How To Detangle Matted Hair & Prevent It From Happening Again

Matted hair is the combination of attached and shed hairs entwined in clumps or web-like tangles. They are more severe than regular tangles.

How does it happen?

Matted hair occurs when it has not been combed to remove shed hairs. Loose hairs can knot several times around attached hair, create a tangle, and lead to matting if not removed. Some people are just prone to knotting while other may be suffering from a damaged hair cuticle, causing more friction from the lifted cuticles.

Does it have to be cut out?

No, matted hair can be successfully detangled without cutting the hair. It takes patience, work, and the right tools, but it can be accomplished and end up saving your strands and your nerves from being shot.

How to detangle it

While some may decide to seek a professional (hair stylist) to fix their matted hair, it can be done at home with a few tools and some serious patience.

 

STEP 1: DAMPEN HAIR

Dampen your hair with a spray bottle of water, or briefly holding it under a shower or sink at low water pressure. Most hair treatments are meant to be applied to damp hair, but if you let the hair become dripping wet, it may be more susceptible to breakage.

 

STEP 2: LOOSEN

Loosen the matted strands by saturating hair with a good detangler, oil, or moisturizing conditioner but never a shampoo and water only. This is not the time to skimp so really saturate it. Deep conditioners are great at restoring moisture to your hair and making them easier to untangle, while detangling conditioners are meant specifically to add more slip to your hair.

Coconut oil, olive oil, or Moroccan argan oil can be used instead, and may be especially useful for textured hair. If you dislike the feel of oil in your hair, you can try a hair detangling spray.

If using ordinary conditioner, it will finish moisturizing your hair within a few minutes. Coconut oil and similar oils should be left in for at least 30 minutes for maximum effect, but no longer than 2 hours.Deep conditioners vary as shown on the packaging instructions, but are typically left in for at least an hour, and may be left in overnight for extreme cases.

 

STEP 3: PULL APART THE EASIEST KNOTS WITH YOUR FINGERS

Once the hair treatment has had time to take effect, attempt to gently pull apart the tangled sections of your hair. Small knots or loose mats can sometimes be pulled into smaller, separate tangles from the root side of the knot, nearer to your scalp.

 

STEP 4: COMBING

A comb with sturdy, widely spaced teeth is essential for combing out severe tangles. Fine combs and brushes are likely to meet too much resistance, forcing you to either pull out clumps of hair, or stop brushing.

Always comb tangled hair starting near the ends. Place the comb a few inches (several centimeters) from the end of the tangled hair, and brush downward. Repeat until that section of hair is free of tangles, then move the comb slightly higher up. Repeat until the entire length of your hair is combed. For long or thick, severely matted hair, this may take an hour or more.

If you have a sensitive scalp, hold a section of your hair as you brush it. Grasp a portion of hair about the thickness of a marker or glue stick between your fingers, and give it a half-twist to keep the comb from pulling directly on your scalp. Comb this portion of hair beneath your hand, moving your grip higher once the hair below it is successfully untangled.

If a mat of hair refuses to come apart despite all your efforts, you may need to thin it out. Open a pair of scissors and hold your hair tight with your other hand. Run the bottom blade of the scissors along the underside of the mat, then gently tug at your hair to remove loose strands.

Use a wide-toothed comb until the severe mats and tangles have been straightened out. Switch to a fine-toothed comb or a brush to remove any small knots that may remain.

There will be significant shedding so do not panic and remember we lose on average 100 hairs a day, and since the hair is matted those shed hairs are locked in and need removal.

 

STEP 5: RINSE OUT YOUR HAIR

Rinse out any hair treatments completely once your hair is untangled. If you have tightly coiled hair, and the severe mats have separated enough to allow you to part your hair, clip each section of hair to keep them separate, and rinse one at a time.

