A tangled web
June 13, 2022 4:18 AM   Subscribe

My hair tangles so easily. How can I hack my hair routine to make detangling less of a pain (literally)?

My thick curly hair (3A/3B) has always tangled very easily. (When I was a kid, I'd howl the house down when my mom was brushing my hair.)

My haircare routine works well for me except for how long my hair takes to detangle every morning.

In contrast to my childhood battles with hairbrushes, I never brush my hair as an adult. I find it disrupts the curl pattern, breaks my hair and leaves it extra frizzy. I always use a wide-toothed comb, I don't even own a brush anymore.

I wet my hair thoroughly everyday, to allow a full detangle. Going a couple of days without wetting my hair leaves it a snarled bird's nest.

This is my morning hair routine:
* Detangle hair with a wide-toothed comb in the shower. This is always painful, involving lots of hair breaking etc, and takes a long time - 5-10 minutes. I detangle it in sections. I've grown out of crying the house down, but I will admit to a few swears.
* Come out of shower, comb regular (not leave in) conditioner through soaking wet hair. Dry using an old t-shirt, then put in more regular conditioner and air-dry.
* Once a week, I shampoo and deep condition. My drying routine remains the same.

Growing up in South Asia, the one thing that helped with my tangles was putting coconut oil into my hair. But that's not something I'm willing to do every day.

I never touch it while it is drying. For the purposes of curly haircare, I am happy with this routine. I like the way my hair looks.

However, detangling continues to be an issue, not just because it hurts, but because it takes a long time to do.

What can I do to ensure my hair does not get so tangled and in particular does not take a good 10 minutes to detangle in the shower each morning?
posted by unicorn chaser to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and I've seen this question but it specifically asks for products - I wet my hair daily but only wash it once a week so a detangling conditioner, etc, is not going to help me with daily wet hair detangling.
posted by unicorn chaser at 4:20 AM on June 13

Is there a reason you're combing before you put in the conditioner? Seems like that would help a lot, even if it's not detangling conditioner.

Also what are you currently doing to slow down the tangling process? Do you put up your hair before going to sleep, for instance (I do this but I have very different hair from you so YMMV)? Have you tried a satin pillowcase?
posted by mskyle at 4:30 AM on June 13 [11 favorites]

Caveat that my hair is wavy, not curly - I use detangling spray. The one I use allegedly also heat protects. I wash my hair, remove a bit of moisture, spray in the spray, detangle, use curl enhancing product if I want my hair to air dry. If I want it straight I then proceed to blow dry. I only use 3 or so spritzes of the product through my lengths.

Presumably wetting your hair does remove some of the various conditioners you apply. That would probably be enough to remove some of the detangler as well. Alternatively, apply the normal conditioner first and then detangle without further product? On preview, what mskyle said.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:34 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]

My scalp is hurting for you. I have the same type of hair. I also own zero brushes and I only use a wide tooth comb. I comb my hair wet but only with conditioner in.

I have had to learn to take even more time when I comb/detangle. If your comb hits a snag, stop combing and carefully unpick the snarl with your fingers or the tips of the comb teeth. Don't pull the comb through snarls. When you hear/feel your hair breaking, slow down and be gentler with it.

I have found that my hair is weaker when wet and that it breaks more easily than if I comb it dry.

I hate combing it dry so I use copious amounts of regular conditioner for wet combing. I would never go back to combing wet with no products.

Also: I often sleep with my hair in braids when I have to look presentable.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 4:48 AM on June 13 [6 favorites]

Wet hair. Apply a ton of conditioner. Wait a couple minutes for the conditioner to close your cuticles and make your hair slippery. Use a Tangle Teezer brush (it’s gentler than a wide tooth comb) to detangle, starting from the ends. Rinse out some of the conditioner, squeeze your hair so it’s not dripping, clip it up and finish your shower.
Apply a bit more conditioner and air dry.

