Combing Natural Hair

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 – by Antonia

In 2013 I only combed my hair once; it was after I had straightened it for the first time since being natural. It was strange to realize that a comb hadn’t been run through my hair at all that year up until that point. Then I wondered, do I even need to comb my hair when it’s not straightened?

Of course there’s tons of information on this subject across the Web. So I did a little digging and found the following.

What’s the big deal?

Combing your hair when it’s straight is a normal act that most do every day. But when it comes to natural hair combing your hair on a daily basis can actually lead to breakage. The Journal of American Academy of Dermatology states that “In African hair, because of its tight and curly nature, daily combing can be the equivalent of a hair cut” (J Am Acad Dermatol, 54(5):886-8,2006). While The Natural Haven Bloom explains, “the more times you comb your hair, the more stress you are applying on it physically and therefore the more likely it is to break. Studies on hair also show that combing hair leads to loss of protein which is thought to be small parts of the hair cuticle chipping away.”

So as a natural should I comb my hair? Is it even needed?

Combing your hair everyday is not necessary. Many natural hair bloggers, like Natural Hair Rules, recommend combing your hair as needed, for example if a hair style you like requires it. Keep in mind, if you like to wear hair styles that have defined curls, like twist outs, don’t comb your hair. Finger combing may suffice. Outside of styling your hair, you can comb your hair as part of your detangling routine.

How should I comb my hair?

There’s a little bit of debate here among naturalistas about how to comb your hair. Cipriana of Urban Bush Babes is all about finger combing. She (and others like her) like the fact that when you finger detangle your hair, you can literally feel around for the knots and tangles and tackle them as you find them. She does warn that finger detangling takes more time. So patience is a must.

Others like long time Natural Hair expert Anu Prestonia are okay with combing hair to detangle. The Natural Haven recommends combing your hair to achieve a larger than life afro.

That said, there are some steps and considerations you should keep in mind as you comb:

  • Natural Hair Rules (and it’s likely that most of the community would agree) says never comb dry natural hair. She recommends combing hair when it’s mostly dry, about 80%. Some naturalistas find it easier to comb when it’s all the way wet, but regardless of your “wetness preference,” it’s always best to use hair conditioner when combing to give you some extra slippage.
  • Black Girl Long Hair recommends sectioning your hair when detangling. The thicker the hair, the more sections you should make.
  • Our natural hair expert Anu Prestonia says we should comb from the ends and work your way up.
  • You may find it easier to comb your hair by finger combing first. Alicia James of provided a great detailed description of finger combing on Curly Nikki.

What tools should I use to comb my hair?

Three must have tools for combing your hair are a wide tooth comb, a spray bottle to moisten hair and a brush.

If you’re not detangling in the shower with a full head of wet hair, keep your hair moist by spraying water on it.

Black Girl Long Hair recommends combing through your hair with a seamless wide tooth comb with no rough edges. You can get one on Amazon.

Once you’ve gone through your hair with a wide tooth comb, you can follow with a hair brush. Cassidy Blackwell on the Transitioning Movement recommends brushing as it helps remove shed hairs but advises to use brushes sparingly, around once a month. Choose a brush that works with your texture. However, the Denman Brush remains a popular brush in the natural hair community. Avoid brushing your hair if it’s prone to splitting.

We stumbled upon this conversation about using a fine tooth comb and leave in conditioner. This approach seems to work well on girls with relatively softer curls i.e. 3C, 4A. The person who started the thread found that fine tooth combs were able to catch snags that wide tooth combs weren’t. This might be worth trying if your hair has really tiny tangles. But it may have the same effect of brushing if done on hair with tighter curl patterns. About brushing, BlackWell further states, “for those like me who have a naturally strong curl pattern, you may find that not only will brushing cause a lot of shrinkage, but that it breaks up your coils into soft tufts of frizz.  I like to condition and rinse my hair once more after I brush to help reform and reshape my coils.”

I’ll be trying a little more combing in my hair routine over the next months and will see if it has any visible effects on the state of my hair.

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An entrepreneur at heart, I founded Unruly in 2013 after spending six great years in advertising. I’m über lazy when it comes to doing my hair so I’m always looking for easy and quick ways to care and style my hair.

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