HOW TO KEEP HAIR FROM MATTING:

 

  • Do detangle regularly to decrease the chances of it occurring, especially if you are prone to matting
  • Do not put off detangling, as it may turn into a more tedious and damaging detangling session or matting
  • Do regular protein treatments to fill the gaps in damaged cuticles, as this will decrease friction, tangles, and matting
  • Do not keep extensions in any longer than advised
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34 comments on “How To Detangle Matted Hair & Prevent It From Happening Again

  1. I am definitely going to try this! I have bleached my hair with all over or highlights and never had a matting problem BUT the past year or so my hair knots and Mattes so severe I end up putting it up in a ball on top of my head because I have so much trouble brushing it out, until it’s been weeks or longer since I have washed it then I stay up late one night combing, brushing,pulling, and then cutting all why crying my eyes out because it makes me feel so down on myself. What’s sad is I have had my Cosmetology license the last 5 years and have never had any problems, but because I have been raising my grandson the last two years since an infant being a stay at home Mimi, I didn’t renew my license this past October because I have been so depressed about not being able to afford to highlight my hair and it being completely unbrushable, matting up I have let myself go becoming someone I’m not. Any advice would be a blessing!

    • It can definitely be fixed. The article gives some great suggestions. Hair masks definitely help a lot with moisturizing as well.

    • Buy Neutrogena T-Gel Maximum Strength (smells horrible but works the BEST) combine this with a rich deep conditioner after lathering shampoo, bend head over in shower brush bottom up (never from top to bottom) I sectioned mine because I have long hair. Once you’ve saturated hair with both products, rinse then reapply deep conditioner, once out of shower, section off and again, flip head over and brush, bottom of head to top. Believe me, this is tedious, but it WORKS. Had severely matter head due to years of bleach and this finally did the job. Also, got rid of acne scars, and indentations on body from hair being pulled so taut!

        • I use a product called the Eva nyc deep conditioning mask and let me tell you that product is amazing. These tips in the article are also fantastic, I wish I had seen it before because it literally could have been me that wrote the original comment except I am 26, so not raising a grandson lol. Another one I use and live is the Pantene pro v 3 min miracle daily moisture renewal. It’s a hydrating deep conditioner that can also be used daily My hair comes down to my butt and is very thick, it used to be curly but since it’s so long I think the weight is what makes it dry straight now. I had pink hair for three years so I bleached it often during that time, and I also had the underneath of the back of my hair shaved for a while and opted to just grow it out since i didn’t want to cut it all off for it to be even- so I’ve been dealing with the different lengths. Now that the bottom is getting pretty long, a few inches past my shoulders, however, I’ve noticed the shorter hairs are a big part of my tangling and matting issue. I never had super matted hair until I stopped bleaching and dying my hair at all a year and a half ago. I’d say around 6 months to 8 months in I started noticing that the tangles we’re getting worse and worse and that it was becoming really painful to brush them out— so I would start to avoid it. Sometimes going weeks to a month without fully going to town on them until it was smooth. I would sometimes run over the very top layer & put it back up but brush out just the length of my ponytail so I could go in public without looking like I didn’t care for myself. And like you said I would cry while I actually untangle it all the way- because as someone who does beauty and loves doing my hair and makeup and using my fave products, it really hurt my confidence and self esteem because I hadn’t ever been in that situation. I follow all these steps and still every few days I will end up with a mat especially if I wear my hair up in a bun. Not as bad as when I first did it a few months ago. Just trying to fully moisturize my hair so when I do get a cut I won’t have to lose a lot of my hair that took over eight years to grow out from a pixie cut. It’s definitely a process but I’m learning it is possible. I’m glad I thought I was going to have to cut all my hair off the first time I realized that I had a huge mat in the back of my scalp area.

