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Detangling

For many of us, it might as well be a four letter word. Some of us avoid it until our hair is on the brink of disaster, while others may do some form of it a few times a week or even daily. We all know the dangers of pushing detangling sessions too far back -- from breakage and matting to cutting out clumps of knots. But what about detangling too frequently? Is there a such thing as doing too much detangling?

There's an old adage that says, too much of anything is bad for you. By and large, that tends to be true. Detangling is great for releasing shed hairs, making the removal of buildup easier, and not to mention, it is the cornerstone of every fabulous natural hair style. But when done too often, detangling can lead to the following:

Hygral Fatigue

Every time we douse our hair in water, the shaft expands to accommodate the uptake in water. As it dries, the shaft contracts and returns to normal. This is a regular thing for all hair, and does not typically cause damage--except for when done in excess. Constant expansion and contraction (from doing daily wash and go's or daily soaking wet detangling) can cause damage to the cuticles and cortex of the hair, weakening them to the point of premature breakage. This does not mean that you should avoid moisture at all costs -- just pull back to spritzes of water or a refresher, or light moisturizers and creams instead of dunking your hair in water. The best way to tell if you have hygral fatigue is to take a few strands of hair the next time you wet it, and pull them gently. If your hair springs right back to its kinky, coily, or curly self, then you're good to go. If the hair takes a while to retract back (like an overstretched scrunchie), or just breaks in your hand, you've got hygral fatigue.

Excessive Cuticle Wear/Thinning Ends

Another pitfall of excessive manipulation via detangling is wear on the cuticles -- especially the ends. Every time we touch our hair, we take a little cuticle with us. So even if you're doing the most gentle, coconut oil-only, 3 hour painstakingly slow detangling session, you're still causing your hair damage. When done on a regular basis (not excessive), the results should not significantly impact your hair health and length retention. But if your hands are in your hair detangling constantly, expect every move of a comb, fingers, or denman to chip away at the cuticle of your hair. You may not notice it at first, but gradually the ends will begin to thin out and look wiry.

You may even find that your hair is having difficulty retaining moisture, because excessive detangling/combing has led to chipped cuticles along the shaft, causing moisture to be lost. If it's not too late, cut back on detangling and combing sessions now. To prevent further damage, begin incorporating protein treatments (like Eva NYC Therapy Session Hair Mask, Hydratherma Naturals Amino Plus Protein Deep Conditioner, or ApHogee Curlific Texture Treatment) into your deep conditioning regimen, and use leave-ins with protein (like It's a 10 Miracle Leave-In Plus Keratin, and ApHogee Keratin & Green Tea Restructurizer Spray) to help patch up the cuticle.

Breakage

All breakage is not preventable. Our hair wears and tears with everyday life, but that doesn't mean everyday detangling is okay. Excessive manipulation via detangling and combing leads to more breakage than necessary -- whether it be from hygral fatigue, worn down cuticles, or just mechanical stress. Hair without a white bulb on the ends (regardless of length) is breakage. Seeing more bulb-less wisps of hair than not? Time to change up the routine.

Unnecessary Hair Loss

Even if your hair isn't breaking excessively, chances are with every tug of a finger detangle, or move of a comb, you're uprooting hair that isn't ready to leave your scalp yet. Shed hair that has left your scalp and needs to be freed from entanglement will always have a white bulb on the end. Have you ever encountered a hair that had a dark brown or blackish bulb at the end? That's a hair that was plucked directly from your scalp before it was ready to go! Everyday combing and detangling increases the likelihood of removing hair from your scalp that could still be well, hair on your head. Over time, hair may appear thinner and if done excessively, can cause trauma to the follicle to the point where hair will not regrow.

So, How Much is TOO Much?

The painful truth here is that there is no right answer. Just like detangling methods (wet, dry, damp, oil-only) and tools (fingers, comb, Denman), the frequency with which to detangle is totally individual and only found through trial and error. Generally speaking, shorter TWA length hair of any texture, and looser curls and waves can be detangled more frequently without as much concern for adverse consequence. But for those looking to retain maximum length, or that are on a growth journey, less is always more.

I typically detangle and wash my hair every 4 to 6 days because I have scalp psoriasis and I work out regularly, so I need to remove sweat and dirt from my scalp. I have found that this works for my hair. Some detangle weekly and wash monthly. It's up to you, and what your hair can handle. But for most textures, I would recommend not detangling more than twice a week. Overstepping this occasionally won't wreak havoc on your hair. But remember what we discussed earlier? Too much of anything is bad for you and your hair.

The Bottom Line:

Our Hair Never "Fully" Detangles

One last thing to take into consideration before your next detangling session is: that our hair never fully detangles. Our kinks, coils, and curls looooooove each other so much that they'd rather buddy up together than remain apart. This is the main reason why many naturals wash and detangle their hair in sections, and twist or braid each section up as they go along. So even if after 2 hours your hair isn't 100% tangle-free, that's okay. We're never going to get each and every single tangle out of our hair -- it is an impossible task. So save yourself some time, a few broken hairs, and a heap of conditioner by aiming to have your hair between 80 and 90% detangled each time.


Christina Patrice is NaturallyCurly.com's resident 3C product junkie, who documents her healthy hair journey through her blog, ManeObjective.com.

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