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Matted Hair After Braids

before and after photo of a little girl with matted braids

Depending on how many breaks we do (or don't) take, detangling our matted hair can take 2 hours to 5 days.

Why Does It Take So Long?

It’s like untangling a rope, shoe string or cord, but the strand is much smaller, finer and attached to our daughter's head. Plus we have to work the knot down the length of her hair.

In our home...

  • we leave her braids in for 4-6 weeks at a time.

  • her hair is super long (it reaches down to her butt)

  • she’s also tenderheaded, and

  • we have a one year old who needs our attention throughout the process

This all means we really have to take our time.

Why Does The Hair Keep Matting?

Our curls were made to kiss. Couple that with the dirt and shed hair that collects the longer the braids stay in. After a months time, the strands have really created this strong bond.

If we only left her hair in for 1-2 weeks, this would not happen. But in our home, we love our monthly (instead of weekly) hair routine.

How Long Have Your Braids Been In?

  • Less then 4 weeks

  • More than 4 weeks

Is It Unhealthy To Have Matted Hair?

As long as the hair is not damaged or breaking, I think matting is a natural process for our hair.

Every time we take down her braids, they are slightly matted at the start of the braid. But her scalp is healthy, her strands are thick and long, which are all signs of healthy growth and maintenance.

Breakage can occur as you untangle the hair. So it's super important to take your time and maneuver the hair gently.

What Are The Best Products For Matted Hair?

In addition to patience, you will need a spray bottle filled with water (and maybe a little essential oil). Misting the hair loosens the tangles. Then apply a little bit of your favorite conditioner. You'll want a thick conditioner that will coat and moisturize the hair so that the knot will just slide out. Here's ours, but use whatever product that works the best for you.

Lastly fine tooth combs are the best tools for untangling matted sections. Fine teeth are designed to be super close together. This helps them separate each strand. If you use a cheap comb it may break. You'll want to use (or get) a heavy-duty comb that is strong enough to withstand the force it takes to loosen knots -- this one is our fave. It's made with carbon fiber, a super light but strong material. It also has a smooth metal tail that easily slides down the braid.

Whichever tools you use, remember to take your time, start at the bottom, and work your way up.

How Do You Make The Process Go Faster?

It can be super frustrating untangling matted hair. But one strategy to make the process faster is to take out the matted sections after each braid. Meaning, you do not want to take out all braids and then try to untangle the hair all together. When untangling hair, you'll want to do it in small sections. This means, undo the braid, and then use your comb to untangle that section.

What Happens If The Hair Is Severely Matted?

If there is a huge knot or multiple matted sections throughout the head and you do not want to cut the hair, please know you can still untangle the hair -- it just might take longer.

Below's a video of a mom combing out her child's locs. In short, one loc took 20 minutes -- she salvaged the length and health of his hair simply by taking her time and using the right tools.

Finally, the mom suggests using a styling comb and a cheaper conditioner (like this one) because you will need a lot.

I shared this video to show that even locs (which are intentionally matted sections of hair), can be undone in a healthy way. Please notice the mom also pinches the loc right above the section she is working on. This helps minimize the sensation of detangling, so that all the tugging and pulling doesn't hurt. You can apply this technique to braids too.

What If It's Taking Too Long To Unmat The Hair?

Just know it takes time. Maybe start untangling the back first. That way you can pull the hair back and cover the sections you're working on.

I also did a little girl’s hair who had a knot the size of a golf ball. It took several weeks for me to fully detangle her entire head. I would gently detangle small sections at a time using tons of conditioner. Between our sessions I would disguise the matted section with a cute style. If you're into accessories, you can also try cute wraps or ponycaps to help you with your transition.

Other ideas are to maybe invite family over to help you. Watch a movie together while you do it.

If there's a knot that is too frustrating, try to free as many loose hairs as possible. Meaning, untangle as much of the knot as you can, then you can cut out just that section. Consider using hair shears instead of ripping it out. Hair shears will give you a cleaner cut (than regular scissors) and are definitely less painful than ripping the knot out.

How Do You Deal With Negative Comments?

Ignore them. Focus on taking your time and the health of the hair.

What Do You Do With The Shed Hair?

Burn it.

Any Tips For Tenderheads?

Be even more gentle.

Which Areas Mat More Easily?

Illustration showing sections of hair that mat the quickest

In our family, it varies per style and hair texture. For me, the nape of my neck (the back of my head) used to mat the quickest. I think it was a combination of it being dry, me being a wild sleeper and not wearing a night scarf. I purposely loc'd one of our daughter's hair and noticed her sideburns (near her ears) loc'd first. For our oldest, the crown of her head (which is the very top of her head right in the middle) seems to mat quicker. And because our youngest typically wears a wash-n-go, the tips of her hair mat all over.

Mats that form from braids are definitely easier to manage because they are in small sections instead of free form.

I share this to say, don’t get discouraged if the hair is matted. Apply tons of conditioner and take your time. You got this!!

Mentioned Products:

If you're curious why we burn our shed hair, we explain it here. And if you need some tips for tenderheads, we have some here.

Until next time...

Love The Journey,

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