By Jc of The Nat­u­ral Haven

Get­ting rid of shed hair, knots and tan­gles is the main pur­pose of detan­gling.  For nat­u­ral hair, the detan­gling process can be dif­fi­cult depend­ing on the length of your hair, how dry it is and how it shrinks when wet. It is how­ev­er pos­si­ble to detan­gle hair wet or dry and for many, the detan­gling process that you use evolves with time and greater under­stand­ing of your hair’s behav­iour.

Here is a guide on whether to choose wet or dry detan­gling

1. The Case for Wet Detangling

What it is:  Hair is coat­ed in con­di­tion­er and then combed (fin­ger, comb and/or brush) or hair is soak­ing wet in the show­er and combed while con­di­tion­er is being rinsed out

Advan­tages: The main rea­son why peo­ple choose wet detan­gling is because it is eas­ier and hair does not tend to break when the comb is repeat­ed­ly run through it. Hair con­di­tion­er is known to reduce dam­age to hair dur­ing the comb­ing process. This is thought to hap­pen because con­di­tion­er soft­ens hair, cor­rects the charge from sham­poo /aligns the cuti­cle cor­rect­ly and reduces fric­tion between the hair and comb­ing tool.

Dis­ad­van­tages: Water uptake does swell the hair fibre and as a result comb­ing can lead to minor chip­ping of the cuti­cle. The uptake of water in nat­u­ral hair will lead to shrink­ing which will require con­trol. Hair is also slight­ly weak­er when wet and there­fore will break at a low­er force.

How to bal­ance out the dis­ad­van­tages: Although rak­ing a comb through hair soaked in con­di­tion­er can be rel­a­tive­ly easy, avoid using too much force to coun­ter for the reduced strength of the hair fibre. With wet comb­ing hair tends to break closer to the root lead­ing to long seg­ment breaks. There­fore, check the hair that comes out dur­ing the detan­gling process and see if it real­ly is most­ly shed hair (i.e with a bulb) and not bro­ken hair. For those with longer hair, sec­tion­ing hair into 8 or more twists/braids will help con­trol the vol­ume of hair and help reduce shrink­age.

Who should con­sid­er this method: New nat­u­rals, nat­u­rals with short hair, any­one who would like to reduce detan­gling time (busy sched­ule or not par­tic­u­lar­ly patient)

2. The Case for Dry Detangling

What it is:  Hair is large­ly dry (70% or more) dur­ing dry detan­gling. Hair may be mist­ed with water/water oil mix or with a lit­tle bit of con­di­tion­er but is not wet or soaked in con­di­tion­er. Hair can also be ful­ly dry and coat­ed with oil for slip

Advan­tages: Nat­u­ral hair has a ten­den­cy to shrink when wet and dry detan­gling helps to min­imise or elim­i­nate this. The asso­ci­at­ed prob­lems with shrink­age i.e com­plex tan­gling and knots are there­fore reduced. Addi­tion­al­ly, hair is stronger when dry and there­fore can with­stand greater force in prin­ci­ple.

Dis­ad­van­tages:  Unlike wet comb­ing, repeat­ed comb­ing strokes with dry detan­gling DOES lead to more dam­age. Nat­u­ral hair when combed dry with a brush or comb also tends to break pre­ma­ture­ly as a result of loops and knots formed. The main form of break­age seen as a result of dry detan­gling is small seg­ment breaks (1 inch or less in length). Many nat­u­rals who have prob­lems retain­ing hair growth will often avoid dry detan­gling for this rea­son.

How to bal­ance out the dis­ad­van­tages: Dry detan­gling can be very suc­cess­ful if hair is not 100% dry. Adding a lit­tle mist of water allows hair to have some elas­tic­i­ty but as hair is not soak­ing wet, it still has some strength. Using a small amount of con­di­tion­er gives the added advan­tage of soft­en­ing the hair. Using oil gives added slip and reduced fric­tion. Many peo­ple who dry detan­gle also exclu­sive­ly fin­ger comb dur­ing this process and there­fore elim­i­nate the pre­ma­ture break­age due to using a comb or brush.

Who should con­sid­er this method: Dry detan­gling requires a lot of skill to be suc­cess­ful. You will need to ful­ly under­stand how your hair responds to water (how it shrinks, how elas­tic it is) and choose ide­al lubri­ca­tion (con­di­tion­er, oil, water or a mix of your choos­ing).  There­fore this method is rec­om­mend­ed for any­one who is patient, not eas­i­ly frus­trat­ed and will­ing to do due dili­gence to get a suc­cess­ful result.

Ladies, do you detan­gle your hair wet or dry? Why does your method work for you?

