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How to Comb Natural Hair Correctly

• Dec 26, 2011

*This article was originally published on September 11, 2011. It was re-posted as part of our ‘Best of 2011’ Series

By Jc of The Natural Haven

If you are yearning to have a larger than life afro or hair that hangs down to your waist, then you must pay attention to both your comb and combing technique. Length retention starts with eliminating hair breakage and combing is the primary reason why curly and kinky hair breaks.

Do you have the right skills, tools and techniques?

1. Section hair

Natural hair, curly or coily tends to have a lot of volume. Make your life easy by creating manageable sections- 4 to 8 usually works but with thicker or longer hair even more sections may be better. Very short hair (under 4 inches) generally does not require sections. Use hair bands or clips to keep the hair under control and if you have tight curls or major shrinkage consider loosely braiding or twisting the sections and washing them in this way.

2. Comb wet or comb dry?

Breakage is likely to happen whether hair is combed wet or dry and the method you choose is really a question of preference and ease. Breakage during wet combing is because although hair is very flexible, its strength and ability to resist the force applied from combing is at its lowest. Conversely, when hair is dry, it is at its strongest but it lacks flexibility and therefore is likely to snap. The ideal condition for combing would therefore be when hair is mostly dry (about 80%) so that it is strong and pliable.  However, no matter what your preference, consider using some hair conditioner to increase slip and help reduce damage.

3. Finger Combing

Fingers are the first and for some the only tool to use. When detangling with your fingers make sure your nails are smooth and do not snag your hair as you part it. Ideally try to make use of your finger pads rather than nails to separate the strands.

4. Seamless Combs

If you have upgraded to a wide spaced shower comb well done! The next step up is a seamless comb which essentially has no rough edges. These are fairly expensive in comparison to a regular comb but are well worth the investment in the long run.

5. Brushes

If your hair is fine and split end prone, brushes are best eliminated. However, if you have thicker strands and dense hair, brushes are a godsend. Brushing should come last as the brush bristles are closely spaced together compared to other tools (fingers and wide spaced combs). The Denman remains a very popular hair brush for naturals

6. Examine Your Hair

Once you are done combing, examine the hair that you have removed. Pay attention to whether you can see hair bulbs or not. Some people are strict and want to see that all hair has a bulb. I am more flexible and would be happy with about 60–70%%, accepting that my hair is kinky and will always sustain some breakage. The one thing that must be cut down on in order to retain length are those tiny little wisps of hair, those are never good.

Have you tried any of these tips and tricks? What techniques do you use to cut down on breakage when combing your hair?

About The Natural Haven

Scientist on a hairy mission!

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87 Comments on "How to Comb Natural Hair Correctly"

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Lyn
Guest

I’ve tried the majority of the tips. Though, I don’t wash, detangle or style my hair in sections. That’s the stubbornness/laziness in me. I’ve noticed that the more my hair grows, the more I need to section it! Bad!

Good tips!

Jc
Guest

Glad you like! Sectioning is a knotting and tangling saviour. You are right, the longer your hair grows, the more sections you need 🙂

mangomadness
Guest

Nice post! I always thought detangling should be a main focus for for naturals because I think it has the potential for damaging the hair the most.

My hair is collarbone length and super coily. I finger-detangle stretched, sectioned (8 or 10 parts), dampened and oiled hair before washing. I also wash in twists. I get very little breakage and haircare has never been easier.

Alicia
Guest

I did wash my hair in twist but it is hard to get the dirt in between the twist so I stopped doing it.

Any suggestions of how I get the dirt out? Please.

mangomadness
Guest

Try washing each section at a time–unravel a twist, shampoo, rinse and re-twist.

shoefairy
Guest

WHERE CAN I BUY A SEAMLESS COMB???

RaeChardonnay
Guest

Sally’s should have a decent selection of seamless combs. I need to pick one up myself!

AB
Guest

Unfortunately, they don’t. The online description for the few they allegedly have are deceiving. I examined them in-store and there are definitely seams on those combs touted as seamless.

Jc
Guest

Or on Amazon. You can also find bone combs which tend to be seamless (not all of them are).

mangomadness
Guest

I’ve heard of people buying seamless combs from here: (http://www.hotcombs.net/brands/Magic-Star.html). The Magic Star Jumbo Rake and Magic mini Super Star Rake Curve are the most popular.

