Learning how to properly detangle my tightly coiled, sometimes luxurious, often stubborn 4B hair has been a process , and definitely not one that I’ve enjoyed. In fact, I don’t know if I’ll ever really enjoy taking time to comb through all my tangles and knots section by section but I am getting better at it—practice makes perfect. There have been plenty of times where I’ve made the conscious decision to (gently) tear out the tiny knots that lived between my strands just to get the process over with, but I know that’s not what’s healthiest for my hair.
After a number of wash and gos, twist outs , and attempts at securing my hair in a sleek bun in its most curly state, I’ve realized that there is a method to the madness when it comes to detangling it. To find out how to rid natural hair of difficult tangles without having to resort to desperate measures (or the big chop), we asked hairstylist Candace Witherspoon and celebrity hairstylist Gabrielle Corney for expert tips on the best ways to smooth things over. Keep reading for some of the best tools and techniques they recommend (plus a few of my personal favorites) for loosening even the trickiest of hair knots.
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Start with damp hair, then detangle it in sections.
It took me a while to understand that sectioning off my hair (in about six to eight different parts) is a game-changer for getting down to the nitty gritty of my tangles. Since natural hair can be more on the dense side, swiping a comb through it in one pass without sectioning first is an easy way to miss a bunch of knots. “For someone with super curly/4C hair, I would say detangle in smaller sections and detangle more often,” Witherspoon tells SELF. “For someone with a wavy hair texture, it’s best to part it in larger sections. In general, detangling once or twice a week will work best for all textures.”
Corney adds that detangling natural hair dry is a definite no no. “Combing hair dry compromises the elasticity, which refers to the hair’s ability to stretch and bounce back without breaking,” she explains. Witherspoon agrees, adding that if the hair is dripping wet, the water/moisture will help products glide through it more smoothly, especially if the hair is super curly. Pro tip for refreshing second day curls? Spritz hair with a spray bottle containing one part water and one part conditioner .
Try it: 360 Mist Sprayer, $9, sallybeauty.com
Use all the tools at your disposal (including your fingers) to rid hair of tangles.
When it comes to smoothing out natural hair, don’t be afraid to go all in, which can often include finger detangling. Finger detangling allows you to be more gentle with your curls , resulting in less breakage. There have been plenty of times when I’ve been less forgiving with a comb than I am with my fingertips. Starting with your hands and later adding in tools will help minimize hair damage. “A good shampoo, conditioner and leave in is essential when detangling,” Corney explains. Garnier Honey Treasures is the bomb for at home use, and tools like a Denman brush (the 9 row is my favorite), a hair pick , wide tooth combs are also extremely helpful.”
Try it: Denman D5 Heavyweight 9 Row Brush, $16, walmart.com
Try using a detangling product for extra assistance.
“Some detangling products do really work,” says Corney. “Finding the one that works for you may be a bit of trial and error, but don’t fret. Once you find your ‘it’ product you’ll know,” she explains. Finding the right detangling product to assist in getting the job done depends on a number of factors, including hair type and amount of slip (lubrication that a product adds to your hair). One of my favorite detangling products to use right now is the Mielle Organics Detangling Co-Wash because it helps get my hair super soft and hydrated, which makes it easier to detangle. Using products that help tools easily glide through your coils means less snagging and time spent detangling.
“As a curl specialist I’ve had to deal with a lot of tangles. I’ve also tried a lot of detangling products on the market. My personal favorite is Wash Day Wonder by DevaCurl. It has cut my time at the sink in half,” says Witherspoon.
Try it: DevaCurl Wash Day Wonder, $60, ulta.com
Don’t start at the root when detangling.
Corney suggests detangling natural hair from the ends instead of the roots, as one of the most common mistakes made when detangling natural hair is to start in the front or where the hair is most difficult to untangle. “Hair is usually most dense in the middle,” she explains. “If you start there, you’ll get through the most difficult parts first which can reduce breakage in the long run.”
Try it: Mason Pearson Rake Comb, $35, netaporter.com