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The Best Hair Detanglers to Nix Knots Without Damaging Strands

Experts explain how best to detangle hair without damaging it — and the best products to help you do so.

Knots, tangles, snarls — call them what you will, brushing through them is no fun. And doing so incorrectly? That can take a serious toll on your tresses. "Improperly brushing out tangles can create breakage and unnecessary friction, damaging the hair cuticle [the outside layer] and potentially even leading to hair loss in some cases," says Kourtney Scott, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago.

Sure, it can be tempting to muscle your way through stubborn snarls, haphazardly yanking your brush or comb through your hair with as much force as possible. But, in the immortal words of Fat Amy, "mmm...better not." Instead, practice restraint and make detangling part of your haircare routine. This is especially important for hair types that are particularly prone to tangles (but more on that to come). First, however, the basics of how to detangle hair.

Start on dry hair, before you hop into the shower. Hold the hair at the mid-lengths and, using a paddle brush, start brushing at the ends, moving your way up so that you clear the tangles as you go, advises Scott. (Yup, you read that right; start at the bottom.) If you were to start at the roots and brush downward, you'd risk simply pushing all the knots down and ending up with one huge mess at the ends.

In the shower, apply conditioner then comb through hair again following the same M.O., this time using a Wet Brush (Buy It, $8, target.com). Its flexible bristles and tips are firm yet soft enough to gently glide (vs. rip) through hair to effectively release tangles, explains Scott. While it's great for, as the name indicates, wet hair, it's also a great tool for dry hair, especially if it's tangled. Meaning: if you don't have a paddle brush for your dry locks, you can use this bad boy instead.

Once you're squeaky clean, towel dry your hair, apply — typically spray — a detangling product, and then repeat the same brushing protocol. "A good detangling product's going to provide slip and flatten the outermost layer of the hair, reducing breakage and snagging," says celebrity hairstylist Pekela Riley. And many of those on the market do much more, going above and beyond their intended call of duty to deliver a host of other good-for-your-hair benefits, such as hydration and heat-protection. That's why it's a smart idea to get into the habit of using a hair detangler whenever you wash your hair.

This three-step process is a good protocol to follow and works well for general, everyday type of knots and tangles, as well as a good preventative measure. But, if your hair is crazy tangled — be that allover or in just one concentrated spot — consider reaching for a detangler in step one and using it on dry hair. Spray all over your locks and then add more onto any especially stubborn situations, says Scott. This will make that preliminary brushing much easier, and, again, minimize the likelihood of damage. From there, follow steps two and three (yes, that means adding more detangler onto your locks once they're clean and damp).

That's all great and dandy (not to mention simple enough), but knowing how to detangle hair is just one part of the process. You also need an A+ product. Here, eight expert-approved hair detanglers to say sayonara to snarls.

It's a 10 Miracle Leave-In Product

It’s a 10 Haircare Miracle Leave-In Product
Amazon

This is a universal failsafe for any and all hair types, according to Scott. She lauds it for its detangling prowess, frizz-fighting power, *and* ability to impart moisture, heat protection, and shine. (For these reasons, it also made the list of best leave-in conditioners.) And this is all made possible thanks to an impressive lineup of natural ingredients such as panthenol (which strengthens strands) and silk amino acids (which restores moisture as well as adds silk and shine). To use, apply about five to seven sprays throughout wet hair then brush through with your Wet Brush. It works equally well on dry strands, too; in that case, apply one to two sprays to the palms of your hands then run them over your hair.

Buy It: It's a 10 Haircare Miracle Leave-In Product, $15, amazon.com

Oribe Priming Lotion Leave-In Conditioning Detangler

Oribe Priming Lotion Leave-In Conditioning Detangler
Oribe

For those with curly or medium-to-coarse hair, Scott says this product's for you. Not only does it detangle, but it also prevents breakage, adds heat protection, and smoothes the cuticle for soft strands, she explains. Because it's a richer cream (as compared to other detanglers, which are usually lightweight sprays), use this hair detangler sparingly, applying a nickel-size amount only from mid-shaft to ends and avoiding the roots.

