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Tangles in wavy hair are a common problem. The curly girl method advises only brushing or combing your hair while in the shower with conditioner in your hair. For most with wavy hair, that’s twice a week or less. That leaves a lot of time between wash days when we want to try to avoid brushing. So, let’s talk about what can we do to deal with tangles, and how can we prevent them.
How To Fix Tangles In Wavy Hair
If your hair is badly tangled, use a pre-poo about half an hour before showering. Once in the shower, add conditioner and then gently detangle. Finger-tangle as much as you can, working from the ends on up to your roots. Then move on to a wide tooth comb, then denman brush if needed.
Try to be as gentle as possible while detangling your hair. You don’t want to tear your hair while dentangling it. Doing a pre-poo should help soften your hair and reduce friction while detangling. Oil can be especially helpful with detangling “pixie tangles” which are tiny knots that are made up of a single hair.
Brushes For Detangling Wavy Hair
These are four of the more common tools for detangling. They’re well known for helping to remove tangles in wavy hair . It’s advised that they’re used in the shower when your hair is well-conditioned.
Extra tangle tip:
Never use boar bristle brushes on wavy or curly hair when wet! Boar bristles can cause breakage when used wet.
Why Does My Wavy Hair Get So Tangled?
Some types of hair just tangle more easily than others, such as high porosity hair and fine hair. Damaged hair ends or split ends often tangle easily. Environment can be a factor as well, such as friction from clothing, hat or bedding. Hair that gets too dry can tangle more.
Textured hair is more tangle-prone than straight hair. Tighter curls are more tangle-prone than looser waves. High porosity hair is more tangle prone than low porosity hair. Friction can cause tangles. Totally avoiding tangled hair may not be realistic for most people with wavy hair or curly hair. However, there is a lot that can be done to reduce the severity of tangles.
To try to help your tangled wavy hair get knotted less often, you’ll want to try to figure out what is causing the tangles to begin with. Here are several possibilities to consider.
What Causes My Wavy Hair To Tangle?
- Too dry. Dry hair can become brittle and more prone to tangling.
- High porosity. High porosity hair is less smooth than low porosity hair, and more likely to tangle.
- Too much friction. Friction from various sources can basically ‘rough up’ your hair, leaving it less smooth and more prone to tangling.
- Your product distribution is uneven. If your hair is tangling in one spot on your head, it may be caused by your product distribution. I sometimes struggle to get gel or mousse distributed evenly in the back of my head. If my roots get gel/mousse but the lengths don’t, this causes what I call “parachute pants hair” where the tips are holding together, but the lengths are loose. This leads to tangles in the back of my head.
- Exclusively finger-detangling. I suppose this may be a little controversial because the strict curly girl method says to never use a brush or a comb in your hair. However, I believe that finger-detangling simply isn’t enough for some, and just too time consuming to feel worth it for others. If you’re prone to getting really small, tight tangles, they may be too difficult to get out with your fingers alone. If you don’t get your hair fully detangled while in the shower, it can make the tangles worse moving forward.
- Your hair is damaged. If your hair is damaged, that will make it more likely to tangle.
- Split ends are more likely to tangle than healthy ends.
How To Reduce Tangles
To reduce tangles, try to keep your hair well moisturized and reduce friction while sleeping or from clothing or the wind. If you have damaged ends, a haircut can help significantly. Being gentler with your hair in trying to keep it healthier can help longterm.
If your tangles are caused by dryness, increasing moisture is the solution. You may benefit from deep conditioning more often, or using a leave-in conditioner. You may also consider experimenting with trying a heavier conditioner to see if richer ingredients benefit your hair type.
Knowing your hair porosity can help you find the treatment that is best for your hair. High porosity hair will do well with a deep conditioner that is high in protein. If your hair gets too dry between washes, washing more frequently may help. If you find that your hair tangles up while washing, using a pre-poo oil treatment before your shower can help. Pre-poo treatments have several other benefits as well!
Or, you may experience less tangles if you section your hair while washing. Sometimes tangles are caused by hair grouping with hair from other parts of your head. Simply separating hair by section, and avoiding grouping all of your hair into one group can prevent hair from tangling with hair from other portions of your head.
Another cause of tangling can be how you wash or condition your hair. If you pile your hair on top of your head to shampoo or condition, that can cause tangling by creating friction in your hair as you scrub. Switching to washing your hair without piling it into a group on top of your head can make a huge difference for some.
If friction is causing your tangles, protecting your hair from physical damage will help. If you use a traditional towel to dry your hair, switching to a microfiber towel or cotton t-shirt will reduce friction. Consider how you sleep on your hair. If your hair may be experiencing friction while you’re sleeping, check out my post How To Sleep On Wavy Hair to learn how to reduce friction while sleeping.
Being mindful and careful with your clothing (is your hair getting friction from a hood on your sweater or jacket? From your scarf?). Using low speed when you diffuse your hair can introduce less friction.
Covering your hair if going out in the wind can be beneficial. Even being more gentle when washing your hair can help introduce less friction. Trying to leave your hair down, or using the least-damaging tools possible to put your hair back can reduce friction as well.
If your hair tangles because it is damaged, a cut or some “TLC” may help. If the ends of your hair are damaged, a trim may make a big difference. I had severe tangles when I started the curly girl method, but I hadn’t had my hair trimmed in years. Cutting off the damage made a huge difference in my tangles.
Some people who primarily get tangles where their hairline meets their neck find that getting an undercut gets rid of the problem.
If most of your hair is high porosity, you can set long term goals of trying to protect your hair to reduce the porosity. If you dye, chemical treatments or use heat tools on your hair, changing those behaviors can help protect your new growth from becoming higher porosity.
Only detangling your hair while it is well-conditioned in the shower can help. Some damage to your hair can be done by detangling it, or even brushing it, while dry.
If you use styling products like gel or mousse, washing more frequently may reduce tangles. When we use gel or mousse to help hold our waves or curls into curl clumps, this tends to cause hair fall to build up.
When gel or mouse helps hold a curl clump together, if a piece of hair from the center of the curl clump falls free from the root (as about 50-100 hairs a day do on the average person), it will stay trapped in the curl clump until your next shower, instead of being able to fall free as it would on a straight-haired person.
These loose hairs can contribute to tangles. The longer you go between washes, the more loose hairs will be in your hair.
Is It Okay To Live With Tangles?
Yes. In fact, they may not be totally avoidable for most people with textured hair. If you find that you have a tangle, it doesn’t mean you have to wash right away, necessarily. If I have a smaller tangle in the underside of my hair, I sometimes just leave it!
I don’t want to wash my hair everyday as I know that isn’t healthy for it. Yet I also don’t want to detangle my hair while dry because it could cause damage, and would likely ruin my waves in that area, too. Textured hair can somewhat hide tangles. If they’re minor, and you’re fine with just dealing with them in the shower on wash day, that’s totally fine.
A lot of this post talks about how to detangle wavy hair when in the shower and how to prevent your hair from getting tangled in the first place; I definitely needed to know that stuff to so I can start a new hair care routine that will match my needs, but how do you recommend dealing with tangles in DRY hair? I’m very very new to the curly girl method (this is literally day 2 for me!) and my hair gets tangled really easily overnight and looks a mess in the morning. Should I ONLY finger comb my hair and work out the tangles myself? I’m used to brushing every day, so NOT brushing every day is a big change for me. Sorry if this comment was a bit long or unorganized — thank you for your help, your website is a lifesaver!
Emily Evert says
It’s generally recommended not to dry brush because dry brushing can cause more damage which can lead to more tangles in the future. For some people that just doesn’t feel like a realistic option though. Some people leave mild tangles in their hair between washes but if yours are visible then I’d understand wanting to “fix” them. If you need to detangle while your hair is dry then basically just be as gentle as you can. If you can get through tagles with your fingers that is going to be gentler on your hair than using a brush or a comb but if you need to use brush or comb then of course, do that. You can add in a leave-in conditioner or detangler before working through your tangles, as that can help the tagles slide out easier and with less force which can mean less damage. Always start brushing/combing at the ends and then move higher up your head as you get the ends detangled. If you have tangles from top to bottom but try to comb from the top down your comb will catch a lot worse vs if you just take them one at a time from bottom up. Hang in there, the tangles will likely get better with time as you nurture your hair and get it healthier.