How to Detangle Natural Hair Without Breakage: DIY Detangling

young black girl learning how to detangle natural hair with aloe vera

Natural hair can be prone to tangles due to the tightly coiled pattern of the hair strands. It takes great patience to avoid forcefully ripping through those knotted strands while trying to detangle your hair.

Detangling is not as hard as it seems when you take it as an art and constantly practice to be better. In this article, we’ll cover how to properly detangle natural hair. It’s also important to note that many of these tips apply to all hair types.

Learning How To Detangle Natural Hair

how to wash and detangle 4c natural hair

What is the easiest way to detangle natural hair? The processes that we recommend for detangling involve loosening knots and tangles carefully without losing or damaging your hair.

Your hair needs to be properly moisturized to achieve this, and you need to use a gentle detangling tool or process. For example, using finger combing with your detangle session could mitigate hair loss.

While it’s true that hair naturally sheds about a hundred hairs per day, which will come off as a lot when you’ve not touched your hair in weeks, it is important to note the difference between hair shedding and breakage.

I’ll be going into this later on in the article. But for now, here is a step-by-step guide to detangling natural hair.

Black women with type 4b curly hair that been dyed brown and black after being detangled.

1. Start With Moisturized and Not Wet Hair

Your hair strands are made up of long chains of amino acids that are bounded by chemical bonds. Hydrogen bonds can be temporarily altered by water, making the hair weaker and more malleable.

Your hair is also fragile and more susceptible to breakage while detangling in this state. This is why it is better to work with well-moisturized hair.

How do you know the difference?

To understand the difference between wet and moisturized hair, you need to study your hair when it’s dry. Dry natural hair is usually crunchy and makes a crackling sound, while moisturized hair is soft to the touch, strong, and flexible, with no crackling sound.

Wetting your hair with water alone will only hydrate it. To moisturize properly, spritz your hair with a little water (use a spray bottle) and then follow with a water-based conditioner or hair cream.

Note that oils do not moisturize the hair. They can, however, provide slip while detangling and sealing in moisture, depending on the oil.

Light-skinned black female making a heart symbol with her hands, with naturally curly hair.

2. Part Your Natural Hair Into Sections

It can be challenging to detangle your full head of hair at once, especially if it is really tangled. You might end up ripping your strands forcefully in the process.

This is why it is advisable to always work in sections. It lets you work through tangles and knots easily. You’re likely to miss some knots if you do not section your hair. These hidden knots can lead to breakage later on.

Detangling takes a lot of patience, and working in sections helps you detangle one step at a time. You can always stop the detangling process and get back to it later if you work in sections.

This prevents you from yanking your hair out in frustration or ending up with scissors, leading to a big chop.

To part your hair, you need a rat-tail comb and hair clips or scrunchies. You can also part your hair with your fingers if you’re feeling very handy.

You do not need a clip if your hair is long enough to twist and tuck. Make sure you’re not over-manipulating or combing your hair at this point. You should only work towards separating parts.

Your fingers, rat tail comb, or brush might not go through at once, which is why you should stop and separate strands with your fingers before continuing to part.

First, divide into left and right parts before further dividing into more sections. Twist or secure each part with a clip after sectioning. The number of sections you need depends on how tangled your hair is.

If you do not need to do so much, four or five parts should be enough, but matted hair will need more sections. Sectioning also depends on the length of your hair. Short hair will need smaller sections to be secured easily.

African American female with kinky hair that looks like Zoey Johnson from black-ish, also known as Yara Shahidi in real life.

3. Use Detangling Products That Will Give You Slip

Water alone is not enough to give you the slip you need for detangling. Detangling products have been formulated with acidifiers and emollients to keep your hair strong and flexible for the detangling process.

This also reduces breakage and damage while detangling curly hair. 

Hair detanglers have cationic surfactants that prevent static while detangling. They also alter the surface of the hair strand for easy malleability without making it weak.

Conditioners prevent friction, providing a smooth glide through your hair. We also like to use oils like olive oil and castor oil because they provide slip and seal in moisture. You can also use aloe vera juice as a detangler.

Black female with type 3c curly hair smiling while making a heart symbol with her hands.

4. Finger Detangle or Finger Comb Natural Hair

This phrase is gradually becoming more popular in the natural hair community, and we love to see it. Finger detangling may eat up your time a little, but I assure you that it will be a worthwhile time.

Unlike combs and brushes, your fingers can feel knots and tangles, undoing them easily. With your fingers, you feel the direct tension and stop pulling.

