*This post was originally published on November 2, 2011 but has been updated with new images and information. Check it out.
By Jc of The Natural Haven
Single strand knots (SSKS) or fairy knots are fairly common among naturals especially as hair starts to get longer (usually 6 inches or more). There are two important questions that arise when it comes to managing knots:
What do you do when you find knots?
There are three options
1. Leave them alone
2. Undo them
3. Cut them
Of these three methods, the one that I would not recommend is leaving them alone. Knots have the ability to create more problems if left alone. Knots create an obstruction around which tangles form. During combing, hair is also likely to snap above the knot creating rough edges and potential split ends.
If you can unravel a knot, it is perfectly fine to do so, some people have success with the careful use of a needle or by slowly pulling out any hair trapped within a knot. The down side to this is that if you have to poke at the knot several times with a needle instead of having a clear pathway to unravel, you may end up with damage to the strand.
Trimming directly above the knot is the easiest option and as knots tend to fray the edges of the hair strand as they form, it is also the most effective method of preventing further damage to the hair strand.
How do you prevent knots?
Knots form mainly in free hair which is being manipulated (i.e detangled, combed, brushed or styled). To prevent knots forming there are several strategies to consider.
1. Wash in Sections
Once your hair starts to approach 5-6 inches in length, consider sectioning your hair and washing it in loose braids or twists. This reduces tangling and the likelihood of loops forming in the hair to create knots.
2. Use gentle cleansers that don’t strip natural oils
Of course the intention of washing is to remove excess dirt and oil from the hair. But you don’t want a cleanser that strips the strand entirely, leaving it with a ‘squeaky’ feeling. That feeling means that there are no natural oils on the strand, and the cuticle is raised. The raised cuticles will tangle with each other during the wash process.
3. Increase Protective Styling
As free hair has a greater tendency to form knots, protective style involving twisting or braiding which protect the hair ends are better. This does not mean that you cannot enjoy your free hair but it does mean that if your aim is to grow your hair longer, balance out the time you spend with your hair out with the time you spend with it protected. When your hair is out, choose stretched styles which may also help reduce knot formation.
4. Stretch your Ends
When ends curl up they provide the perfect opportunity for knotting. So, if you’re wearing twists or an ‘out’ style (twist out, bantu knot out, etc), be sure to seal then stretch your ends at night. An easy way to do this is putting in large bantu knots. Just section your hair, apply a dab of shea butter (or your sealing product of choice) to your ends and then roll the sections into large bantu knots. Make sure th entire section — all the way to the ends — gets rolled into the knot. You can also try setting your ends on rollers. When you wake up the next day your ends will be fully stretched, providing no opportunity for knots to form.
5. Special note: Oil rinsing
In natural forums oil rinsing (i.e soaking hair in oil before washing) is credited with knot prevention. I do not have a solid scientific theory or explanation for this, I would think perhaps the oil adds extra slip during the wash which may help the hair strands slide past each other instead of tangling and forming knots. I do generally like oil rinsing for other reasons, but as this is a commonly discussed knot prevention technique, I thought I would include it in this article even though there is no direct evidence of its working.
Ladies, how do you deal with fairy knots?