    • Hey Lisa,
      You are not alone,
      I’ve become someone I never used to be also. I used to take super good care of myself & my medium length hair. My problem with my hair is the same as you,
      due to depression mainly because of too many disappointment’s & guilt. So about 10 years ago I didn’t feel I deserved to take care of myself, I can barely shower & wash my hair anymore, approx. twice a month.
      It’s terribly embarrassing. My hair has only become severely knotted in the last two shampoo’s. The last time, I only had spray on conditioner, but could not comb or pull apart one knot the size of a small orange, I just gave up because I was making it worse, I got scared & I also
      just threw it up into a bun & clip, that was over a week ago, finally checked U-Tube when I came across you post. I mainly want you to know, you are not alone. Ok?
      Sincerely, Marion

    • Wow. Exactly what i am going through right now. Cant Believe i let it go this long!! Who does that? And.since im not working at the moment, i barely.go out..( and then there’s COVID…) I feel so uggy and lazy and it’s so bad now, i am trying to avoid cutting it out..just keep coiling it up with an elastic or hat for trips to the store.Lol .Sincerely, Dumbass

      • I thought it was just me. Since being over 60, I have become depressed, especially with the Covid isolation. I never had matted hair until now, maybe it is due to dry skin. I only wash my hair twice a month due to the mats and I wear it in a bun also. I found it is easier to un mat it after you wash and condition your hair, but it still takes me a half hour to get all the mats out. I wonder if it is caused by staying in the A/C all day that drys out our hair. Anyway, I am not alone, so I already feel better

    • This is why some moms are so beautiful. In a little while when they’re all grown up you’ll find time to bring yourself back, but you don’t feel down about yourself. Wear your mom bun with pride. I do! Xx

      Tea tree conditioner helps me get the knots out.

  2. My daughter has long beautiful, thick blonde hair and this matting seems to be an increasing issue. She freaks out if I say anything about cutting it. I think we’ll have to add a protein treatment to her routine when I get these mats out. If anyone has any suggestions on what to use and how often, I am all ears. Thank you so much.

    • I always use Mayo for protein treatments about 30 mins in the hair it does smell while on, shampoo till no oily residue is left and then wash as normal. It will no longer smell like Mayo but it will leave it incredibly soft and shiny!

  3. This has helped me reading this I’m going to try it all. My hair is so tangled it feels like a big ball of hair. I don’t have the time so I pull it up too. I’m glad I’m not alone. Thank you

    • I’m a mom trying to detangle my daughter’s matted hair. I just want to say thank you all for commenting/ sharing / and to let me know that she is not alone. ….. and that I love you ALL !!!! Don’t lose hope ! Get the help you need to fix this problem and don’t keep pulling it back. … signed , heartbroken mom in nj

  4. Kimburly Ann Keefas

    I’m really screwed. My long beautiful red hair is down to my calves. Covid came, and quarantine and depression followed, and I’m older now (red hair doesn’t turn gray for years!), 66, and I couldn’t brush it! I have a HUUUUUGE ball around my neck. I’ve tried from the bottom and can’t get anywhere. This nice lady I found on Craig’s list charges $100 an hour and I can’t afford her. She told me never wet a matt, bc it tightens the knot. So I’m afraid to try this, bc wetting such a huuuuuge knot would tighten it, according to her. I plan on cutting it back to my butt if I can clear the matt so I can brush it and this doesn’t happen again.
    Is really long hair ok with this wet method?

    • Try using oils instead or slightly dampen it with water and lather it with conditioner and start from bottom to top.

  5. I’m fighting a losing battle with depression and had combed my hair probably 2 times in the last year. My is on big dreadlock and I don’t know how to deal with it. I don’t bathe and don’t brush my hair and don’t cook or clean or anything. Depression due to domestic abuse has broken me down so much, I don’t know where or how to even begin healing. I stopped living a long time ago and am just a mural that my kids pass as they try to live their broken home lives. Darn covid hasn’t done much to help matters. Locking us up in our homes to stay safe (supposedly). Plz advice on dreadlock types hair or how to get out of the hole I’m in would be much appreciated.

