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Detangling 101

Frustration is an enemy I greatly respect when detangling my daughters' hair. It can cause me to rip through knots and reach for the scissors when I encounter resistance. I also watch out for haste. I'm tempted to take ineffective short cuts when I'm rushing. These lead back to frustration. What a shame to sacrifice the health of my daughters' hair because I chose to approach a task I lacked the time to do right. Nappy hair is easier to detangle when we approach the process deliberately from ends to root. My girls and I began to enjoy our sessions more when we set aside a special time just for hair maintenance.

On Hair Day, I make sure the answering machine is ready to pick up my calls. We set up a comfortable location. If I'm sitting, I make sure my daughters are positioned so my back doesn't start hurting. I generally like to stand behind a high stool which lifts my girls to the perfect height. From the time my daughters were little, I trained them to sit still for our grooming sessions by offering them a video. The fact that we only watch TV on weekends makes this a fun treat for everyone.

Follow me step by step, as I illustrate a detangling session with Mocha Girl One.

Style History
Mocha Girl One had her hair in twists for three weeks. When I took them down, her hair was set in a nice wavy pattern we like to call a
twist out. I planned to let her enjoy her twist out for several days before putting in another set of twists, but she became ill. Mocha Girl One stayed in bed with loose hair for an additional week. As a result, her hair appeared to be extremely matted and tangled. Approaching this task on dry hair or with grease would be a long painful nightmare for my daughter. The strands were intertwined snuggly, because they'd been left to shrink and wind about each other for a long time. Nappy hair in this condition has to be coaxed apart. Moisture will agitate the strands to release their grip, and conditioner will help them to slide free. I easily detangled Mocha Girl One's hair once it was saturated with my conditioner mix. The entire session took thirty minutes.

Step One
Set yourself and your daughter up comfortably. What will she be doing to keep herself entertained while you're doing her hair? Will this activity last the length of your detangling session? Try to make sure everything you need is within easy reaching distance. Ask your daughter if she's comfortable. Make sure you are able to move freely around your daughters head. Are you comfortable? Avoid positions that force you to hunch over, resulting in neck and back strain. This may seem excessive, but I find I can do a better job if I'm not constantly stopping to make adjustments.

Step Two
Tools of the trade include a spray bottle filled with 3/4 water, 1/4 conditioner and a tablespoon of castor oil. Play around with this formula. Add more conditioner and castor oil to create more slip.

Paddle brush. I use a Denman Brush with widely spaced bristles.

Rat tail comb. I ONLY use the tail of the comb to pry apart my braid stitch.

Clips to hold the hair you are not working with out of the way.

Step Three
Use your fingers to isolate a small section of hair no larger than two inches square.

Clip the hair you aren't working with out of the way.

Saturate the hair by spritzing it with the conditioner mix in your spray bottle.

Step Four
Grasp the section of hair you are working with firmly, allowing lots of slack at the roots. You will begin the detangling process at the ends. Apply your paddle brush about one inch from the ends and gently slide it down towards empty space. Test the resistance of the strands as you go. If you encounter resistance stop and investigate its cause. Knots may be unraveled with the tail of your comb, or a hair pin. If you are unable to undo the knot after studying it, I have found it better to snip it away with a sharp pair of sheers then to rip it away with a tug. Ripped hair becomes split and frayed.

Generally, I encounter few knots if I remove my styles carefully and saturate my daughters' hair well with the conditioner mix.

As the brush slides down easily into empty space, move up your section of hair about an inch at a time until the entire length is free of tangles.

Repeat the process with another small section of tangled hair.

Step Five
When you've accumlated about three 2 inch square sections of detangled hair, braid them together loosely. This step is extremely important. Wet nappy hair shrinks rapidly. By braiding up the loose hair quickly we can prevent strands from ensnaring adjacent strands as the hair shrinks.

Step Six
Once the entire head is detangled and braided up loosely, allow your daughter to rinse the braids profusely in the sink or shower. Mocha Girl One's hair tolerates a residue of conditioner well, but I have to be sure to rinse the conditioner mix completely from my other daughter's hair. Otherwise, their hair looks dull and chalky. You may want to shampoo the hair if it's dirty. A great time saving tip is to leave the hair braided loosely while shampooing. I find the detangling process with the paddle brush to be extremely effective in removing debris from my daughters' hair. Be sure to rinse, rinse and rinse to remove the conditioner trapped within the braids.

Step Seven
Allow to dry.

Step Eight
Prepare to style.

Pictured last is the ball of hair I removed from the paddle brush when we were done. We shed about eighty to one hundred strands a day. Mocha Girl One's shed strands were trapped in her twists for three weeks. They floated in her twist out for an additional week. When we consider the length of her hair, we can conclude that she lost an acceptable amount.

All rights reserved copywritten by Natacha Moten


  1. Wow you take really great care of your daughter's hair!

  2. Thx Chan! This session I've described would have been a true nightmare had I done it with a comb, on dry hair. Grease definitely wouldn't have helped--we would have both been crying. Her hair was soooooo tangled and matted--yet it only took me 30 minutes and my daughter barely flinched.

  3. I tried this and it worked! My 2 y/o has been sick for a week as well and her twists in her 6 ponytails came a loose and were drawn up and matted looking terrible... I made this solution and detangling was soooo easy! Thanks Natacha!


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