Sources:

Int J Cos­met Sci, pg 76, 2008 
J Cos­met Sci, pg 477–84, 2007
J Soc Cos­met Chem, pg 347–371, 1993.
J Soc Cos­met Chem, pg 39–52, 1995

Book ref­er­ence: Chem­i­cal and Phys­i­cal Behav­iour of Hair by Clarence Rob­bins

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40 Comments on "Detangling: Wet or Dry?"

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[…] Black Girl Long Hair […]

Annabell

Awe­some tips.Thanks

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[…] lite HÄR om förde­lar­na och nack­de­lar­na med torr respek­tive blöt […]

Charlotte

Okay my posi­tion on this as a very long wavy/curly hair nat­u­ral, I cer­tain­ly detan­gle my hair when wet with con­di­tion­er, but if I want to wear my hair down, it has to be combed in a dry­er state for ade­quate full­ness, tan­gle reduc­tion, and to reduce a frizzy, stringy like appear­ance. I can do this with water or any­thing but I get the best results with coconut oil. Check out my chan­nel, you can see how I comb my hair dry. I’m not sure why my images always post side­ways or upside down.
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Dee

I am in total agree­ment that is the best video ever!!!! I love when Elec­tric May­hem rocks out and then Miss Pig­gy at the end nohnitg real­ly mat­ters but moi. They remind me of my kids the most because they both love to dance and are ego­cen­tric (but then again thats prob­a­bly all kids).

Liza
I just start­ed dry detan­gling and let me tell you, I am much hap­pier with this. My daugh­ter and I are 4B ladies and we love it! How­ev­er, we tend to lose hair when wet detan­gling due to our nat­u­ral ten­den­cy to knot. I dry fin­ger detan­gled my daugh­ter and I and the respon­se we go was amaz­ing! I did a coconut pre­poo (14+ hours) and detan­gled from that point so the hair was good and oily. I was able to look at the knots, take my time and approach the tan­gles as if they can be untan­gled. Which you… Read more »
Cece Danielle

I agree 1000%! I just start­ed detan­gling when dry as well and my hair responds well to it. I don’t detan­gle when it’s ful­ly dry, I spray water to make it damp and apply a slip­pery con­di­tion­er and it’s great! I tried detan­gling when wet sooo many times before and I could actu­al­ly hear my hair snap­ping :( so I need­ed some­thing new and it’s been fab­u­lous!

Charlotte
I have to detan­gle my hair in the show­er because water itself makes my super long hair tan­gle. But often if I want to extend my hair with­out wash­ing it I have to comb it with a spray most of water/aloe/conditioner and I usu­al­ly put gel or some­thing on top. I just need some­thing, any­thing to accom­pa­ny the water. Anoth­er prob­lem is that if I don’t do this my hair tends to look flat and stringy. The rea­son I think is that my roots do not curl, and I don’t care what you do, they refuse to hold a curl… Read more »
news article

Hey very cool web site!! Man .. Beau­ti­ful .. Amaz­ing .. I’ll book­mark your web site and take the feeds also?I’m hap­py to find numer­ous use­ful infor­ma­tion here in the post, we need devel­op more tech­niques in this regard, thanks for shar­ing.… . .

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[…] method to dry detan­gling until I start­ed read­ing about it for exam­ple check here and here and here. I’ve always done it to relax and unwind, weird right!? Some­thing about sep­a­rat­ing strands […]

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[…] method to dry detan­gling until I start­ed read­ing about it for exam­ple check here and here and here. I’ve always done it to relax and unwind, weird right!? Some­thing […]

Chika

I have found that I must detan­gle before get­ting my hair wet or it will all fall out. So I use a leave-in or oil when it dry and a com­bo of fin­gers and my wide-tooth comb. 

That way when I wash and comb through while it is wet, there’s a lot less break­age. But I like the break down in the post makes me under­stand the choic­es bet­ter.

andrea

I fin­ger detan­gle after i’ve sat­u­rat­ed my dry hair with con­di­tion­er. This makes my hair so soft and smooth. Wet detan­gling does not work well for me.

HelloKitty

I detan­gling my hair in the show­er. I am noto­ri­ous for let­ting my kinky hair go wild. This of course, results in knots, split­ting and lack of length reten­tion. I have long hair, but it should be longer. Any­way, long sto­ry short I find that detan­gling in water does take out excess strands. I find that I lose less strands when I detan­gle with a wide tooth comb and some kind of water based hair milk.

