Here’s Why Your Hair Gets Tangled So Easily—And What You Can Do About It

Snarls and knots be gone.

Tangles, snarls, knots—they’re no fun to deal with, no matter what you call them. While it may seem like the cause of said tangles is pretty straightforward—not brushing your hair—there are actually quite a few other culprits that can play a role. (Although yes, your brushing habits, or lack thereof, are a big one.) The good news? A few simple tips and tricks can make a world of difference when it comes to both preventing tangles and detangling any knots that do occur. Ahead, top stylists weigh in on what you need to know in order to keep your strands smooth, silky, and snarl-free.

Many things can contribute to tangles.

  • Not brushing your hair. Let’s start with the most obvious. Not brushing your hair regularly, particularly at night, is one of the biggest contributing factors. When you’re not removing the small tangles that inevitably occur during the day, the knots build up and worsen, and can even lead to hair matting, explains Kenna Ehman, a master stylist and co-owner of Kenna Kunijo in Charlotte, North Carolina. (That being said not all brushes, or brushing techniques, are created equal, so keep reading for more on the best way to do that.)
  • Having dry or damaged hair. The drier and more damaged your hair is, the more likely it is to tangle. “In dry hair the cuticle, the outermost layer of the hair stand, is open,” says Angel Mendez, a stylist at Salon YOSHIKO at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City. The hair has less slip to it and more friction is created, upping the likelihood of it becoming knotted. To that point, using products with drying ingredients and/or getting chemical treatments that can damage the hair (bleaching, straightening) can ultimately contribute to your hair tangling easily.
  • Product build-up. Speaking of products, using a lot of different ones and not washing them out thoroughly can also be problematic. The buildup and residue left behind is often sticky, causing hair to stick and get tangled, explains Ehman. It’s why a double shampoo is a good idea, especially if it’s been awhile since your last wash and/or your recently loaded up on tons of stylers.
  • Split ends. Consider this yet another reason to schedule regular hair trims. “Split ends are brittle and tangled around themselves almost like Velcro,” Ehman points out. And per our previous point of damage, split ends are so damaged that they lack a cuticle entirely, which is part of the reason they can get tangled with one another as well as healthy hair strands, Mendez adds.
  • Natural texture. All of the aforementioned things are things we have some control of. One thing you can’t control? Your hair texture. “The finer the hair, the more prone it is to tangle,” says Ehman. “Think of it in the context of rope: One that’s thick won’t get knotted as badly as a fine, thin string,” she explains. 

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How to Prevent Knots

As the saying goes, the best offense is a good defense. If you can ward off tangles before they start, you’ll be two steps ahead in the good hair day game. 

  • Brush regularly (with the right type of brush). Not only will regular brushing help keep knots at bay, it’s also a good way to distribute natural oils from the scalp down the strand. (And remember, the more moisturized the hair is, the less likely it is to tangle as well.) Just make sure you’re using the right kind of hair brush for your particular hair type and texture. For fine hair, a soft, boar bristle brush will best detangle hair without pulling and causing damage, Mendez notes. On the flip side, for coarse hair, a brush with nylon bristle brush is best. “These bristles are much stronger and stiffer than boar, making them better or brushing through more core textures," says Mendez. Finally, for medium textured and curly hair, a mixed bristle brush, which has both types of bristles, is the way to go.  
  • Condition thoroughly (and brush again). Both stylists we spoke with emphasize the importance of conditioning your hair every time you wash, one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re getting that much-needed moisture. But take a few extra seconds to brush the conditioner through your hair once you apply it. Not only will this help disperse it evenly onto the entire strand, it’s also a good way to make sure your hair is less tangled once you get out of the shower, says Mendez. He advises using a Tangle Teezer brush for this reason, as it will glide through wet, conditioned hair with ease, he says.
  • Change your sleep habits. No, we’re not talking about what time you go to bed or keeping your phone in another room. First, swap your standard pillowcase for a silk option. When hair moves around on a cotton pillowcase it creates friction and leads to tangles, says Mendez; the smoothness and slip of the silk prevents that. It’s also important to not sleep with your hair down, and to tie it back into a loose ponytail or low braid instead. This will keep your strands from moving all over the place when you toss and turn at night and minimize the likelihood of waking up with tangles, Ehman points out.

How to Detangle Your Hair the Right Way

If despite all of your best efforts you still end up with a massive knot (or knots), don’t stress. Start by adding some kind of moisture—attempting to detangle dry hair will not only make the process more challenging, it will also increase the chances that you do some kind of damage. Mendez suggests using a little bit of oil (coconut, argan, and olive are good options for all hair textures), or a detangling spray. Either way, this will help give some slip to the hair and make it much easier to comb out the tangles.

If you’re dealing with a lot of knots, section out the hair and tackle one piece at a time. Start by brushing the ends and gradually moving your way up, rather than starting at your roots and brushing downwards. Brushing from the top down moves all of the tangles downwards and compacts them together, exacerbating the issue, explains Ehman.

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