By Jc of The Nat­u­ral Haven Bloom

There are many chal­lenges with nat­u­ral hair and often when polled nat­u­rals are most con­cerned with two things — dry hair and find­ing the per­fect hair conditioner/conditioning rou­tine. Comb­ing dam­age rarely makes the top of the list but yet it is the one fac­tor that caus­es the great­est amount of break­age and is respon­si­ble for stag­nant hair length.

Comb­ing is a neces­si­ty if you wish to have free nat­u­ral hair but it cer­tain­ly needs to be car­ried out care­ful­ly and pur­pose­ful­ly. This is the get smart guide to comb­ing and how to avoid the two main dam­age cul­prits.

1. How to stop unnecessary fraying of your hair

The Dam­age: The more times you comb your hair, the more stress you are apply­ing on it phys­i­cal­ly and there­fore the more like­ly it is to break. Stud­ies on hair also show that comb­ing hair leads to loss of pro­tein which is thought to be small parts of the hair cuti­cle chip­ping away.

How to iden­ti­fy it: No change in hair length over a long peri­od (6 months or more) or hair starts becom­ing short­er when it has not been trimmed, numer­ous split ends soon after trim­ming, mid shaft splits, hair snaps eas­i­ly with very lit­tle stress.

The Solu­tions
— Reduc­ing the over­all need to comb your hair is the most effec­tive method. This means that if you can keep a pro­tec­tive style for 2 weeks, you avoid comb­ing in that time and pre­serve your hair strands. If you can only keep it for a few days, this is still less bur­den­some than dai­ly styling.

-If you do not already do so, always start with the widest spaced comb before using a fin­er tool. Fin­ger comb­ing allows more seri­ous tan­gles to be iden­ti­fied and eas­es the way for a wide spaced comb to sep­a­rate the hair strands. Using a brush or fin­er toothed comb is option­al after. Remem­ber that if you can skip a tool, do so, less is more.

-Use hair con­di­tion­er or a slip­pery oil to ease fric­tion between your comb­ing tool and your hair. This will pre­serve the sur­face of your hair strand

-Once your hair is combed/detangled, stop comb­ing. Keep the hair detan­gled by twist­ing it up or pro­ceed­ing to your style. If you have straight­ened your hair, do not unnec­es­sar­i­ly comb or brush it just because it is eas­ier. Remem­ber each run with a comb is stress and pro­tein loss.

2. How to avoid forming complex knots

The Dam­age: Com­plex knots form as a result of sev­er­al hair strands inter­twin­ing again­st them­selves. The­se com­plex knots are unique to kinky curly hair sim­ply because the twists in the hair allow this inter­ac­tion to hap­pen. Com­plex knots often have to be cut out so that hair can be combed freely once more.

How to iden­ti­fy it: Com­plex knots are obvi­ous and dif­fi­cult to avoid com­plete­ly. You should be con­cerned how­ev­er if you need to cut out sev­er­al knots (10 or more) on a reg­u­lar basis (every time you detan­gle, every time you wash)

The Solu­tions
-Nev­er pile your hair while wash­ing it and if your hair has many kinks or a tight curl, wash­ing it in loose twist­ed or braid­ed sec­tions will great­ly help reduce the abil­i­ty of the free hair to inter­act and form a com­plex knot.

-Pre­vent your hair from shrink­ing ful­ly if you are not intend­ing to wear your hair short (i.e  inten­tion­al­ly keep­ing a TWA). The more strands can inter­twine, the more they can form com­plex knots and shrunk­en hair is the per­fect way to encour­age knots.

-Nev­er comb dry hair aim­less­ly. If you are in a hur­ry to style, it would be bet­ter to avoid comb­ing all togeth­er rather than ran­dom­ly pick at sec­tions of your hair. Opt instead to fin­ger comb light­ly and go for an easy style such as bun or puff which is more for­giv­ing  for hair that has not been thor­ough­ly detan­gled. Remem­ber that acces­sories can eas­i­ly change the look of a hair style.

Ladies, do you expe­ri­ence break­age when you comb your hair? If not, how do you pre­vent it?

Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Der­ma­tol­ogy, pp 886–888, 2006
Jour­nal of the Soci­ety of Cos­met­ic Chemists, pp 21–43, 1984

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23 Comments on "2 Ways To Prevent Combing Damage and Breakage"

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[…] comb­ing can be the equiv­a­lent of a hair cut” (J Am Acad Der­ma­tol, 54(5):886–8,2006). While The Nat­u­ral Haven Bloom explains, “the more times you comb your hair, the more stress you are apply­ing on it phys­i­cal­ly and […]

I use combs and hon­est­ly, I think they get a bad rep! I very rarely use them on my dry hair how­ev­er, only may­be every 3 months or so if I have some kind of event I want to wear a big curly afro for. I use a wide tooth comb after I have either sham­pooed or co-washed my hair depend­ing on the week and I do so to detan­gle my hair. My hair is usu­al­ly in five braid­ed sec­tions at this point (quick loose braids work bet­ter than twists for me I find as they stay in place and do… Read more »

What is DC? I start­ed doing a ker­at­in steam treat­ment. I relax every 6 wks or when it’s time to relax I put weave in and leave for about 4wks. I use to do my hair using organ­ic roots olive oil relax­er but now I go to the hair dresser and she uses design essen­tials and the process is about half hour. I’ve thought about going back nat­u­ral but it’s the process I can’t take. I have also start­ed using oils to steam, hope­ful­ly this will strength­en my hair back to the way it was.
I’m open to options though

Good tips most of which I fol­low, how­ev­er, I don’t wash my hair in sec­tions. I drench my loose hair in the show­er then apply my home­made clay cleanser or black soap sham­poo straight from Ghana. I then gath­er my hair into a pony, yeay my hair has final­ly made it. Then I wash my body and rin­se my hair out tak­ing down the pony­tail. After I squeeze out all water I apply my deep con­di­tion­er with a table­spoon of oil, I have lots of oils from my first year fren­zy of pro­duct buy­ing, man­ket­ti, cas­tor, coconut, adwen­go (the last… Read more »

Hi I’m from Trinidad…I have relaxed hair and I comb on a dai­ly basis. After comb­ing I have to lit­er­al­ly pick hair up of the floor. I’ve trimmed and con­tin­u­ous­ly steam my hair but it keeps break­ing from the roots…HELP


kathy, often do you DC and do pro­tein treat­ments? how far apart are your retouch­es? How long do you keep the relax­er on? What kind of treat­ment do you do post relax­er? The­se are all fac­tors that con­tribute neg­a­tive­ly or pos­i­tive­ly to healthy hair depend­ing on what you do. I’m nat­u­ral now but I was relaxed for about 15 years and I reg­u­lar­ly picked hair off the floor as well.

It has been just over three months since I last used a comb or brush to detan­gle my most­ly-4b hair. Hav­ing once had locs for over 3 years, not using a comb or brush isn’t new to me. :) I noticed a cou­ple of weeks ago when tak­ing down my twists how much thick­er my hair appears at the roots. See­ing as I’ve been thin­ning for a min­ute (comes with the per­i­menopausal ter­ri­to­ry, sad­ly) I was thrilled to NOT see quite as much scalp as before. I’m still look­ing for ways to cut down the time it takes to detan­gle, but I… Read more »

Spot on with the tan­gle teez­er and den­man. Both of mine are also gath­er­ing dust. The den­man felt like an indus­tri­al rake again­st my hair. I still don’t under­stand the rave sur­round­ing it…

Natural girl


Have had a ter­ri­ble time with detan­gle on my tight curl 4 hair (nice for nap­py lol). What helped me was aloe water and veg glyc­er­ine and “knot today” with a lit­tle evoo. Since I was hav­ing a major tan­gle prob­lem tried heal­ing herbs my Rene Ara­bi­an cof­fee and tea black soap sham­poo and moca con­di­tion­er mir­a­cle work­er left hair easy to comb when took twists down soft and no more tan­gles. Also the leave in with MSM. Hope this helps.

Horn combs are also a good alternative/solution to comb­ing damge because the pro­tein of the horn is sim­i­lar to the pro­tein in our hair and is far more gen­tler and dis­trib­utes oil down our strands. I can’t remem­ber all the details and sci­ence behind it but I got 2 horn combs on etsy and I think they’re much bet­ter for my hair — espe­cial­ly since I don’t have the patience for fin­ger detan­gling :-/ I bought my combs from here And here is a site with more details on the ben­e­fits The only down­fall to horn combs is… Read more »
This is a HUGE prob­lem I’m hav­ing with my hair, and I think it must be the detan­gling and comb­ing that caus­ing the dam­age, along with wear­ing my hair in its shrunk­en state the major­i­ty of the time. I’ve got knots for days and splits at the ends and mid­shaft. I don’t think my skin will allow me to keep my hair braid­ed or twist­ed up for much more than a week (it’s VERY fussy). But I want to retain the length, so I think I’m gonna have to give it a try. Fight­ing my super-coily hair every week is… Read more »
lillian mae

Have you tried pro­tec­tive styling? this will keep your hair out of your face (off your skin) and it’s low main­te­nance so will keep you from manip­u­lat­ing your strands. It’s helped me retain length dur­ing my tran­si­tion.


That’s what I meant, I’ll have to try braid­ing or twist­ing my hair so that I don’t have to mess with it for weeks at a time. =) The prob­lem is that my skin starts act­ing up if I can’t get in there and real­ly wash my scalp. Two weeks is pret­ty much the max. I suck at braid­ing and my back issues don’t real­ly allow me to work on my hair for long peri­ods at a time. I guess I’ll have to try and find a styl­ist. =P

I am cur­rent­ly chal­leng­ing myself to be more man­u­al­ly gen­tle with my hair. This applies great­ly to when I am comb­ing. I com­bine VO5 con­di­tion­er, olive oil, and hon­ey in a bowl and warm it up a bit. Then I lean over the sink to sat­u­rate it and cov­er it with a plas­tic cap. About 15–20 min­utes after that, I begin to sep­a­rate, detan­gle, and braid my hair into sec­tions so that I may wash it. Aside from using the comb in this case to detan­gle, I haven’t been using it much out­side of that. The oth­er chal­lenge I’m work­ing on… Read more »

The point about stop­ping the comb­ing process when the hair is detan­gles is right on point. We are so accos­tomed to comb­ing and comb­ing even past the detan­glin mabye beca­sue the detanlged hair feels sooo good between the teats of the comb. I have had to forcibly stop myself form com­tinius­ly comb­ing. An excel­lent point because it real­ly helps pre­vent break­age.

Now if any­one can tell me the secret to hav­ing detan­gled hair AFTER wash­ing I would be most hap­py :) (yes i detan­gle before and yes i wash in plaits)

lillian mae

When I pre-poo (oil wash) I fin­ger detan­gle. This is before I actu­al­ly cleanse my scalp.
I detan­gle after I’ve deep con­di­tioned my hair. As I rin­se out the deep con­di­tion­er, (under warm to cold water, of course) I use a wide tooth show­er comb and comb from the bot­tom of my hair up (tip to root). This is the only time I ever use a comb. It works won­ders and I lose very lit­tle, if any hair.

While not near­ly as comb-free as Bernadet­te, I have sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced my “comb” time. I think the arti­cle had the most impor­tant tips as far as reduc­ing com-relat­ed break­age. But my expe­ri­ence has been that you can “train” your hair to behave with con­sis­ten­cy and rou­ti­nes. I always wash my hair in sec­tions (4 is my mag­ic num­ber), care­ful­ly fin­ger detan­gle only after heavy con­di­tion­er sat­u­ra­tion, then I apply a light oil (olive is my favorite for this) while my hair is damp to use my wide-toothed bone comb. I usu­al­ly leave detan­gling alone after this process. I only use… Read more »

Where did you buy your bone comb?


I got my bone combs from She also has an ebay store I believe. Super nice lady with a wide vari­ety of choic­es. I have the big one and a small­er toothed one for styling.

I got mine from a flea mar­ket. I hear it’s ille­gal to mass mar­ket ani­mal bone combs, so your best bet would be a rep­utable Etsy or Ebay sell­er who hand­makes them or sells on behalf of peo­ple that hand­make bone combs. I also have resin, wood­en, and horn combs; which are all eas­ier to find than bone combs. Like I said though, any SEAMLESS comb is bet­ter than the cheap stuff. Look for hand made ones, Bake­lite, NuBone, or Mason Pear­son (some of which can be pret­ty expen­sive if you don’t uti­lize sales/coupons/discounts/haggling). IMO, Bake­lite and NuBone don’t break… Read more »
I used the comb for the first time this week in almost a year! And, I used it just so I could ulti­mate­ly trim my hair. It was fun­ny — I actu­al­ly had to turn my bath­room upside down to find my comb.  My hair is usu­al­ly stretched (in 2 strand twists), which helps pre­vent tan­gles (although the ends some­times curl up on them­selves if I don’t keep an eye out).  And, I only use my hands to detan­gle. I’ve changed my wash rou­tine slight­ly as the author men­tioned and now wash my hair in 4 fat twists — why didn’t I… Read more »

i’m with you, miss Bernadet­te. I kicked combs to the curb a mon­th or 2 ago, and i haven’t looked back since. It’s amaz­ing how much less hair i lose just using my fin­gers. so much more gen­tle, pro­vid­ed i take the time. it requires patience but once you get used to it, it tru­ly becomes sec­ond nature.


WOW!!! You had to turn your bath­room upside down to find your comb! That just goes to show how depen­dent you are upon your­self to detan­gle and man­age your hair! Thank you for your post; it is beyond inspir­ing to me!!!