Anon
Guest

I have one and it was a major waste of $. The teeth are way too thick and get caught in my hair very easily. I’m back to using my Goody’s comb from Target…

Annie L.
Guest
Hotcombs.net carries 4 types of combs/brushes from the same German manufacturer, they are the Hercules Sagemann (HS), Magic Star (MS), SilkLine (SL) and Triumph Master ™ lines. Only the HS and MS lines are seamless/burr-free and made from 100% rubber. The SL and TM lines have seams and are (I think) polycarbonate. I bought the mini-magic star rake, a wide-toothed comb, and a HS tapered cutting comb to create comb coils. They’re both firm but flexible enough for hair and the teeth glide through as smooth as possible. I like the extra-wide, rounded teeth, small size and light weight of… Read more »
tgirl
Guest

I have both of these combs and they work for me! I have such dense medium — fine hair that was getting harder to untangle as it’s passed my shoulder to bra strap length . For me they were worth every penny! Both are still cheeper in price than some of the other seamless combs and brushes I tried.
Gave both these combs away for Christmas presents

CC
Guest

As my hair has gotten longer i’m starting to lea towards ditching combs all together. Anyone who has tried this let me know the results?

Jc
Guest

I have actually finger combed exclusively for the past two years (except for a two time adventure with the hair destroyer — tangle teezer).

My hair does not deal well with combs or brushes especially past 9 inches. I have to be extra gentle with it.

Gem
Guest

How exactly do you finger detangle? I feel like I have to be doing it wrong. I tried it one day and it took 1 hour to get through 1/4 of my hair! Please help.

Candice
Guest

Natural Chica has a great video on finger detangling. It basically consists of sectioning your hair, finger detangling with conditioner and oil, and then washing your hair while in one or two twists.

I don’t have a ton of problem with tangling so I just finger detangle with Shea Moisture shampoo while I’m washing it or with conditioner if I’m just co-washing.

mangomadness
Guest

I have been finger-detangling %100 of the time for a year now. I have experienced significantly less breakage. I also enjoy detangling more–especially because I no longer hear “snap, crakle, pop” during the process.

ranuka
Guest

There’s nothing quite like using your fingers, my hair gets trapped between the comb and I lose a lot of hair unnecessarily. Since my fingers are more sensitive, i can pick up a knot or tangle and believe me using your fingers work wonders because i’m hardly losing hair, My hair is also a lot thicker.

Dolores
Guest

I have also given up on combs for the most part. It takes longer, but to me it’s worth it. Recently I have also let go of “thoroughly” detangling my hair. My goal is just to remove the shed hairs that come out easily and remove major knots/tangles.

Asea
Guest
Yes ma’am. My hair is super fine, medium density and fragile and as it’s gotten longer it needs more TLC. Recently, I’d conquered my terrible fairy knot problem but now now, I was suddenly faced with breakage and split ends like crazy and I started to really get worried! I started finger combing exclusively just 2 weeks ago and ITS BEEN A MIRACLE for my hair, already. It does take time in the beginning, but as you get more skilled at it, it’s easy. My hair looks, feels, and behaves soooooo much better! Breakage has decreased tremendously, my curls are… Read more »
sheree
Guest

heyyyy, very intrigued by the fact that you’ve conquered the fairy knot…how?

fluffy in flight
Guest

Haven’t used a comb in years. I have no problems with my hair. I decided to get rid of it because i was losing way too much hair, but I finger detangle a lot, and since my hands are more sensitive to gnarls, knots and tangles, I don’t lose much hair.

