How to Detangle Curly Hair: Less Breakage, More Definition

Detangled hair

With its energetic presence and lush appearance, curly hair is certainly a blessing—at least, until it isn’t. It’s no secret that curly hair requires more attention to stay healthy and tangle-free. 

Because this hair type tends to be drier than others, its strands are more likely to clump together. Without the proper knowledge and tools, detangling can quickly turn into a nightmare, a painful one even! 

That’s why we’ve decided to share the secret sauce of our years of experience detangling curly hair in both wet and dry conditions. We’ll also reveal some pointers on how to keep knots at bay.

Which Is Better: Wet or Dry Detangling?

We wanted to start by tackling one of the most contentious debates in the curlies community. That is, whether you should detangle your hair while it’s wet or dry. The answer, drum roll, is that both methods work, but only under certain conditions. Now, allow us to explain:

Wet Detangling

Wet detangling: A woman detangling her hair at the salon - how to detangle curly hair

When referring to wet detangling, we mean using water and conditioner to help combat knotted hair. So, let’s find out when this technique is effective and what its downsides are:

When to Use It

If your curls fall under coiled or kinky textures, then it’s best to go into the detangling process while your hair is wet. This also applies if you’re dealing with multiple stubborn knots. 

You see, attempting to detangle these hair types in a dry state is likely to cause breakage in your hair strands and even worsen the tangling. Not to mention how painful it can be! 

Water is an excellent agent for making your curly hair more loose and flexible. It’ll allow you to work your way through the knots more effectively without experiencing the dreaded pull in your scalp.

The role of detangling or leave-in conditioners is to protect your hair during this process by sealing its cuticle, i.e., the outer protective layer. Some of these products even help to smooth out the knots so they can be easily unlocked. 


The thing is, water does make our hair more malleable, but it does so by weakening or breaking the bonds that hold the strands together. As a result, wet hair is more fragile and prone to breakage; in fact, if you don’t detangle it carefully, you may experience significant hair loss. 

Dry Detangling

Smiley woman detangling her hair- how to detangle curly hair

When detangling dry hair, you’ll only need to use oil as a lubricant. In this method, you’ll simply rely on your God-given detangling tools, a.k.a your fingers, or a wide-tooth comb. 

When to Use It

Dry detangling is ideal for anyone with waves or loose curls. Since you don’t have tight curls, you can tackle tangled hair parts way more easily without weakening your strands with water. 

What we like best about this technique is that it preserves the health of the hair strands. That’s because our hair is stronger when dry, so it doesn’t undergo as much stress when we work on undoing knots as it does when wet.


The first issue that comes to mind is dealing with a serious case of frizziness—we all know how that’s a big no-no for curly heads! But the good news is that this can be avoided, and we’ll explain how in the sections below. 

Another downside of this method is that while dry hair is stronger, it’s also less flexible, which translates to a higher chance of strands snapping as you detangle. 

We should also warn you that detangling dry hair isn’t an easy task; it takes a lot of time and patience to undo knots with minimal damage!

How to Detangle Curls: Wet Hair Edition

We’d hate for you to experience the downsides of detangling curly hair while it’s wet. So, we’ve gathered the essential steps you’ll need to take during this process to keep your curls vibrant and healthy.

Step 1: Start With Finger Detangling

A woman detangling her hair with fingers

Before hopping in the shower, try to make your job easier by undoing as many hair knots as you can with your fingers. 

When done the right way, finger detangling is one of the safest and gentlest methods for curly hair. Of course, with stubborn knots, it won’t be 100% successful, but it definitely helps pave the way!

To ensure you’re doing this step correctly, start by dividing your hair into small sections. Then, gently run your fingers from the bottom of each section until you reach your hair roots. 

As you do so, you’ll notice your fingers becoming your tangle radar, pointing out the areas where there’s a real problem. 

Remember, if you come across serious matted parts while raking your hair, don’t fight your way through them. Instead, slowly pull any hairs that stray into your fingers and continue moving upwards.

Step 2: Dampen and Moisturize Your Hair

A woman moisturizing her hair

After giving it your best at finger detangling, it’s time to prepare for the real work, which starts with rinsing your hair. To loosen up your hair even more and protect it from breaking, you should use a moisturizing product, and it could be a deep conditioner, a leave-in conditioner, or else. 

Before using any of these products, you have to slightly dry your hair or squeeze out any excess water with a microfiber towel. Otherwise, your hair will be so slick that your precious conditioner will slide off and won’t do its intended function. 

