Detangling Dry Natural Hair : Why it works

The question today is should you try detangling dry hair? Normally people relate dry detangling with broken hair especially if you use a comb or brush and the teeth get stuck at points. This point is the reason why I think that hair that is not straight or wavy generally does not respond well to being combed when dry with a comb or brush.

However, finger detangling where you can feel tangles and not rip through the hair is a different matter. For some natural hair, dry finger detangling or mildly damp hair (water misted or light conditioner applied) works better.

The Experiment : How  natural behaves when wet

 I made a swatch using 25 strands of my shed hair. Each strand was selected because it had a visible follicle and therefore could be correctly aligned. Hair strands that were cut to a fixed length of 10 inches.
Simulation of Wet Detangling: If your hair has a high level of shrinkage, very wet hair will only cause it to coil up defeating the purpose of detangling. The coiling means that each strand is able to interact with other strands and therefore intertwine and possibly knot (a reason why you should also consider not washing this type of hair free)
In this image the hair swatch has been soaked in water for 1 minute, wiped dry and then photographed
In this image the hair swatch is braided first, soaked in water for 1 minute, wiped dry, unbraided and photographed

Simulation of Dry Detangling: On dry or semi dry hair, the situation is different. The strands are forced to align making it easy to find tangles and when left loose tend to stay relatively apart from other (i.e stay detangled)
In this image the hair swatch is dry and is stretched out
In this image the hair swatch is dry and loose (i.e the force holding the stretch is removed)

Note: Dry detangling is not suitable for everyone. If your hair naturally forms spirals or corkscrews, can clump up when conditioner is applied to it or has a loose wave or curl, dry detangling is not ideal for your hair. The clumping of the curls protects your hair from breakage as the strands are strengthened by being in a cohesive group. Additionally your hair is probably best styled by encouraging this clumping. Therefore conditioner combing on wet hair is most suited for that type of natural hair.


  1. I mainly detangle my hair wet with condtioner but doing it dry is a good option to have also.
    Great post by the way,i love the magnified pictures!Afro hair is so versatile and beautiful.

  2. Great post,i love the magnified pics,afro hair is soooo cool and beautiful!

    I mainly detangle on wet hair coated with condtioner but i know i can detangle dry before i wash my hair if i do so gently with my fingers. :) It is good to have more options.

  3. Great post. I've found that dry finger-detangling is my best bet for removing as many shed hairs as possible before ever getting anywhere near the shower. I have much better control of my hair, it makes it easier to divide into sections for washing and I can keep the need for trimming tangles to the minimum that way.

  4. Read your blog all the time. Nice to have you back online. Dry detangling works best for me and my girls but it just takes so looong!

    Enjoy the Netherlands

  5. Great post, your hair is very, very similar to mine own!

    I like dry detangling with an oil/aloe mix with my fingers before I use any type of comb or brush. Sometimes I just do a dry detangle and call it day if I'm feeling lazy.

    I don't want to do a rushed job of detangling and cause more problems.

  6. my hair is defo the type that does better with conditioner n water, it clumps. :)

  7. Thank you all so much for the comments :)

  8. I only disagree for one reason. I do agree with the general concept. I do detangle dry and stretched sometimes. BUT I don't really have and issue going from semi wet wash-and-go hair to detangle. I have 4a hair or whatever. my hair is 1/4in or smaller diameter basically. Detangling dry and then wetting it you will def have problems because when detangling dry, the hair becomes over separated and then curls that way when we; to have curl strength and definition, the strands should stick together. However, if I detangle dry with oil, then shower and finger comb through a conditioner, or slippery product (like gel), the curls very easily clump, and dry beautifully. Doing it thing that way (esp. without combing with a tool) has allowed me to achieve wash and go without undesirable damage. Also, my hair doesn't become over streched, which causes detangling and curl pattern problems in the long run.

    1. In the last paragraph, I talked about when dry detangling is not ideal. I also specifically referenced hair that clumps up because as you correctly say, this type of hair is more ideally combed when wet/conditioner combed to keep the clumps. Not all natural hair can actually clump up, this technique is most suited for hair that does not form clumps.

  9. I like these microscopic pictures. your hair looks super healthy and almost glossy even!

  10. Dry detangling before shampooing is perfect for my kinky hair. I do it with my fingers and coconut oil, coconut oil+conditioner or an aloe vera gel/castor oil mix. After detangling, I wash in twists. These methods--finger-detangling, dry detangling and washing in twists--have decreased breakage in my hair.

  11. I swear by dry detangling with my fingers. I wash my hair in loose twists or braids and the only way to get it into those twists is to do a pretty thorough detangling beforehand. Once in the shower, before I deep condition I take one twist apart run my fingers through again for stray hairs and smooth in conditioner. Then I continue this throughout my head.

  12. I think dry detangling (with fingers) is a key to retaining length for drier and kinker textures...I can't see myself doing it any other way.

  13. Just wanted to thank you for writing this and especially for the last paragraph about dry detangling not working for hair that clumps together. Whenever I am told that I should dry detangle or read about, and it is a failure, I wonder why. I kept wanting to give it a chance because so many swear by it, and I didn't want to do any unecessary damage to my hair by finger combing when wet. This fine haired curly thanks you.


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