In 1921 an American surgeon Evan O’Neill Kane was lying on an operating table waiting for his appendix to be removed. In impromptu fashion, he decided to see if he could actually perform the operation on himself. As he was the chief of staff at the hospital, nobody felt able to stop him. Bar for a moment when his intestines popped out of his abdominal cavity, he completed the operation successfully and was back at work operating on patients two weeks later!
Dangerous operations notwithstanding, I believe that self experimentation as a whole is a great thing. Certainly it should be included as part of every successful hair regimen. How else would one know what works?
When I first started my hair journey all those years ago, the general consensus was that natural hair should never go anywhere near a comb in it’s dry state. Since then, I have come across quite a few people who believe otherwise. They use the argument that hair is weaker in it’s wet state so should only be combed dry.
I have always been firmly in the ‘don’t comb your hair unless wet and doused in conditioner’ camp and my main reason for this is dry hair is brittle, so any stress applied to it by way of combing will result in breakage. Dry hair also tends to be more difficult to manipulate for the same reason.
Brittle hair and breakage as a rule tend to go hand in hand. Brittle hair as you know, is hair that has too little moisture in it. Wet hair on the other hand is more malleable and softer which of course means that elasticity is increased.
Elasticity helps to prevent breakage because the strands can stretch considerably before reaching breaking point, a feat that is unmatched by hair in it’s dry state. The slip provided by conditioner also makes it easier to remove tangles from hair compared to dry detangling.
This past weekend, I decided that a bit of self experimentation was in order. I divided some of my hair into two equal sections one for dry detangling and one for wet detangling.
The dry hair was lubricated with plenty of coconut oil* as is the practice while the wet hair was covered in a standard detangling conditioner*. A wide tooth comb* was used in each instance and combing was done over a clean sink so that I could catch and count the number of broken hairs in each section.
For the wet section I had a total of 3 broken hairs with the rest being shed hair while for the dry section I counted a total of 12 broken hairs with the rest being shed hair (some broken hairs in this sections were quite long too which was pretty unnerving!). Here is a picture of the wet vs dry hair bundles* collected. The picture was taken after the wet section had been allowed to dry completely and fluffed up.
PS – My hair doesn’t usually shed this much, I was just coming out of mini braids that I’d had in for 6 weeks!
Apart from the broken hairs counted, visually it is also clear to me that wet detangling resulted in less hair loss overall.
Unfortunately I didn’t perform this experiment when I was relaxed but I remember with fond trepidation how much I hated washing my hair because just touching wet it resulted in yet more breakage. Some studies show that relaxed hair loses 40% of it’s tensile strength ie it has 60% the strength of natural hair.
I don’t think I would meet much resistance to the idea that relaxed hair should be only detangled dry or at the very least just damp. The ‘wet with conditioner’ deal only applies to natural hair.
Wet hair is in fact weaker than dry hair. To assert that natural hair would be better detangled wet, you would have to show that the the elasticity in wet hair offsets the weakness of the hair in this state. On the balance of probabilities of where one would be more likely to suffer breakage, I would conclude that for curly natural hair, dry detangling would lead to more breakage than wet detangling.
For relaxed hair since high elasticity is not a huge consideration, it makes sense that hair should be detangled dry.
As always I would urge you to self experiment. Combing techniques vary so you may find that in your case you cause less breakage one way or the other.
Roxanne Holmes says
if kinky never dry.
Adashereen Dale Wilcox says
wet makes it easier to comb…. dry I can hear it breaking off and feel it pulling
Kenyatta Fox says
Comb on wet hair
Karessa Watkins says
I personally only comb on dry moisturized hair. If I comb my hair wet, my hair stretches till it breaks.
Mary Welch says
If I’m combing it before going to work there is now way I can wet it. Moisturize add some oil and comb/pic.
Sigrid Coulthurst says
It depends on YOUR hair.
Gershelle Cunningham says
I will comb mines while its wet but for course hair, it should only be combed when dry because hair is weakest when its wet. (That’s what I was taught in school anyways).
Krista Kinchen says
I only comb in the shower with conditioner and water running through my hair.
Ilesha Sewell says
-If my hair is dry and has no product in it:I finger detangle
-If my hair is dry but I put coconut oil in it to pre-poo :I’ll either finger detangle or gently comb with a wide-tooth comb.
-If my hair is wet):I use just a wide-tooth comb.Anything other than that will lead to a lot of broken off ends for me!
Shari Powell says
But what do you do if your transitioning and have both relaxed and natural hair?
Shari Powell says
Christina Miller says
Damp for me.
Kelly Hall says
Dry moisturized hair. My wet hair will stretch and snap when combed.
Paloma Nieves Sam Tomi says