After towel-drying your hair, massage a generous amount of conditioner through it from the ends to the roots. When working with tangled hair, make sure to work the product thoroughly through the knots to soften all strands. 

Step 3: Detangle With a Wide-Tooth Comb

Detangling hair with comb - how to detangle curly hair

Although some people prefer using a detangling hair brush for this step, we’re team wide-tooth combs. 

Again, your hair isn’t at its best when wet. Using a wide-tooth comb reduces the risk of breakage because it doesn’t pull as hard as brushing (especially when using a paddle brush). 

Besides, if you have coils or tight curls, combing is your best bet for gently detangling without severely disrupting the definition of your curls. 

Holding the wide-tooth comb in one hand, section a small part of your hair with the other. After that, glide the comb starting at the bottom of the section, and work your way up to the roots. 

Never pass the comb from top to bottom because if you do, there’s a good chance it’ll become more tangled. 

When you encounter hair clumps, use small, quick movements to work the comb through them. However, if you feel any pulling or the hair is severely tangled at this point, use your fingers to loosen it up before using the comb. 

Repeat this process on the remaining sections of your hair; it’ll take some time, but trust the process and don’t rush it.

Step 4: Rinse Your Hair and Apply Nourishment

Rising hair - how to detangle curly hair

Once your hair is tangle-free, rinse out the conditioner unless you’ve used a leave-in. 

When you get out of the shower, make sure to make it up to your hair—you aren’t the only one who has struggled! 

Take one of your nourishing curly hair productsOpens in a new tab., which could be a serum, mousse, or something else. Apply the product to the length of your hair and spread it evenly with your fingers or a comb. This will keep your curls healthy, hydrated, and textured. 

How to Detangle Curls: Dry Hair Edition

If you don’t want it to be wash day and your curly hair texture allows it, you can opt for dry detangling, and here’s how it’s done properly:

Step 1: Section off Your Hair

Back view of woman sectioning her hair

Since you’ll be working with dry curls throughout the detangling process, you’ll need to divide your hair into manageable sections. To secure each section, use clips or hair ties, whichever is available or more comfortable for you. 

This will allow you to focus on effectively untangling one part at a time. Otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed and have difficulty finding and undoing knots, especially if you have thick hair! 

Step 2: Apply Oil to Your Hair

Woman holding hair oil product side view

Before you get down to it, make sure to coat each hair section you’re working on with a lightweight, nourishing oil. This step is critical and helps a lot in making dry detangling less painful. 

When your hair strands are lubricated, there’s less friction going on than when they’re dry and stiff. This allows you to easily glide your fingers or other detangling tools through your hair without getting caught in clumps. 

You can see how this will eventually protect your hair from chipping or breaking while also reducing the risk of further tangling.

Step 3: Identify and Loosen Knots

Now that all your hair strands are flexible and supple, carefully inspect the section you’re starting with for knots and attempt to gauge their severity. 

As we already explained above, it’s always preferable to begin with finger detangling, particularly if there are large clumps. Start at the tips of your hair and gradually work your way up to the roots. 

You can then use a detangling brush or a wide-toothed comb with gentle movements to avoid yanking any matted sections. 

Once you’ve completed a hair section, lightly twist it and secure it back in place with a clip or whatever you were using. That way, it doesn’t get messed up with the next section you’ll be working on. 

Should You Detangle Curly Hair Every Day?

The age-old conundrum of whether to incorporate detangling in your daily curly hair routine or not. Aside from being hard to maintain, daily detangling sessions may harm your hair. Exposing your curls to this kind of stress regularly can weaken them and damage the hair cuticle.

A good rule of thumb is to pair detangling with wash day when the hair is wet and heavily conditioned. 

That said, the frequency will vary depending on your hair texture. Kinky and coily curls, for example, can take a 1-2 week break between detangling sessions. In contrast, you must detangle loose or wavy curls at least once per week. 

Is It Okay to Brush Curly Hair?


We find wide-toothed combs to be safer than brushes when dealing with curly hair, but we have to admit that brushing is quite beneficial in a few situations. For example, a detangling brush can do wonders for loosening knots in wavy hair. 

Many of the curly hairstyles we do also call for brushing. Take, for instance, sleek updos. For us to achieve such a smooth appearance, we need the help of those dense brush bristles to tightly capture hair strands. Plus, if you want to add more volume for a fuller hairstyle, a little brushing can go a long way!

