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Ultimate Guide to Removing Knots: How to Safely Remove and Avoid Tangles

In the many years the LongLocks HairSticks Boutique has been in existence, I can't tell you how often I've heard heartbreaking stories about those who have cut off their precious locks because of a massive tangle of knots that could have been saved or better yet, entirely avoided! The Ultimate Guide to Removing Knots provides step-by-step instructions to teach you how to salvage your hair from a mass of knots, how to safely remove those annoying tiny tangles, and how to avoid knots in the first place.

Please keep in mind that these instructions are for removing knots, not for removing dreads. While dreadlocks can be removed over the course of several days, usually with the help of a professional and the use of nasty chemicals, generally the remaining hair will be so damaged that it will unfortunately have to be cut to great extent regardless of how careful you are.
So, in reference to recently knotted hair, let's handle the biggest hair emergency first...

The Tangled Web: Removing a Head Full of Knots

If you've done the unthinkable and rode around in a convertible or on a motorcycle without protecting your hair and you find yourself with a massive head full of knots, never fear! There is a way out of your tangled web.

You will need to have a few things handy to achieve your goal of a knot-free head of hair, and even if you aren't in an emergency situation now it's certainly a good idea to have these things on hand for when you do if you are serious about your long locks. You won't want to have to go to the drugstore with your hair in massive knots and you definitely won't need the added stress should you find yourself, or someone who has hair you care very much about, in this position. Additionally, you will find all these items to be extremely useful in your daily hair care routine: a wide-tooth comb (my personal favorite by far is the Mebco Shower Detangler); a hair-safe comb with smaller teeth (preferably one that has two widths), such as the Cricket Silkomb; two hair-friendly Tsubame Silicone Hair Clips (more if you have tons of hair); a silicone-based "hair smoother" like John Frieda Frizz-Ease or any gel product intended to "de-frizz," smooth or add shine to your hair (if you prefer to avoid silicone, I highly recommend the Frizz Hair Shea Butter you can find at JustNatural, it's an awesome smoother and doesn't have a drop of silicone!), a good pair of extremely sharp hair shears (it's important that you have a pair of scissors intended for and used only on your hair, and if you want to make this unfortunate ordeal a lot more fun definitely check out the divinely gorgeous Titanium Razor Edge Hair Cutting Shears by Suvorna). Of course most important of all, you will need a LOT of patience. And confidence! You CAN do this.

Recruiting a friend to assist you on the other side of your head would also extremely helpful, and cut your work time in half. And whether you are tackling your own head of knots or that of your daughter's, I also strongly suggest some beautiful, soothing music and a very large glass of good, dry red wine. Did I mention patience?
Your hair must be bone dry before you begin. If it is damp at all, let it dry naturally until all signs of moisture are gone. Damp or wet hair will stretch, tear and break very easily! Be sure to turn off the phone, you don't want any distractions. Sit where you are comfortable as this is likely to take a very long time depending on your hair length and amount of knotting. If you start to feel uncomfortable or your arms start to get tired, by all means stop to rest and get up and move around once in awhile. You're probably miserable enough, there's no need to add to your stress. The thing to keep in mind as you work is that your mission is to "divide and conquer." The smaller you can make a knot, the easier it will be to safely and completely remove. Think in terms of micro surgery.

Repeat to yourself several times in a mantra-like way, "I can do this and I will not cut off all my hair... I can do this and I will not cut off all my hair..."
An Al Fresco Toilet by Samuel Luke Fildes
1. Put on the music, take a large sip of wine.

2. Start in the front by pulling forward the smallest knotted lock of hair you can divide from the rest of your hair. Clip the rest of your hair out of the way so you can concentrate on the first lock.

3. Starting not too far from the ends and using both hands, one then the other, slide your fingers down your hair applying gentle pressure with your thumbnails so they penetrate the lock of hair slightly. When your nail catches on a tangle, don't fight it, just let it skip over the knot and continue sliding down the length of the lock. As you remove knots at the lower part of the strand, start the next strokes a bit higher up. You will be amazed at how many knots you can remove more easily using this method than any other.

4. Once you are satisfied you have removed all the knots you can using your fingers, using the wide-tooth comb and beginning at the very bottom of the lock, gently comb toward the end of the strand. If you cannot get the comb through your hair relatively easily on the first try, start even closer to the end or carefully try to divide the lock into a thinner strand. It is important to do this very gently and not to rip your hair, as you'll end up with a head full of broken, damaged hair that will split, break and knot easily. Each time you successfully get the comb through your hair without hitting any snags, move an inch or so up the strand and continue combing through to the end. If you can't get the comb through to the end without tearing your hair, then move up the strand in smaller increments.

