Knots be gone.

By Nykia Spradley
May 12, 2020
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This is part of our new weekly series called Test Drive, where our team of beauty experts demystify products and tools, as well as explore new techniques IRL.

I’ve learned through trial and error that achieving great curls starts in the shower. I can tell exactly how my coily curls are going to set based on how I handle them during shampooing, conditioning, and most importantly, detangling. If not detangled properly, curls are more prone to frizz and a blowout is difficult to get smooth. The safest way to detangle hair is when it’s wet and well-conditioned.  I never detangle my hair when it’s dry because it's less flexible and can end up with damage. Before diving deeper into how exactly to properly detangle, here are some pointers on choosing the right brush.

Focus On The Bristles

“Wide nylon bristles make for a great detangling brush that’s safe for both wet and dry hair,” says Yene Damtew hairstylist and owner of Aesthetics Salon. The bristles should be flexible at the base so the brush glides easily and doesn’t snag or tear hair strands 

Add Some Slip

Coating hair with a mixture of conditioner and water is giving it slip. It’s exactly as it sounds. It adds a slickness to hair that lets you glide your fingers across. I can tell if my hair has enough slip by how easily a detangling brush moves through it. “I highly recommend a detangling spray that will help knots loosen up versus going right to your brush,” says Drybar Co-Founder, Alli Webb. Once you start to brush through, the conditioner or detangling spray will distribute more evenly to help maximize moisture as you sort out knots. 

Start From The Bottom

According to the pros, there’s less chance of breakage if you start from the bottom, no matter what kind of brush you're using to comb through. “Starting at the root and brushing down only compacts the tangles towards the mid-lengths and ends. For the easiest detangling, start at the ends and gently brush tangles out as you work your way to the root,” says hairstylist Priscilla Valles

Work in Sections

My hair curls up when it’s wet and is pretty dense, so trying to brush through it all at once can be overwhelming. I've found it's easiest to use my fingers and part it into four sections. “By taking sections, you are allowing yourself to prevent grabbing hair from another section. You don’t want more hair than your brush can handle. If you grab too much hair, not only can you potentially pull it too hard, but you may still leave some tangle within the hair,” says Damtew. 

Consider Your Style

If you’ve ever worn braids, you may have experienced your hair getting really matted and tangled as you take them out. In this case, it’s best to untangle before you shampoo. Adding shampoo to semi-matted hair is a knot nightmare—trust me, I’ve been there. Use a mixture of conditioner and water in a spray bottle and soak hair before brushing through. Once the tangles are gone, you can shampoo as you normally would. Outside of this specific scenario, detangling during the conditioning process is best.  

Now that you know how to do it, let’s look at which brushes both the pros and I prefer. 

Credit: Courtesy of Drybar

In addition to smooth and snag-free bristles, it’s helpful to have a comfortable and slip-free grip as well. The handle on this one has a matte coating so it doesn’t slip as you swipe. 

Buy It: $20, Drybar 

Credit: Courtesy of Tangle Teezer

The extra-wide head here has been my go-to choice for a while. Even though I’m working in sections, it’s large enough to sort through my dense curls. The teeth are flexible but not too soft so it can actually break up my knots. 

Buy It: $18, Tangle Teezer

Credit: Courtesy of Brush With The Best

This is a fan favorite among stylists, Damtew included. It’s particularly helpful for highly textured and curly hair like mine. Created by a stylist herself, Felicia Leatherwood, it uses an innovative design where not only the teeth flex when you brush, but each row fans out as you move it through the hair so that there’s little tension on your strands. 

Buy It: $14, Brush With The Best

Credit: Courtesy of Ulta

Softer and straighter hair types can benefit from a brush with thinner, more flexible bristles like this one. It’s also heat resistant so you can use it to blow dry hair smooth. Even better, it comes with a case that goes over the head, which is ideal for traveling and keeping the bristles from getting crushed.

Buy It: $11, Ulta

Credit: Courtesy of Target

The smaller brush head and fewer rows of teeth are strategically made to glide through curls easier than bigger brushes. It definitely does that, especially when hair is properly sectioned out. It’s also a solid dupe to pricier rival detanglers.  

Buy It: $8, Target

Credit: Courtesy of Q-Redew

This one has a similar design to Felicia Leatherwood’s brush. The head fans out as you brush without putting pressure on fragile hair. The difference is that the handle here is a lot slimmer. It really comes down to preference, which for me and my tiny hands, skinny is better. 

Buy It: $8, Q-Redew

Credit: Courtesy of Pattern Beauty

One look at Tracee Ellis Ross’s luscious curls and you’d understand my willingness to try anything she uses to perfect them—including this detangling brush. She created it as a part of her conditioner-centric product line. It is a heavyweight brush so you won’t have to worry about it snapping on thicker hair and the nylon bristles glide through hair to give curls definition—even before any styling product. 

Buy It: $17, Pattern Beauty


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