Have you been known to snap a hairbrush bristle or two when combing your hair? Or have you been called names like bedhead or bruja? If your answer’s yes to both questions, you must be frustrated having knots or tangles in your hair all the time.
Sometimes no matter how hard you try to make your hair kempt at all times, knots and tangles still manage to get in your hair, both figuratively and literally. It’s frustrating, I know, but have you ever wondered why your hair gets so knotty or tangled?
While the most common reason behind a person’s hair getting knotty is that it doesn’t get combed or brushed through enough, there are a handful of other reasons people seem to disregard.
In this article, we’ll go over the different causes of tangled or knotty hair and the possible solutions to each cause. So if you want to know more about what causes tangles or knots in your hair and how you can fix it, don’t you dare stop reading now.
What Are Hair Tangles and Knots?
As I said above, there are a handful of reasons why tangles or knots start to form in your hair, apart from not combing or brushing through your hair enough. But before we go into all those other reasons, let’s first try to understand better what hair tangles and knots are.
A tangle is a mass of something twisted together in an untidy way.
A knot is a string, rope, cloth, or other material tangled together.
You’ll notice from the definitions above that the two words, tangle and knot, almost mean the same thing. So it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that hair tangles and knots are the same as any other tangle or knot—only the thing or material twisted or tangled together is hair.
Now that we know what hair tangles and knots are, we can proceed to identify their different causes.
What Causes Hair Tangles and Knots?
Knowing that a knot forms in your hair when two hair strands twist or tangle together and become intertwined, we can assume that the more and more hair strands intertwine, the bigger they become and the harder they become to remove. But what exactly causes our hair strands to twist or tangle together is what we want to figure out.
According to Sowmya Tamatam, when the outer layer of your hair (cuticle) is damaged, it opens up—and then the open cuticles start blocking each other and forming tangles or knots. So, ultimately, the primary cause of hair tangles or knots is damaged hair.
So, in essence, the primary cause of hair tangles or knots is damaged hair. Let’s go over some of the most common factors or activities that cause damaged hair. But keep in mind: just because damaged hair is the primary cause of having knotty or tangled hair doesn’t necessarily mean having damaged hair or damaging your hair is the only possible cause.
We already know that dry and damaged hair is more prone to knots and tangles, but we need to know all the causes behind damaged hair. Here are a few of them:
- Heat Damage
According to Peter Bailey, Global Technical Manager, Hair Care at Unilever, the hair cuticle (outer layer of hair) chips when you blow dry it because fiber-to-fiber contact is increased usually at around 50°C.
When using styling irons, on the other hand, which are much hotter and usually at 150°C, Bailey said that the heat energy could break some of the interprotein bonds that give hair fibers their strength and structure.
While heat damage is often a result of heated styling tools like blow dryers, iron curlers, and straighteners, sun exposure can also be a cause.
- Sun Damage
Still, according to Peter Bailey, prolonged exposure to the sun, especially its UV rays, can cause highly reactive free radicals that can react with the amino acids in the hair protein chains and cause the hair to weaken.
Long-term exposure to UV light can also contribute to the lipid layer on the hair fiber’s outer surface becoming thinner, making it rougher and more difficult to comb or detangle.
Sun damage can make hair less glossy and soft. It also causes more split ends and sometimes even a change in hair color.
- Chemical Damage
When harsh chemicals used in hair treatments and products damage the cuticle, cracks start to appear, leaving holes for chemicals to penetrate the inner layers of the hair. Hair color, for example, penetrates the cuticle to reach the cortex, which forms the main bulk and pigment of the hair.
Some hair products, like shampoos and conditioners, also contain harsh chemicals damaging to the hair. Examples of harsh chemicals include sulfates, parabens, Polyethylene Glycols (PEG), Phthalates, Formaldehyde, Triclosan, Dimethicone, Retinyl palmitate, and Alcohol.
Examples of chemical hair treatments that damage hair include chemical perms, chemical relaxers, keratin treatments, and bleach.
- Tight Hairstyles
According to Dr. Kaveri Karhade, an M.D., board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco, CA: Tight hairstyles that pull the hair over prolonged periods can lead to hair loss due to traction on the hair.
By constantly tying your hair in tight hairstyles, there’s always a tight pulling or tugging in your hair that can lead to strands of your hair breaking or falling out. And the tight pulling, when continuous, can and will damage your hair follicles.
Examples of tight hairstyles that are very damaging include high buns, tight braids, and ponytails.
According to Fowler and Tosti, hair breakage at different levels and split ends can happen because of the frequent rubbing of hair. People can experience hair loss from this, and it’s called friction alopecia.
When hair strands rub against each other, our hair cuticles rise, erode, then swell. Since hair can’t handle constant changes in its form, this will make the hair weaken and become more prone to fall out and damage.
Instances where your hair can rub against each other include brushing or combing your hair, using a towel to dry your hair, and wearing hats.
Genetic factors play a part in influencing hair texture—whether the hair is straight, wavy, or curly. According to Steven Hernandes, the hair texture prone to tangles is fine, straight hair because, in this hair texture, the hair strands move individually, unlike in curly hair, where the strands usually move as one.
So if you naturally have a hair texture that’s more prone to move individually and wrap around each other, you can blame your genes for giving you tangled and knotty hair.
Telogen effluvium is a type of hair loss caused by stress that scientists link to hair damage. In telogen effluvium, high or significant stress levels push hair follicles to become dormant. So hair strands in the anagen phase (growing period in the hair growth cycle), suddenly put into the telogen phase (resting period in the growth cycle), can break off or fall.
We already know it’s likelier for damaged hair strands to wrap around other hair strands because they are no longer smooth and don’t lie flat. So when your stress levels are high, don’t be surprised to find a few knots and tangles forming in your hair.
While genes influence the density of your hair, your health, on the other hand, has a more significant influence on the quality of your hair. So eating unhealthy foods that lack the nutrients your hair needs to grow strong—such as vitamins A, C, D, and E, zinc, iron, and biotin—increases the chances of having hair prone to damage and falling out.
Having a poor diet can also lead to telogen effluvium. So don’t take the saying “you are what you eat” too lightly because it isn’t that far from the truth. You can end up with dry, dead, easily tangled hair if you don’t give your hair the nutrients it needs.
Poor Hair Maintenance
Maintaining our hair by getting regular trims can do so much to help get rid of hair strands that are prone to split ends, knots, and tangles. Our hair experiences many damaging factors—such as the ones I listed above—that strip our hair of its protective outer layer (the cuticle). So when our hair is grown out, it’s thinner and weaker than the ones growing or just about to grow.
When we don’t get regular haircuts, we give the damaged ends of certain hair strands a chance to form knots and tangles. So it’s best to get a trim now and then, that is if you don’t feel like rocking a head of knotty hair.
It doesn’t matter whether your hair’s naturally straight, wavy, or curly—it doesn’t even matter if your hair strands are thin or thick—no matter what kind of hair texture you have, it will look unkempt and leave you looking like you’re having a bad hair day if it’s in tangles and knots.
In this article, we discussed the many different causes of tangles and knots forming in your hair. If you don’t want to be frustrated by knotty or tangled hair, beware of each one of the possible causes that we listed above, and make sure your hair’s always well-maintained.