root shrinkage: a natural phenomenon
It might come as a surprise to some transitioners or relaxed heads, but even on non-processed hair there is often a marked difference between the roots and the ends of our hair. Mostly due to gravity, the coils of naturally curly hair tend to be much denser and tighter at the roots and looser towards the tips.
For most curlyheads, this is part of the natural order of things and not an area of concern. In fact, encouraging root shrinkage can allow for interesting play with the length of your hair, creating the illusion of a shorter do one day, with longer tresses the next. However, on some heads of hair, this natural pattern can also mean more tangling and dramatic unevenness.
With everything from haircare columns to the back of your bottle of conditioner encouraging you to “pay special attention to the ends” when applying products, it's little surprise that most of the talk about tangles also focuses on the tips of your hair. For the root tangle-afflicted, however, the issue is actually much closer to the scalp.
root shrinkage = tangle opportunity
With the roots (or more technically, the base) of the hair representing hair at its newest, freshest and most resilient, it's also hair at its most resistant. Its curl pattern is stronger, it is springier and it is usually the thickest part of the strand. That's the good part. The not-so-good part is that root shrinkage, which can encourage the hair to draw up haphazardly, is often just the opportunity for ferocious root tangles to sneak in.
It makes sense then, that to keep your roots from tangling, you also have to regulate root shrinkage. Here's how to do so without interfering with your natural curl pattern:
Concentrate your conditioner at the roots
It runs counter to all the run-of-the-mill advice, but if you have hair that tangles at the root, you need to put more conditioner up there. Doing so reduces shrinkage at the root due to the added weight, which in turn will reduce tangle formation. It also helps detangle the root tangles more easily by boosting slip.
detangle your roots while your hair is wet
Loading the roots up with conditioner and combing (or brushing) it through while wet as a final step in the wash process gives you a chance to get into the densest part of your hair while it is at its most flexible and least compact. Gently combing your hair through with conditioner loosens the super-strength grip of the roots, with its plans to pull right up as soon as your hair gets dry. When the conditioner is actually combed through, hair tends to shrink significantly less once dry, compared to hair on which conditioner is simply applied and rinsed off.
use leave in from root to tip
Again, to get on top of root tangles, you have to violate this sacred tenet of modern haircare tradition. You can't just apply your leave in at the ends. As a matter of fact, you can't even “concentrate the product at the ends”. On root tangle-prone hair, you apply it all the way through and concentrate it at first few inches nearest the scalp.
To decrease both tangles and the shrinkage that heightens them in one fell swoop, you can do the reverse of the popular practice of “sealing your ends” and seal your roots, by adding a butter, oil or serum over your leave in. This will add lubricity, helping strands slide past each other rather than grabbing onto each other and tangling, and also add weight so shrinkage at the root lessens slightly. The added weight makes it less likely for the strands to fall at cross-angles to each other as the roots pull the rest of the hair up in different directions.
dry your hair in secure sections
The fiercest tangles often appear on hair that has been allowed to dry according to its own volition.
Alternatively, using a smoothing product, make sure your strands are well-defined into separate “super curls”, formed of similarly-curled adjacent strands, so they are not encouraged to pull away from their respective groups and become entangled in one another as they dry.
Remember: maximum shrinkage - and thus maximum tangling - occurs while your hair is drying! Some people use banding, in which covered hair elastics are placed at the roots (or at strategic points along the length of the hair*), to encourage the hair to dry in a stretched manner, thus cutting down on shrinkage and reducing the wraparound tendencies that lead to root tangles.
Even once your hair is dry, don't forget to keep it secured at night so the individual hairs don't become mussed, especially at the scalp.
* If you do not want to change your curl pattern throughout your hair do not band the whole length as this process is designed to create a loosened curl.
avoid root tangles: don't scrunch
Scrunching (squeezing your hair towards the roots to encourage curl formation) is for people who don't have enough shrinkage. They want a tighter curl and volume at the roots. If you have serious root shrinkage, you already have tightly-curled roots and mega volume. Be thankful. Just don't go using unwarranted curl-enhancing methods like scrunching, which also encourages roots to tangle, to style it.
keep your strands sealed at all times
Tangles, whether they occur at the root, midshaft or tips, have one thing in common. They all form when hairs are allowed or encouraged to fall across each other at random angles, instead of staying in their respective lanes. These strands then lock on to each other, forming the familiar tangles and snarls.
Even between washes, make sure your hair is kept well-lubricated so that strands tend to grab each other less, and feel free to add extra product at the points along your strands which need it the most. And, as always with root tangle prone hair, concentrate on the roots.
DHA Hair Care Experts