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Curly hair is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. It could be super-defined one day and a frizzy concoction the next day – and it's never exactly the same from one head to another. Our mission is to equip you with the necessary tools for restoring and maintaining healthy locks and celebrating the hair you were born with! 

How to Detangle Matted Hair: A Detailed Guide

September 2, 2023


Verna Meachum

Image of frustrated girl attempted to detangle matted hair with a hair brush.

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Curl care

With extensive experience in the beauty industry, I specialize in writing for curly hair care brands, websites, and magazines.

Not only do I have curly hair, but my children, friends, family members, and even friends who are professional curly hairstylists, each with their unique curly textures.

 You get the point :) 

I also partner with a friend who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry and works as an R&D Chemist, ensuring our content is scientifically accurate and help us navigate through the misinformation around curly hair care. 

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Last Updated on September 2, 2023 by Verna Meachum

Welcome to the definitive guide on how to detangle matted hair with finesse and expertise. If you’ve ever found yourself facing the dreaded labyrinth of knots and tangles that have transformed your once-lustrous locks into a perplexing puzzle, you’re in the right place.

Matted hair, akin to nature’s version of Velcro, can seem like an insurmountable challenge. However, in this comprehensive guide, we’ll unravel the mysteries of matted hair and equip you with the knowledge and techniques to restore your hair to its former glory.

Whether you’re dealing with a minor tangle or a severe mat, we’ll arm you with the right tools to untangle those knots right in the comfort of your own home.

What is Matted Hair?

Image of a before and after photo of matted hair and hair that is no longer matted.

Matted hair, from a scientific perspective, refers to the entanglement and intertwining of individual hair strands, resulting in the formation of dense, clumped masses.

This condition occurs when adjacent hair fibers become interlocked, forming a complex network of knots and tangles.

Matted hair is essentially a manifestation of mechanical entanglement, and its severity can range from mild tangles to severe mats that are challenging to unravel.

Common Causes of Matted Hair

Several common causes of matted hair can be understood through the principles of hair mechanics and material science:

  1. Neglect of Hair Care: One of the primary causes is neglecting regular hair care routines. Without proper combing, brushing, or maintenance, hair strands are more likely to overlap and become entwined, leading to the formation of mats over time.
  2. Friction and Rubbing: Frictional forces, such as those from rough or abrasive fabrics like cotton or wool, can cause hair strands to rub against each other. This continuous friction can lead to tangles and matting, particularly in long hair.
  3. Environmental Factors: Environmental conditions, such as wind, humidity, or exposure to saltwater or chlorine, can contribute to matted hair. These factors can weaken the hair’s surface structure and make it more susceptible to tangling.
  4. Lack of Moisture and Conditioning: Dry, dehydrated hair is more prone to tangling and matting. Inadequate moisture levels weaken the hair’s internal structure, making it less flexible and more susceptible to knot formation.
  5. Product Build-up: Accumulation of styling products, oils, and residue on hair strands can increase friction between individual hairs, causing them to stick together and form tangles that may eventually progress into mats.
  6. Hair Type and Texture: Hair type and texture play a significant role in matting. Curly or coiled hair, for instance, has a greater tendency to tangle due to its natural spiral structure, which can easily interlock with neighboring strands.
  7. Structural Damage: Chemical treatments like bleach can weaken the hair’s structure by breaking down the protein bonds that give hair its strength and flexibility. Bleach increases the hair’s porosity, making it more absorbent and susceptible to moisture changes, which can lead to tangles and matting.
  8. Improper Hair Accessories and Ties: The incorrect use of hair accessories or ties, such as tight rubber bands or metal clips, can cause friction and tension on hair strands, leading to tangling, matting, and potential damage.
  9. Extended periods without getting hair trims. Long intervals between hair trims can allow split ends and damaged sections to worsen, contributing to matting issues.

Understanding the scientific underpinnings of matted hair and its causes is essential for implementing effective prevention and detangling strategies. By addressing these factors through proper hair care practices and the use of appropriate products and techniques, individuals can maintain healthier, tangle-free locks.

The Significance of Mastering Hair Detangling Techniques

Image of detangling wet matted hair using a wide tooth comb.

