How to Comb Natural Hair

Eccentric (fab blog) asks, 'i'm wondering how often you'd advice women with natural hair to comb. i tried to stop combing because i heard it was good for curl definition. however my hair got really tangled and broke easily.'

There is a lot of research on combing hair and its potential effect (breakage).

1. In African hair, because of its tight and curly nature, daily combing can be the equivalent of a hair cut (J Am Acad Dermatol, 54(5):886-8,2006). The type of comb used was not described and whether hair was combed wet or dry was not confirmed.

2. Combing hair produces mainly short breaks in hair (less than an inch) but brushing tends to break longer pieces of hair (over an inch long). However, both methods do both have long and short breaks, therefore combing is not necessarily better than brushing (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, Vol. 26, No. 6, 289-297,1975).

3. Combing hair with conditioner reduces breakage (J Cosmet Sci., 58(4):477-84, 2007).

So what would I recommend? First how often should you comb - only when you need to- meaning for styling purposes. Try washing your hair in several loose braids (4 or more depending on your hair length) as this helps to stop it from tangling. Second, how should you comb? I have two options

1. Lisa Akbari's finger combing method (my choice) - Use a detangler and your fingers (no combs). At the most basic level, water can be a detangler. Use the spray to do the detangling and gently use your fingers to pry open any tangles. I don't use any of Lisa's products myself because I'm happy with water but this does not mean they are not good (anyone who uses them, feel free to give us a product review). You can braid the sections as you go along to keep some length. I think this is the best method for type 4 hair.

2. Teri's method - This is probably the best method for type 3 hair. Use conditioner as a styling aid to clump curls. Many type 4's will not like this method as it will shrink your hair a lot and can sometimes feel crunchy. I don't think either of these are bad because shrinkage is normal and the crunchy feel is sometimes just the feel of clumps which are normal too. Type 4 hair does not clump in spirals either so be prepared for that.

To see Lisa's detangling method on video - click here
To see Teri's conditioner method on video - click here

How do you detangle your hair, does it work well?


  1. Great info! I only comb my hair 1x week when I wash it and I use the finger method.

  2. thanks a lot for this! i guess i'm still at the trail and error stage with my hair. it was a TWA a few months ago and now i'm like 'what will i do with you?'

    i've limited combing to when necessary and i only comb with conditioner in sections etc. i'll try finger combing

  3. I agree Ophelia - less is definitely more when it comes to combing.

    @Eccentric - thanks for the question

  4. Ack, finger combing was an epic fail for me. I tried Lisa Akbari's method and all I got was millions of little knots at the ends of my strands. I stick to the wide tooth comb - once a week with conditioner, then every so often to fluff out my fro, though I usually don't comb all the way through then. Not sure if this makes a difference, but I got the impression from Chicoro's Fotki that it does, because she doesn't brush or comb her hair all the way through.

    Chicoro's method would probably work best for me, but it takes too long and right now it wouldn't fit with my schedule. I should make time for it, though.

  5. @mellowyel - I think you should stick to what works best and if the combing with conditioner works for you, then stick with it.

    I have not experience more knotting than usual. I have found that using water as my spray helps the hair rehydrate and also the strands separate. However, I definitely think all hair is different, so if it doesn't work, try something else!

  6. Great post. I'm 4A and my hair laughed at the conditioner only method. I've started washing and conditioning my hair in sections b/c my hair is finally long enough and it works great. Most of the time I only need my fingers to detangle my hair.

  7. I like terri's method better and I have 4a/4b hair. The conditioner help so much that I don't have to comb that much. My finger only get more tangled and I always miss a spot. I only comb while I wash my hair and that is only once a week. Combing and smoothing the conditioner helps to make sure that I got all the hair de-tangled and I do this in section. But great post.

  8. I have tried 3 methods - all with conditoner in wet hair - denman, comb, fingers. I have to say the denman was excellent at detangling but I was not too happy with overall hair loss (though mostly shed hair). Combing was less traumatic and fingers least. Now I mostly finger detangle because my hair is in twists 90% of the time so does not get knotted or tangled when I take them down. I wash/detangle every week.
    BTW Jc- sending you a bunch of thank you cyber flowers for the coconut oil research/advice. I feel it is the best step I have added to my hair this year! I finally got my application right and my hair retains moisture for days after I apply it.:-D

  9. Thanks for contributing Milan and Ayomide

    @Didi - Thanks for the flowers - that was really nice, I'm going to put them up in my cyber vase!

  10. finger comb today. finger comb tomorrow. FINGER COMB FOREVER!
    It can take some time, but add a thick conditioner, and I'm pretty much set. I use my denman maybe once a week for a "hard core detangling session" right before I deep condition.

    I've never tried water only, but I'll give it a try.

  11. I don't use a comb really anymore, for me personally I felt like I was just ripping out my hair, also I think it was weak at that point as well. Every so often when I wash and deep condition once every two weeks I do(and its a really wide tooth comb) but if I use henna or a protein conditioner then I just separate it with my fingers. I tried terri's conditioner method only a few months back and my hair felt hard and dry so I wasn't feeling it. I even used the Shikai conditioner she recommended, its actually great for normal use for me just not leave on use. My hair does feel thicker now since I only use my fingers, my curls are more defined and my hair just feels much happier.

    Me+ perm+ comb =tea time in the UK
    Me+ natural hair+ comb= WWF

  12. Me too Alice - finger combing all the way.I have not used a comb in months (except to part my cornrows!)

    Lol Jaded - I love your comments, they always make me laugh!

  13. Hi there!

    Thanks for sharing this!!

    There was a lady in my church who NEVER EVER combed her hair and people would give her all sorts of looks... she thought it was because her hair was natural... ummmm, no, it was because her hair looked like a mess! A hot mess! I think that she had the right intentions...she didn't want to damage it by combing it daily but she didn't know any alternatives so she just walked around with it totally matted with lint in it...

  14. I have to say, less is more for me. I usually load up my hair with conditioner and go to town with a wide tooth. after i can get my wide tooth through with no problems i use the denman. then i don't detangle my hair for a good week or week and a half. maybe i'll finger comb in between.

  15. But JC, how can you do otherwise if you have a 3" TWA and you don't want to put extensions but your hair are too shorter for twist/braid? I comb my hair ever morning with olive oil. And I feel like most of natural hairecare advise are only for long hair? I really do not like combing my hair everyday but at the same time, I need to "wake up" my TWA. BTW I have 4C/4B hair and it's thick. I really need help!! Thank you for your great blog!

  16. Hi Ellie - If your combing method does not result in breaking hair, you do not need to change it. I would recommend that you wet your hair a little bit to give it some flexibility and then use a wide tooth comb. Oil is good for slip but water will help the hair not to break when force is applied to it (it does not have to be soaking wet - think about 80-90% dry)


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