Ever notice stubborn fairy knots in your hair while primping your curls in the mirror? They’re hard, teeny-tiny, and snag on brushes and combs. And no matter how many conditioning products you apply or how diligently you pick at them, they absolutely refuse to detangle. Well, if you didn’t know before, those are called single-strand knots. They’re pretty common in curly and coily hair, and you’re probably dealing with them all wrong.
“Single-strand knots occur when a single strand of hair loops around and knots on itself,” Dr. Gaby Longsworth, Ph.D. scientist, certified hair practitioner, and owner of Absolutely Everything Curly, tells Bustle. “Once formed, they are virtually impossible to untangle because they are so tiny and tight.” Single-strand knots don’t only pop up if your hair is dry and damaged (though parched strands are definitely more susceptible to tangles). Fairy knots can emerge even when your curls are nicely hydrated.
“Curly and coily hair is much more prone to single-strand knots because the hair follicle is flat and oval in shape,” Longsworth explains. “This follicle shape causes the hair to grow out of the scalp in a twisting, curling, or coiling manner to create those gorgeous curls and coils.” The tightness of your coils, plus their tendency to “shrink” when drying, makes it easy for a single-strand to wrap around itself. “The hair strand’s cuticles are also more raised on curly and coily hair strands, causing these single-strand knots to happen more frequently,” she says.
Tired of annoying fairy knots ruining your curls’ aesthetic? Below are Longworth’s tips and tricks for taking care of your ends.
1. Get Your Hair Trimmed Regularly
Getting a trim may seem counterproductive if your goal is to grow out your curls, but it’s imperative to stopping single-strand knots from forming. Longsworth says you should get your hair “trimmed or dusted frequently, at least every 3-4 months to remove split and frayed ends.”
2. Treat Your Hair Before & After Washing
“Use a pre-poo on hair overnight prior to wash day to protect the ends, especially if hair is dry or damaged,” Longsworth says. She points to the Innate Life’s Herbal Hair Mask as a great option that has argan oil and brahmi, an Ayurvedic herb that will help protect your ends.
Longsworth also recommends frequent deep-conditioning, at least once per week. This Banana Cream Deep Conditioner from Ecoslay is packed with curl-nourishing natural ingredients — avocado, aloe vera, and marshmallow root extract, to name just three.
3. Detangle Your Curls With Care
Make sure to detangle your hair with the the utmost care. Longsworth says the ideal time to tackle tangles is on wash day when your locks are coated with a slippery conditioner. “Use your fingers and/or a wide-toothed comb to gently detangle,” she says. “The key is not to snap or break off hair which will only cause more single-strand knots to form.”
4. Focus On Your Ends When Moisturizing
When it comes to moisturizing your hair, Longsworth suggest using the L.O.C. (liquid, oil, then cream) or L.C.O. (liquid, cream, oil) method to keep single strand knots away. Each method helps your hair absorb and hold onto the hydrating elements in your products. When applying your products, make sure to run them through your roots to the very ends of your hair.
5. Protect Your Hair 24/7
You’re probably already tapped into protecting your hair at night with a silk or satin pillowcase or bonnet, but make sure you’re committed to doing so for the sake of your ends. “Cotton pillowcases tend to dry out curly hair, and as said earlier, dry hair ends lead to more single-strand knots,” Longsworth says. If you want an elongated style, she says “another trick is to stretch your ends on rollers while drying to get straighter ends.”
Don’t forget to protect your ends during the day, too. “While it may feel good, avoid exposing your curls and coils in windy situations and having them blow in all different directions,” Longsworth says. “Wear a satin-lined hat or tie up your curls with a trendy scarf to protect them.”
6. Snip Fairy Knots With The Right Scissors
If you’re dusting your hair to get rid of your single-strand knots sans a professional, make sure you use scissors specifically designed to cut hair. Longsworth says the appropriate scissor will cut “just above the knot, which will keep the end of the strand bluntly sealed off without causing any more split ends.” She recommends these scissors as a great, under $10 option.
Dr. Gaby Longsworth, Ph.D. scientist, certified hair practitioner, and owner of Absolutely Everything Curly