LillianMae
Guest
This is a great topic! It actually inspired me for a blog post I’ve been putting off… For me, the right way to comb my hair is from the bottom up, in sections, after it’s been deep conditioned. I am still transitioning (15 months in) so at the LoD, my hair is very fragile! I am pleased to announce, though, that my hair is still healthy! I attribute that to gently handling my hair and only after conditioner has been applied, with a wide tooth shower comb (I think it’s the same as the seamless comb…CVS $1.99). My BFF is… Read more »
Krys
Guest

I only comb my hair when it’s wet or damp. I can’t imagine doing it on dry hair…

I always comb from the end of my hair to the root, once again, I can’t imagine doing it the other way.…

Zyaran
Guest
Yeah I put some soft and precious detangler spray on my hair this works nicely. Then just comb the ends out while holding the hair nice and taut. But I don’t comb in my hair everyday or all the time because I’m very tenderheaded, so only when it’s really tangled or in need of a trim or wash. I make sure to spray either water/glycerin mix or sta-so-fro in my hair and let it do what she wants. ___________________________________________________ On a side note I saw this cute hair that youtuber “Dawnyele” did called Double Buns & Twists Video. It looks… Read more »
Beneath the Clutter
Guest

Great Post!

My hair is difficult to comb in the shower. What helps me is using oil to remove the shed hair prior to washing and doing a pre-poo the night before. Also, before I detangle with the comb, I make sure to finger comb and separate individual strands at the root as much as possible. The root and first 2–3 inches of hair closet to the scalp always seem more tangled than the ends!

Jc
Guest

Thank you!

I also detangle before washing, my method is exactly like mangomadness described above. We are both comb free though.

Lin
Guest

I’m not sure how to detangle on a TWA. I mostly just comb it wet, sometimes with conditioner, in the shower. I don’t section- I don’t think my hair is long enough for that. Halp?

Jc
Guest

You are right Lin. As I wrote in the article, hair under 4 inches really does not need sections. It is not long enough to suffer major knotting or tangling.

Most tangles can be worked through simply enough with your hands and conditioner is good for added slip to make this easier.

Don’t worry about sections until your hair gets longer or thicker and you find that detangling in the shower is not working anymore.

Erika
Guest

I think the best way to comb afro-textured hair is not to. I have started finger combing/detangling only and have seen great length retention. Trying to comb through my hair, even when soaking wet with conditioner, causes unnecessary breakage and SSK’s.

JJ
Guest

The one thing that must be cut down on in order to retain length are those tiny little wisps of hair, those are never good.”

Which wisps?
I seem to shed some baby hairs as well, though they are prominent all over my scalp, wondering if that’s what the writer is referring to. :-S

Audrey
Guest

I was wondering the same thing, JJ. My hair is very coily and I lose wisps or rather coils often. I am very gentle with my hair, though I think I’m going to start finger combing. I wonder if I’m doing something damaging after all?

Also, what kind of brush is best for 4a hair? I’ve been only gently brushing my edges, but I use a boar bristle brush like my mom used on me when I was a kid. Is there something better? Should be using a brush that actually glides through my hair rather than over it?

Le Le
Guest

Audrey, I have tightly coiled hair (pen spring and coffee stirrer sized), too. I have a boar bristle brush, a paddle brush with balls on the ends of the bristles, and a run of the mill hair brush. Personally, I feel like the last two types I listed pull my hair out too much. The paddle brush does help with detangling, especially if I finger detangle, and then paddle brush, but my coily strands catch onto the bristles way too much.

Jc
Guest
I do not use brushes but if I was to hazard a guess, I would say that a brush with longer bristles like the denman or modified denman (where you take out some teeth) is better for detangling. The longer bristles help to actually detangle the hair as the strands can be individually separated. The boar bristle brush is a ‘finishing brush’. It is used to smooth down hair and some hair dressers also use it with an oil sheen spray to add shine to the hair. It has very firm bristles so you need to be careful if your… Read more »
Jc
Guest

[img]http://bglhonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/IMG_8669.JPG[/img]

Wisps are those tiny little coils that tend to break off the end of hair. Usually about a quarter or half an inch.

If you were to wear a white top while detangling hair, you can easily spot them out and the general idea is to become more and more gentle to cut down the number you see.

df
Guest

Wow thanks for the great picture!!! I was also about to ask what you meant…thankfully I look out for the same kinds of hair too, I hardly get them (usually get long strands with white bulbs) but I have been getting those lately…gotta look into it! you’re so awesome!

