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So About Detangling — Should You Do It Wet Or Dry? What Experts Say To Prevent Breakage

Someone touching hair post shower
Image by Bogdan Kurylo / iStock
September 24, 2020

If done wrong, detangling can cause a big ol' mess: Harsh pulling can mean pain and irritation at the scalp, frayed ends, and mass shedding. Ever look at your brush and see big clumps of knotted hair? Yeah, that's a signal that you could likely stand to be a bit gentler to your delicate strands. 

But what people often don't realize is that there are specific ways to detangle your hair depending on your hair type—and that all comes down to whether you are doing it wet or dry. See, some argue that detangling your hair when wet can stretch out the strand and rough it up when it's at its most vulnerable (more on that soon), while others simply scoff at the idea of taking a brush to their fully dried strands—knowing it would result in broken strands littered on the bathroom floor.

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So, let's detangle detangling, shall we? 

For loose waves or straight strands: Detangle dry.

So, if your hair is straight to loose waves, you should opt for brushing or combing your hair while dry. This is because your hair is structurally its weakest while wet. "Hair is very elastic when it's wet," Clay Nielsen, a hair care expert and celebrity stylist, previously told us about wet hair. So if you are brushing it while sopping wet, it can stretch out the strand leading to breakage as it dries and shrinks back up. 

Instead, stylists recommend gently brushing your hair from root to tip before your shower. And remember: Be patient. You never know when you're going to hit a snag or knot, so you should be careful as you don't want to accidentally pull out a small chunk of hair. Finally, if you feel you need a bit of help (like, say your hair is particularly unruly) a spritz or two of a leave-in can help the process. 

For curls: Wet with loads of conditioner.

Now, if you have curls or coils (or even particularly tangle-prone waves), you likely know that detangling while dry is, uh, a recipe for a disaster. Not only can this result in hair loss, but it's painful! Instead, wait till you get in the shower.  

"Never dry brush your ringlets. Cleanse scalp and hair in warm water to remove dirt, sweat, and product buildup, then rinse, then apply conditioner," says hairstylist Miko Branch, co-founder of hair care line Miss Jessie's Originals. "Use a nourishing conditioner to gently detangle hair. Practice patience, be kind to your hair, and use your fingers and/or a wide-toothed comb."

See, the conditioner is able to soften and nourish strands while wet: Essentially it creates a physical barrier around your hair, making the detangling process much gentler. Plus it can add some slip to help you work through knots and tangles (a common issue for curly gals). So even if your hair is structurally weakest, the conditioner will provide enough protection to mitigate any issues.

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The takeaway.

How you detangle strands should depend on your hair type. (Much like any hair care tip is type-dependent.) The most important thing to remember for anyone is to be gentle on your hair, go slow, and never pull. 

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Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.