    • I came here to say this exact thing. I’ve been battling and losing severe depression too. I haven’t brushed or washed my hair in almost a year too. I’ve been trying to climb out of this rut I’m in and I want my hair back, I’m so scared of how matted and dreaded it is tho when I see it I think I either can’t handle that pain right now or I’ll do it tomorrow and tomorrow never comes. I need help too, I don’t mind having to cut some of my hair but I’m scared I’d have to cut it short..too short. I hope you have found something to help u and urself in general. If there’s anyone else out there with advice,please help me

  6. Michelle Rena Fisher

    Oh my goodness I thought I was seriously the only one going through this. I have depression and have usually been able to manage it without meds. But last year right before COVID hit, my car broke down, and then CoVID, then I lost my job and my depression slowly turned severe before I even knew it was happening. Three months ago I noticed bad tangling in my long hair so I just put it up and figured I would deal with it later. I am so tenderheaded that dealing with tangles is literally torture for me. Well I barely was getting out of bed, never went anywhere, kept putting my hair up to “deal with it later”. Then all of the sudden last month I try to take my hair down and it is literally a ball of tangles. There is about a handful of hair that is still free from the ball, but I have had my hair up in the same bun for three weeks so I started feeling hopeless. I am disgusted with myself and was looking up wigs online when I decided to search for hope. Y’all have given it to me so thank you. You’ll never know how much it meant to me to hear that I am not alone. You strong ladies are giving me some mental strength back. I just wanted to thank y’all for that and I am going to go face my hair and if it takes all weekend, I will not stop until I am tangle free! Or bald…lol.

  7. Praying for all of you. My only suggestion is once you finally get your hair untangled, to do a wash & deep condition then and put in one or more braids – that way you won’t have to think about your hair until you have the energy and time to do it.
    I pray this never happens to you again.

  8. Thanks and God bless all of you! Me too, thought I was alone with this level of self-negligence, and so disgusted and lost, until I read all of your brave and honest comments on here tonight. Wow, what a comfort to find out that you are not alone! I am probably The Worst of all y’all tho…I cannot remember the last time I even showered lol! I think it may have been November!? Its like…wtf is happening and who am I?!? I am a chronic pain sufferer and the last few years the only things that kept me keepin up appearances were my doctor and pharmacy visits lol…they were my last connection to humanity, and myself too, so it seems…its like what’s the point? I should note here that I did get lucky with very little body odor lol. Oh, and my all gray roots are at least 3 inches grown out. No haircut over a year. Also, brushing teeth less often lol, that’s never been me, ever? But hey, now we’re all 6 feet apart and masked, so I’m not offending. So, all good lol.

    Anyway, enuf of my whine – really just wanted to say, I just did this last night, sat and untangled my unruly ratsnest for almost 2 hours ugh – and I agree, I personally would advise not to wet it. I used Biosilk spray on shine oil, or any kind of oil will do, and just would give the hair starting at scalp a spritz, and gently pull apart the hairs from each other, then the loose ones will all fall out and scare the cramp outta you lol, but yeah the daily shedding is normal, so just expect it. That’s all. Repeat spritz as often as needed. I sprayed my fingertips also. Patiently put in the time and save your hair, but it is a mindless task really – so I just watched an entire movie, then used a good natural hair brush and braided it. It did feel amazing to be able to run my fingers all the way thru it again! Hope this helps someone and we all start to come back to life again very soon ❤

  9. My hair is So matted that I put a head band in my hair n it looks like its done up in a bun,but in reality there is no elastic is my hair. I can’t get a brush even close to my scalp . anyway getting this out without scissor

  10. Wow… As I read all of your comments tears are rolling down my face… I know it’s been said in almost every single comment but I seriously thought and feel like the only woman so severely depressed enough to stop caring enough to even shower let alone brush my hair. It’s kinda bittersweet to know that I am not alone… I don’t feel so down on myself but I’m so sad that there are so many other beautiful humans going thru this I’ve been trying to unmat this for 3 days now. Tried 6 different products, best friend bought me a special detangler brush and today I’m buying a detangler comb and gonna try 1 more product. Not wanting to cut my hair cuz it’s finally getting long after a pixie cut 4 years ago. I pray you all find the strength to (even if it’s slow, like my own life) love yourselves! Please hear me when I say YOU ARE ALL WORTHY OF LOVE AND HAPPINESS! AND NO ONE DESERVES TO BE PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY OR EMOTIONALLY ABUSED!!!! YOU ALL MATTER AND ARE LOVED!! GOD BLESS

