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How To Detangle Hair Without Damage

Mary Lucas, RN

Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, MSCIS, MPhil, RN

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 11/28/2021

Knotty, tangled hair is no fun — not to mention, that bird’s nest hair look isn’t exactly on trend, these days. 

But, even worse, if you don’t deal with tangles in the right way, it can cause breakage and even hair loss

No matter who you are or what type of hair you have, at some point your hair will likely get tangled. 

Though there is some research that suggests straight hair may get tangled more than curly hair, there’s also evidence to support that hair that has been color-treated, permed or relaxed may be more prone to tangling.

Wondering how to get the knots out of hair? Keep reading. Plus, pick up some tips on preventing tangled hair. 

Dealing With Tangled Hair

Resist the urge to tug or rip your brush through knotted tresses. Instead, opt for one of the below tactics when deciding how to untangle matted hair. 

Reach for the Right Hair Products

If you’re combing your hair and the tangles refuse to give way and smooth out, resist the urge to tug and pull — this can cause breakage. Instead, apply a leave-in conditioner to help loosen and smooth strands.

Speaking of conditioner, if your hair is all tangled and knotted, a shower may help. After shampooing, use a conditioner. 

Conditioners make hair smoother, which makes detangling easier on both wet and dry hair. You know, kinda like hers’ conditioner. *cough*

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Be Careful with Brushing

After you get out of the shower, it’s normal to have a few tangles. If you have straight hair, wait until your damp hair dries a bit before brushing it. 

If your hair is textured or curly, use a comb to release tangles while hair is still wet. 

Wide-tooth combs tend to be a good tool to assist in your detangling process and deal with knotty hair. The wider comb won’t get snarled in knots and make them worse. 

If, as you glide the comb through strands, you feel tugging on your root as you get to a knot, try holding the hair above the knot as you work it free. 

This will help prevent the hair from pulling at the root, which could result in your strands breaking or being pulled out. 

You can also approach your hair in sections — working through hair knots in one area before moving on to the others.

As a side note, try not to brush your hair too often. A study from 2009 found that women who brushed their hair more often were more likely to encounter hair loss.

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Preventing Tangles

Along with knowing how to get knots out, it’s helpful to know how to prevent them in the first place. Here, a few simple steps to consider. 

Shampoo, But Not Too Often

Washing your hair too often strips it of sebum (the natural oil that helps keep it glossy and moisturized) and makes it more prone to tangling.

Exactly how often you should wash depends on your hair. If your scalp tends to be on the more oily side, you may need to wash more often. If your strands tend to be dry, you may only need to wash once or twice a week.

When washing your hair, focus on your scalp, then let the shampoo wash down your strands and you rinse. 

Avoid rubbing it into your ends, which tend to be dryer and more prone to breakage and tangles.

Keep Your Hair Strong

Strong hair is more manageable, whereas damaged hair is more likely to break and tangle.

These tactics can aid in keeping hair strong and healthy:

  • Think twice about hot tools: Repeat after us, heat hurts hair. So, let your hair air dry when you can. If you do use a hot tool, keep it on the lowest setting. This can keep hair healthy — or at least healthier.

  • Pat, don’t rub: If you’re towel-drying your mane to remove excess water, don’t rub hair with a towel — it creates friction, which can weaken strands and cause matted hair. Instead, pat your strands dry.

  • Consider your style: Tight ponytails, buns and weaves can tug and pull on the roots of your hair, weakening it and potentially causing breakage. Looser hairstyles or embracing your natural hair texture is optimal. 

Go Easy on Chemical Treatments 

Straightening treatments and perms may give you the look you want, but these treatments also damage the hair shaft from root to tip and can cause scaling of the hair cuticle. 

This can lead to strands tangling more easily.

If you really want to continue these types of treatments, try to add more time in between touch-ups to give your hair a break — especially during colder months when the air is dryer. It’s also advisable to do only one treatment at once.

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Detangling Without Damage

It’s important to approach knotted hair carefully. Of course, you want your strands to be untangled, but you don’t want to break strands in the process. 

Using a leave-in conditioner (sometimes called a detangling spray) can help smooth strands so knots are easier to work through. 

Wide-tooth combs are best to use if your goal is untangling, as fine-tooth combs can get caught and cause hair breakage. 

How you brush also matters. Rather than tugging, you should aim for a more gentle approach. 

Know what’s even better than dealing with tangles? Preventing matted hair altogether. 

By practicing healthy hair habits — like shampooing only when necessary, not rubbing wet hair with a towel, waiting until hair is less damp to brush and more. 

8 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Masson, J., (2006). Why Does Curly Hair Get Less Tangled Than Straight Hair? American Journal of Physics. Retrieved from https://aapt.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1119/1.2733683
  2. Sinclair, R., (2007). Healthy Hair: What Is It? Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X15526559
  3. How to Stop Damaging Your Hair. American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/insider/stop-damage
  4. D’Souza, P., Rathi, S., (2015). Shampoo and Conditioners: What a Dermatologist Should Know? Indian Journal of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458934/
  5. Kiderman, A., Gur, I., Ever-Hadani, P., (2009). The effect of brush on hair loss for women. J Dermatolog Treat. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19016066/
  6. Tips For Healthy Hair. American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/hair-scalp-care/hair/healthy-hair-tips
  7. Dias, M., (2015). Hair Cosmetics: An Overview. International Journal of Trichology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/
  8. 10 Hair-Care Habits That Can Damage Your Hair. American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/hair-scalp-care/hair/habits-that-damage-hair

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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