The joys of sporting the naturally tight curls and coils of natural Black hair are many. Count versatility of styling, relatively low-key maintenance, and being able to scratch your scalp without fear of chemical burns among them! Yet one of the hardest things about dealing with tighter curls or kinks is the act of detangling the hair – of sorting out strands to eliminate tangles, knots, and other problems that will hold back your hairstyle. And this act is truly an art. It demands patience, skill, and attention to detail, along with a little basic know-how.
The most important thing to remember is that naturally coil-y hair should be detangled sopping wet, after washing and treating hair to a protein, deep, or rinse-through conditioner (or all three!). Depending on your hair type, you may be able to detangle hair while in the shower, letting the water help separate your strands, but usually not if you have a kinkier mane. Wet hair has more slippage, less friction, and a looser curl pattern, thus making it less likely to break and better to handle than dry curls.
To help make the process even easier, prime locks with a leave-in conditioner. The tighter your curl pattern, the thicker you’ll want the formula, and vice versa. This is because Type 3c and Type 4 manes have thinner cuticle layers, and thicker conditioners will both help build up the hair strands and smooth them down more effectively. A small amount of a lightweight natural oil can help, too. In general, though, shy away from products with a waxy or heavy consistency, as these will dull your hair and attract dust, as well as cause hair to stick or clump together and get tangled – exactly the opposite of what you want!
Make sure to use a very wide-toothed comb. You want to try a K-cutter comb (pictured) or a plastic or rubber detangler with interlocking teeth. You should not, however, pick out wet natural Black hair with a metal Afro pick. These can tear hair and react badly with conditioners or hair colors on wet locks. Opt for a plastic pick instead.
The best way to handle the hair is in small, manageable sections. Check out your wet tresses to determine just how small or large your sections should be. Even the kinkiest dry hair can be surprisingly pliable and manageable when wet! Try dividing locks into six sections (two columns from forehead to nape and three rows from temple to temple and earlobe to earlobe). If you find that you still struggle to get all the hair in a section onto the comb easily, keep making smaller sections until each section fits.
To cut down on breakage, start detangling hair at the tips. This is likely where most of the tangles will be, since this is the oldest hair and the most likely to split. Use quick, yet gentle, picking motions to tease out any knots; continue this about one-fourth of the way up toward the roots. Then switch to your regular combing motion, pulling the comb through your hair from root to end while holding hair taut. This will prevent matting and snagging and help that comb glide through.
Start at the nape of the neck (or the “kitchen”) and work toward the front of the head, especially if the back section of your hair gets very coarse or tightly coiled when dry, as it does for many Black women.
Keep sections of hair separated with clips or elastic bands, and you should soon be ready to style your locks any way you want. Twisted, braided, knotted, loced, pressed, or even rolled – this hair is good to go!
Take care of yourselves,