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Detangling matted hair.

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You may wake up with a few hair knots every now and then, but matted hair is a whole different ballgame.

You’ll know you have matted strands when your hair is severely tangled, and you’re finding it difficult to get rid of the knots.

Thankfully, there’s no need to panic. Although your first instinct may be to head for professional help, you can treat matted hair from the comfort of your own home.

Here’s every step you need to take, along with some handy ways to prevent future matting disasters.

What is it?

Think of matted hair as the (unwanted) upgrade to everyday knots and tangles.

Mats occur when loose hairs repeatedly twist around attached strands, and the resulting tangle is not swiftly removed.

They can look like clumps and can be tough, if not impossible, to remove with a brush or comb alone.

If you don’t regularly comb your hair to remove shed strands, you could end up with a matted appearance.

Matting can also be the fault of bad detangling methods, long stints without a trim, or even failing to protect your hair at night.

Some people, like those with drier or textured hair types like curls and coils, are more prone to matted hair.

You could also be at a higher risk for severe snags if your hair is rather long or if it’s brittle from chemical treatments.

How to treat matted hair

Before you grab hold of the scissors, know that there’s another way to get rid of mats. With a bit of patience and the right tools, you can detangle matted hair.

A quick search online will bring up all kinds of harmful ways to solve detangling problems. But rather than dousing your hair in the likes of fabric softener or WD-40, it’s best to stick to the following damage-free method.

Step 1: Saturate

It’s important to start the detangling process when your hair is dryto avoid unnecessary damage.

Before attempting to run a comb or your fingers through your hair, you need to saturate it with a detangling or moisturizing conditioner.

Ensure sufficient product is applied to the matted areas to make it easier for individual hairs to move past each other.

Step 2: Loosen

Grab a wide-tooth comb to begin loosening strands of hair. Start at the ends and work your way up to the roots, gently detangling knots as you go.

It’s normal to notice a lot of hair falling out —this is the shed hair that contributed to the matting in the first place.

If you’re finding it painful, hold your hair near the root to avoid a tight pulling sensation.

Remember to take your time. You’re finished when you can easily move your fingers through your hair.

Step 3: Rinse

The final step is to rinse your hair with cool — not warm — water.

This will keep your strands smooth and separated, and it’ll wash out any remaining product.

How to prevent matted hair

It’s relatively easy to avoid matted hair. Take a look at your current hair care regimen and make the following changes, if needed.

Comb your hair regularly

You can brush or comb your hair on a daily basis, but at the very least you should comb after washing your hair.

Make sure you use a tool designed to untangle hair, like a wide-tooth comb or a Wet Brush.

It can be less painful to start with your fingers before moving onto a tool. Again, start from the bottom, gently working your way up.

Use detangling products

When you wash your hair, use a detangler, conditioner, or both.

Detangling products smooth the surface of individual hairs, reducing the chance of friction and, therefore, the chance of matting.

Shop for detangling products online. Consider these options:

Conditioners do a similar thing. They minimize frizz and friction and boost smoothness. You’ll want to look for one with hydrating ingredients.

Shop for conditioners online. Consider these options:

Don’t forget to leave each product on for a few minutes for maximum benefits.

Finally, you’ll want to use a wet brush, which – you guessed it – is designed to be used on wet hair.

Shop for wet brushes online. Consider these options:

Protect hair at night

Whether it’s with a silk scarf, silk pillowcase, or the pineapple method (putting your hair in a high, loose ponytail), protecting your hair at night is a simple way to prevent mats.

It’ll ensure your hair retains plenty of moisture and stop strands from twisting together.

Steer clear of drying treatments

Bleach and other chemical treatments tend to damage and dry out hair. If looked after well, this may not pose a problem.

But the more processed your hair is, the weaker the hair shaft is likely to be, resulting in knots and breakage.

Look after hair extensions

Hair from hair extensions can also wind up entwined with your actual hair. To avoid this particular matting problem, you’ll need to keep your extensions in tip-top condition.

Don’t go to sleep with them wet or damp and secure them in a braid at nighttime. Make sure they’re well maintained, too.

While some extensions can last between 6 months and a year, you’ll need to visit a professional every 6 to 8 weeks for upkeep.

The bottom line

Matted hair isn’t the end of the world, even though it may feel like it.

With a little TLC and the right detangling products, you can get rid of severe tangles at home.

Remember to be patient, gentle, and to look after your hair. And if that doesn’t work, speak to a professional for expert knot removal advice.


Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.