5. Should you come across a knot that is so matted that you absolutely cannot get the comb through, try rubbing just a tiny drop of the silicone-based hair smoother into the knot. If you don't have any hair-smoother handy, you can try using a bit of mineral, almond, or my personal standby Desert Essence Jojoba Oil (some people also swear by cornstarch or talc but I've never personally tried this method... feel free to experiment, but definitely not after you've applied oil to the same knot). Carefully put the wide-tooth comb in the center of the knot and gently work it through to the end.

6. Eventually you will either get all the tangles out of the strand of hair or you will end up with some tiny knots that are so tight you cannot remove them without tearing your hair. Try to remove a few or even single strands of hair by gently pulling on them just above the knot and trying to slide them up and through. Should you meet resistance, stop immediately and move on to another strand. Once you have removed all strands that will come loose without breaking the hair, use your scissors to snip the remaining knot just above the top. Do not rip the knot out with a comb.

7. Once you are relatively certain you have all the knots removed from the first lock of hair, run the finer-toothed silicon comb through it. If you meet any resistance, continue working following the steps above until the finer comb will move freely through your hair.

8. When you are completely confident the first lock is knot-free from roots to ends, congratulate yourself on a job well done and glory in the confidence that you now know you can do this and will not have to sacrifice your hair. Clip the knot-free lock out of the way, pull another very small lock from the knotted hair, sigh deeply while reaffirming your need for patience and newly-found confidence, take a large sip of wine and begin again.

9. Once your entire head is free of all knots, give yourself a really good deep conditioning treatment with an effective deep conditioner like Arvazallia Hydrating Argan Oil Hair Mask, while you carefully read The Ultimate Guide to Growing Long Hair and commit it to memory while enjoying the rest of your glass of wine and giving yourself a well-deserved pat on the back!

Knot Doing Damage: Safely Removing Those Annoying Tiny Tangles

Even if you are careful to the follow the steps for knot avoidance below, most people will run into small knots on a regular basis regardless. It is imperative that you learn how to quickly and easily remove these knots without doing damage to your hair. If not approached with care, this is exactly the kind of daily wear and tear that will have a cumulative effect and will eventually take a major toll on the overall health of your hair, especially if it is long. Check out our award-winning Ultimate Guide to Growing Long Hair for more information on keeping long hair healthy and strong, or our Ultimate Guide to Healthy Hair for keeping hair beautiful at any length.
You will need a a wide-tooth comb and a finer-toothed comb (but not too fine). You might want to also have a "hair smoother" and a good pair of hair-cutting scissors on hand (you will find my suggestions for the best of all these products in the tutorial above).

Try to work in the direction your hair was styled when it became knotted, especially if you are working on those aggravating and painful tangles that tend to accumulate at the nape of your neck. If your hair was styled in an updo or high ponytail, then try to work bent over or on the edge of your bed. If you hair was down and loose or in a low ponytail or bun, then stand or sit upright to remove the knots.

Once again your mission will be to "divide and conquer." Remember, the smaller you can safely make a knot, the easier it will be to safely and completely remove.
1. Start by dividing the lock of hair that has the knot from the rest of your hair. Try to not to have any hair whatsoever in the lock that is not caught up in the knot.

2. Using a wide-tooth comb and beginning at the very bottom of the lock, gently comb toward the end of the strand. If you cannot get the comb through your hair relatively easily on the first try, start even closer to the end. It is important to do this very gently and not to damage your hair further by ripping it. Once you successfully get the comb through your hair without hitting any snags, move up the strand a bit and comb through to the end to ensure no other small tangles remain in the lock. If at any time you find another knot, repeat this step from the beginning.

3. Should you come across a knot that you cannot get out using the above method, try rubbing just a tiny drop of silicone-based hair smoother into the knot. If you don't have any hair-smoother handy, you can try using a bit of mineral, olive or jojoba oil. Carefully put the wide-tooth comb in the center of the knot and gently work it through to the end.

4. If you end up with some tiny knots that are so tight you cannot remove them without tearing your hair, try to remove a few or even single strands of hair by gently pulling on them just above the knot and trying to slide them up and through. Should you meet resistance, stop immediately and move on to another strand. Once you have removed all strands that will come loose without breaking the hair, use your scissors to snip the remaining knot just above the top. Do not rip the knot out with a comb.

