The Mane Objective: Curl Care 101: How to Pre-Poo & Detangle for Less Breakage
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Curl Care 101: How to Pre-Poo & Detangle for Less Breakage

1:02 PM


Hey curlfriends! Welcome to this week's installment of Curl Care 101! Today's topic gets to the heart and foundation of a healthy hair regimen -- pre-pooing and detangling techniques.

I personally feel like pre-pooing and detangling are two unnecessarily confusing and convoluted topics, so my goal today is to present you with some concise, useful information that you can practically apply starting today. Are you with me? Let's go!

The Pre-Poo
Just like everything in the natural hair community, there are about 50 different definitions for what a pre-poo actually is and does. Let's keep it really simple: a pre-poo is a treatment applied to the hair prior to cleansing. What that treatment consists of, how it is applied, and how long it is left on the hair is entirely up to you. Here are some general guidelines for the 3 basic types of pre-poo treatments, how to use them, and why they are beneficial:

The Oil Pre-Poo
curl-care-101-pre-poo-detangle-natural-hairThe oil-based pre-poo is the most common type of pre-poo treatment done. All it entails is taking your favorite oil, and applying it to your hair and scalp. You can massage it in, not massage it in, begin detangling, or let it just sit and marinate. Oil pre-poos can be applied to damp or dry hair.

Minimum Amount of Time: 1 hour
Maximum Amount of Time: overnight
Recommended Products: coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, JBCO
Good for: strengthening hair, softening hair, preventing breakage, preventing dryness, shine

Research has shown that hair can absorb 15% of its weight in penetrating oil in an hour. When left on the hair upward of six hours (overnight), that percentage jumps up between 20 and 25%. When taken into the hair, penetrating oils help prevent hygral fatigue, protein loss, combat damage from combing/manipulation, and keep hair from drying out during the cleansing process. Even if you mix a penetrating oil (like coconut) with a non-penetrating oil (like Jamaican Black Castor Oil), the penetrating oil will still find its way into your hair to provide all of the positive properties listed above.

The Conditioner Pre-Poo
 The conditioner-based pre-poo is also very common. It involves dampening the hair with a spray bottle (or steam) and generously applying conditioner. It is very common for ladies who enjoy conditioner-based pre-poos to mix in their favorite oils for an added boost. It is very common to use the same conditioner to pre-poo and detangle the hair.

Minimum Amount of Time: 5 minutes
Maximum Amount of Time: 1 hour
Recommended Products: Kurlee Belle Banana Nut & Avocado Deep Treatment, Tresemme Naturals Nourishing Moisture Conditioner, Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner, ApHogee Curlific Texture Treatment, Shea Moisture Superfruit 10-in-1 Conditioner
Good For: restoring hydration, fighting dryness, fighting frizz, improving elasticity, strengthening hair, smoothing hair, manageability

Pre-pooing with conditioner helps to re-hydrate, soften, elasticize, and prep the hair for detangling. Most conditioners are designed to work on impact, meaning within the first few minutes, the majority of the ingredients designed to penetrate have done so, and the ones designed to stick to the hair have as well. You can use heat, steam, or heat up your conditioner to improve penetration and make it easier to work through the hair. I do not recommend making a regular habit of pre-pooing with water-based conditioner overnight. It can lead to weaker, more breakage-prone hair. See hygral fatigue.

The DIY Pre-Poo
While I tend to reserve many of my mixtressing moments for trying out new Pinterest recipes, there are many ladies who whip up their own pre-poo treatments, based upon hair needs. Popular ingredients include coconut milk, oils, eggs, avocado, banana, honey, molasses, liquid aminos, and greek yogurt. Pre-pooing with these ingredients can moisturize, soften, elasticize, strengthen, and add shine to the hair.

Minimum Amount of Time: 30 minutes
Maximum Amount of Time: 2 Hours
Recommended Ingredients: (see above)
Good for: softening hair, strengthening hair, shine, manageability, improving elasticity

Because of the "whole food" nature of these mixes, they may not have the more "immediate" impact of a conditioner-based pre poo. They may take a little time (and a little recipe perfecting) for optimal performance on the hair. My suggested maximum amount of time is 2 hours. Because, who wants to walk around smelling like guacamole and greek yogurt for more than 2 hours? Link: DIY Pre-Poo Recipes.

Many naturalistas HATE detangling. Like, totally abhor it. We love and adore our kinks and curls until it's time to separate and unravel them from one another. Then ish gets real. Now, I don't mind detangling at all -- because I've discovered what works for my hair. Allow me to share a few insights into detangling your hair in less time with less damage.


The reason why detangling has become such a cumbersome chore for many transitioners and naturals is because of the careful nature with which we must remove twisted and knotted shed hairs. If we are too callous or careless with our strands, we run the risk of experiencing unnecessary hair pull and breakage -- which leads to thinning and stalled length retention efforts (aka "no growth"). So what's a gal to do? Get your hair-saving detangle on in 3 easy steps:

1. Find your groove.
I'm not going to preach today about the wonders and joys of conditioning wet hair over dry. If what you're doing right now is working, keep doing it. If what you're doing is not working, well, try something new until you get in your groove. Yes, it's a pain in the behind, but once you find your detangling groove, it will be well worth it. I've done damp detangling, I've done dry detangling, and I've done wet detangling. I've detangled with oils, conditioners, and liquid sprays. Although they all yield different results, my hair, my time, and my arms appreciates it most when I detangle my soaking wet hair with conditioner. In-shower detangling with Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner is my groove. It has tons of slip, little to no breakage (because a few hairs on wash day is normal), and I'm not losing gobs of hair. I still take my time and don't rush or yank, but this method gives me the best results with the least amount of drama. While seeking out your groove, take the following into consideration:
  • Wet Detangling: yields the most slip, and tends to be "easier" but requires gentle movements and care because hair is at its weakest when wet. More elastic, yes -- but more prone to breakage as well.
  • Dry Detangling: often regarded as the most painstaking and time consuming, but yields less breakage because of increased tensile strength of dry hair. Still prone to breakage, because dry hair lacks in the elasticity department.
  • Damp Detangling: seemingly the best of both worlds, but requires the same amount (if not more) time than dry detangling. Hair has some slip and some elasticity, but requires patience and careful movements.
2. Find your tool(s).
Once you've got a groove going, it's time to get some tools as well. Are you up for the task of finger detangling, or do you need a wide tooth comb? Is there a Denman in the mix? I'm not here to advocate or preach one method over the other. Much like finding your groove, finding your tool will result in a personal blend of preferred time, your level of patience, and desired results. I finger detangle 90% of the time, and whip out a wide tooth comb 10% of the time -- most often when my hair is trying to play me, or if I'm preparing for a blow-out. Whatever tool you choose shouldn't hurt you or your hair.

People like to throw unnecessary extras on detangling, like not wearing nails a certain length, working from end to root only, and using seamless combs. Absolutely none of that matters. If your nails are even and un-snaggly (I envy you), then detangling with your fingers shouldn't be an issue. If they are, then wear vinyl gloves. Seamless comb, Denman or not, just make sure whatever you're gently raking and picking through your hair isn't giving you a ton of snapped hair. As far as working end to root goes, if that works for you, do it. I personally like to start from the mid-point of the length of my hair, work my way down, and then rake from root to end. But that's just me though. 

3. Attack in sections. 

I'm about that section life!
The one absolutely, regardless of whatever products and tools you use, is a must. You can separate your hair in to 2, 4, 5, 6, 32, however many sections you need to successfully navigate through and detangle your hair. Use clips or twists to keep your undetangled hair away from the section you're working on, and then twist/clip it back up when you're done. If you use clips, just be sure your sections are parted fairly clearly -- you don't want to risk breakage by detangling a section and accidentally tugging at a hair that's actually clipped into another section.

