Knotted up? Here’s why and the best detangling tools and products for keeping matted hair and unwanted snags at bay
Besides burning my finger on a pair of straighteners, the only other thing that causes a tear to come to my eye is when I catch a knot in my hair. Some of us get more tangled up than others and there’s a wide range of reasons for why, but hair type and condition are key culprits.
“If you have chemically treated hair, the chance of tangling is unfortunately greater,” Kerluxe celebrity stylist Earl Simms tells me. The more dry and brittle your strands are, the more likely you’ll encounter some uncomfortable fibre friction. If you have long, curly and frizzy hair , you’re also likely to encounter more than your fair share of snags. “The curly nature of the hair means that there is a much greater chance for individual fibres to become meshed together,” explains Steve Shiel, Director of Scientific for L’Oréal UK & Ireland.
Your styling regime could also be to blame too - old habits that are making hair unnecessarily matted in the first place for example, or detangling mistakes that are causing more harm than good. Here are five things that could be making matters worse - and what to do and use instead.
1. Shampooing too roughly
Be cautious with the way that you apply your shampoo. If you’re tangle-prone, tone down your technique to keep knots to a minimum from the get-go. “Use the palm of your hand rather than the fingertips,” advises James Pryce, Master Stylist at Larry King Salon , for a less friction-fuelled hair wash.
2. Being over-enthusiastic with your towel
In a similar way to the above, towel drying your hair with too much vigour can result in frustrating intertwinement. “Try squeezing the water out and patting your hair dry rather than roughing it up with the towel,” advises James. “And never leave your hair tied up in a towel unless it’s been brushed through first.”
3. Detangling with a regular comb or brush
Much like makeup brushes , your tool of choice makes a huge difference to how smooth your detangling experience goes. Swap hard or abrasive brushes for something gentler on knots to avoid making the problem worse in the long run. “Try to avoid overworking your tangles with a regular brush or comb as this can cause additional damage,” advises Steve Shiel. “It’s better to use a wide-tooth comb – start below the tangle and work your way up, and if needed, use a detangling product as part of the process.” ghd’s Detangling Comb , £7.50, is great in this regard.
James Pryce, also favours using a soft brush such as a WetBrush , £11.99, to iron out knots and help distribute your detangling product of choice evenly from root to tip. “Once you have the main tangles out, then you could go over it with a comb,” he recommends. The classic Tangle Teezer , £11, is also great for this and its ergonomic shape provides a welcome degree of control.
A WetBrush is also a go-to of Earl Simms’. He recommends opting for a hands-on approach first before using it. “After shampoo and conditioning, do not use a brush immediately - use your fingers first to prise the hair apart.” This will help keep the process even more pain-free.
A problem-specific tool like a WetBrush comes in handy when detangling children’s hair too. “A detangling brush is a must for children,” he tells us. “To make the process a bit easier, leave conditioner in your child's hair, then use the detangling brush, wash it out and then repeat if necessary.” Childs Farm’s Buster the Horse Detangler Brush , £10, is also a valuable addition to any parent’s detangling toolbox.
4. Rushing it
Washing your hair can take so long that it’s an evening plan in itself. However, our efforts to hurry things along by tugging through tangles at warp speed could lead to more problems down the road. “If you go at things too vigorously, then you can cause more harm than good – not to mention the pain that would come from all the tugging,” highlights Steve. Instead, slow down the pace and take your time to tease out those tangles and if you’re using a conditioner or detangling spray, leave it in for a few minutes to give it time to sink in and help soothe away tangle-causing dryness.
5. Not using a detangling product
Which leads us onto this last point. Technique is key, but a good detangling product can provide valuable slip to ensure things go particularly smoothly. Plus, the more hydrated hair is, the less prone to knots it'll be. “Detangling products generally work by depositing ingredients onto the surface of the hair fibre, to smooth down any rough or jagged cuticle edges and leave the surface of the hair fibre nice and smooth,” explains Steve. “This means that when individual hair strands come into contact with one another, the friction between the strands is reduced, and the strands are less likely to join together.” In the lab, Steve usually uses silicones (e.g. amodimethicone or dimethicone) or smoothing proteins such as hydrolysed wheat proteins. Interesting fact: these are also two of the key ingredients found in heat protection sprays , which is why many detanglers can double up as these too.
Bear in mind though that your conditioner or hair mask can also work as an effective detangler too. When it comes to choosing the right product for your needs, keep your hair type in mind. “The thickness of your hair will determine if you need a lighter or heavier detangling product,” says Earl. “For fine hair, I would recommend Kerluxe Aquavol Mask , £46, applied from mid-lengths to ends once a week. For thicker hair, I would recommend something a bit richer like Kerluxe Caviar4 Serum , £51.”
The best detangling sprays and creams
Great for: An all-rounder
This multi-purpose pick is a favourite of James’ as it don’t leave hair feeling heavy or oily. “It’s a vital part of my kit,” he tells us. “Especially on shoots as you can often find models with dry and tangled hair.”
Great for: Curly hair
Designed to detangle and define thanks to its hydrating formula containing capuacu butter and Brazilian oils, this does-it-all product provides both control and shape.
Great for: Tangled tots
Keep detangling tantrum-free with this softening spritz. Its grapefruit and tea tree oil infused formula even helps deter head lice too. Double bonus.
Great for: Long, dry hair
This hard-working multi-tasker offers a whole host of hair benefits - it smoothes, detangles, softens and fights frizz. It’s great for an air dry or a blowdry.
Great for: Thirsty curls
Steve’s top pick for curly hair types, this bounce-boosting pick’s creamy formula helps stop fibres from meshing together and causing tangle build-up.
Great for: Fine to thick hair types
This leave-in spritz’s appeal is incredibly far-reaching. Enriched with Australian fruit extracts to strengthen and condition, it leaves hair smooth and soft.
Great for: Thick hair types
If your thick hair’s especially dry and damaged, this one’s for you. Containing sea kelp, argan oil and organic shea butter, it leaves frazzled ends extremely well hydrated.
Great for: A budget multitasker