Tip of the Month: Reducing Breakage While Detangling

So all signs point to combing as the number one cause of hair breakage.  And for our natural hair this carries a heavier weight because our hair is inherently more fragile, and thus more susceptible to breakage.  The comb is our enemy in this regard but it is also our defense against hair knotting, which our hair is more susceptible to as well, due to its tightly curly structure.  It seems sometimes we can't win when its either having to cut out single-strand and multi-strand knots (sacrificing length retention) or detangling more frequently and risking breakage (again, sacrificing length retention).

I don't have a magic solution.  The one thing I know is that how gently we comb our hair directly affects how much breakage we experience and, believe it or not, how much knots we get (especially multi-strand knots).
So I'm sharing my length retention (and overall hair health) tip of the month:
Gentle combing.
I know.  I know.  It sounds insanely intuitive.  Why am I wasting y'all's time?
I am telling you about this (or think of it as me reminding you) because, although its intuitive - we forget.  It's like shaving.  We know shaving fast leaves more knicks but usually we're in such a hurry.   We're shaving five minutes before our girls' arrive to pick us up for that party, or while our hubby's and bf's are nagging us to hurry up and we don't have time to go slow.

This post is about challenging the way you comb your hair. Tip? -  Go slow, like super-slow.  It even sounds tedious but, trust me when I say, it works. I have noticed a huge reduction in the number of knots I encounter when I detangle - when I comb slowly.  Here is my process:
  •  I pick a time to take a detangle when I am not going to be hurried, feeling cranky or feeling too tired.  I detangle in the shower and, honestly, if I am too tired or I am cranky, I skip detangling (of course I still shower!).  Don't detangle while you have food cooking on the stove, or children are screaming/disrupting you or any other thing that'll make you need to rush out of the shower.  I find that if I shower while food is cooking on the stove, I don't relax during detangling because I'm in a hurry to go check on the food.  If I am feeling hurried, tired or cranky, I let the steam get to my hair but I resolve to detangle the next time I shower.  Why?  I don't want my fatigue or irritation to get taken out on my hair during the most important step in handling it - detangling. For this reason, I have reduced my co-washes to several times per week.  I know those of you with longer hair don't co-wash that much anyway but the tip still works.  Do not detangle when you are hurried, tired or in a bad mood!  Re-schedule it if one of these moods reflect how you feel.

  • I apply conditioner before I do anything else in the shower and I leave it on while I bathe.  I wet hair with lukewarm water (not too hot because I don't want the water to strip my hair of moisture), apply my conditioner and then allow the steam and conditioner to work its magic soaking into my hair.  The result is that when I'm ready to detangle, there's optimal slip.

  • I do not agitate my hair before detangling.  I don't scrub my scalp (or I try not to) before detangling because I don't want to create more knots to comb through.

  • I detangle last!  This allows time for the conditioner to soak and allows me to relax when I am detangling because I've done everything else already.

  • I get comfortable while detangling.  I literally sit in my bath, lean back on my bath pillow and relax. This way I don't feel any need to hurry my detangling process because of discomfort or anxiousness to get out of the shower.

  • I detangle in sections and work comb through hair slowly!  And yes, (in case you missed the bold,  italic font and exclamation mark) I do mean slowly.  I know it sounds super-tedious but if you are relaxed, comfortable and enjoying the steam (and even music and candles if you like to indulge with your baths), it really isn't as tedious as it sounds.  And believe it or not, I have noticed much fewer knotting.  It made me realize that some of the knots I encountered while combing through were actually being formed as I was combing through because I was combing fast.

  • I keep a fine-toothed comb and my hair scissors at hand (close to the tub).  This way, if I encounter a knot during detangling, I can use the fine-toothed comb to try and loosen it.  Since the teeth are smaller, sometimes its actually better able to loosen the knot so I don't have to cut it out. And when all else fails, I snip.

  • I only work comb through each section once.  I don't see any reason why you need to re-comb the same section if you were able to work through, knots and all. The more you comb, the more you risk more knotting, and pulling - causes for breakage.

  • When my scalp itches, I gently rub the spot with my detangling comb, after detangling and while conditioner is still in hair. Doing this while conditioner is still in my hair minimizes risk of me breaking hair while scratching. The conditioner provides slip and I'm not using my nails (which is always tempting).