Few people can escape the horrors of knotted hair—the babies, the balding, and the buzz-cutters are pretty much the only ones safe. For the rest of us, knots are an unfortunate part of life.
While a good detangler and hair brushing can usually fix your everyday tangles, sometimes those knots and tangles take on a life of their own. In those situations, we’re faced with the upgrade no one asked for: What were once simple knots and tangles become deeply intertwined, lumped together mats. And matted hair is no joke.
While your first thought might be to grab the scissors, fight that instinct. With the right tools and temperament, it’s possible to get rid of mats from your own home. Read on for advice from hair health expert Shab Reslan and trichologist Bridgette Hill on removing mats and how to avoid matted hair altogether.
What Causes Extremely Matted Hair?
Matted hair is a combination of attached and shed strands that twist together to form clumps—think traditional knots and tangles, but worse. While everyday knots can be removed fairly easily, mats are tough, if not altogether impossible, to remove with a brush or comb alone.
Hill describes matted hair as “hair fibers that become intertwined around each other in a tight interlocking pattern that become fused together, creating a cluster or clusters of an unorganized mass of hair fibers.” And while those with drier or textured hair types, like curls and coils, are certainly more prone to matted hair, it can really happen to anyone.
The number one cause of hair matting, according to Reslan, is product buildup on the hair shaft from styling products, improperly shampooed hair, conditioner or hair masks left in for too long, and the like. Over time, that buildup eventually makes hair so dull and coated that strands easily tangle together due to the ensuing friction.
Hair can also become matted from a lack of hair brushing, combing, and other detangling methods, Hill mentions. When tangled, hair fibers lack moisture and can become intertwined, eventually leading to mats. Other causes include improper use of hair accessories or hair ties, long stints without trims, and failure to protect hair overnight.
How to Detangle Extremely Matted Hair
Here’s the good news: Cutting matted hair is the absolute last resort. That being said, Hill warns that the key to detangling extreme mats is having patience—and being prepared with the proper tools. As for the tools, she suggests the following:
- Wide-tooth comb
- Detangling brush
- Pin-curl or rat-tail comb
How to Avoid Extremely Matted Hair
Congratulations: You’ve successfully de-matted your hair. Now you want to avoid future mats. The key here, according to Hill, is practicing proper scalp and hair care, using accessories designed to prevent tangles and snags, keeping the ends of hair hydrated with a light serum or leave-in treatment a few times a week, and scheduling regular haircuts. For long hair, or hair prone to knotting, consider protecting your strands at night with a silk pillowcase, scarf, or bonnet.
The Final Takeaway
Matted hair is an absolute pain to deal with, even with the right tools and techniques. In an ideal world, we’d avoid matted hair altogether, but we know this isn’t the case. Life happens, mats happen.
Luckily, the right tools and techniques—and a whole lot of patience—can most likely save you from a major chop. So find your inner peace, grab a great comb, and get to de-matting.