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A Guide on How to Detangle Curly Hair

If my hair life could be summed up by one Disney movie, it would have to be:

One of my most vivid (not to mention unfortunate) childhood memories is my dad attempting to comb my curly hair with a fine-tooth plastic comb. It was incredibly painful. I would say it was mostly unsuccessful, considering that we broke a lot of combs. He’d likely argue that it worked – my hair was detangled. For like 5 whole minutes.Fast-forward to my teenage years, I switched to using brushes. I also broke a lot of those. You could pretty much call me Mia Thermopolis.

Hair knots and tangles are a daily reality if you have curls. They are, by and large, inescapable. Luckily, there are resources for this sort of thing. Enter two bonafide DevaCurl legends: Cal Ellis (aka the Curl Coach) and Shari Harbinger (one of the very first stylists at Devachan in 1995 and Co-Founder of the DevaAcademy which trains stylists from around the world). They’re going to share their best tips and tricks on detangling natural hair.

How to Detangle Single Strand Knots:

Single strand knots, otherwise known as, fairy knots are not magical and joyful like Tinkerbell. These knots refer to when a single strand of hair has managed to get knotted onto itself. They are something of a mystery. We’re not quite sure how they get there, but they are always present. How do you get rid of them? “Pull or snip these out,” says Cal. They’re not going to be detangled, and if you leave them be, other strands will get caught and the knot will only grow. Cut ‘em loose!

How to Detangle Knotted Ends:

“If the ends of your hair are always getting tangled, it’s probably time for a haircut,” says Cal. But if you’re between salon visits, it’s best to layer on the conditioner, and starting from the bottom up, pull gently on the hair to separate strands. “Be patient.” Seriously people, patience is key – and good curls take time!

How to Detangle Mystery Dreads:

How do these even happen?! No one really knows… The good news is you do not need to cut them out or shave your head. Just turn to No-Comb Detangling Spray. Spritz the dread says Cal, and “gently pull until it starts to unravel, it will be tedious but it will minimize breakage.”

How to Detangle Curls at the Nape:

If the bottom layer of your curls are getting knotty, part of what’s to blame is how you’re sleeping (more tips on that here). Make sure you wrap your hair up in a silk scarf or bonnet, and use a satin pillow case. “These tools help preserve moisture that cotton wicks away,” says Cal.

However, Cal warns, “If you’re only doing your hair once a week, knots are inevitable.” Sorry guys, but like c’mon even straight haired people can’t go a week without washing their hair. The best thing to reduce this? “Add another day of conditioning into your routine.”

If you’re having problems detangling second day curls, turn to No-Comb Detangling Spray. It is a great refresher, moisturizer, and detangler.  Spritz it on dry hair and gently detangle with your fingers (and for an added boost you can spray a little more on your fingertips). Need even more moisture and slip? Set It Free can also help, just use it sparingly.

How to Detangle Curly Hair Without Breakage:

Rule number one: Always always always detangle in the shower. “The more moisture and conditioner you have in your hair before you start detangling, the easier the process will be,” says Shari.

One Condition Decadence can provide you with amazing slip as you work through knots, but if you still need a boost, cocktail it with No-Comb Detangling Spray.  Also whenever detangling super curly hair, “the smaller the section you take the better,” says Cal. “It’s more tedious, but it’ll be gentler, and the end result is worth it.”

Tools for Detangling Natural Hair:

The best thing you can use to detangle your hair is your hands. “Fingers are more forgiving,” says Cal. “And they were around long before we invented combs and brushes!” says Shari.

Finger detangling is hands down, the best way to go. It allows you to be gentler with your curly hair and will minimize breakage. “Hair is fragile when wet and the elasticity can be compromised,” says Shari. Plus, using your fingers helps you resist the urge to rip through your hair.

But, if you’re going to turn to tools there are some that are better than others. Although we don’t advocate using a detangling hair brush, we know you’re going to ask. Sigh….

Look for something as natural as possible, you want a tool that’s going to allow you to detangle with gentle tension.

When it comes to brushes: look for a natural bristle hair brush that features pliable bristles (like a Mason Pearson Boar Bristle Brush). Denman brushes for curly hair are another popular choice, “This is because these brushes are more forgiving and flexible,” says Shari. The versions of Denman brushes that have more venting (aka more spacing) are even better choices, along with ones that have the air cushioned pads. Why? They allow for gentle control.

If you’re going to turn to a detangling comb, look for options that have wide-spread spokes (*cough* like your fingers *cough*).

Stay away from artificial plastic or nylon bristles, especially ones with beads on the end. These bristles are stiffer and can tear through hair. Sorry but cheap $5 brushes aren’t doing you any favors. A good detangling brush, like anything else, is an investment. But hey remember that your fingers are free – and you don’t have to replace them every time you have a Princess Diaries moment 😉

Bottom line: the best way to detangle curly hair is to make sure the hair is moisturized, with lots of slip, and to combine that moisture with a smooth GENTLE gliding motion, working from the bottom up in small sections. It can be tedious, but it’s the best way to ensure you have frizz-free definition.

Have any amazing detangling tips of your own? Be sure to share them with us in the comments below.



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