Buy It: Oribe Priming Lotion Leave-In Conditioning Detangler, $38, nordstrom.com

Olaplex No7 Bonding Oil

Olaplex No7 Bonding Oil
Olaplex

While not technically a hair detangler, this reparative oil can make it easier to brush out knots, all while improving the look and health of your hair, says Paul Labrecque, creative director of the Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa in New York City. It's an especially good choice for those dealing with damaged tresses, as it boasts a patented technology to repair bonds in the hair that are broken due to chemical processes (i.e. coloring) or mechanical damage (ahem, improper brushing). The bottle comes with a convenient top that releases just the right amount; turn it over to dispense a specially measured drop into the palm of your hand. The formula is concentrated, so you don't need much. Rub your palms together, then smooth throughout your hair.

Buy It: Olaplex No7 Bonding Oil, $28, sephora.com

R+Co Pinstripe Intense Detangling Spray

R+Co Pinstripe Intense Detangling Spray
Amazon

"This is great for all hair types because it detangles, offers extra conditioning, and hydrates — all in one weightless formula,"explains Scott. It leaves strands soft and shiny, and the fresh and citrus-y scent is just an added bonus. Spray enough to lightly and evenly coat towel-dried hair before brushing out and styling as usual.

Buy It: R+Co Pinstripe Intense Detangling Spray, $24, amazon.com [will add]

Pattern Hydrating Mist

Pattern Beauty Hydrating Mist
Pattern

Tighter hair textures such as coils or kinkstend to tangle even more than others, says Riley, making the right brushing technique (see above!) plus product pairing even more essential. So what does Riley recommend when stakes are this high? None other than this spritz from Tracee Ellis Ross' hair care company. "It's great for detangling and hydrating strands between wash days," she says. To use, spray several times onto dry hair before re-styling.

Buy It: Pattern Hydrating Mist, $37, amazon.com

Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil

Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil
Bumble and Bumble

Dealing with dry (or even very dry) hair? This formula is for you, according to Scott. Thanks to a combination of six oils, which your strands practically slurp up in an instant (read: they're quick-absorbing), this hair detangler adds plenty of hydration while also smoothing and detangling strands. (These best conditioners for dry hair can also help.) Whether you're working with wet or dry hair, Scott suggests spraying all over to really reap those results and ward off frizz. What's more, it also offers heat and UV protection to keep your strands strong day after day.

Buy It: Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil, $28, nordstrom.com

Biologique Recherche Lotion Keractive Conditioner

Biologique Recherche Lotion Keractive Conditioner
Biologique Recherche

Think of fine hair like a necklace — the finer the chain (strand), the easier it is become knotted. A thick chain (strand), on the other hand, has added weight that makes it harder to become tangled. When you have fine hair, snarls are just more likely to occur day-to-day, says Labrecque. Enter: this leave-in treatment. Along with adding hydration and slip to the hair to make it easier to comb through, this weightless spray also provides great volume, he says. If applying to damp hair, spray it liberally from mid-lengths to ends; if applying to dry hair, spray once into palms and then smooth over your locks.

Buy It: Biologique Recherche Lotion Keractive Conditioner, $48, shoprescuespa.com

Flora & Curl Organic Rose and Honey Leave-In Detangler

Flora & Curl Leave-In Detangler
Ulta

"This is a great detangling solution for all hair types," says Scott. "It's packed with moisturizing ingredients that help to easily comb through hair, leaving it tangle-free and protected from breakage." More specifically, the formula features natural strand saviors such as honey, coconut oil, and organic rose water — all of which, btw, make this hair detangler so hydrating that it nearly pulls double duty as a leave-in conditioner. Apply a dime-size amount from mid-lengths, concentrating on any areas that are particularly knotted or tangled.

Buy It: Flora & Curl Organic Rose and Honey Leave-In Detangler, $22, ulta.com

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