MsFenty
Guest

how are you able to style your hair when you finger detangle? I tried it with one section of my hair and my ends were bushy and not smooth when I twisted it. Bushy ends mean little definition, I assume I’m not doing it correctly but I suppose it’s possible that it just doesn’t work for me.…

mangomadness
Guest

Any way I’d like. I wear braid outs most of the time. On occasion, I’ll wear a flat twist out or a bantu knot out. I also wear buns (sock buns and cinnabuns) and roll-and-tuck-updos. When I so bun or updo, I style it on braid out hair or banded hair.

Jc
Guest
It is possible that it just doesn’t work with your hair. I think that some hair requires a comb or brush to direct the hair into the direction that you want. Finger combing is successful for people whose hair does not need this guiding. I do not know if you are using product or not but a hint for you would be to use some type of leave in, oil or twisting pomade as you twist. This will help direct your hair. You must let your hair fully dry before untwisting, this is the key step because the twist will… Read more »
sarah
Guest

Naptural85 just uploaded this video:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e21IxOAT75A

tasha
Guest
what type of oil do you like to use to detangle? is this on wet hair? my hair is about shoulder length but has been stuck at this length since i went natural about 6 years ago. i cant seem to retain length. i get a lot of little knots and breakage and then split ends so when i trim im always stuck at te same length! im out of ideas. i see a lot of hair in the shower when i finger comb (dont use combs) but i dont have a routine for when to do the finger combing.… Read more »
Jc
Guest
The oil is not really the key factor. You can use any oil that you find easy to use. The key factor is finding the state where your hair is easiest to handle. This can be 1. Mostly dry — where you spray a little water and use a tiny bit of conditioner or oil for slip 2. Wet — in the shower with conditioner You need to assess where your hair breaks the least. For some this is dry combing and for others it is wet combing. Retaining length requires you to protect your ends. You will start retaining… Read more »
ambi
Guest
how do you wear your hair? I would suggest keeping your hair up and off your clothes…a lot until it grows out. also you may be cutting to often, there are some folks(nothing works for everyone) that don’t believe in trimming ends and they have butt length hair, I have hair to the end of my bra strap and rarely clip my ends even when they look crazy I just try to repair my hair I clip ends (no more then a half each no matter what) maybe every 3 months sometimes I wait even longer your hair is growing… Read more »
Taji
Guest

Wow I just gained a wealth of info on managing this head of hair because I was really about to whack it off. It gets so tangled. I have a small jar of Coconut Oil, check. Now how much are these seamless combs? And what is a Hair bulb? What does it look like? I’ve probably combed out a number of them and just didn’t know it. Last question, what’s the best de tangling conditioner? Thanks y’all. ;D

Jc
Guest

I will see if I can take some pics of my shed hair bulbs for you (takes a lot of focusing with the camera hopefully i’ll get it right)

I don’t use conditioner to detangle but anything with a lot of slip is good (you can buy a few and test). The popular ones I see are herbal essences, VO5 and tressemme naturals. I never liked tressemme, I don’t feel it had enough slip for me, but some like it because it has no silicone.

Taji
Guest

Umm slips??? Girl break that down cause I have no clue what that is, or how to find it on a shampoo bottle. LoL . I’ve been using Aveda shampoo and conditioner cause it’s all plant based. Would love to see your pic of these hair bulbs or if anyone has link to …pics of hair bulbs? Just to see if I even get those. Peace and hair grease. ;D

Tee
Guest

Slip is a term referring to product that allows for easier detangling. My hair is very kinky and prone to tangles at the ends. Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose conditioner provides excellent slip for me. Slip prevents breakage and makes detangling the hair a lot faster. Another conditioner to try is Aubrey Organics White Camilla Smoothing conditioner or Kinky Curly Knot today.

bee
Guest

@taji
slip as in slippery, as in slippery when wet, as in the floor was slippery so i slipped. hope that helped. if hair is slippery/slick-feeling, combs and fingers will glide through easier.

Malin
Guest

Anyone know of a great finger-combing video? Thanks!

