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Fairy Knots: How To Treat These Small Snags So You Don't Get Breakage

Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director By 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
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The name may sound mythical, but "fairy knots" are very much real in the world of curly hair. These tiny little snags may be small in size, but they can lead to breakage and damage if you're not careful—not to mention they can form bigger knots down the line.

And if you are prone to them—especially true for tighter curl patterns—you might be wondering what's your best course of action to limit these pesky little things, or what to do when you have them. Here, we spoke with hairstylist Danielle Malary of Lumiere Vive Salon, to get her favorite hair care game plan. 

What are fairy knots, exactly? 

"Fairy knots, also known as single-strand knots, are a curly kinky girl's nightmare," says Malary. "Fairy knots are single-strand knots that come as a result of loose curls winding around each other." They often look like small pretzel loops, pulled tight, and can be hard to direct since they're so small. And because they're so small, they can be hard to tend to: Sometimes the smallest problems can turn out to be our biggest.  

Here are step-by-step instructions:

  1. Start with a pre-shampoo treatment. Pre-shampoo treatments offer a level of physical protection around the strand, causing less friction and wear. "Before you begin cleansing your hair, pre-poo your hair with your favorite detangling concoction of oils and hair masks," she says. "Pre-pooing will help detangle and break through the bigger knots as well as those tiny little fairy knots. You'll end up with a lot less breakage." You can opt for your favorite leave-in mist, an organic hair oil, or one of these DIY masks
  2. Find your right night style. How you sleep on your hair makes a huge difference. "Make sure you're sleeping and protecting your hair," says Malary. "Pineapples, loose twists and braids are a sure solution to keeping your hair from rubbing and winding against each other." 
  3. Sleep in silk. Not just luxurious, silk and satin hair accessories seriously help overall health. Rather than porous fabrics, which grip and tug and strands, these help hair slide with ease. "Use a satin bonnet, satin pillowcase, and satin scrunchie," she says. "The proof is in the result: softer, shinier, and far fewer tangles."
  4. Stretch your hair out. "Protective styles like braids and twists stretch the curls so they're a lot less curly and less likely to wind around each other," she says. "It gives your curls a break and also allows your hair to detox and soak up moisture."
  5. Stick to a regular salon schedule. "Trim your hair every four to six months depending on how well your hair does in between cuts. If it's dead, cut it off," she says. Even if you're someone looking for growth, getting regular trims can actually help your length goals in the long run—so invest in a regular trim. 
  6. Hydrated, hydrate, hydrate. There are very few hair care advice articles that don't push the importance of proper hydration—especially in the curly community. "Use a deep-conditioning treatment regularly, or your hair will just continue to create more knots out of the desperate search for moisture," says Malary.
  7. Seal in the water. Because water evaporates over time, it's essential to seal in the moisture and nutrients with an occlusive agent, like an oil. "Lastly, seal your hair with an oil after you pack your hair with your essentials. The oil will create a protective barrier and help ease those fairy knots," she says. 

So with diligent care, moisture, and patience, keeping your hair free of fairy knots isn't impossible. Just be mindful of how you're washing your strands, what accessories you're using, and keep that salon visit regular.

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