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7 Super-Damaging Hair Combing Mistakes You Don’t Even Know You’re Making

S.O.S (save our strands): Here, the dos and don'ts of detangling that all women need to know.

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Don’t start at the scalp

Most people brush their hair after the shower, but what they don’t realize is that wet hair is especially vulnerable, making it that much more important to be gentle and to comb correctly. Starting at the scalp can lead to snarls, frizz (give these frizz-fighting secret weapons a try), and damage! For starters, brushes and combs are designed to be used on hair, not the scalp. Anabel Kingsley, trichologist at Philip Kingsley, cautions that they can scratch, cause irritation, and negatively impact scalp hair. Brushing from the scalp down is also likely to cause breakage, which can make hair look thin. It actually places unnecessary traction on the hair and follicle, and your strands are likely to be stretched past their elastic limit. Next, take a moment to think about how much hair you’re trying to pass a comb through at one time. If you start combing from the top of your hair, you’re likely to break through snarls, rather than remove them. “This action also can gather tangles together, creating large knots and matted sections,” says Fernando Salas, creator of White Sands. Combing wrong isn’t the only snafu you might be making.

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Nina Buday/Shutterstock

Do be gentle—especially around your hairline

You already know it’s important to be gentle on hair—particularly when wet—but when it comes to your hairline, it’s even more critical. According to Kingsley, these hairs tend to be finer and more delicate. Plus, this is the area most people tend to fuss with the most, so it’s super prone to wear-and-tear. “In our clinics in London and New York, we often see women whose hair has been substantially damaged as a result of incorrect brushing.” If you’re too rough when you brush, you can pull hairs out from their follicle, resulting in temporary hair loss. (Looking to remedying the situation? Give these natural hair loss treatments a try.) “If you do this repeatedly over a long period of time, the affected hairs may stop growing back permanently, a condition is known as traction alopecia,” he says.

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Do start with your ends

The right way to comb wet hair to avoid damage? Start at your ends and gradually—section by section—work your way up to the roots. When you comb hair from the bottom up, you’re working with less surface area to untangle at one time. “This allows you to gently and mindfully ease-out any interlocked hairs or hairs that you find as you go,” explains Kingsley. Once you reach the scalp, it will be so much easier—because the mid shaft and ends will already be knot free—meaning less damage-inducing tugging and pulling, according to Salas. You might not realize these blunders are giving you split ends.

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Do use leave-in conditioner

A leave-in formula is great to nourish and smooth areas of the cuticle that need repair the most. Try: Inoar Vegan Leave-in or White Sands Spray Leave-in Conditioner. Strands in need of some serious rehab? A weekly deep conditioning treatment may be just what the doctor, err stylist, ordered. Try one of these expert-approved hair masks.

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Do use a detangling spray

Before combing through wet tresses, Tiffany Chiapparelli, lead educator at amika, suggests spritzing a detangling spray on the mid shaft and ends. These formulas contain conditioning agents that reduce friction and smooth the cuticle, and will typically provide some “slip” to the hair, allowing your detangling brush to slide right through your strands. Try: Philip Kingsley Daily Damage Defense Conditioning Spray or Pantene Pro-V Serious Repair Hair Detangler. Give your tresses some TLC with these miracle-working products every woman needs in her hair arsenal.

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Maryna Pleshkun/Shutterstock

Don’t wrap hair in a towel

You’ve probably heard that it’s bad to brush through sopping strands. And while that’s certainly true, the way you dry your hair matters! Wrapping your tresses in a cotton towel or turban can cause them to get extra knotty, which forces you to be even more aggressive when combing. The solution? Using a towel, gently squeeze out excess moisture. Spritz in some detangler and start combing.

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Do use a comb on wet locks

Stylists agree that a wide-toothed comb is your best bet for taming tresses post-shower. (Are you guilty of committing these shower sins?) Look for a model that’s specifically designed for knocking out knots, like Wet Brush Wet Comb or Goody Detangle Comb. And for those looking for an extra boost of nourishment? “You can find many that are infused with oils to increase moisture and even out hair’s porosity,” notes Sharon Medina, expert stylist for Inoar Professional. Try: Cricket Ultra Smooth Hair Conditioning Rake Comb Infused with Argan Oil. While a comb may be best for waterlogged locks, when it comes to styling and blow-drying strands, the right brush can make all the difference. Read up on how to find the best brush for your hair type, texture, and needs.

Lindsay Cohn
Lindsay Cohn is an avid traveler who has visited 46 countries across six continents. At Reader’s Digest, she covers both domestic and international travel. When she's not writing, you can find her hanging out with her son, doing yoga and adding to her ever-growing list of future adventures.