4C is the epitome of tangle-prone textures… well at least I think mine is. On the other hand, 4C makes up for that troublesome nature by being the most versatile and unique of all textures. In the interest of keeping as much of my hair as I grow each month (slightly over a quarter inch), it’s essential to continuously triumph in the detangling wars. I have developed a system that not only conquers the tangles but also sustains my length.
1. Tangle Inspection:
Different styles and the time frame you keep them in your hair will greatly determine how much your hair tangles. I discovered when I braid my hair nightly, detangling during the weekends is much easier – probably because I naturally detangle problematic sections through the week. A style that’s worn for 6 weeks straight will normally end up with shed hair, dense growth and occasionally breakage: all of which will result in tangling.
Tangle inspection gives me an idea of how long the process of detangling might take. Normally I will re-braid my hair and reschedule detangling for another day when my hair demands more time than I can give it.
2. Spot Massage:
After tangle inspection, it’s time to give my scalp some TLC with a calming massage. This is particularly good for people who have tender scalps from tension stress like yours truly. Hot oil (read warm, never ever use hot oil) might be useful to enhance the massage effect but I prefer not to use oil during detangling. Also, by using the fingers at the hair root, it’s easy to tell how much growth has been retained and therefore how much precaution is required.
3. Product Selection:
Once the tangles are inspected, product selection is easy because it’s a matter of choosing whatever will be most beneficial to the hair during that time. Normally I will use a homemade concoction of an herb that contains mucilage (flaxseed, marshmallow, fenugreek, Irish moss, slippery elm) in conjunction with a stimulating herb (anything from the mint family). The water and mucilage is able to penetrate much further than any comb can and the slippery consistency makes it much easier to separate the strands. The stimulating herb simultaneously provides a tingling sensation to encourage blood flow to the scalp.
Sometimes I will use commercial products like V05 Shea Cashmere, which is a perfect conditioner for light density hair (also referred to as thin hair). The number of strands per square inch of scalp measures hair density.
4. Methodically Engage:
The one advice I would offer any 4c newbie is to work in sections. 4C strands love to cling to each other so the only way to conquer tangles is by isolating sections of hair. There’s only one universal truth here: the smaller the sections, the easier it is to detangle. Section and section again—it will save you a lot of time and aggravation in the long run.
I am very much pro using hands when detangling because it gives you a hands on understanding of the structure of your hair (which is different for each of us) and therefore insight to exactly how your hair tangles and which sections are the most prone. However, during what I call the detangling war I will bring in a comb just to make sure the tangles are out. Conditioner sometimes creates so much slip some tangles are missed especially because at this point my hands are sort of adapted to my texture and can’t quite pick out tangles as well as they did when the process started. The comb acts as a guide to point out tangles that may have been missed. It’s critical to use the comb as positive reinforcement and not as a weapon to yank hair out.
Twist or braid each section as soon as you are done with it. Otherwise the strands continue with what they do best: cling to each other and the process of tangling begins.
6. Assess Loss:
Check the amount and kind of strands lost at the end of each detangling process. Shedding is a very individual occurrence so there is no graph or scale to measure whether it’s too much or not. Personal instincts are always right on this one so go with what your gut tells you.
For the most part you want to see long strands (about the current length of your hair) in the loss pile. Often it’s hard to tell but the longer the strand the higher the chances that it’s shed and not broken hair. Detangling goes against the nature our hair so naturally there might be a few broken strands but they should not dominate the loss pile. If more than 40% of your loss is short pieces, it could be as a result of aggressive pulling during detangling or your hair is breaking. Either way, it’s worth observing your hair closely.
I can’t speak for everyone but normally my hands are exhausted by the time the detangling war is over. Tired hands equal sloppy wash job so I prefer to let my hair marinate in the conditioner while I take a well-deserved break, sometimes extending to the next day. Better to wash hair when you are truly up to it than do a sloppy job that could very well come back to haunt you. Take a break, drink a cup of tea and celebrate another detangling victory!
2 tablespoons of slippery elm bark + 1 teaspoon peppermint – I left this mixture in 11/2 cups of hot water and strained after the mixture had cooled. Added 1 tablespoon of infused apple cider vinegar. Heat disintegrates vinegar so only add it in when the mixture has cooled to warm. For conditioner I used V05’s Shea Cashmere.
Our hair is meant to tangle – the strands shoot out of the follicle at extreme angles, which sets up how the strands interact with each other. Lipids in the cuticle and cortex maintain strand cohesion, which keep the strands very close to each other right from when they shoot out of the follicle. As the strands gain length, they intersect by twisting and coiling around themselves and each other, often creating knots. The bends (curls – a lot especially in 4C) in the strands act as hooks trapping other strands that intersect with them. These hooks also trap shed hair, product residue (bottom first photo, notice I have some mud residue clinging some of the strands. That’s from profiling holy basil) and other debris (like dust particles) from the environment. This process is repeated throughout the scalp creating tangles. Braiding and twisting is in fact encouraging tangles, albeit in an organized manner. My point is our hair will tangle; it is a natural behavior that should be embraced and managed. It cannot be eliminated.