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of detangling matted hair, let’s discuss why it’s crucial to master this skill.

Matted hair isn’t just an aesthetic concern; it can also have a significant impact on your hair’s health. When hair becomes severely matted, it can lead to breakage, hair loss, and scalp issues. Thus, regular hair detangling is essential.

When hair is left unattended and uncombed, it becomes susceptible to structural weaknesses along the hair shaft, leading to potential breakage. Additionally, damaged hair is more prone to tangling due to irregularities in the cuticle layer, creating opportunities for strands to latch onto each other.

Recognizing the importance of mastering the art of detangling matted hair is fundamental to preserving both the aesthetic appeal and the overall health of your hair.

The Best Ways to Detangle Your Hair

Detangling matted hair requires finesse and the right tools. We’ll guide you through the best practices for choosing the right detangling tools and products, as well as share expert recommendations to make the process as smooth as possible.

Wet Vs. Dry Detangling

Drawing from our scientific background, we’ll break down the pros and cons of wet and dry detangling techniques. Understanding the molecular structure of hair and how it reacts to moisture will empower you to choose the most suitable method for your unique hair type and condition.

Your hair undergoes a vulnerable phase when it’s wet, characterized by the swelling of its outermost layer. This swelling temporarily weakens the hair’s structural integrity. However, this dampened state is, surprisingly, the ideal time for detangling, as recommended by hair experts.

When you apply conditioner to wet hair, it introduces a crucial element called “slip.” Slip is the lubrication that significantly reduces the risk of unnecessary tugging and friction along the hair shaft, which can commonly occur during the detangling process with dry hair. Therefore, using conditioner, such as Paul Mitchell’s The Detangler or Righteous Roots 2 n 1 Conditioner, is a valuable step before initiating the detangling process.

Another effective method for detangling before shampooing your hair, often referred to as “pre-pooing,” involves using oil to detangle the hair while it’s dry. This process, using oils like Righteous Roots Oils, is particularly beneficial for easing the detangling process and enhancing hair health.

How to Detangle Matted Hair

Image of my son's matted hair.
Here is a photo of my son’s matted hair. The roots were even more matted, although it’s not very visible in this picture. The primary cause of this was his extremely dry hair.
Image of my son's hair after detangling his matted hair.
Here is the after photo after detangling my son’s matted hair. We used oil for the detangling process.

We’ll walk you through a step-by-step detangling process for moderately tangled hair. From preparation to finishing touches, you’ll gain valuable insights into maintaining your hair’s health and appearance.

Step 1: Gather Your Tools and Supplies

Before you begin, ensure you have the following tools and products ready:

Step 2: Start with Dry Hair (Optional)

While some people prefer to detangle wet hair, starting with dry hair can sometimes make the process easier. Divide your hair into sections and work on one section at a time.

Step 3: Apply a Detangling Solution

Spritz your hair with water or a detangling solution to add moisture and slip to your hair. This will make it easier to glide your comb or brush through your hair and reduce breakage.

Step 4: Section Your Hair

Divide your hair into smaller, manageable sections using clips or hair ties. This prevents overwhelming yourself and ensures thorough detangling.

Step 5: Begin Detangling

Starting with one section at a time, gently work from the tips of your hair towards the roots. Use your wide-toothed comb or detangling brush, and move in small, gradual strokes. Be patient and gentle to avoid causing further damage. To avoid unnecessary breakage, please do not rush through this process.

Step 6: Focus on Knots and Tangles

When you encounter particularly stubborn knots or tangles, don’t force the comb or brush through. Instead, gently work on the tangled area using your fingers to tease the hair apart. Applying a bit more detangling spray or conditioner to this area can also help.

Step 7: Repeat as Needed

Continue detangling one section at a time, repeating the process until all sections are tangle-free.

Step 8: Rinse and Condition

If you started with dry hair, now is the time to rinse your hair thoroughly. If you began with wet hair, proceed to apply a leave-in conditioner or detangling spray to your entire head to keep your hair manageable and prevent further tangling.

Step 9: Style and Protect

After detangling, you can style your hair as desired, but be gentle and avoid tight hairstyles that might cause more tangling. Consider using protective styles, such as braids or loose ponytails, to minimize future tangles.

