At some point in our lives, many of us will experience the unfortunate occurrence of mats in our hair. Whether they come from unruly curls or an inconsistent brushing routine, hair mats are no fun to deal with and need to be detangled as soon as possible, lest they get worse. Of course, that is sometimes easier said than done.
In this article, we will discuss the best way to detangle your matted hair as painlessly as possible. We’ll also talk about the causes behind matted hair and give you some of our best pro tips for preventing matted hair in the future.
What Causes Matted Hair?
Matted hair is caused by loose hair that has been shed from your head, but looped itself around still attached hair instead of falling out. This creates a knot of matted hair over time, which will only pick up more loose hair as it sheds, leading to an even bigger problem and a more difficult to remove mat.
The causes of matted hair can range from having thin, brittle hair caused by too much chemical processing or heat styling and naturally curly hair that is prone to tangles, to long hair that isn’t managed properly. The most common cause of matted hair, however, is not brushing your locks out on a regular basis; brushing and combing helps to remove these loose shed hairs from your head before they have a chance to loop around the attached hair and form a knot.
As soon as you notice that your hair is matting, you should make an effort to separate the tangled area from the rest of your hair to prevent the mat from growing larger. You should then immediately begin the detangling process, which we detail below.
The Best Way to Detangle Matted Hair
This step-by-step guide will have you easily detangling your matted hair with the help of some product and a lot of patience.
Step One: Saturate With Detangler
Separate your mat out from the rest of your hair and fully saturate it with a moisturizing or conditioning detangler. Allow the detangler to sit on your hair for at least 30 minutes up to a couple of hours, depending on the severity of the mat. This will give the product time to be absorbed into the hair and provide the slip you need to remove the mat.
You can substitute other natural products, such as coconut oil or argan oil, but be sure that you don’t leave them in your hair for more than 2 hours, as they may cause hair weakening.
Step Two: Separate With Fingers
Once the detangler or natural conditioner has stayed in your hair long enough, feel the mat with your fingers. Separate as many long or large strands from the mat as possible, revealing the center of the mat.
It’s important to be careful when doing this. Don’t pull or rip at the hair, as that will only make the problem worse.
Step Three: Detangle With Comb
After you have separated any looser strands from the mat, take a detangling comb or a wide-toothed comb and begin brushing. You should start from the very bottom of the mat, detangling a small amount of hair and working your way up. This will prevent you from pulling or ripping at the hair with your brush, which will only cause pain and hair breakage.
Make sure to immediately separate any strands that come free from the mat to keep them out of your way and prevent them from being absorbed back into the hair mat.
Step Four: Comb and Rinse
As soon as you have your hair free from the mat, give it another brush or two with the detangling comb to make sure everything is smooth all the way down. Then, rinse out the detangling spray or conditioner that you were using with cool water.
Once your hair has been rinsed, apply a leave-in conditioner all over to help boost your hair’s hydration and deter any mats from coming back. You may also want to braid your hair or put it up in a protective style for the rest of the day to help your hair rehydrate without the risk of tangling.
For Sensitive Scalps
If you have an especially sensitive scalp, you can first try detangling your hair in the shower before using the above method. Start by running warm water over your hair and massaging in a hydrating shampoo, rinsing it out, and then using a conditioner on your locks. Wait around 5 minutes for the conditioner to work, and then begin combing at the mats with a wide-toothed comb (never use a traditional brush on wet hair). Start at the bottom and work your way up the hair until it is completely smooth, adding more conditioner as needed.
It also helps to hold your hair up when detangling your mats either wet or dry, as this can stop the brush or comb from pulling directly on your scalp and causing more pain as you work on loosening your hair.
When Should You Cut out Hair Mats?
Though some people may jump directly to trying to cut out any mats they see, this is not always necessary. You should only cut out hair mats that you have tried to detangle for a while and have had no results with. Oftentimes, this happens when your hair hasn’t been brushed in a very long time or when the hair is badly damaged and detangling the mats hurts too much or results in an extreme amount of hair loss.
It can also be a good idea to cut out mats when you have a lot of them all around your head that you don’t think you will be able to untangle in a timely fashion; patience is required when detangling hair, but if it will take you multiple hours or days to smooth out your hair, you might be better off cutting it. Typically, hair that is matted like this tends to become fairly dry and brittle, so an all-over haircut can also help to improve the health of your hair while leaving it smooth and mat-free.
Preventing Future Hair Mats
These tips can help you prevent any future instances of hair matting, giving you the smoothest, healthiest hair possible.
Brush Your Hair Regularly
Maintaining a regular styling and brushing routine is one of the best things you can do to prevent hair mats. All hair types can benefit from keeping their hair brushed, so whether you choose to comb out your curls while they’re wet, or you brush your straight hair every night before going to bed, you are sure to dissuade any mats from forming. Check out this article for more information on when to brush your hair.
Using a leave-in conditioner or other hair smoothing product is a great way to keep your hair moisturized and strong, preventing the occurrence of mats. This is especially true for anyone with curly hair, as curly hair tends to be drier and more prone to tangling up.
You could also try a hair oil with coconut oil or argan oil; applying these to your locks on a regular basis can help keep your hair moisturized and healthy.
Take a Break From Chemical Processing
It’s no secret that excessive chemical processing and heat styling can damage your hair or cause it to dry out. The more processes that your hair has undergone or the more regularly you use heat styling tools, the more likely it is that you will experience things such as hair breakage, hair frizziness, and be prone to hair matting.
Taking a break from chemical processing and heat styling can allow your hair to repair itself, improving its overall strength and moisture and decreasing its tendency to mat. A break of two to three months, interspersed with regular hair repair treatments should be enough to get your hair looking strong and smooth again.
Use Protective Styles
Protective styles can be incredibly useful in preventing hair mats, especially if you have curly hair or coily afro-textured hair. Braiding your hair before sleeping, wearing a silk scarf when you sleep, or pineappling your hair are all great ways to protect your locks from frizziness, environmental damage, and from being twisted around into hair mats.
Get Regular Hair Trims
Staying on a schedule of regular hair trims can help prevent hair mats because it removes any of the dead and split ends that are typically the first to be caught up into a mat. It can also help your hair grow a little faster thanks to the removal of these problematic ends, and make your hair look overall healthier and more voluminous.
Going for a trim every 12 weeks is recommended for most people.
Incorporate Hair Healthy Foods Into Your Diet
This method may take a little bit longer to start working, but it can be incredibly helpful to both your overall health and the health of your hair. Adding foods that are rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals can help improve the strength and luster of your hair over time, making it less likely to dry out or start to form mats. You can read more about starting a hair-healthy diet here.
Detangling Your Way to Smooth, Strong Hair
Detangling hair is not really anyone’s idea of a good time, but it is necessary to get rid of mats that keep your hair from looking healthy and smooth. Patience is needed during the detangling process, but as long as you diligently work on your mats according to our steps above, you should have your hair smoothed out and looking its best in no time at all.