How to Avoid Fairy Knots, Those Stubborn Little Tangles in Natural Hair


@aysha.sow / Design by Camden Dechert

If you’ve allowed your hair to grow a few inches in length, you know that tangles can happen. And if you have a bit more texture in your mane, then you’ve probably noticed that it can be challenging to prevent knots from happening. Those waves, curls, and coils can essentially make your natural hair a tangle magnet if you don’t take precautions. 

The occurrence can be so frequent that you may develop a tangle in a single strand—or as the natural hair community likes to call it, a fairy knot (because a knot of this size could only have been created by a mischievous sprite).

What Are Fairy Knots?

Fairy knots are the tiny, stubborn knots that form in single strands of hair, most often in natural, curly, kinky, and coily hair types.

The technical term for a fairy knot is trichonodosis, but the former is certainly the much cuter name. According to the International Journal of Trichology, “Trichonodosis may be caused by trauma, head rests, hats and pillows.”

Fairy knots also tend to occur in curly to kinky hair textures more often due to the hair follicles being oval-like in shape, which in turn encourages tangles within single strands of hair. Fret not, though, because fairy knots can be treated at home. Ahead, 10 ways to prevent and treat those stubborn fairy knots.

01 of 09

Do a Pre-Shampoo Treatment

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Leonor Greyl L'Huile de Pre-Shampoo Treatment $59

Funny name aside, a pre-poo treatment is meant for moisturizing your hair before you actually cleanse it with shampoo. Ensuring your hair isn’t stripped of oil will help minimize the chance of fairy knots. You can make a pre-poo at home with essential oils or buy an already prepared one at a store. If you need help determining what type of pre-poo treatment you should do, take a look at Byrdie’s instructional guide

02 of 09

Try Braiding Mid-Wash

If you struggle to manage your hair during wash day, you may benefit from working in braided sections. This tactic allows you to shampoo and condition without encouraging tangles in the process. Dividing your hair in half and creating about four medium-sized braids on each side is a good place to start.

Generally, braids hold up better when wet than two-strand twists, but you can go with whichever is easiest for you to do. Just make sure to re-braid or re-twist when your hair gets undone to keep tangles and fairy knots at bay.

03 of 09

Wear a Protective Style

To be frank, the best way to keep fairy knots away is with protective styles. Braids, twists, buns and any other style that shields your natural hair from the elements will help you keep your strands from tangling.

However, if protective styles aren’t are your favorite, you can opt for styles that stretch out your natural hair instead. Elongated curls simply tangle less frequently. Just make sure you stretch your tresses evenly all throughout and that you keep it all pulled in the same direction to avoid knotting.

For heat-free hair stretching options that'll help you prevent fairy knots before they start, check out this guide for extending natural hair.

04 of 09

Avoid Scrunching

Your natural hair can really be enhanced when you tip your head over and give it a good scrunch. Unfortunately, that movement can make fairy knots happen. Instead you should stretch your stands downward when you apply your styling products. When your hair dries, you can use an afro pick to enhance volume if desired.

05 of 09

Hydrate With a Deep Conditioner

Ouidad Curl REcovery Extreme Repair Mask $44

To get rid of a fairy knot that you already have, it’s going take a keen eye, a bottle of conditioner, a rattail comb, and some diligence. When you have the fairy knot singled out, you’ll need to apply conditioner right on that tiny bulb. Gently rub until you finally see the knot start to part and proceed to undo it with pointed tip of the comb.

The process should be reminiscent to all the times you’ve used a stick-like object to remove a knot from your shoelaces. Though, unlike those times, you should avoid any jabbing movement with your rattail comb or you might risk causing frays along the hair shaft.

06 of 09

Get Trims Regularly

You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s worth noting again that getting regular trims can help prevent the need for a more drastic haircut you might not want (in the event of an incurable fairy knot). The ends of your hair are older than the hair that is growing from your scalp, and therefore they require a fair amount of TLC due to their fragility. 

On average, most people grow around six inches of hair per year. If have hair that is 12 inches long, then your ends are roughly two-years-old. This means those ends have gone through every wash and detangle session, every heat or chemical process, and all of the friction and tugging from styling. The longer your hair, the more your ends have endured in their lifespan.

The wear and tear that comes with everyday styling can not only hurt your ends, but it can travel up the hair shaft and cause splits and tangles in areas that aren’t ideal for length retention. All this can be minimized with a small trim every two to four months. Removing a half inch is a good starting point, but you may be able to get away with more or less depending on your hair’s condition and overall length goals.

07 of 09

Sleep in a Silk Bonnet

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Use a bonnet or pillowcase that is woven from a soft fabric like satin or silk. Silk is proven to reduce friction (as compared to traditional cotton), which can prevent your hair from tangling and losing moisture while you sleep.

08 of 09

Use the "Search and Destroy" Method

Although it’s a good practice to get trims, cutting any significant part of hair can still be an emotional trigger for some. That’s when the search-and-destroy method comes in handy. If you haven’t heard the term before, don’t worry, it’s harmless. All you need are your fingers, eyes, a pair of scissors and patience.

To effectively search-and-destroy, you’ll have to part your hair into small, manageable sections and glide your hands throughout. While you are doing this, your fingers will have to “feel” for the fairy knots, which typically causes a slight snag on the fingertip from the knot’s tiny bead-like shape. With your eyes closely following your fingers’ movements, you’ll home in the fairy knot in question and quickly snip above the knot to permanently remove it.

You’ll repeat the process for every fairy knot you come across. Like anything else in life, the more you do it, the better and faster you’ll get. But, to be completely honest, it is a time consuming method. If you can remain dedicated though, your crown of glory will reap all the benefits that come from stopping hair damage in its tracks.

09 of 09

Detangle While You're Still in the Shower

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Tangle Teezer The Original $12

Getting rid of knots in natural hair is typically much easier when it’s wet and slathered in conditioner. The moisture (both from the water and the conditioner) helps your detangling tool glide effortlessly through hair while loosening fairy knots.

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