangles, so if you rely solely on finger detangling and don’t do it well, you could end up with a case of compounding tangles.

Which is just a fancy way of saying that you could end up with starter locs if you don’t carefully finger detangle your hair.

That said, ladies, be extra careful about how you approach finger detangling. It’s gentle on your natural hair, but you have to be slow and precise to reap the benefits.

Combing

We’ve traditionally relied on combs (or detangling brushes) to detangle our manes. Our parents and grandparents did it before us, and our grandparents’ parents and grandparents likely did the same.

detangling brush
Our parents and grandparents relied on these old tools, and so can we. Sure, our ancestors weren’t always the wisest when it came to caring for our natural hair, but combs and detangling brushes aren’t the devil.

We’ve only recently become wary of combs in the natural hair community. Though the emphasis on the health of our hair is good, combs are still great tools to have at our disposals when it’s time to detangle our hair.

Are they harsher on our hair than our fingers? Absolutely. Is using combs on your hair going to completely stall your growth? Most certainly not. You can still maintain healthy natural hair if you use the best comb or brush for your hair and its properties.

Combs are also just more compatible with some of our lifestyles. Finger detangling takes some people upward of twelve hours. Who here has twelve hours to devote to detangling your hair?

That’s what I thought.

So what’s the takeaway here? Don’t stress about whether or not you should finger detangle or use combs. Do whatever suits you. You could even do a bit of both if you’re really concerned about how strictly using combs will affect your hair’s health in the long run.

So How Do You Detangle Your Natural Hair?

The most important thing to remember here is that there is no “correct” way to detangle your hair. As long as your method keeps your natural hair healthy and detangled (and you happy), you don’t have to fret about the process.

So how do you detangle your natural hair? What works for you? What doesn’t? I’m sure that your fellow naturalistas would appreciate the advice.

And if you haven’t already, remember to follow this blog and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Or, at the very least, on whichever one of those platforms you actually use.

Hint: You can find links to my social media pages in the sidebar on the right. ♥

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