  11. You are ALL speaking my truth!! Thanks for the humility and encouragement everyone..absolutely trying this today <3

    • I concur honey. I thought I was the only one suffering, from this strange onset, of a depression. I have been sitting in the house, with no desire to take care of my hair(matted needs to be detangled), showering on a need to basis, use to love to cook, and take better care of my cats. My family keeps saying that I’m just sad because of the recent deaths in my family. Maybe so, but I must pull out of this black whole, before I have to take meds. At my age, 67, I can’t allow myself to never get to see my grandkids, I allow more time to go by,, as they wouldn’t recognize me. Ok, No more putting off my hair care from day to day. Thanks to these brave, super women and men, sharing their life’s story. It helped me, so much.

  12. I’ve tried the wide tooth comb so many times. none of them has ever worked, I might have to cut my hair to a normal men’s length

    • But why normal? What is considered truly normal to one, may not be normal, to the next person! Just be you. When you look to the mirror, admire what you see. Long hair or short. You have to feel good about yourself. Don’t cut it off and throw in the towel. I’m going to try to detangle my hair,, using a home made mineral oil treatment. Lots of great tips, in this post. Thanks everyone.

  13. I broke my arm in 3 spots…can’t brush it. I have long hair…it’s matted and tangled, terribly .Its a ball of hair. Still can’t brush it, can’t get my arm up that high, what to do. Plus no hairdressers are answering their phone.

  14. Holy cow. I thought I was the only one. I’m 25 and I have a 10month old baby and I think in this whole 10 months my hair has been good for about 5 weeks (spaced out) I hardly have time for me and I have stopped caring for my hair. It’s down to my hips and I need to cut it to my shoulders because I just don’t have the time or energy to care for my hair anymore. I don’t think I’m depressed but who knows anymore. I probably am but less depressed than I was a few years ago so I’m just like I’m not depressed lol. You’re all beautiful and I’m honestly so glad I found this post because it makes me feel less bad about myself.

  15. I came here to find a remedy for a very severe matt (semi close to my scalp, covers 1/2 of my head on the right side – very fine/thin hair – and I am wearing hats and buns for the last 3 seeks because I don’t know what to do.
    BUT rather than just finding a quick answer, I was so moved my the caring, concern, empathy and support of the women on this thread.
    I too have dealt with depression and abuse (thank God I broke free 3 years ago … after 15 yrs) — and it becomes so debilitating and isolating.
    I LOVE HOW WOMEN RALLY TO HELP EACH OTHER!!!! It’s a truly beautiful thing. I’m not a man-hater by any means … but I have observed than most women who have “issues” (called crazy or unstable or aggressive or petty or pessimistic or promiscuous … u know the labels), have all come to acquire these maladaptive coping mechanisms at the hand of a man’s mistreatment or neglect – or can be traced thru a path that leads there.
    I’m convinced that the more we share/encourage/support and give strength to one another, the more we can heal, and work towards prevention. Thank you for ALL for this wonderful reminder, in such an unexpected place!

  16. Thank you ladies for helping me feel more forgiving and less shameful about myself. I have been deeply depressed also and staying in bed whenever I can. All that time in bed has made my ponytail into a tangled mess. I work from home and need to go on zoom, but from the front my hair looks ok. I have some clip-in bangs that really help. I have been washing and conditioning my hair about once a week but haven’t been able to run my fingers through it for a few months. At first, the extra volume in my ponytail was nice, but then I realized it was getting matted like one giant dreadlock. I use a silk pillowcase, but haven’t washed it in weeks. I have changed the sheets, but I get tired and don’t finish putting new pillowcases on. I used to be an athlete, now changing my bed sheets is an exhausting task. Anyhow, you inspired me to put on Netflix and slowly work on small sections of my hair. I used cheap leave-in conditioner because I heard cheap products can have more detangler, which sits on top of the hair and gives a soft feeling, instead of penetrating the cuticle like the high end products. I sprayed each section of hair down and used a vent brush, working from bottom to top. It took almost two hours, but all the tangles are out! A lot of hair came out, but probably not more than what would have shed off if it wasn’t caught in the tangles. Thank you for the inspiration and emotional support.

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