5. Once you are relatively certain you have all the knots removed from your hair, run the finer-toothed comb through it. If you meet any resistance, continue following the steps above until the finer comb will move freely through your hair.

6. Read the steps below on knot avoidance so you will have to follow these directions as rarely as possible and limit the inevitable damage knots will do to your hair.

Daily Maintenance: Avoiding Hair Knots From the Start

Let's face it, no matter how careful you are it would be virtually impossible to avoid all knots in your hair due to its very nature; however, once you are aware of the very things that cause them to form in the first place, you've won more than half the battle. Following the steps below will enable you to rather easily avoid the most common reasons that tangles occur, and will be extremely helpful to you in keeping from accruing cumulative damage to your locks (and keep in mind that where hair is concerned, damage begets damage!) Keeping your hair smooth and tangle-free is by far one of the easiest ways to keep it looking beautiful and healthy no matter how long you wish to let it grow. Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
1. Use a wide-tooth comb on your hair and comb it often, at least two or three times a day if it doesn't knot easily and more often if it does. Make sure your comb has no rough seams that can snag and do damage. Any seams can be easily smoothed using a piece of fine sandpaper or an emery board. Again, as far as I'm concerned the best wide-toothed comb in the world is the very affordable Mebco Shower Detangler. Buy a few and keep one at home, one at the office and one in your car (especially if you own a convertible). Don't tell your husband where any of them are as husband's tend to pilfer them (I'm looking at you, Richard).

2. Never ever ride in a convertible, on a motorcylce, snowmobile, horse or any other wind-inducing method of transportation, no matter how good it feels, without first thoroughly securing your hair. If you do, you'll be back in a panic to read the very first section of this article.

3. If you wear your hair in an updo, take it down at the end of the day and comb it thoroughly.

4. Be sure to either sleep on a satin pillow case or braid your hair to keep friction from your sheets to a minimum. Check out our Hair Braiding Basics for instructions on several types of braids.

5. Comb your hair thoroughly before shampooing and then briefly use a 100% boar bristle brush to remove any loose hairs that remain and to distribute your hair's natural oils to the ends (Spornette's Boar Bristle Paddle Brush is a very good one, and has the added benefit of also being very affordable).

6. Never pile your hair on top of your head when shampooing. Work lather from your roots to the ends and rinse in as cool water as you can stand to make the cuticle lay flat and make your hair as smooth as possible.

7. Condition your hair every time you wash it, and deep condition at least once or twice a month... more often if your hair is damaged.

8. If your hair is very prone to knotting, especially when it is wet, try using a spray detangler after washing before combing it out. In the sidebar to the left you will find several good ones available at Amazon.

9. If you follow the previous three steps you should never have this problem but if for some reason your hair defies all odds and you absolutely cannot comb it out wet, try letting it dry before you comb it. This works best for smooth, coarse (relating to the thickness of each individual strand) hair and in fact is pure disaster for my own smooth, fine hair. Your mileage may vary.

10. Never never NEVER (and I mean never) brush wet hair. Use only a wide-tooth comb and never tear through knots. Wet hair is very elastic and will break very easily.

11. Keep your hair in good condition and trim it often. Damage moves up the hair shaft and the rougher and more damaged your hair becomes, the easier it will knot, thus causing even more damage.

12. Avoid fine necklaces and chains if possible, and if not, don't wear more than one unless you wear them under your clothes. If you do wear chains, check them often to make sure they aren't snagging your hair.

13. Collars on blouses can also cause knots. If you find that your hair is often knotting at the nape of your neck and you're not wearing a necklace, this is usually the culpert. Experiment with different types of material and collars, or even better collarless blouses, to avoid this common problem.

14. Wear your hair up often, using only hair-safe accessories. Of course I highly recommend LongLocks HairSticks! By all means, never use rubber bands, sharp metal barrettes or clips with springs in your hair as all will cause damage to some extent, and some are downright torturous.
If you think about it, it's easy to understand why knots are the single most damaging nonchemical problem your hair is ever likely to suffer. With little knowledge, effort and persistence, keeping your hair healthy and knot-free is easily accomplished. Just keep in mind that it's always best to avoid anything that is known to create knots and to tackle them when they are still small problems so they don't become big problems!

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