Localised detangling. . .
Not knowing the correct way to detangle two-texture hair is one of the main reasons for the breakage at the line of demarcation that a lot of transitioners see. This breakage is not an inevitable part of transitioning, however; it's an inevitable consequence of poor combing practices that don't take the differences between the two hair types into account.
Transitioning hair must be detangled in a very focused, localised way, that takes into account where one hair type ends and another begins, with the level of force adjusted accordingly. We'll show you how to do just that in a sec, but first get, your equipment together.
To detangle your transitioning hair you'll need the following:
Mastering the detangling art
Detangling can be done on dry or wet hair, depending on your needs. If your tresses are especially prone to tangling, it might be best if you detangle your hair both before you wash it and afterwards, while the conditioner is still in.
Relaxed hair is more prone to matting when wet, so, in general, detangling when wet will likely be the way to go if the majority of your hair is relaxed. Whichever method or combination of methods best suits your hair is something that will make itself clear after a little bit of trial and error, so feel free to experiment.
Step One: Section
The first step to take will be to section your hair. Using your fingers to part should be enough, but if you're used to using a comb, try the tail of the tailcomb to get smoother parts. How many sections you make will depend on a number of things, the density of your hair (more density = more sections), the size of your head (bigger = more sections), the length of your hair (shorter = more sections), and how tangled or tangle-prone your hair is (more tangles/tendency to tangle = more sections).
Overall, however, you should end up with about 8-20 sections. In rare cases, you might need a few more sections, such as on days where your hair is very dry or if you've skipped a detangling session or used the wrong type of shampoo. So always make sure you have a good few extra ponytail holders on hand for emergencies.
Step Two: Apply conditioner
Next, gently remove one of the ponytail holders or clips. Generously apply your conditioners to the section. First, apply the conditioner which suits your natural hair at the roots, then gently work in the conditioner that suits your relaxed hair on the remaining length of the hair. If you are using a conditioner that works on both kinds of hair, then simply apply from root to tip.
Step Three: Comb the relaxed portion of your hair
Let the conditioner sit on the hair for about a minute or so, then begin to detangle, starting from your relaxed ends. Relaxed hair is extremely fragile, so be sure that when you are combing it, you minimise the amount of force that goes into your strands. To do so, lay the section of hair against one of your palms, folding your thumb over it to hold it in place.
Put your thumb a few inches away from the ends to start with – you will move it up as you finish detangling bit by bit. This way, your hand will absorb some of the force that is exerted as you comb through your hair.
With your thumb firmly in place, begin to slowly work through the strands with your brush or comb. Once you're up to the point held by your thumb, go back to the bottom of your strands and start detangling again. This time, however, put the brush or comb on the underside of your hair, and work your way up carefully on that side to ensure you haven't missed any tangles which might be located on that side of the hair.
Once you've cleared the tangles lower down, move your thumb up another few inches, and start to detangle from the ends up until you again reach the thumb. Then, do the same on the underside of your hair. Repeat this method until you reach the top of the relaxed hair.
Step Four: Unravel knots by hand
If you encounter a particularly troublesome knot, stop and attempt to work it apart with your fingers. Don't simply grab either side and pull, however, but see if with gentle backwards pushing and picking, such as what you might do to unravel a knot in a pair of shoelaces, you are able to loosen the knot. If that is unsuccessful, try rubbing on the knot, between your thumb and fingers, to see if it can gently be massaged apart.
Another method is to simply try to lift the strands out of the knot by holding the knot itself with your fingers and gently tugging on one or more of the affected strands, in an upwards direction.
Hopefully, one of these methods will work, but if none do, then have a good pair of scissors at the ready; it is better to cut a recalcitrant knot out than to attempt to yank it apart – the tension involved will compromise the rest of the strand. Just leaving it in risks allowing it to latch onto other strands, creating further tangles and loss of length.
Step Five: Comb the natural portion of your hair
Once you hit the natural section of your hair, you will again be detangling from the end – but this time, just the end of the natural hair, working towards the root. The overall method is the same; work your way up the hair, then go to the underside and work your way back up again. The only difference is you should try to stay focused on the natural hair, and try to restrict contact with the relaxed hair in order not to put more strain on it than it can handle.
While you have only a small amount of new growth (i.e., under 3 inches) it is best to use a comb, rather than a brush, to detangle your natural sections. This will give you more control and focus so you stay in the natural area and don't stray over into the relaxed. If a wide tooth comb is not enough for your tangles, then follow it with a medium tooth comb. And remember, even though your natural strands feel more robust, they still need to be treated with care – comb through them gently. If you start to hear them, add more conditioner.
Once you've worked your magic on one section of hair, replace its clip or ponytail holder and move onto the next, until all sections are done.
Finally, fingercomb through all of your hair, from natural roots to relaxed tips, to ensure it is fully detangled. You can also give it a quick pass or two with your wide tooth comb.
How long should it take?
How long the whole process will take depends on how much hair you have to detangle, how tangled your hair is, and how many sections you've made. It also matters what conditioner you choose, so make sure that both the conditioner you use for your relaxed hair and the one for your natural hair have maximum slip.
The first time you do this, be sure to set aside a large window of time as it can be very time-consuming, especially when you are not used to the technique. Overall, it should take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
How often do I detangle?
Once you’ve done all the work of detangling, don’t let all that effort go to waste. Keeping your hair both well-lubricated and well-contained minimises tangle risk, so your good work doesn’t get undone so much as the days go by. Usually, if you keep your hair well-maintained between washes, you won't have to detangle your hair on a daily basis. Weekly or even biweekly will typically be sufficient. Since manipulation is stressful to the hair, it's worth avoiding even a small amount of that strain if you can, as even if you don’t notice it at the time, the damage is cumulative in its effect.
But don’t stretch your detangling sessions if you realise your hair is especially prone to tangling; allowing complex mats and snarls to build up means subjecting your hair to extra force for more time when next you do detangle, which might end up being much more damaging than just detangling more frequently.
Most of all. . .
Be patient with yourself and your hair. Mastering the art of good detangling, especially on hair that is complete opposites on the same strand, takes practice. Once you've got your technique down pat, you'll be able to sail through the other parts of caring for transitioning hair, including washing it.
DHA Hair Care Experts
Dominican Hair Alliance