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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Annabell

Awesome tips.Thanks

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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 »
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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.… 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.

ttemfash

Thats the exact method I use

mangomadness

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

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.

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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