Aussie Moist and Herbal Essence are great $6 drugstore brands that work well with curly hair.

If you’re more careful with your hair you shouldn’t need to detangle so often. Minimize tangles when you sleep or lie down by looping your hair up in a big puff with a silky scrunchy or claw clip. Sleep with a satin bonnet on. Use a silky pillowcase on your couch cushion and sleeping pillow.

In the morning, dampen your hands with water, rub a dab of conditioner in your wet hands to emulsify, and smooth / scrunch your hair to smooth the frizz back in.

Stop detangling / wetting every day! You’re making your hair dry and roughing up the cuticles which causes more frizz.

The idea that hair must be washed and detangled and combed as a part of daily self care is, frankly, a white rule. At some point (maybe the 1980s? Maybe the 1880s?) we or our ancestors (or me in middle school) were made to feel ashamed and dirty if our curly, Afro, or thick straight East Asian hair didn’t need that treatment - as all of those hair types will look great and not get greasy or tangled for days if they’re cared for properly.

Decolonize your ideas about how hair “should” be cared for and do what actually looks good, without adding in some kind of schedule about it! Most likely, type 3 hair wants to be shampooed once a week and detangled while wet and soaked with conditioner 1-2 times a week. Try that!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:59 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]

I also have 3A/3B hair, and mine tangles and make dreadknots from the root which is a form of hell to deal with. I finally resolved that problem with:

A) A satin sleep bonnet. And maybe try (though I do not) wearing a protective style at night, like maybe braids?

B) A detangling spray. I am confused about your daily combing routine. It seems like a lot of work, and a lot of wet hair? I don't understand why you would try to wet comb hair with no conditioner in it. I just spray Cantu for Kids into my dry hair and comb. I didn't think it would really make a difference but boy was I wrong.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:13 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]

Why are you unwilling to put coconut oil in your hair, if that helps the tangling? If it’s because you don’t want to smell delicious every day, there are lots of different oils and serums to try that can help smooth hair cuticles that don’t have such a strong scent, or a very different one. If it’s about the oil getting on other surfaces, if you dial in to the right amount of oil it should just work into the hair and not get anything else messy; maybe when you were younger you slathered it on but if you work it carefully into sectioned hair you can get a lot of utility out of much less. If it’s about breakouts or dandruff, different types of oils react differently on different people, so definitely don’t write the whole category off because you don’t like coconut oil.

Definitely try not to detangle when it’s wet with no product in it. That can make hair very brittle, in my experience. Have you tried wetting it with a spray bottle, so it’s only damp? Then work in some products for detangling and going from the ends to the roots with whatever detangling tools you prefer. You might try dampening it, applying product, putting on a shower cap and taking your shower, and then detangling out of the shower. This gives a long time in humid warmth for the products to work into your hair without soaking it and washing it away.

Where are the tangles forming? If it’s the ends of your hair, more regular trims and doing your best to not break the hair should help a bit. If it’s closer to the roots, protective hairstyles for sleep should help, like side braids or a tall sock bun. If you hate satin pillow cases (I do, they are so hot, ugh) try a compromise with a bamboo or eucalyptus rayon pillowcase. They are really smooth and soft without the heat retention and for me they help my hair not be nearly as frizzy. Talk to your hair stylist about different treatments you can try, too. Leave in conditioners are nice but there’s also keratin treatments you can do at a salon. These can affect your curl pattern but it might be worth it, and done with a deft hand you will still have curl and body.

The comment above about decolonizing your ideas about how your hair should be cared for is a great one. I’m wincing thinking about your painful scalp every morning. If something hurts, or burns, or breaks, that’s not working, and you should try something else. Tangles are not so bad, really, and can stick around for a while as you work gently through them. If you want to hide them, try some partial pony tails or messy buns or French twists during the day, and then work on the tangles at night with oily or conditioned fingers on the couch while you unwind. Be kind to yourself and listen when your body tells you to stop doing something.
posted by Mizu at 5:32 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]

just adding my support to the following ideas:

- you probably don't have the type of hair that needs daily wetting/detangling

- if you're wetting your hair for grooming purposes, always use some kind of product together. you need something with slip, be it oil or something with silicone e.g. those detangling sprays or leave-in conditioners or modern-formulated hair oil which doesn't just have oil.