Mzchocolate
Guest

Mahoganycurls on YouTube

bicudo
Guest
sdmom22I have to say, I did NOT like Silk Tangle out at all. Maybe my daughter’s hair is just too thick. I’m not sure, but it was like sprinayg water and did not detangle at all. But, I have been using TREsemme for curls (and the low sulfate conditioning shampoo) and it’s is the BEST detangler for the money, EVER! As for leave in, I’m still stuck on Mixed Chicks. I think I’ll just suck it up for now. Any leave in suggestions would be greatly appreciated!! Especially those that are affordable and easy to purchase locally. PS. Still haven’t… Read more »
Jacqueline Moragne
Guest

I really enjoy watching these comb-out techniques. I just started the natural process so I will be viewing often to see what else I can do to my hair to keep it more manageable. I still have a lot of perm in my hair and I refuse to cut it. Any tips on how I can still go natural without cutting all my hair off?

Minimah Billings
Guest
Hi, Jacqueline. When I decided to go natural (three years ago-this month), I did not do the Big Chop. I simply ceased getting relaxers. I began clipping my ends every other month (in very small amounts though). When I realized that the hair was uncontrollable because the ends were curly and the roots were still straight I started getting two strand twists, cornrows and sew-ins. I do not usually fancy the idea of conrows or sew-ins because of the pressure on my edges so I made sure that the braids were not too tight. At that time I didn’t realize… Read more »
3 D.O.L.L.S.
Guest

This has been a Godsend for me!!! Sectioning and combing the right way was the first tip I learned about transitioning and natural hair. Doing this has helped to cut down on breakage for me. I even wash my hair in sections because it is easier to manage that way.

Kimberly B
Guest

I love your articles, they’re always so informative and useful

kat
Guest

The best way to detangle natural hair that I have found is to apply Pantene Curl to Straight conditioner and then use a wide tooth comb or your fingers to comb out. I like to let the conditioner sit while I bathe and then wash it out at the end of my shower. I then shake the excess water out and leave it to air dry. I never comb it dry and I never towel dry it. I am African with 4b hair and my hair is so easy to manage with this process. Wash and go!!

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Pufflehuff
Guest

I’ve been finger combing for for a while now. I find it helps maintain my natural texture and keeps the curls together. If given the choice I’d use my hands before a comb.

I haven’t given up the use of combs all together, though. I always comb in the shower while I’m conditioning my hair. After I wash, condition and finger comb, I use a very big-toothed comb to go through it to make sure I’ve gotten all the kinks out.…I guess old habits are hard to break :

Minimah Billings
Guest

[img]http://bglhonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/014.jpg[/img]

Minimah Billings
Guest

[img]http://bglhonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/113.jpg[/img]

Minimah Billings
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[file]http://bglhonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/mia18.bmp[/file]

Minimah Billings
Guest

[img]http://bglhonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/mia30.jpg[/img]

Minimah Billings
Guest

[img]http://bglhonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/185.jpg[/img]

Laura
Guest
You can really wash hair with the twists still in? Cannot believe I never thought of that. This article has been a blessing! I was seriously about to place relaxer in my daughters hair, which I really do not want to do but it gets tempting sometimes. Her and I have totally different hair textures so I needed those ideas since what works for my hair usually doesn’t work for hers. Also, do I need to be getting her hair trimmed professionally like I do with my hair every few months? It seems the ends of her hair get very… Read more »
Laura
Guest

Sorry, somehow it uploaded two of each photo

OHR
Guest

@ Laura: Beautiful daughter, beautiful hair!

Now that my hair is longer, I detangle in stages- 1. Finger detangle with a light spray of water, making sure my hair has light coating of an oil. 2. Wide tooth comb. 3. My trusty Tangle Teezer [only used maybe 1x/month] to aid in prepping hair for styling. Since I’ve gone to oil rinses, the amount of tangles and SSK’s is substantially diminished.

OHR
Guest

@ Minimah Billings: Could you resize your pictures? They’re stretching out the screen…thanks.

Minimah Billings
Guest

@ OHR. My apologies. I do not not know how to resize them. I am not tech savvy.

Mia

adobuere
Guest

How is it possible to minimize the little wisps of hair? I mean there are always going to be SOME right? You can’t ever possibly comb your hair and end up with none of those little hairs on the floor when you’re done. It’s kind of impossible no matter how careful you are.

Jc
Guest

For some hair (mine included), it is not possible to eliminate the wisps totally. However in order to retain length, you have to actively try to reduce the number that you see because those wisps represent hair you are not retaining.

Being very gentle with your hair is the real key. The way to measure your success is that your hair should retain length.

