Beyond finding the perfect curly cocktail, most naturals have experienced tiny, mysterious tangles that just won’t quit. No, they are not in your imagination, these nuisances actually have a name — "fairy knots," aka trichonodosis.
“These are single strands of hair that knot within themselves to create bigger knots known as ‘fairies,'” explains hairstylist Nai’vasha Johnson who works with Yara Shahidi, Sasha Lane, and Uzo Aduba. “Unfortunately, curly and kinky hair are more prone [to these] because they are produced by a flat and curvy hair follicle, which enables these smaller tangles.”
Owner of Capella Salon, Shai Amiel (best known as “The Curl Doctor”) explains a bit more in-depth. “Hair sheds every day but unfortunately for curly girls, it is more of an issue than for someone with straight hair. Straight hair will slide easily off the head because there's no resistance like the coils of our curls. Loose curls tend to get wrapped around each other.”
Fret not. While the annoyance may not exactly disappear completely, there are a few steps you can take to minimizing their unwelcome occurrence. The experts behind the crowns of Logan Browning, Tracee Ellis Ross, and more offer insight.
Plan your attack from the start
While it’s not quite science, there is a bit of rationale as to why certain textures are more plagued by tangles than others. Hairstylist Chuck Amos, who works with Alicia Keys, Solange, and Lion Babe, breaks it down for us: “Fairy knots tend to occur in curly or coily hair because the follicle of curly hair is an oval shape, causing the hair to grow out of the scalp in a twisting, coiling nature. And, when the cuticles are raised on those strands, it causes the fairy knots to happen [more frequently].
Knots usually happen at night when you're sleeping or during/after your washing process, especially when your cuticles are raised. “Raised cuticles cause strands to intertwine with other strands or onto themselves, causing these micro-knots to happen. These single-strand knots can intertwine with other strands of hair causing more knots to happen, so it is important to get rid of them [early].”
Tackle knots in the shower only
Ladies, back away from the rattail comb. “Detangling hair should only be done in the shower while the conditioner is on the hair to make it more slippery,” explains Amiel. “It is best to use your fingers because they can feel the tangle and are way more gentle than a hard comb or brush.”
He acknowledges this process will take longer than traditional methods, but is much more delicate on fragile strands. “Please avoid using hard bristles like a comb and don't settle for a hard brush like the Denman brush, [which can] tear your hair, causing breakage. This is how so many girls lose their length. You could use the Wet Brush — but very gently, taking your time to separate [your hair].”
Amos has a hack that will not only elevate your experience, but also cut down on excess tangles as well. “When washing your hair, there are two things that you can do prior to ensure the least amount of fairy knots to occur,” he explains. “My favorite is to braid your hair in medium-size sections all the way down to the ends, making sure that your ends are within the braid. Then, wash your hair gently with more emphasis on your scalp then ends. Next, let the shampoo rinse out. Re-braid undone ends and repeat process with your conditioner or mask.”
The second thing you can do is add some pure oil to your hair prior to washing — think coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, etc. “This will keep your cuticles laying flat during the cleansing process and will lower your chances of getting tangles during the washing process.” If you aren’t quite into the DIY experience, Amos suggests a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner that get to the core of your strands, like these from the Pantene Gold Series (Amos is an ambassador for the brand).
Bonus tip: “When washing /conditioning /rinsing your hair, make sure you are stretching the ends with your fingers, causing the strands to move all in the same direction in a smoothing motion,” adds Amos. “When you apply your moisturizing hair products, do the same thing. It is best to work with your fingers and not a brush or comb when dealing with curly or coily hair, especially during and after your washing and conditioning process.”
Practice these three golden rules
We weren’t surprised to hear that fairy knots can’t be avoided, but according to hairstylist Nai’vasha Johnson, they can be controlled. Here are her three main tips:
“Moisture is the main factor in the health and the manageability of your hair regardless of the texture,” she says. “The moisture from conditioning creates a slippery barrier that aids in controlling tangles.”
Stretch it out
According to Amos, braided styles and double-strand twists are the best way to avoid fairy knots. “Hairstyles that stretch the hair strands all the way to the ends are key," he explains. “Make sure you are using products that hydrate hair to the core, like Pantene Gold Series curl defining pudding or detangling milk."
Get regular trims
You’ve heard it a million times — trims make a huge difference. “Naturally our ends will become frayed — that is what split ends are, “ explains Amiel. “But, the more time we wait in between cuts, the higher up the shaft those split ends will travel.” Don’t get caught up in your hair length, worry more about hair health. “Neglecting regular trims will cause your ends to be more frayed, resulting in length loss. When the ends are frayed, they will break so much faster, [leading you to lose] your length. Trims are so important every three to four months. Maintain those happy, blunt ends that won't get tangled as much.”
Don’t reach for scissors just yet
If you have a knot that just won’t quit, avoid the urge to shampoo — go straight to conditioning instead. “When a fairy knot does occur, it is best to apply conditioner directly to the fairy knot and rub gently until you can find a loop opening. Then, get it out with a rattail tip comb or a small needle,” explains Amos. “Be careful about jabbing knots with needles because you can damage strands by doing this."
If all else fails (and the hair strand isn’t salvageable), Amos explains the ideal way to resolve: “It’s best to cut just above the knot, which will keep the end of that strand bluntly sealed off without causing any more split ends.”
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