The Definitive Guide to Detangling Curly Hair

How to keep your curls looking fabulous. 

model-black-curly-hair
Photo by  Mary Rozzi

This article originally appeared on MIMI

OK, curly girls: You got co-washing down to a science, met your curl cream match, and mastered the art of diffusing. But detangling your hair is one of the first steps for achieving bouncy, frizz-free curls and chances are you've been doing it all wrong.

With summer's swim and sweat sessions at an all-time high, your lather, rinse, repeat regimen has likely been kicked into overdrive. And by now you're well aware that excessive cleansing can dehydrate and strip your hair of its natural oils — especially for someone who's limited their cleansing routine to twice a week during the cooler months — eliciting dryness, frizz, and before you know it, a head full of knots.

That said, it's important to use your in-shower time wisely and all it takes is a little teamwork from some super hydrating products and surprisingly, your hands! We consulted Jacqueline Walent, a senior stylist at NYC's curl sanctuary, Devachan Salon and L.A.-based celeb stylist Shai Amiel of Capella Salon (AKA the "Curl Dr."), on the right way to detangle curly hair. The resounding verdict? Finger combing is the only way to avoid disrupting your curl pattern or causing breakage. "Finger combing is the gentlest way of detangling, whether your hair is wavy, super curly, or coarse," says Walent. So, save your paddle brushes and wide-tooth combs for your blowouts and bring on the spirit fingers (see what we did there?). Here, Walent and Amiel teach you exactly how to get to work.

1. Start with an ultra-hydrating conditioner.

Amiel and Walent agree that the key to getting your hair into its softest state is by saturating your strands with water and dousing them in a moisture-rich conditioner. "Ideally, your conditioner should be silicone and paraben-free, and lightweight — not oily," says Amiel who has worked with celebs like Zendaya, Tia Mowry, Christina Milian, and more. That's not to say there's no room for a botanic oil-infused conditioner in your shower. However, it's important to know exactly how to use oils to your advantage. "A lot of girls like to apply oil to wet hair, but if you think about it, oil and water don't mix!" says Amiel. "Instead, you end up with a greasy film that can weigh your curls down. Try pre-conditioning by applying coconut oil to dry hair, and then move on to your normal shampoo and conditioning routine. That's the best way to let the oil absorb, making your hair even more manageable once it's time to detangle." Simple science.

2. Work in sections.

If you've got coarse or really thick, tight coils, we don't blame you for being skeptical about finger combing through all of your hair. However, with Amiel's piece-by-piece strategy and a little patience, you too can make it work — promise. "If you have a lot of hair, separate it into small, manageable sections saturated in your conditioner," says Amiel. Then, spread your fingers apart to mimic the spaces between the teeth of a wide-tooth comb and carefully rake through any tangles you find in each section. "Once you rinse the conditioner, don't comb through it anymore or that'll disturb the curl pattern." You heard the man — don't touch!

3. Resist the urge to defer to your brush or comb.

"Yes, you might get through the tangles quicker with a paddle brush or wide-tooth comb but that'll only create further damage," says Walent. "Even if you're as gentle as possible, with a manmade tool, your hair can snag on even the slightest nick in the plastic. The more breakage you have, the more tangling you'll notice later on."

4. Know the difference between ripping and shedding.

According to Amiel and Walent, your hair sheds around 100 strands per day, so do the math: If you wash your hair every other day this summer, you can expect to see 200 strands between your fingers (or in your drain!) after detangling. Just be sure to eyeball whether the ball of hair is a result of natural shedding or breakage from being too harsh while combing through it. "Natural shedding happens at the root, so the hairs that you accumulate while finger combing should be full strands rather than short pieces," says Walent. "It's all about hydration. If your hair is not moisturized well enough, you're going to experience breakage—whether you're finger combing, paddle brushing, or wide-tooth combing your hair." Duly noted.