It gives you an indication to stop, and then you work through each knot gently. It also prevents sores and stress on your scalp that can come from excessive tool tension. Finger detangling often reduces breakage to the bare minimum.

Sometimes, the reason why your hair is thinning is because you’re losing strands from a rough detangling method.

Treat your hair with love and care, and it will show you growth (or length retention). You must start to see your hair as a baby that you handle gently to see maximum results. 

Young black girl using an Apple Macbook computer sitting in her kitchen.

5. Detangling With Combs and Brushes

Combs and brushes are great if you feel like your fingers haven’t fully detangled your hair. The most important thing with hair tools is technique and how it is used.

You have to be gentle to prevent excessive breakage. Make sure you use a wide-tooth comb because the spaces between allow for easy combing that doesn’t pull on the strands.

The wider the spaces between the teeth of a comb, the less damage it can cause. Do not force the knots out while combing to prevent breakage.

It is better to go through with the comb only after finger detangling, especially if your hair is a tangled mess.

This way, the comb only simplifies what your fingers have already done, and you’re left with more hair on your head. You can also go through with a detangling brush for a final run. 

Black girl showing love to the camera with her hands.

6. Detangling From Tip to Root

Detangling your hair from root to tip isn’t recommended. The problem with this is that the knots and tangles are moved from the root and are gathered at the tip, making it difficult to get through and leading to a lot of hair breakage.

You should start your detangling process by taking a section in your hand and working through all the tangles at the tip before moving to the root. This provides an easier glide from root to tip and prevents excessive breakage.

Detangling from root to tip also causes pain and tension to your scalp. If you feel that your hair is getting dry, add more conditioner and detangler to moisturize and provide slip.

This allows for easy separation of strands, leaving you with more strands of hair at the end of the detangling process. 

7. Twist and Braid Section

All your time and efforts will be null if you leave the detangled section to mesh with other hair strands. To prevent this, twist or braid the section after detangling thoroughly.

You can also put each section in a bantu knot for a more stretched style. It is important to keep the hair in a stretched state to minimize knots and tangles.

When Is the Right Time To Detangle Your Hair?

Detangling hair should be done not only properly but at the right stage in the wash day process. Shampooing matted hair can cause even more tangles and knots, which will lead to breakage while trying to detangle during the shampoo process.

This is why it is important to know when to detangle your hair. So when should you detangle?

African American female looking into the distance, wondering when the right time is to detangle curly hair.

During Pre-Poo

Pre-poo is the pre-wash stage, where the hair is prepped with oils and conditioner to retain moisture while shampooing. You can detangle your hair with oils and conditioner during the pre-poo process.

This will prevent your hair from being stripped of moisture and prevent excessive matting during the shampoo process.

During the Deep Conditioning Process

Deep conditioning infuses our hair with moisture—what better time to detangle than when the hair is properly moisturized?

The deep conditioner will provide slip for your fingers, and your hair will be easy to manipulate in this stage without excessive breakage.

Before the Styling Process

If your hair has been properly detangled during the wash process, it’ll be in great shape before styling.

You can moisturize your hair using either the LOC or LCO method and go through with your fingers, comb, or brushes for a final detangling.

Black woman lying on the bed talking on an iPhone to a family member.

Hair Shedding or Hair Breakage?

Learning how to tell the difference between shedding and breakage is important so you don’t damage your hair or panic when your hair is simply shedding. 

First, understand that shedding is a natural process. Hair goes through different stages in the growth process.

The good thing is that all the hair strands on your head are not going through these phases simultaneously. Otherwise, you’ll have a full head of hair on some days and a bald head on other days. 

Hair sheds at the telogen phase, and it sheds an average of 50-100 strands per day. We love protective styles in the curly hair community, and some people leave their hair for weeks with zero manipulation or detangling.

These strands may accumulate and come out at once, so don’t panic if you have some hair loss while detangling natural hair after wearing a long-term protective style.

Hair loss from detangling can also be a combination of breakage and shedding.

Here’s how to tell the difference: shed hair will be the same length as your hair and have the hair follicle’s bulb at the end. On the other hand, hair from breakage will be shorter and may feel dry and brittle. 

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Patience is key while detangling curly hair. Work in sections and stop when you’re tired to prevent yanking out your strands.

You don’t have to complete your detangling session in a day. What matters is that your hair is treated gently and with care. Remember to moisturize, finger detangle, go from tip to root, and secure your hair in a twist or braid after detangling.

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