How to Untangle Matted Hair: 6 Expert Tips


hairstylist brushing out wet tangled hair
Source: Diana Eller |

How to Untangle Matted Hair: 6 Expert Tips

Matted hair can be a real headache to deal with (metaphorically and literally)! Luckily, whether you’re a stylist looking to amplify your technique and educate yourself about the best professional hair care products to tackle tangles, or you’re the one who’s all tangled up, and you’re simply looking for some advice, our step-by-step guide (filled with expert tips) is sure to improve the process.

So brush up on your skills below and, hopefully, brush out your strands as well!

Prepare the Hair 

One of the best ways to tackle knots is simply to get the hair into a state where it can pretty much do it itself! Soft, silky hair is much less likely to knot up and a lot more likely to slip loose — so get the hair as close to that point as possible by following the steps below.

1. Use a Pre-Shampoo

Doing a pre-shampoo treatment, even with something as simple as an oil, will significantly help loosen knots. While specific directions will vary depending on the product you use, this will generally mean massaging the product into the hair and allowing it to sit for a bit before washing it out.

2. Use a Quality Conditioner 

A quality salon conditioner will improve the hair’s softness and slip and, in turn, its combability! So make sure to use a good quality conditioner (concentrated on any mats) and allow it the time that it needs to sit on the hair and penetrate it as much as possible! 

3. Use a Detangling Product

A detangling spray can work wonders when it comes to smoothing out your hair and helping knots slip apart easily. Apply a generous amount of it to the hair, focusing on the areas that need it most, and allow it to sit for a few moments in order to penetrate the hair shaft fully. 

closeup of hairdresser washing client's hair
Source: Lena Ogurtsova/

4. Create Manageable Sections

Equally important (though not always possible when it comes to matted hair) is separating the hair into more manageable sections using ties or clips. Not only will this make the process less overwhelming, but it will also ensure that you don’t cause more knots throughout the process! 

Prepare Yourself

The other key to conquering matted hair is to know HOW. Having expert techniques and the appropriate tools will ensure that you actually make some progress and don’t just make things worse.

5. Master Your Brushing Technique

Starting at the roots and trying to take the entire mat down at once will only cause more problems. So start from the bottom of the mat and brush downward in short sweeping strokes until you get to the ends of the strands. Continue this process (over and over and over again — patience is important), each time starting a little higher up the mat. While you do this, it’s best practice to hold onto the section of hair you’re working with firmly, somewhere between the top of the mat and the root, to eliminate as much pain as possible. And remember: always be gentle!

6. Know the Right Tools

Before you attempt to seriously tackle any tangles, it’s important to have the right tools on hand — and your best tool to start the process off with is a simple wide-tooth comb. A wide-tooth comb will glide through the hair a lot easier than any other brush or comb, and cause a lot less damage as a result!

As you work through tangles, remember that your fingers are also a powerful tool! You use them for everything from shampooing to styling, so as you get close to the roots (and for really thick mats), we recommend a mix of a good wide-tooth comb and your fingers. 

senior hairdresser brushing teenage client's hair
Source: Viacheslav Iacobchuk |

Stopping Tangles Before They Start

At some point before, during or after the detangling process, the thought of “I’m never going to let this happen again” is going to cross the minds of everyone involved. So how do you make sure of it? From avoiding over-washing to using special salon shampoo when they do, be sure to suggest the following tips to your client. 

  • Brush the hair regularly (and gently).
  • Secure the hair in styles like buns or braids.
  • Wrap the hair in stylish hair wraps. 
  • Sleep on silk pillowcases at night. 
  • Get regular trims to avoid split ends.
  • Avoid damage to the hair caused by over-washing, overuse of heat tools and overuse of color or texture treatments. 

Matted hair can be caused by neglect, improper hair care and other factors. While we can provide some expert tips for brushing it out, sometimes the only thing that can be done is to use your skills as a stylist and give the client a subtle cut!


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