How to Properly Brush Curly Hair

To steer clear of the infamous reputation of brushing curly hair, which involves breakage, frizziness, and curl pattern disruption, pay close attention to these pointers: 

  • In situations where you’re dealing with lots of tangling or large knots, brushes will be your worst enemy, so stick to finger detangling and a wide-tooth comb. 
  • Avoid using brushes on dry hair, and if you have thick, coily, or kinky hair, it’s better not to use them at all. 
  • When brushing, work on small sections starting from the ends of your hair to the roots. 
  • Keep a light textured product on hand, such as a leave-in conditioner or a mousse, to apply after brushing to keep your curls bouncy and not fuzzy.

4 Ways to Avoid Tangling in Curly Hair

A woman worried about tangled hair

Fortunately, most of the time, your curly hair becomes tangled for reasons you can control. Take a look at these four tried-and-true tips to help you keep detangling sessions to a minimum: 

1. Don’t Over-Wash Your Hair

If you think washing your curly hair more frequently will keep it hydrated and clump-free, think again. 

Washing this hair type too often can cause the strands to become extremely dry and frizzy. Aside from making it more prone to knots and difficult to handle, you’ll notice an uncomfortably tight feeling on your scalp. 

It’s vital you learn about your curly hair texture to know how frequently you should wash itOpens in a new tab.

For example, if you have thick, curly hair, you can wash it once a week or every 2-3 weeks, depending on how oily it gets. But with fine, loose waves, the washing rate can go up to twice a week. 

While showering, remember to shampoo and massage your scalp thoroughly to remove any oil or product buildup. Both can make your hair sticky and tangled as well as ruin the structure of your curls. 

We also recommend using shampoos specifically formulated for curly hair because they have the right balance of cleansing and moisturizing properties. Alternatively, you can use any other shampoo that’s sulfate-free and paraben-free. 

2. Get Regular Trims

Believe it or not, split ends are one of the most common culprits we find behind tangled hair!

This comes as no surprise, given that split ends are essentially damaged and brittle strands that have completely lost their cuticle. That’s why they continue to clump around themselves and tangle with surrounding healthy hair strands. 

To avoid split ends, you should have your curly hair trimmed every 6-8 weeks, but this will vary depending on your natural hair texture and other factors. So, if you’re following a healthy curly hair care routine and notice that knots are developing more than usual, it’s time to get a cut.

3. Keep Your Hair Moisturized

You need to constantly supply your curls with moisturization as they’re naturally dry. Without the help of hydrating and softening agents, you’ll find your hair strands becoming fuzzy and matted.

To ensure your hair is properly moisturized, always deep condition it on wash day. You should also apply hair oils with nourishing and moisturizing properties, such as argan oil, once a week. 

But your true BFF here is the leave-in conditioner, which you should use every other day, if not every day!

4. Protect Your Hair While Sleeping

Start by switching your cotton pillowcase for a silk one; we’re telling you, it’ll make all the difference in the world. 

Moving your head while sleeping on a regular pillowcase causes a lot of friction, which leads to hair frizziness and knots when you wake up. On the other hand, a silk pillowcase is super smooth, so your hair seamlessly slides on it without resistance. 

The second thing we strongly advise you to do before going to bed is to put your curls in a protective hairstyle. This can be a loose low braid, a ponytail, or a pineapple bun; in all cases, don’t ever sleep with your hair down.

Final Word

When it comes to curly hair, it’s all about trial and error. Keep experimenting with various detangling methods, tools, and moisturizing products until you find the formula that hits all the right notes with your hair. 

Just make sure to follow the steps and tips we’ve outlined in this article, and we promise you’ll save a ton of time and energy on detangling sessions!

Paulina Romain

Paulina Romain is an entrepreneur and artist in the beauty industry. She is the founder and owner of The Art of Ink Studio, where she provides services such as permanent cosmetics, microblading, and artistic ink, focusing on personalized body art. Additionally, she owns Mill Pond Salon, through which she aims to deliver big-city salon services in the comfort of a small town. Apart from her hands-on work in her studios, Paulina Romain is also active on social media platforms like TikTok, where she showcases her fine line and cosmetic tattoo work. Furthermore, she's been in the salon and beauty industry for over 14 years and operates Team True Beauty with Sam Romain. This platform includes a blog on various beauty-related topics and marks the opening of two beauty brands by the couple.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts