1 of the most sacred tenets of the modern approach to curly hair is “Never detangle your hair when it's dry”. This is the complete inverse of mainstream (straight hair-focused) thinking, which is to never detangle your hair when it is wet.
When it comes to your head of curls, who's right?
When the “comb curls only when they are wet” idea emerged, it threw a lot of people for a loop. Many of us had grown up dragging a fine-toothed comb through bone-dry hair, ignoring the scraping sound and the shower of tiny hairs that often covered our shirts when we were done. Our hair was hard enough to get through when dry; why on earth would we try to do the same when it was wet?
On top of that, conventional wisdom passed on from scientists and stylists alike, was to never comb your hair wet. Why? Because the hair is more vulnerable when wet, and combing it in this state can overstretch it, damaging its structure beyond repair.
So, what was this new revolution in haircare based on? Had scientific evidence emerged to discount the effect on the hair shaft of manipulating it excessively while wet? No. Repeated studies continue to document the hair's increased fragility when wet. But the proponents of wet-combing themselves did not deny that the hair was more fragile when wet. What they suggested, however, was that the increased combability and decreased frizz that resulted from wet detangling was a fair trade-off for tackling curls at their most delicate. Plus, with careful handling and the generous use of conditioner, friction and tension would be kept to a minimum, reducing the potential for damage.
For many curlyheads, the adoption of this method brought paradigm-shifting results. Not only did they experience the multitude of benefits on a personal level - more manageable hair, enhanced curl formation, increased hold and control, easier detangling, decreased breakage, enhanced efficacy of conditioners – they also saw their experience mirrored back at them, fairground funhouse style, via powerful anecdotes, photos and videos from fora, image-sharing sites and virtual communities all over the Internet.
But for some, the wet-combing revolution has proved not to be the epiphany it has been for others. Not only have the increased use of conditioner and better combing techniques proved insufficient at protecting their hair from a marked increase in damage when wet, it also is not enough to immunise some heads of hair from mass matting as soon as the water hits. In addition, many find the process more labour-intensive and time-consuming. It seems that just as dry combing was not the panacea for all the world's tangles, neither is wet combing, even when combined with a good dose of conditioner.
So, what's a girl to do? Years down the line after the curly hair explosion, many naturals are still grappling with the dilemma of when to detangle:
Too wet = tangles + overstretching + extra time,
Too dry = breakage + frizz +non-lasting results.
Some have stayed loyal to the new revolution, revelling in the benefits of wet-combing while bravely taking its shortcomings on the chin. Others have trudged, heads down, back to the still imperfect dry detangling rituals of yore. Still others deal by putting detangling sessions off as long as possible until inevitably resigning themselves to wrenching the tangles apart, wet or dry.
But there are some little-discussed alternative methods, variations on soaking wet and bone dry detangling which might suit a lot of the people for whom neither extreme was a good fit. Those alternatives are damp detangling and low-friction dry detangling. Damp detangling involves applying conditioner on dry hair to detangle, in an almost identical procedure to wet detangling, minimising the amount of water in the strand and thus the level of distortion to the hair's structure. Low-friction dry detangling, on the other hand, employs the most smoothing, drag-reducing products to help gently unpick tangles and remove shed hair, completely water-free. Check out our tutorial blog on how to master both methods.
DHA Hair Care Experts