Ed Howard
Guest

Solve your hair problem with the best kept secret for detangling the natural hair. Very little hair loss and a money back guarantee. Use the comb brush designed for African American hair.
please click this link to see. http://www.kakakiki.com/landingpage.html

Caephire
Guest

I only comb my hair while wet & with a LOT of conditioner. For about a month,
I tried just finger combing, but noticed my hair tangled more!

foxy noir
Guest
yall know what? i actually comb my hair dry! i wash with conditioner ONLY, usually i use aohsr or giovanni and some aussie moist maybe a liitle oils etc. right after i wash it i put my darcys leave-in and seal with a little jojoba oil. then i twist it and pin up til the next day. the next day, i use my qhemet a&ohc and put on my “new growth” and rub a little on the ends. by then my hair is streched and soft so i gently start with the ends (with a big comb)and work my way… Read more »
Ronnie
Guest
Man came before the comb. The comb is a man-made invention and the jury is out on whether that is a good or a bad thing for women of color. Personally, I was using a Denman brush on sopping wet hair full of conditioner per the tightly curly method but so much hair is on the brush when I’m finished! So recently after reading about Cipriana from Urban Bush Babes and watching Sera2544 on Youtube detangle, I have been finger de-tangling with grapeseed or jojoba oil. You know what? I see a lot less hair combing out! The shed hair… Read more »
ali rey
Guest

A tip that is very important that could have been included is combing your hair from the bottom up. Don’t start at the roots and try to work your way down, start at the ends and comb down, gradually going up as the bottom is detangled. trying to comb your hair from the roots down will cause breakage if hair is tangled at all. hope that makes sense!

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[…] mean it should be soaked o. A little bit of the science is explained in this quote below from BGLH. If your hair is as kinky as mine, I think you’d be happier not combing dry. My hair is about […]

SJ9
Guest

I just cant do the finger combing..i needs me a good wide tooth comb and i comb it from the bottom up! I have 3c hair by the way

Tess
Guest
I have really tightly coiled 4a/b hair and when my hair was shorter, I was able to detangle with just conditioner and a denman. Since I got past APL, detangling has gotten pretty difficult and the only way I can get the shed hair out now is to do it in 2 stages: first, I have to fingercomb from the bottom on up under running water and then I get to add condish & use my magic star rake. I find that I get more knots if I just slap on some conditioner and go straight at it with a… Read more »
Kat
Guest

What is a hair bulb? Are you trying to keep them or remove them?

SJ9
Guest

I have 3c hair and I find that using my fingers doesn’t always work…I guess different rules apply to different natural women!

trackback

[…] like long time Natural Hair expert Anu Prestonia are okay with combing hair to detangle. The Natural Haven recommends combing your hair to achieve a larger than life […]

tcurld
Guest

can someone explain the hair bulbs? are they good or bad because from my own understanding, I thought hair bulbs are shown when hair comes directly out of the scalp/is pulled out of the scalp and so I thought they were what you don’t want to see?! hashtagconfused!!

Haircare queen
Guest

Hair bulbs are what you want to see. Breakage on the other hand is where small pieces of hair breaking off. But actually you have different lengths of breakage hair with split ends and that’s what you don’t want. 50–100 will automatically shedd that is normally. But if more is coming out then you should become concern and treat the hair. Hope this helps ?!

SM
Guest
1. Conditioning hair: — It’s all about texture. Use a good detangling conditioner/leave-in conditioner. Make sure you hair is moisturized and has a slippery texture before combing (to avoid breakage). This is key. — Periodically, use a conditioning treatment to restore moisture, like hot oil (any combo of: coconut oil, olive oil, argan oil, avocado oil for an hour, once a month). Coconut and olive oil can be bought from the grocery store. Place oils in a container (like a bowl) and place container in hot water until oils warm. Add a few spoons of tea tree oil to help… Read more »
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[…] mean it should be soaked o. A little bit of the science is explained in this quote below from BGLH. If your hair is as kinky as mine, I think you’d be happier not combing dry. My hair is about […]

Honey Jackson
Guest

i have a question im transitioning from relaxed to natural and after i wash it ‚i comb it and when I look at the hair in the comb its mostly curly hairs is that normal?

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