So, how exactly do I go about my pre-poo and detangle? It's really simple:
  • Pre-poo 1 hour with coconut oil on hair and JBCO and avocado oil mix on scalp (I keep a bottle of my JBCO/Avocado mix on tap to use throughout the week and on wash day). I normally throw my hair in a clip or bun so I can be productive while the oil marinates. I tend to not pre-poo overnight much anymore, I hate waking up to a face full of oil.
  • Hop in the shower, let the water completely saturate my hair for 2-3 minutes (I find that it helps begin the process of shaking those shed hairs loose)
  • Completely coat my hair root to end in Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner. Yes, I use a lot of conditioner and I am unashamed of that fact. 
  • Part hair down the middle, clip one half of my hair up and let the conditioner marinate. On the loose half, separate the first section (I work front to back), and clip the remaining loose hair behind me. Detangle the first section and twist it up.
  • Separate the next section, and repeat the detangle and twist. After I have 3 twists on one side, I clip them together and repeat the steps on the other half of my head.
That entire process takes me about 15-20 minutes. To conserve water, I use a cup or spray bottle and fill it with water to re-wet as necessary while I detangle. Spoiler alert: when I'm cowashing (barring any cowashing product reviews), I detangle and cleanse with the same Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner. It saves money, and time. If I'm shampooing (like I did yesterday), I follow the same steps listed above. Instead of massaging it into my hair and scalp to cleanse, I rinse it out and proceed with my shampoo of choice.

Hopefully this helped you to clarify what a pre-poo is, why you should do it (if you want to), and which methods of detangling may work best for your hair. Stay tuned next week -- we're going to talk truth about cowashing and shampoos!

Question: What's your favorite pre-poo mix?

4 Detangling Hacks for Trifiling Tangles

Curl Care 101: Getting to Know Your True Texture

Curl Care 101: Building a Healthy Hair Regimen for Maximum Growth

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  1. Congratulations on your milestones! So awesome! I should really pre poo more. I have a quick question, hopefully you can help me with! I really want to have the most shiny hair but I cannot seem to figure out what I need to do. Any ideas, tips or tricks?

  2. Thank you!!!! Pre-pooing will definitely help with shine. Also, what deep conditioners are you using? Doing a cool/cold water rinse after the deep conditioning helps shine, as does using shine serums and sprays. Here are some good ones:

  3. Ok I will check those out. Thanks so much.

  4. I would love to get my hands on a Q Redew! & this is the 1st article I've read that clarified something I was unsure of for the 5 years of being natural. If mixed with non penetrating oils, will the oil that is able to still penetrate my strands. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

  5. Thanks for keeping it simple. I'm actually not dreading my next wash day. That in itself is saying everything!!!! #Yaaassss

  6. I use Carol's Daughter mimosa hair honey on my hair and apple cider vinegar on my scalp. I haven't really made my own hair mixes but maybe I'll try it.

  7. I only have a faint memory of that mimosa hair honey. It's the yellow one right? Might need to try that....

  8. ::::sigh of relief::: thank you! I was hoping I laid it out plainly enough :) #easywashdayforall

  9. No problem! It was something I wondered about too :) I had to research it and be sure -- but I found the answer thanks to Jc and The Natural Haven! Thanks for reading <3

  10. It's nice to see you respond to your readers. You're awesome

  11. Thank you Marcy! I know my blog comments have gotten kinda iffy since Disqus changed their admin panel. But I'm working on it. I know without you guys I've got nothing!!!

  12. Thanks for posting such awesome & informative information. So helpful.

  13. I absolutely agree.

  14. Christina,

    Do you recommend the following for a pre poo? Mixture of avocado, olive and coconut oils , cover and leave overnight. In the morning (without washing the oils), before shampooing, spray hair with Infusium 23 Repair and Renew Leave In Treatment and apply One and Only Restorative Mask. Cover and let sit until I wash later that day (about 4 hours later). Do you think that's too much? I am natural but heat style my hair every two weeks. It's very dry and breaking so I'm trying to do the most damage control before I even wash. I am a faithful reader of your articles and I must say your site is the Holy Grail natural blog for me! Great information!

  15. Hi guys, I'm going on vacation for a month to Thailand and I have nooo idea what to do with my hair!!! This whole pre poo deep condition process is great... Until I'm in a rush to see a temple! I'm worried about the constant pool/ocean dips, should I be rinsing it after every dip? Any help would be great thanks!!