So Fine: Dishing on Detangling

Fact: textured hair is prone to tangling.

Fact: detangling can be damaging.

Fact: it doesn’t have to be.

Tangles come in all different forms from fairy knots to matting roots to wishbone snarls at the end of your strands to shed hairs caught mid strand to a pony tail elastic that has somehow ensnared itself so impossibly in your coils. Each of these tangles are unique in their own way and requires a different way of dealing with them. But before we talk about different detangling methods for different scenarios, let’s start with basic assumptions about prepping fine hair for detangling.

Detangling 101

  • Start with a wet head. Hair doesn’t have to be soaking wet, but it should at least be damp.
  • Scratch that, before your head is wet, make sure its deep conditioned. Dry hair is more prone to break.  A recent deep conditioning is a great way to ensure that your hair is in tip-top condition.
  • Add some slip. I like to use creamy conditioners to help my detangling tool glide down my strands.  Other options are oils and butters depending on your preference.  Whatever you choose, be sure to have some sort of lubrication on your hair to help out the process.
  • Eyes on the prize. If you are busy, in a rush or distracted, drop the comb and step away.  Improper detangling can break your hair and cause irreversible damage.  To prevent both of these tangle travesties, make sure you’ve got time, energy, and focus to dedicate to the process.
  • Bottom up not top down.  Never detangle from the root to the tip.  Make sure you go in the other direction from the tips of your hair towards your scalp.  Going from root to tip will just cause more tangles at the bottom of your hair.
  • Work in small sections.  This will help you manage the process and keep your task organized.
  • Shed hairs be gone. The human head sheds on average 50-100 hairs each day.  If you have curly coils, these little buggers are probably getting stuck in your coils rather than slipping out on their own.  Detangling will help you get these hairs out and prevent tangles from reforming.
  • Timing is everything. Chances are you don’t need to detangle once a day.  Take sometime to figure out how often you really need to be detangling in your regular regimen.  Weekly, bi-weekly, monthly are all good choices!

Ok, now that we’re done with the foundation of detangling, lets talk about the various detangling methods.  I am a firm believer that  each of these methods have their own time and place.  The great thing about being the boss of your very own self is that you can mix and match these techniques as you see fit within your own routines and hair care regimens.

Finger Detangling

Perhaps the most gentle of all detangling methods.  Your fingers are like nature’s combs and the great part about using your own hands is that they are part of your own nervous system, meaning that unlike plastic, they can really feel out the knot and use their dexterity to work through them.   Finger detangling is great for focusing on major knots and working to break them up one strand at a time.  Never ever ever do the thing where you stick two fingers into a section of hair and pry them open to pop open a knot at the tip of your hair.  That popping sound is your hair breaking.  Sad.

Finger detangling is also a great option to use before combing or brushing to get rid of any big snarls before really getting into the nitty gritty of the process.


The most polarizing detangling method in curly hair-dom.  While some curlies’ hair starts to break at the mention of the words ‘Tangle Teezer’, others should be posed on the cover of a Harlequin romance novel with their modified Denman D3’a.  The thing about brushing is that if it works for you, it WORKS.  With all of those rows of teeth, after a thorough brushing there will be no tangles to be found on your head.  The key with brushing is that you must, must BE GENTLE.  Be delicate, be tender, be soft.  You are not MarciaMarciaMarcia Brady and should not aimlessly brush your hair as if you were.  If you hear snapping: stop.  If you see short strands covering your sink: quit.  If you notice split ends: call it a day.



Probably the safest bet in the detangling department.  It’s thorough, it’s efficient, and unless you’re not following the basics, it’s gentle.  Select a model with widely spaced teeth and a good grip for holding.  A basic wide tooth comb will run you a couple bucks at a beauty supply store, but you can upgrade to jazzier versions such as a seamless comb, shower comb (hangs in the shower), or the Ouidad Double Detangler (with it’s 2 rows of teeth) to name a few.

Ok, fine I get it. But what do YOU do, Cass??

Ouidad Double Detangler all the way baby.  That thing is a workhorse (and probably as heavy as one too).  The double spans of teeth slice and dice my detangling time in half, while the wide width of the spaces between the teeth ensure that I’m not doing damaging my fine strands while I pull the comb through my hair.  I also like that it’s pretty sizable so that I can work through large-ish sections of hair.  I’ve noticed no breakage or splits with this comb and its more efficient than using just a single wide tooth comb.  I detangle religiously once a week, and if I push this any longer, I will really be paying for it and cutting out locs that form at the end of my coils.  Again, sad.

I am in the process of considering –  just considering –  using the Tangle Teezer once a month on my hair.  I tried it for the first time just yesterday and I loved the smoothness I got, but I’ve read enough reviews about TT imposed breakage to know that frequent use of this tool could wreak havoc on my fine strands.  I am considering using it because it really did a great job of pulling out my shed hairs and I liked the thoroughness of the tool.


The Moral of the Story

Detangling is a way of life for naturals and for fine haired naturals is can be a dangerous endeavor.  Just make sure to listen to your hair and find a method that works for your your curl pattern and your porosity.  Remember that fine hair is more fragile than most so treat it as such.  Do not rip, pull, or tug.  Break out the scissors if and only if you can’t get a tangle out with any of the above methods (some tangles just won’t budge).  Get your combs and brushes through gently and with ease.  If your tangles are unrelenting, think about using a different method or getting a trim.

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  1. This was so helpful, thanks! I happened to order a Tangle Teezer yesterday, so let’s see what happens…

  2. I’ve had the Tangle Teezer for about 4 months and I’ve only used it twice… not really even twice, I started then stopped both times. I messed up my experience by reading the reviews of it causing breakage so that’s what I think about everytime I put it near my hair. *sigh*

  3. Thanks for the great tips! I personally don’t have thin and/or fine hair (I guess I’m lucky? Idk), but have really thick, coarse hair. Anyway I wanted to quickly mention the description of detangling from root to tip. Most YouTubers or bloggers describe it the way you do:

    “Bottom up not top down. Never detangle from the root to the tip. Make sure you go in the other direction from the tips of your hair towards your scalp. Going from root to tip will just cause more tangles at the bottom of your hair.”

    And I find this can be really confusing to new naturals. When I first went natural I was ssoooooo confused by this advice because the image I had in my mind after reading this was that of a ‘hair teasing’ motion, which would damage the hair right? Anyway I just wanted to throw that out there that detangling is done like this (hopefully this explains it better):

    Start by detangling your tips. When you’re done getting all of those knots out move where you start combing or brushing a 1/2 inch or so up. Finish getting the knots out of that added section and continue upward as described above, until you get to your roots. Twist out of the way or style as desired and move on to the next section.

    Hopefully that helps and is less befuddling. :-)

  4. this was very helpful – I will look for that Ouidad Double Detangler comb.

  5. hmmmm…. I’ve heard about the concerns (and disgust) with the Tangle Teazer, but I still use it as my primary detangler…. it makes me feel like an oddball since this is the only thing I get good results with… but I am going suck it up and keep it moving– and detangling. (But, perhaps TT works better for me since I have fine/very thin hair… ? idk). :)

  6. On my thick, course, porous hair, I find that using my fingers works best. I make sure it has “slip” and use the duckbill clips (only large plastic ones, the metal ones are MURDER) . I only use a comb in my hair when I am doing an updo in the back, and even then, I use my fingers to bring the hair to the crown. The comb is only used to smooth the hair and add waves.

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