Mile-long, silky smooth locks appear effortless and are the envy of many. But if you’ve got lengthy, fine hair, you’ll know that achieving this look is much easier said than done. A simple ponytail or bun can go from tousled to tangled in mere seconds, not to mention accidental snags on zippers and buttons. The mere thought of detangling unlocks some repressed '90s memories of my mom combing through my knots, armed with sickly-sweet kids’ detangling spray and a dream—and lots of force. I can still feel the tugging now.
But we’ve come a long way since then, and with the right tools, getting those knots out of your hair doesn’t have to be as daunting or painful as it once was. Below, hairstylists Adam Maclay and Devin Toth weigh in on the best damage-free methods for detangling your fine hair once and for all. Read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
What You’ll Need
- Primer spray
- Wide tooth comb
- Paddle brush
- Dry Shampoo (optional)
Prep Your Hair in the Shower
“While washing your hair, use shampoo only on your scalp,” says Toth. “Be sure to brush or comb your conditioner all the way through your ends and then let it stay on for about a minute. When towel drying your hair, avoid any friction by gently and firmly patting it dry.”
Toth recommends adding a product like Righteous Roots' Rx ($19) growth serum to your regular conditioner. Not only will its blend of essential oils help prevent frizz and detangle, but it will also help thicken your fine locks.
Use a Detangling Primer
“I recommend applying a primer spray that will help your comb or brush glide through the hair with ease,” says Maclay.
The Original Sprout Miracle Detangler ($8) is great for fine hair, but if your hair is damaged or you tend to use heat, opt for Living Proof's Restore Protecting Spray ($29), which also provides heat and UV protection. “A little goes a long way, so don’t use too much if you’re worried about making your hair greasy," says Tooth. "Focus [the product] primarily on the ends of your hair, I’d say the bottom 2 to 4 inches.”
Once your hair is prepped, use a wide tooth comb like The Comb No. 002 ($38) by Crown Affair to do a quick run-through (with no force) to loosen up the tangles.
Comb (or Brush) Out the Tangles, Starting From the Bottom
“Gently start combing or brushing out the tangles from the tips of your hair and slowly work your way up toward the roots,” advises Toth. Maclay adds: "Always work from the ends of the hair strands to the scalp. Grab your paddle brush and work from ends to the scalp, repeating the process to gently remove the knots.”
You should work through the bottom 6 inches, then once this section is smooth, work on the next 6 inches up until you reach your crown. The Mason Pearson Detangling Brush ($130) is a splurge loved by many pro stylists, both Toth and Maclay included, but you can also opt for a budget-friendly option, like the tried-and-true Tangle Teezer or Wet Brush.
On a day when your tangles are less intense, you can skip the brush and just work with a comb. Both tools have their benefits: “Brushes have bristles and more give,” says Toth, which makes them more effective on tougher knots. “Combs are great for detangling clumpy hair, but not for detangling tight, tiny tangles.”
Pump Up the Volume
“Once those knots are out your hair, it may be a bit flat,” says Maclay. “I love bumping the hair back with Klorane's Dry Shampoo With Organic Flax ($20) to add a soft texture and volume.”
- You can start with dry hair: Though Toth feels that working with wet hair is a bit easier, it is possible to detangle fine dry hair without damage. With dry hair, you'll have better control over primers and other hair products if you apply them to your brush or comb first, as opposed to directly onto the hair. "On dry hair, brush out tangles in a sideways motion," he advises. "Sometimes detangling dry hair in a downward motion can make it worse and combine tangles.”
- Be gentle: “You should not hear a ripping sound,” says Maclay. “Many of my clients (you know who you are) love to be in a hurry and just brush from the scalp down. The sound is awful to others and causes so much hair damage.”
- Detangle regularly: “Marcia Brady brushed her hair every night,” notes Maclay—100 times on each side, to be exact. “So should you, to keep the knots to a minimum.”