Prev Next
Tips for Tangle-Free Toddler Hair

Tips for Tangle-Free Toddler Hair

By Amalah

My 3.5 year old daughter has fine blonde hair like your youngest son, Ike. The difference is that it is as straight as can be but still turns into a tangled matted mess at the back if we miss one bathtime or have one morning where we run out of time to brush. What do you use on Ike’s hair? Or are we just forever doomed to deal with the knots??

-long-time reader

(PS I’m exhausted, and if you need me to be more witty in order to post this to the site I can re-write it)

And behold! Our first question back from hiatus takes us back to this column’s odd, tangled roots: HAIRZ.

No need for wit here, by the way. Just get the question typed and sent. I consider that to be a fabulous accomplishment.

And with brevity in mind, here’s how we keep Ike’s fine, shaggy mop-top mostly free of knots:

1) Comb out hair BEFORE the bath to ensure it’s tangle-free. Skipping this step can turn a small knot into a big old matted mess during the washing/drying process. Trust.

2) Wash with a gentle shampoo. We currently use the combo shampoo/body wash by The Honest Company. As a fine-haired individual myself, I’ve learned to mostly ignore shampoos labeled for that hair type — they all promise “volume” which isn’t what my 3 year old needs, and most volumizing products are very drying, which makes my hair more prone to tangles. So for Ike, I look for a shampoo that won’t sting his eyes, won’t irritate his scalp (he’s still prone to cradle cap so occasionally we have to use a tea tree oil shampoo), and both suds up and rinses away as quickly as possible. Most gentle baby shampoos fit the bill just fine, and won’t really effect the post-bath tangle situation either way.

3) Condition with a Real Actual Grown-Up Conditioner. We used various “baby” or “kids” conditioners for a long time, but eventually I had to concede that they just weren’t getting the job done for Ike. So I started using my conditioner on him (or other conditioners I bought/got samples of/stole from hotels). Muuuuuuch better. I don’t even think any particular brand is super necessary — just moving out of the baby/kids labels seemed to make a visible difference in his hair’s softness and combability (totally a word) in the days after a bath. (Since we don’t bathe him everyday in the winter.)

My personal favorite conditioners for my fine, knotty hair are Pureology Hydrate and Klorane Oat Milk Conditioner. Pureology is pricey as hell so I would never buy it just for my kid, but I’m such a loving, caring mother I’m willing to occasionally share a tiny drop of it with him. But if you don’t have anything handy to try on your daughter, just go to the drugstore and look for something labeled with one or more of the following buzzwords: detangling, calming, lightweight moisturizing, gentle, etc. Stay away from anything promising volume or “deep” conditioning. I believe Garnier Fructis or Herbal Essences would likely have something appropriate.

4) Shampoo the roots, condition the ends. Man, this one takes me back. I am pretty sure I’ve been giving out this advice to fellow fine-haired ladies for over a decade now. But it’s the BEST thing I ever started doing for my hair, and it totally works for Ike, too. As best as I can, I keep shampoo and the associated scrubbing/later limited to just the roots. Don’t pull it through to the ends, don’t pile her hair up on top of her head in a big soapy pouf. Rinse it out, then apply her conditioner to just her ends. Basically hold her hair out at an angle from her head, as if you were preparing to cut it. Apply conditioner to just the final couple inches of hair that pull away from the scalp. Let the conditioner stay on her hair for the duration of the bath, then rinse it right before she gets out.

This works because most of the time, fine hair is really only getting dirty up by the scalp, thanks to all our natural oils (and running our hands through it to flip or tuck it out of our way). By over shampooing the non-dirty ends, we’re drying them out, making them super prone to frizz, breakage and tangles. And for fine, lightweight hair, conditioning the roots weighs them down, making our hair look even flatter and more lifeless than usual. Same deal with my fine-haired kid.

5) Use a detangling spray and comb it through promptly. I use a lightweight, spray-in detangling spray on all three of my boys to ensure a nice, pain-free post-bath comb through. My favorite for them is the The Honest Company’s. I’ve used it on myself, though my personal grown-up favorite is Bed Head’s Superstar Volumizing Leave-in Conditioner. (My kids don’t need the volume part, though, so I don’t share that one.) Also go easy on the towel drying — don’t toss a towel on her head and rub it all over. Comb her hair out while it’s still dripping wet and then gently squeeze the ends (with a towel or t-shirt) to absorb the excess. Then let it air dry on its on, time permitting.

6) Use a detangling spray, period.  I know it can feel like a pointless battle — you detangle and comb out and ensure a perfectly tangle-free head post-bath…only to have them wake up the next day or pull a winter hat off and BAM. Knot City. So spritz with the detangling spray (just one or two pumps) before you brush, each and every time. Yes, you can use it on dry hair, and you can use it BEFORE the knotted, matted mess has a chance to form. It’ll make your morning brush session  go MUCH quicker and help prevent tangles later in the day.

7) Keep those ends trimmed and healthy. Regular trims will do WONDERS for hair tangles. I can always tell when I’m overdue for a haircut when, despite my best conditioning and haircare efforts, I hit a huge major snag on the back of my head after the shower, or start noticing my hair tangling more and more around my shoulders, thanks to coats/hoods/scarves/etc. I trim Ike’s hair about every four weeks — microscopic snips, usually! — and find this to help immensely with the back-of-the-head tangles.

Anything else to add? Specific products to recommend? Or simply want to commiserate on the agony of trying to brush a toddler’s hair while they shriek and cower and act like you’re yanking their hair out by the roots, and then promptly mess it all up with their hands the second you’re done?

Photo source: DepositPhotos

Best Detangling Hairbrushes To Get Out the Knots Without the Tears

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon