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?
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