Step 10: Maintenance

To prevent future matting, establish a regular hair care routine that includes proper conditioning, minimal heat styling, and protective styles. Regular trims also help keep split ends at bay, reducing the likelihood of severe tangles.

Remember that patience is key when detangling matted hair. If the matting is severe and you’re struggling to detangle it on your own, don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance from a hairstylist or a curly hair specialist to avoid further harm to your hair.

When It’s Time to Cut

Image of cutting curly hair.

While our focus is on saving your precious locks, there may come a point where cutting is the only viable option.

If you’ve neglected your hair for weeks or months, consider that cutting might be the most practical solution.

Fully detangling mats can be an incredibly time-consuming process, taking hours, and there’s still no guarantee of achieving the desired results.

How to Prevent Matted Hair

Prevention is the best defense against matted hair. We’ll share expert tips and maintenance routines to help you keep your hair tangle-free and looking its best.

Here are some key tips to help you avoid or prevent matted hair:

  1. Regular Detangling: Make a habit of gently detangling your hair daily or as needed. Use a wide-toothed comb or detangling brush, starting from the tips and working your way up to the roots. This prevents knots from forming and becoming more severe.
  2. Use Conditioner/Deep Conditioner: Apply a quality conditioner or deep conditioner after washing your hair. This adds moisture and slip, making it easier to comb or brush through your hair without causing tangles.
  3. Protective Hairstyles: Consider wearing protective hairstyles like braids, twists, pineapple, or buns, especially during sleep or physical activities. These styles keep your hair contained and reduce the risk of tangling.
  4. Avoid Excessive Heat: Limit the use of heated styling tools like straighteners, curling irons, blow dry on high heat as excessive heat can weaken and damage hair, making it more prone to tangling.
  5. Trim Regularly: Schedule regular hair trims every 6-8 weeks to remove split ends and prevent them from traveling up the hair shaft, which can lead to matting.
  6. Silk or Satin Pillowcase: Invest in a silk or satin pillowcase. These materials reduce friction between your hair and the pillow, preventing tangles and breakage while you sleep.
  7. Protect Hair During Activities: If you engage in activities that expose your hair to wind, water, or harsh conditions, protect it with a scarf, hat, or hair wrap to minimize tangling.
  8. Avoid Excessive Product Use: Be mindful of product build-up, as it can contribute to tangling. Use hair products in moderation and clarify your hair occasionally to remove buildup.
  9. Choose Hair-Friendly Accessories: Opt for hair ties and accessories that are gentle on your locks, such as hair bands made of soft fabric or scrunchies, to minimize friction and breakage.
  10. Maintain a Healthy Diet: A balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein supports hair health from the inside out, reducing the risk of brittle and tangled hair.
  11. Consult a Professional: If you have naturally curly or coily hair, consider seeking advice from a curly hair specialist experienced with your hair type. They can provide personalized recommendations and care tips.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who can get matted hair?

Matted hair is a condition that can affect individuals of all hair types and textures. It is not limited to a specific demographic. Factors such as inadequate hair care, prolonged neglect, excessive friction, environmental conditions, and certain hair types (e.g., curly or coiled hair) can contribute to the development of matted hair. Therefore, anyone who does not maintain proper hair care practices or encounters these contributing factors can potentially experience matted hair.

Can I use a regular brush for detangling matted hair?

It’s advisable to avoid regular brushes, as they can exacerbate the issue by causing hair breakage. Opt for wide-tooth combs or specialized detangling brushes for a gentler approach.

How often should I detangle my hair?

The frequency of detangling varies depending on your hair type and personal routine. In general, it’s recommended to detangle before washing and whenever you notice knots forming.

Is it normal for my curly hair to tangle easily?

Yes, curly hair is naturally more susceptible to tangling due to its unique texture. Consistent care, proper moisture, and gentle detangling techniques can effectively manage this common issue.

Are there any homemade remedies for detangling?

While there are numerous DIY detangling recipes available, exercise caution as some may inadvertently cause damage. Using a reputable detangling spray or conditioner is a safer and more effective choice.


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