Why Does My Hair Get So Tangled? (and How to Prevent It)

Last Updated on November 9, 2021

why does hair get so tangled

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The idea of having to brush through tangles is enough to have you contemplating going from long layers to a pixie cut. While scalp sensitivity can differ from person to person, we all have experienced that painful tug on our scalp when we try to comb or brush it.

Before you make an appointment to chop it all off, try some of these tips to help detangle your tresses with ease.

Tangled vs Matted Hair (What’s the Difference?)

Tangled hair is very common and can be fairly easily removed. Matted hair is much worse. It starts as tangled hair and if they are not removed, the tangles continue to twist around each other.

If they continue they can wind so tight into clumps that they need to be cut out.

Reasons Hair Tangles So Easily

1. Dry Ends

dry hair

Nothing tangles quite like dry ends. The lack of moisture means lack of slip. Throughout the day flipping your hair around or twisting it up in a clip will cause the ends to twist around each other.

When the hair is dry, they don’t slip right back and can continue to twist around each other until the nighttime you comb it. That’s why frequent trims are important. Trims cut off the dry ends.

2. Rough Cuticle

The outer layer of the hair shaft is called the cuticle. When it is damaged or very dry, it can get rough. When you do a chemical treatment like hair color or heat style it often, the cuticle will no longer lay smooth and those roughed up edges will snag on each other, causing hair to tangle.

Having a good conditioner is important. As it helps smooth the rough edges, making them less likely to tangle.

3. Rubbing Against Fabric

keep hair straight while sleeping

A surprising culprit of tangles is friction. When your hair rubs against something like a pillowcase, or clothing it can hold onto the fibers and start to tangle.

This is one of the reasons why long hair won’t look tangled until you lift it and you see the underneath layers. Those tangles often come from rubbing on your shirt all day.

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4. Not Brushing Properly

This is a very common reason tangles plague those with thick hair. Just running a brush over it is not enough. It has to be brushed in layers so even the underneath is properly combed through.

To be sure it is thoroughly brushed, clip up at least half of the hair and brush that layer completely before unpinning another section.

Make sure you have the right brush for your hair thickness as well. A paddle brush is often a good choice for all hair types, whereas something like a pure boar bristle brush will only work for the finest hair.

How to Prevent Hair From Tangling

1. Keep It Well Moisturized

how often should you condition hair

Look through your hair products for common drying ingredients. Sulfates in your shampoo can dry hair out, as well as ethanol or isopropyl alcohol in gels and hairsprays. They suck moisture from your hair and leave it dry and frizzy, which are prime conditions for tangles.

Having a good conditioner is the next step, as nourished ends have more slip and tangle less frequently. Deep conditioning once a week helps keep color-treated and thick hair well-nourished.

Related: How Often Should Hair Be Conditioned?

2. Sleep Smart

Tangles can happen overnight, so putting tangle-prone hair in a braid while sleeping will help. Also, consider using a silk pillowcase.

The natural silky feel of the fabric will let hair glide across it when you toss and turn at night without causing tangles you’ll have to brush out when you wake up in the morning.

3. Get Regular Trims

hair trim

When you want long hair, it can seem counterproductive to get it cut often. But, dry ends tangle easier and can lead to large knots and matting. Even a quarter to half-inch trim every two months will make a big difference without sacrificing length.

4. Don’t Scrub Dry With A Towel

The fibers on towels act like little fingers that tangle hair as you scrub it dry with a towel. After a shower, blot hair gently with a microfiber towel or a t-shirt.

5. Style Smart

types of braids

If you know you’ll be wearing an outfit that can cause tangles like a sweater, consider wearing your hair up or in some type of braid. Otherwise, gently brushing mid-day can help little tangles from getting worse.

Another possibility is to use a styling product that gives hair a little extra slip, but try and stay away from those with silicone since it can dry hair out.

Is It Best to Detangle Hair When Wet or Dry?

detangle hair wet or dry

It is best to detangle hair when it is dry. Hair is more elastic when it is wet and can stretch and snap as you try to brush out the tangles.

Ideally, you would brush hair when dry to remove tangles before you shower and use a wide-toothed comb when wet, after the shower to keep it from tangling.

Those prone to tangles could even use the wide-toothed comb in the shower before rinsing out your conditioner. The conditioner will make it easy to remove any tangles that could have formed as you shampooed.

When you brush or comb your hair, always start at the ends and work your way up. Starting at the top will lead to more damage to your hair as you can create more tangles, or even cause hair to break as your rip the brush through it.

What Are the Tiny Balls at the End of My Hair?

fairy knots

The tiny balls at the end of your hair are called single strand knots or fairy knots.

Curly hair is more prone to tangles than straight hair. Sometimes a curl will wrap around itself and create a little knot. This is especially common in tightly curled, and coiled hair.

Keeping hair well moisturized, especially after washing can help prevent this. It can happen when a split end tangles itself up, though it’s less common. Split ends can be prevented by frequent trim, less heat styling, and keeping hair well moisturized.

The Bottom Line

Tangles can happen for various reasons. Keeping hair conditioned, getting regular trims, and using a silk pillowcase will help prevent them.

Brushing gently, but thoroughly from the end, up will remove them if they do start to form. Making sure you’re never too busy to brush your hair, and taking care of tangles when they are small issues will prevent hair from matting.

And since matting is solved by cutting them out of your hair, an ounce of prevention is more than worth a pound of cure.

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