How to Properly Detangle 4C Hair Without Breaking it

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How detangle 4C hair

Most people find detangling thick, dry, matted natural hair very difficult and time consuming! But it doesn’t have to be that way if you master the art of properly detangling hair.

For a long time, I struggled with detangling my natural 4C hair until I curated a systematic, simple step by step process for detangling my hair.

In this article I will share all the tips and tricks that will make your detangling process easier. Whilst I focus on 4C hair, these tips are applicable to natural hair in general.

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How to properly detangle 4C hair

To properly detangle 4C hair you need to start with moisturized hair, then section the hair and apply a product that will give you slip to make detangling easier. Proceed to finger detangle followed by gently using a detangling brush to achieve best results.

Below is a detailed step by step guide to properly detangle 4C hair without breaking it off.

1. Start with moisturized hair

Moisture is essential when detangling because it improves hair elasticity and makes it easy to manipulate. Bone dry hair can give you a tough time to get through, if detangled in this state you may end up experiencing excessive hair breakage.

Using a spray bottle and lightly dampen the hair with warm water. This will help you glide through the hair more smoothly.

Do not detangle when hair is dripping wet as your strands are weak and more susceptible to breakage in this state.

2. Work in small sections

Working in sections is the best and most efficient way to go about detangling your natural hair.  Sectioning makes the detangling process less stressful than working on the whole head at once.

It is more efficient in the sense that you get to focus on one section at a time giving each part the attention it needs. It also ensures you detangle even the most difficult to reach parts of your hair.

The sections do not have to be straight but you have to ensure that each section has hair that belongs to that particular section, this will help in preventing further tangles which may results from tangling of crisscrossed hair slipping into sections they don’t belong to.

Whilst working in small sections may seem like time consuming, smaller sections will give you better results. If your hair is not overly tangled, you can get away working in larger sections.

Detangling hair without sectioning is an easy way to miss a bunch of knots which would lead to breakage.

3. Use products that will give you slip

Aloe Vera Juice

4C hair tends to have a lot of tension and friction in between strands. Hair products that give you slip during the detangling process lubricate the hair and makes the strands separate easily.  

Sufficient amount of slip reduces mating causing less breakage and damage. Slip is very important when detangling natural 4C hair.

Here are some of the detangling products you can use

1. Hair detangler

A hair detangler alters the surface of your hair strands in order to make detangling easy. It coats your hair strands with an oil or polymer and acidifies it so that the hair’s surface tightens up, smoothing the scales on the hair’s cuticle. It also imparts a positive electric charge to prevent static that can worsen tangles.

Common components of hair detanglers

  • Acidifier- It lowers the pH level of the detangler. It strengthens the hydrogen bond between the keratin molecules in hair, smoothing and tightening each strand.
  • Hydrolyzed protein- It helps repair damaged keratin. It smoothens broken edges so the hair doesn’t tangle.
  • Cationic Surfactants –They bind the negatively charged keratin.

Here are some of the top rated hair detangling products that are good for type 4 hair: (i) Shea Moisture extra-moisture detangler, (ii) Alikay Naturals Knots Be Gone Hair Detangler, (ii) Aunt Jackie’s knot on my watch – Instant Detangling Therapy

2. Hair Conditioner

Hair conditioners improve manageability by reducing friction between the hair strands hence making the hair smooth and Strong. This allows easier brushing or combing, which might otherwise cause damage to the scalp if the hair is not conditioned.

One simple trick I found out that works well in preventing tangle when undoing my kids’ hair was to dampen the styled hair and apply a generous amount of conditioner. This make the hair soft and easier detangle in the process of undoing hairstyles such as braids.

3. Oils

You could use different kinds of oils to detangle your hair:

  • Carrier oils such as olive oil, Coconut oil, Castor oil and Sweet almond oil help seal moisture easing the detangling process.
  • Mineral oils- it is a colorless and odorless distillate of petroleum. Mineral oil is an antistatic that effectively melts down tangles in hair. Make sure you have conditioned just enough before using the mineral oil this is because too much of residue on hair affects its ability to work on the tangles.

4. Funegreek water

Fenugreek water adds moisture to your strands making them soft and smooth. Its mucilage content provides slipperiness to hair strands making hair easier to comb with little breakage.

Note: Read this article to learn more about the benefits of Fenugreek on hair.

5.  Rice water

Rice water has conditioning properties. When applied to hair, rice water instantly conditions the hair making it soft and easy to detangle. Rice water smoothens the cuticles and reduces surface friction which prevents the strands from tangling.

Note: Read this article to learn more about the benefits of rice water and how to use it to detangle hair.

6.  Aloe Vera Juice

Aloe Vera provides slip to your hair making it easy to detangle. It helps close the cuticle after washing enabling moisture to be retained.

Note: Read this article to learn more about the benefits of Aloe Vera on hair and how to use it to promote hair growth.

4.  Detangle each section using your fingers

Finger detangling is the use of fingers to separate tangled hair strands.  It helps ease the detangling process Though it takes a lot of time, it is gentle enough to save you from experiencing excessive hair loss.

With fingers you feel the direct tension of your hair’s resistance as they approach a knot giving you an indication that you should stop pulling unnecessarily. You then individually remove the stands from the knot and tease it open. It leaves you with lesser hair breakage than that caused by a comb consequently resulting in more hair length retention.

