How to Untangle Long, Fine Hair: Best Tips for Detangling Matted Hair

Updated on May 16, 2020
Layne Holmes profile image

Layne likes to share her favorite health and beauty tips for people on-the-go.

Tips and tricks for detangling fine hair from someone with fine hair.
Tips and tricks for detangling fine hair from someone with fine hair. | Source

How to Detangle Fine Hair Without Damaging It

Fine hair, as with all hair types, comes with its pros and cons. It offers a care-free, windswept look, is easy to straighten and curl, can be easy to dye, but it's also easy to damage.

Sometimes straight hair gets celebrated for its uniformity, but people with fine hair have their work cut out for them every day! People with fine or thin hair know that tangles happen easily, especially when wet, during sleep, swimming, or excerise. It's no fun and can be pretty painful—ever had to use scissors to get those knots out? If you know, you know.

The Cons of Having Fine Hair

  • Flat: It falls flat (no amount of hairspray, gel, or teasing in the world will get it to stay put beyond an hour or two).
  • Tangles: It tangles easily (within a half hour of brushing).
  • Mats: If it's long, it's prone to matting.
  • Shows Oil: It's more apparent when you need to shower—you cannot hide those roots.
  • Detangling Takes a While: If you get your hair wet or are out in the elements, detangling will take work.

This is a great style for active people who have a hard time keeping their hair from tangling.
This is a great style for active people who have a hard time keeping their hair from tangling. | Source

The Truth About Fine Hair

I can't tell you how many times my hair has matted and literally HURT from the weight of the tangles. Sometimes I had such bad knots I had to literally cut them out. If you're active and have fine hair, you may have experienced the same issues.

  • My hair type: Fine, color-treated bi-annually, sun exposure, salt water exposure, no blow-drying or straightening.
  • Length: 4 inches past my shoulders.

So here are some tips I put together to help you out. I've used these detangling techniques on children with fine hair, too, as they are gentle. Use a child-friendly detangler, however, instead of the one I recommend for teens and adults.

Best Advice Ever

If dealing with mats, never try to brush from the top of your head down. ALWAYS START FROM THE BOTTOM and work your way up. I always work out my mats in the underparts of my hair first, and brush top to bottom LAST. If you try to brush top to bottom to start with, you only concentrate the tangles/mats.

The Best Products for Detangling Wet, Fine Hair

When I was younger, I remember my mom literally yanking on my hair to get it to detangle—it was miserable!. Throughout my life I tried so many products and brushes. I've used all sorts of conditioners, leave-in conditioners, serums, detanglers, and brushes. I had a Mason Pearson brush at some point—those are nice and super expensive—and I had a Wet Brush. None of these items worked.

So, after many years of trial and error, here is my go-to formula:


  • Conair Detangling Cushion Brush (forget the Wet Brush!)
  • Jane Carter Revitalizing Leave-In Conditioner (I use this conditioner on my wet hair every day. Do not use this product if you are gluten sensitive.)
  • Giovanni Shampoo
  • Giovanni Conditioner for Damaged Hair (I swear by this conditioner; it's vegan and cruelty-free!)

Forget the Wet Brush

Conair Detangling Cushion Brush Set, 3pc (Colors May Vary)
Conair Detangling Cushion Brush Set, 3pc (Colors May Vary)
I purchased 10 of these at once because I feared the day this product was no longer available. No joke. This is leagues beyond the "Wet Brush." Anyone with fine hair should keep several of these around. Nothing works better.

Why These Products Work for Me

I think the magic in this whole formula is the Conair brush that I found. It generally works well regardless of the type of detangler you chose to use, but I do like the Jane Carter Revitalizing Leave-in Conditioner (I bought 10 for Black Friday) because it does not weigh down fine hair and you can use it right after a shower. It also keeps hair from being frizzy.

Sometimes, if my hair is dry, I spray a couple sprays into my palm and just run it over my hair to tame flyaways. The Jane Carter product contains many natural ingredients.

It's better to start from the ends than the roots when detangling hair.
It's better to start from the ends than the roots when detangling hair. | Source

How to Detangle Fine Hair

  1. Start by brushing out your hair before washing it. As you are washing it, only use shampoo on the roots.
  2. Apply adequate conditioner to the bottom 2/3rds of the hair and let soak for 1 minute. Rinse.
  3. Towel dry by patting the hair—do not rub.
  4. Immediately apply the Jane Carter product to the bottom 2/3rds of the hair and any face-framing pieces.
  5. Split your hair onto either side of your shoulders. Start with one side—work with the face-framing hair first and start at the ends, brushing them out.
  6. Use short brush flicks (work on 1-inch pieces at a time and gradually work your way up). Stop brushing about 2 inches from your roots.
  7. Begin working on the back half of hair. Brush the two portions of hair on the side you started on together.
  8. Repeat the same technique on the opposite side.
  9. When all sections have been brushed out, flip your head backwards and swipe the brush from the top of the forehead through the hair to the back of the head. The hair should brush through cleanly.
  10. Flip your hair to one side and work on the "underneath" portion of the hair against your neck.
  11. Finally, flip your hair around and brush through the top to bottom several times. Find your part if you have one.
  12. Keep your hair tied back in a low bun until you want to let it down.

With fine hair, sometimes your hair has natural body and sometimes it's simply matted.
With fine hair, sometimes your hair has natural body and sometimes it's simply matted. | Source

How to Get Mats Out of Hair

Mats are a little bit trickier, but they do happen and I have had my fair share! Instead of giving up and cutting them out (the worst), here's what I do. Be sure to dedicate a half an hour to the process if your hair is severely matted.

Dealing With Matted Hair?

Tip: Skip the comb. Combs are only frustrating. The best way to work out a mat is with your hands and a detangling brush.

How to Remove Mats

  1. Start on one side of your head and start with the hair that is at the bottom/your ends. Do not start at the top of your head.
  2. Sit somewhere comfortable where you can just zone out for a bit.
  3. Pull the mat forward and begin at your root.
  4. Start pulling the hair with both hands between your finger and thumb—hold the mat in your less dominant hand and pull the hair apart in opposite direction with your dominant hand. This should not be painful.
  5. Work your way down to the end. Sometimes it helps to use the Conair brush once you've worked the mat out to untangle the rest down to the root.
  6. Keep working until one side is completely untangled. This can take up to 15 minutes.
  7. Take your Conair brush and brush the mat-free side. Put it in a tie and tie it back or tuck it away from the matted side.
  8. Perform the same task on the matted side.
  9. When you are done, brush your hair from underneath first. Then brush the face-framing pieces. Finally, brush through it all.

Consider tying your hair back, braiding it, or putting it in a top bun to keep it from tangling if you are going to be active.

Tips to Prevent Long Hair From Getting Tangled in the Water

If you like to play in the ocean or enjoy water sports, braiding your hair helps immensely! Here are a few options:

  1. Put your hair up in a ponytail and secure it with a hair tie. Braid the "tail" and secure with a second hair tie.
  2. Tie a low ponytail. Braid the "tail" and secure with a hair tie.
  3. Side braids may work too.

Tips for Swimmers

Not the best practice for the pool, but if you're like me, consider applying conditioner to your hair or your troublesome areas before swimming. I get knotted flyaways behind my ears even with a swim cap. They are so bad I've had to cut them out. A little bit of conditioner on dry hair here and tucking hair into a swim cap can really help.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Layne Holmes

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