Tangled Hair Techs
Thanks for the post, but real­ly not detan­gling the hair pri­or to wet­ting hair can be worse and if it is done we sug­gest only using the Take Down Remover/Detangler Cream. Dry detan­gling is so very essen­tial in reduc­ing the amount of hair lost, and more impor­tant­ly so increas­ing the amount of length retained. The Take Down Cream real­ly helps to pre­vent hair loss. As pro­fes­sion­al hair detan­glers we always get calls from wom­en who sham­poo their hair with­out comb­ing it through and the hair just matts up hor­ri­bly. Very tan­gled mat­ted hair can cause split ends, knots and break­ag. How­ev­er… Read more »
foxynoir
I do both because my mom insists on comb­ing my hair before she braids it up. I wear wigs for pro­tec­tive styling and con­ve­nience, also I’ve prac­ticed low — no manip­u­la­tion since I cut my hair in March. Most of the time I untan­gle in the show­er with a head full of aussie moist con­di­tion­er, thank God its cheap lol. Then I part into about 5 sec­tions and with some leave in, cant wait til my dar­cys arrives. Im using Gio­van­ni DL now, but I’m not as impressed as I was when I first went nat­u­ral I always have to… Read more »
Gina

I have locs, but with my daugh­ter, who has nat­u­ral, mid back length hair, wet is the only way to go. She combs it out in the show­er with run­ning water and con­di­tion­er. It is almost impos­si­ble to detan­gle dry. I think it real­ly depends on the grade of hair. I have 4 daugh­ters with 4 dif­fer­ent types of hair. The baby is the only one I had the courage to keep nat­u­ral.

rw

why do we need to detan­gle any­way?? and how often should we detan­gle??

mangomadness

We detan­gle to release shed hairs and get rid of major tan­gles in our hair. 

You should detan­gle as often as you see fit and accord­ing to style. You have to exper­i­ment with fre­quen­cy (every wash, every oth­er wash, etc), detan­gling tech­niques (fin­ger-detan­gling, comb-detan­gling and.or brush-detan­gling) and tim­ing (before shampoo/co-wash or after, before or after pre-poo/deep con­di­tion­ing) to find what works for you.

Kaneisha

I sham­poo and con­di­tion. then use the comb to detan­gle while the con­di­tion­er is still in my hair. I use a wide tooth comb as well. I’ve been comb­ing at the ends and my way up late­ly. Fin­ger stretch­ing kin­da works for me, but it doesnt..then lat­er it just dries on up when I do leave it out..so I do a twist out..

luminous

I wet detan­gle after sham­poo­ing my hair. I use a janeke detan­gling brush to help get out all the shed hair. I sec­tion my hair into 10 sec­tions and apply gobs of con­di­tion­er to each sec­tion, some­times rewet­ting each sec­tion with a spray bot­tle as I detan­gle.

LM

as of now, i do both. If my hair has been in a pro­tec­tive style for a long peri­od of time, i dry detan­gle with olive oil before i wash. this helps with the amount of hair shed in the show­er and makes for a faster comb through in the show­er. if I haven’t been wear­ing a pro­tec­tive style, then i wet detan­gle. since my hair has grown a bit from a twa and into the in between phase, i had to adopt the method of dry detan­gling on stretched hair.

JJ

After two years of wet detan­gling, I realised dry detan­gling with oil is much bet­ter, I rip out less hairs because I can feel the tan­gles with my hair. It has forced me to be more patient and it’s work­ing well for me now.

Michelle @Radiant Brown Beauty

I’d seri­ous­ly dis­cour­age wet detan­gling hair that hasn’t been tan­gled in a while. I learned the hard way when I took out my daughter’s weave and then tried to detan­gle her hair wet. It was a night­mare. Sec­tions of the hair dread­ed. I should have detan­gled it dry.

I detan­gle my own hair dry with Vatika oil but that’s only the prep detan­gling. When I wash it, I detan­gle it wet with con­di­tion­er because inevitably it does retan­gle just not as much.

Holly

Def­i­nite­ly wet detan­gling for me! I expe­ri­ence too much break­age with dry detan­gling. When my hair is dry, it just increas­es in vol­ume, which makes it hard on my arms to con­trol it. Then Im left with bro­ken hair, AND sore arms! LOL!

Irendi

Wet detan­gling is my sal­va­tion. Dur­ing the last few days of a twistout, I’ll try to fin­ger detan­gle a bit, but it doesn’t work well. I main­ly fin­ger comb my hair regard­less, because I’ve learned that my nat­u­ral hair doesn’t do well w/ combs & brush­es. So, while in the show­er, I load up on con­di­tion­er and work through the knots. I’ll take a show­er comb through it while run­ning under water- and I’m done. Once I’m out of show­er- no more comb­ing for me (fin­gers or otherwise)…I braid it or style it & keep going.

