There’s no denying that tangled hair is annoying—you can’t run your fingers through it, it gets caught on everything, and honestly, it can look like a hot mess. But beyond just being a nuisance, trying to detangle hair knots can damage your hair, cause major breakage, and make strands more brittle over time.
But rest assured that with patience, the right products, and professional technique, it’s pretty easy to detangle damage-free. Ahead, we tap hairstylist Kendall Dorsey for her tips to detangling the toughest of hair knots on the most sensitive of scalps.
Use a Tool That’s Made For Detangling
“Tail combs and other small-tooth combs can cause severe damage and breakage to your strands,” explains Dorsey. “The best way to detangle hair is to use a paddle brush or wide-tooth comb as they are much more gentle on the hair.” If you’re curious about what type of bristles are the best fit for detangling your hair, Prose has a great quiz here.
Start From The Ends, Not the Roots
If you take your hairbrush straight to the root when detangling, you’re doing it all wrong. Trust us, this is the quickest way to damage your tangled tresses. Dorsey tells us, “the biggest mistake many people make when detangling hair is starting from the root instead of ends. Instead, start at the bottom and work your way up. That way, when you reach the root, you’ll have a smooth foundation to glide down.” The ends-to-root brushing technique minimizes damage, as knots at the root will just get moved down to your ends as you brush through, causing damage and even breakage. This method also reduces pain and pulling if you’re tender-headed.
Take Your Time and Work In Sections
If you’re trying to remove all traces of teased hair, Dorsey warns against washing it before detangling. She says, “sometimes wetting the hair can lock in the knots, making it much more difficult to detangle, and much more prone to damage.” Break out your detangling brush and get to work on one small section at a time. Dorsey says, “be patient” and even recommends applying a conditioner on dry hair to help loosen the knots as you go if things are really matted.
Use a Quality Detangling Spray on Damaged, Color-Treated Hair
If your hair is color-treated, it’s much more prone to breakage. Dorsey recommends detangling damage-prone hair in tandem with a moisturizing detangling spray. “A detangler keeps damage to a minimum by limiting harsh pulling and tugging on the hair.” For easy detangling, she keeps Oribe Foundation Mist and Devacurl No-Comb Detangling Spray Lightweight Curl Tamer in her kit.
Color-treated hair isn’t the only type prone to damage, either. “Mature hair is sometimes more susceptible to breakage and shedding too,” says Dorsey. “Always use a detangling spray if you have mature hair, work on smaller sections, and brush with a lighter touch.”
After Detangling, Protect Your Strands With an Oil
Once you finally get those annoying knots out, your hair will feel brittle and likely be lacking tons of moisture. After detangling, Dorsey recommends “applying some 100 percent virgin olive oil from roots to ends and let it sit under a hair steamer for about 20 minutes.” She says this will and hydration and moisturize into parched strands after vigorous detangling. Plus, chances are you already have a bottle of olive oil in your pantry. If you don’t have access to a hair steamer, you can put your hair up into a plastic wrap to increase the heat and allow the oil to better penetrate.
Fight Tangles While You Sleep
Dorsey admits a silk pillowcase is a fantastic way to keep tangles at bay, but she actually prefers sleeping with a silk bonnet instead. Truthfully, a silk pillowcase is only beneficial to your hair if your head stays on the pillow. For those crazy sleepers out there (honestly, same), she explains, “a silk bonnet will keep your hair in place, prevent it from friction against your blankets, pajamas, and your pillow. Plus, it locks moisture in all night.” We like this chic pick from Silke London, which is made of 100 percent silk.
Use a Weekly Mask to Improve Tangles Over Time
“Oftentimes hair becomes tangled because of dryness,” explains Dorsey. If your hair tends to tangle easily, she recommends using Évolis Professional Promote treatment mask, saying it provides instant hydration. “A hair mask brings back the moisture and hydration that the hair needs and works wonders at keeping tangles away,” she explains. Use one to three times a week for stronger, less tangle-prone hair.