- the lack of appropriate product undoubtedly isn't helping matters as your hair is already frizzing from the air drying. Regular conditioner is actually not helping here as it's both too heavy and too slick (well, it basically keeps wanting to emulsify with any humidity w/ the lack of water.) No-rinse, leave-in, or detangling sprays would be more suitable

- Drying on cool temp might actually be helpful and with a diffuser attachment

- definitely comb from the tip upwards instead in sections, not from the root in one go.
posted by cendawanita at 7:21 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]

I have very fine, 1A hair, but if I tried to detangle even my hair wet in the shower with zero conditioner I, too, would be crying and swearing. Even doing this one time would absolutely result in breakage and tears that would cause cascading breakage and tears for months.

For reference, my hair is just past my chin, very low-porosity, fine, a bit thin, and 1A, and I use a scant 1/2 tablespoon of thick conditioner spread over my entire head of hair before detangling with a wide-tooth, acetate comb in the shower. I rinse, gently plop in a t-shirt, wait, gently squeeze in a dime-sized amount of leave-in oil-based conditioner, then gently comb all the new tangles out with the same wide-tooth comb.

Given this is how much I have to condition and baby my tangly 1A hair, I am having so much sympathetic pain for how difficult your hair must be to detangle wet and with no product. If you try applying conditioner to your hair before you detangle (and don’t be shy with the amount, your hair clearly needs and can handle a lot of conditioner!), I think you will be in a lot less pain. I also recommend trying a creamy or oil-based leave-in conditioner (rather than a regular conditioner) for the same reasons cendawanita mentions.

I also second all of the above tips for reducing friction and tangles during the day and night—detangling and combing from the tip and slowly working your way up, wrapping for sleep, satin pillowcase, anti-breakage hair styles, not putting it in the same style every day, no hair elastics, regular trims of the ends, being careful about snags on purse straps and hats, etc. Breakage begets tangles begets breakage, and it’s a terrible cycle.

Finally, I want to offer my sympathy for how difficult this whole thing can be. My whole childhood my mom and other relatives complained about how tender my scalp was and how tangly my hair was, while at the same time they were quickly tearing a brush through it root-to-tip, and I didn’t learn hair conditioner even existed until I was teenager. Even as an adult, I have to completely ignore admonishments like “only condition the ends!” because they just do not work for my hair. Good luck with your experimentations—you can definitely achieve pain-free hair care.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 9:48 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]

I have thick, frizzy, curly hair, and I never brush OR comb it at all. When my hair is wet, I put on a good conditioner and then squeeze it thoroughly into all my tangled hair, scrunching and squeezing upwards. As I do, I alternate pulling my fingers through only as much as I can without pulling hard at all, starting from the bottom inch or so, then a little higher up, then still higher. When I can’t make more progress without pulling, I flip my hair upside down, add more conditioner if needed, and go back to squeezing and scrunching upward, again alternating with running my fingers through a little more at a time. Repeat until everything’s untangled, with never any forcing, pulling, tearing, or pain. Conditioner is absolutely necessary for any decent untangling.
posted by daisyace at 2:53 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

I have very thick, curly hair and highly recommend the Wet Brush.
posted by lovelygirl at 4:59 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

Have you ever tried rinsing your hair with diluted vinegar or apple cider vinegar after washing? Then rinsing the vinegar out? Just a few splashes into 16 oz of water. Maybe more water and an extra splash if your hair is thick. Yes, you smell a little like salad dressing after, but it helps me untangle my wavy hair which also ends up in birds nest clumps.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 6:05 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

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