Asea
I used to only wet detan­gle, in the show­er with con­di­tion­er. It took forever, but was effec­tive for that time. As my super fine coils have grown longer, I’ve dis­cov­ered my hair hates ten­sion of any kind! …and so I am strict­ly a fin­ger detan­gler. I guess I do a mod­i­fied dry/damp detan­gle lol — I pre-poo with oil and fin­ger detan­gle in sec­tions. I use a mix of 1:2 avo­cado & coconut oil — my hair loves it, it pro­vides INCREDIBLE slip. If there are any remain­ing snags I tack­le them dur­ing my sham­poo or cow­ash. I read a… Read more »
KB
A com­bi­na­tion of both. I pre-poo with coconut oil, part­ing my hair into 6 sec­tions and doing some light fin­ger detan­gling with oil-coat­ed hands. I try to get all the major knots this way; this usu­al­ly takes about half an hour to 45 min­utes. Then I twist each sec­tion up and go to bed. In the morn­ing, I sham­poo and con­di­tion. I start by fin­ger detan­gling hair that is ful­ly load­ed with con­di­tion­er, and I fin­ish up with pass­ing my Mason Pear­son rake comb through it under the force of the water. Then I twist that sec­tion back up and… Read more »
AEH

This is EXACTLY what I do as well. It works for me;) My hair is mid-back length, 3c 4a 4b tex­ture.

BigSyd

When I used to comb my hair I would always do it on soak­ing wet hair with a lit­tle bit of con­di­tion­er in it. Now that I strict­ly fin­ger detan­gle I start detan­gling on dry hair, and when (pre-wash) and when I wash my hair in the show­er, as the water is run­ning through my hair I used con­di­tion­er and gen­tly fin­ger detan­gle (in sec­tions). This real­ly works for me and I only have to detan­gle about tow-three times a mon­th. (Which usu­al­ly takes about three hours).

mangomadness

I only detan­gle on damp hair. I fin­ger-detan­gle stretched, sec­tioned (8–10 parts), damp­ened (via spray bot­tle) and oiled hair before sham­poo­ing. After detan­gling each sec­tion, I twist it. After­wards I sham­poo in the same twists. The­se two meth­ods have great­ly min­i­mized break­age in my high­ly tex­tured and tight­ly coiled hair.

P.S. Late­ly I’ve exper­i­ment­ed with detan­gling with con­di­tion­er applied to dry hair. This works sim­i­lar­ly to my damp­ened and oiled detan­gling process.

MrsCottonCurls

I’m going to have to try this. My hair has got­ten pret­ty long, but I think it could be eevn longer if I actu­al­ly found a detan­gling method that worked for me. This is the only thing miss­ing from my reg­i­men. I’m just not that patient when I detan­gle, espe­cial­ly since my hia rhas grown. It tan­gles soooo bad­ly. I guess I just need to set aside some time on my Sun­day wash days & just DO IT! LOL. Thanks for the method­ol­o­gy.

mangomadness

Your wel­come! I hope it works well for you.

ttemfash

Thats the exact method I use

mangomadness

Awe­some! JC from the Nat­u­ral Haven blog uses this method too. Great minds think alike.

Alexandrea
I have to say that I absolute­ly love your site because your posts are always infor­ma­tive and straight to the point. :) I usu­al­ly detan­gle with my hair wet because doing it dry takes WAY too much time and patience that I just don’t have. lol I wish I did because I’m sure doing it dry is bet­ter but it’s just eas­ier for me with wet hair. I have 4b type hair, so the curl is very tight and my hair gets VERY dry-very quickly…and this leads to so much break­age if I detan­gle dry. If I had a looser… Read more »
BeautyIAM

I use a com­bo of both. At first I will take my hair down with oil and run my fin­gers through each sec­tion of hair. Then I add my con­di­tion­er that is mixed with oil into each sec­tion and start to detan­gle with my fin­gers and comb. I may change this method in the future if I fig­ure out what works best for me.

honeybrown1976

Wet (or damp) detan­gling works best for me. I either do it in the show­er or I do it after wrap­ping my head in a Tur­bie Twist for about ten min­utes, soak­ing with leave-in con­di­tion­er and an oil of my choice.

Lacoya (thesupercoya)

Def­i­nite­ly a “dry” method. After I have deep con­di­tioned, I allow my hair to dry to about 60% or more, and then mist with water and detan­gle with Kinky Curly Knot Today. Once I am done, I am ready to mist again, apply an oil along with a styling but­ter, and style. I’ve tried both meth­ods, and this one (for my hair) leads to the least amount of break­age.

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