Finger detangling shields your scalp from excessive stress and tension which can lead to hair thinning and development of sores. Finger detangling is most beneficial to textured hair types because they are fragile and prone to breakage.

5. Gently detangle using a wide tooth comb/ detangling brush

Combs are great for detangling though some work better than others.  A wide-toothed comb is best for detangling 4C hair. Its bristles are spaced far enough to get through tangles and long enough to get through thick hair.

A comb with thin space in between the teeth will do more damage than good using when detangling. This is because they can lead to excessive hair breakage. You should therefore avoid using them.  

You can also use a detangling brush to run through the already finger detangled hair.

Here are links to some of the most recommended detangling brushes that have been designed with type 4 hair in mind. (i) Tangle Teezer The Original Detangling Hairbrush, (ii) Wet Brush Pro Flex Dry, (iii) BESTOOL Detangling Brush for Black Natural Hair

6. Start from the tips as you go down the roots.

Combing hair from the roots is a common mistake that people make when detangling hair. This is because tangles on the roots get moved to the ends causing more pain, damage or even breakage. It is advisable to begin combing from the ends of your hair as you slowly work your way up the shaft to the roots.  This way you would have created a smooth foundation to glide through.

7. Twist/ braid each section when done.

This step helps you separate already untangled hair from hair that needs detangling. It also helps maintain your hair in good position and keep tangles from reforming.

8. Ensure hair is moisturized throughout the process

As you detangle hair, if you realise that the hair has started to dry out, just spray some more water to dampen the hair. As mentioned earlier, detangling dry hair will result in more breakage hence it is important to always ensure your hair has moisture as you detangle. Moisture will enhance slip and make the strand flexible allowing for easy separation.

9. Be patient

Let’s face it, detangling thick, kinky matted hair is not a 5-minute business!  It requires you to be patient and take your time.

If you decide to do it in a hurry your strands suffer from impatient and hasty pulling that would result in tighter curls which are more likely to cause damage to hair and cuticles. To fully detangle my hair from tip to root I’d need five hours to complete.

10.  Be gentle when detangling

Your hair will thank you is you treat it gently and lovingly. Rough detangling will always lead to pain, breakage and damage. Detangle slowly and carefully especially at the ends where hair is weak and old.

Knots and tangles are usually difficult to remove and if done improperly it may lead to excessive breakage of your hair strands.

When should you detangle 4C hair?

  • During Pre-poo – Pre-poo is the process of preparing hair for the shampooing process by treating the hair with oils in order to prevent the stripping of natural oils when shampooing. Apply oils on damp hair so as to obtain slip for easy detangling. Only finger detangle at this stage as oil do not provide much slip.
  • When shampooing– If you consider detangling your hair during the shampoo process, it also helps in even in the product distribution on hair. Use a gentle shampoo that has good sleep. This article outlines some of the best shampoo to use of 4C hair.
  • When deep conditioning– Conditioners provide more slip than that of oil making detangling at this stage much easier.
  • Before styling – If you have detangled properly through the steps in your hair care routine, by the time you get to styling your hair will be in pretty good shape and will only require light detangling. Detangling right before styling is a perfect way to minimize breakage as it involves less hair manipulation such as combing.  

What causes tangles in hair?

Knots and tangles occur when individual strands coil around each other. Type 4 hair is generally more prone to tangles because of the tight coils and curls. When hair sheds, with straight hair the lost hair strands can easily fall out but with 4c hair, due to the tight curl pattern these loose strands are prone to wrap around other strands causing knots and tangles.

If left unattended knots and tangles may lead to excessive hair breakage. This is why detangling 4C hair is an important procedure in the hair care routine. 

There are different reasons as to why your hair gets tangled. These include

  1. Rough handling of hair when undoing hairstyles, or during the shampooing process
  2. Using harsh hair products that strip off the natural hair lubricant
  3. Rubbing against surfaces such as pillow cases, sheets or towels
  4. Keeping complicated and tight hairstyles for too long  
  5. Over styling the hair
  6. Split ends
  7. Exposure of hair to wind

How to prevent natural hair from getting tangled

  1. Avoid hair products that lead to hair damage. Some chemical based hair products only provide a smooth look and feel while on hair but once rinsed they leave your hair feeling dry and unruly.  Go for hair products with certified organic ingredients and free from toxins such as harsh sulfates. These maintain hair healthy and improve manageable.
  2. Do not rub your hair with a towel when drying as it may cause tangling. Use a soft cotton t-shirt instead.
  3. Cover your hair when windy to prevent exposure and tangle formation.
  4. Do not heat style too frequently.
  5. Wear protective styles such as braids to keep tangles away.
  6. Consider trimming hair every 4-6 weeks to remove split ends.
  7. Do not sleep with open hair, cover your hair with a satin bonnet. If your sleeping with hair open use a silk or satin pillowcase to avoid knotted hair the next morning.

I hope you found this article helpful.  I’d love to hear your feedback, share your detangling tips and tricks in the comment box below!

Related Articles: (i) Understanding 4C hair: Curl Pattern, Hair Care & Hair Typing Systems, (ii) How to grow 4C hair (iii) The Best shampoos for dry 4C hair

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