Keep tangles at bay with the best hair detangling sprays and lotions to soften hair and avoid breakage
If you have mid-length to long hair, you’ll know that tangles are a fact of life. Long and thick hair, as well as curly and coily hair types, can be particularly prone to matting and knotting overnight, leading to a daily battle with the hairbrush. Knots and tangles can be painful to brush or comb through, and create points of weakness in the hair where breakage becomes more likely.
The solution? A detangling spray or lotion, to nourish and lubricate the hair, ease out knots, and prevent more tangles from forming. Detangling products come in two main types: leave-in conditioning treatments as part of your regular wash-day routine, and sprays that are applied to dry hair before brushing in the morning. Each type of detangler can benefit tangle-prone hair and make brushing battles a thing of the past.
Below you’ll discover how to choose the best detangling product for your hair type, plus we’ve rounded up our favourite detanglers for all budgets.
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How to choose the best detangling spray for you
How do detangling sprays work?
Tangles and knots happen when strands of hair become wrapped around one another. The hair is more likely to snag if it’s dry and damaged, which increases the friction between the strands of hair because the cuticle has become more ruffled. Certain hair types, such as curly (type 3) and coily (type 4) hair, are more likely to have a raised and ruffled cuticle as a result of bends in the hair; bleached, coloured and heat-treated hair is also more likely to tangle.
Detangling sprays and lotions work by lubricating the hair, smoothing the cuticle so that it’s easier to untangle any knots and matting without further damaging the hair. Sprays that are applied immediately prior to brushing the hair tend to treat the acute problem by making the hair more slippery, helping a brush or comb to pass through. Detangling lotions used as part of a hair-washing routine also add moisture to the hair, but over the longer term help prevent tangles from forming in the first place.
What ingredients should I look for?
All detanglers contain lubricating oils to provide the “slip” that loosens knots and tangles. Popular oils include coconut, argan or olive oil, or vegetable butters such as shea or cocoa butter. Nourishing botanicals such as marshmallow root and flaxseed help condition and strengthen the hair from within, helping to maintain a smoother cuticle so that over time the hair will knot less.
Synthetic ingredients such as silicone dimethicone can also be used to smooth and seal the cuticle, preventing frizz and tangles. Silicones are safe and effective for most hair, but some hair types may find silicone heavy on the hair or drying. We’ve noted below where formulas are silicone-free.
What else can I do to prevent knots and tangles?
The first step to avoiding tangles is to hydrate the hair with a gentle washing routine. Avoid shampoos that strip too much moisture from the hair, and always use a nourishing conditioner afterwards. If your hair is very dry and prone to tangling, you may find co-washing the hair with a conditioner or gentle co-washing cleanser helps to seal in more moisture, reducing friction between the strands. You should hydrate from within, too, by drinking plenty of water to nourish the root of the hair.
If your hair is long or curly and tends to become tangled overnight, you might find tying it loosely in a top-knot, loose ponytail or plait reduces tangling by limiting the opportunity your strands have to become intertwined. A silk scrunchie is a popular choice for tangle-free tying, but any soft hair tie will do the job. Avoid tying the band too tight around the hair, or the style too close to the head, to avoid damage to the hair and scalp.
A silk or satin pillowcase prevents tangles by reducing friction between the pillow and the hair as you sleep, smoothing and flattening the cuticle to leave hair silky-smooth. A silk bonnet, worn directly over the hair, brings similar benefits.
Finally, a good detangling brush with well-spaced bristles specifically designed to work through knots and tangles can be a godsend for tangle-prone hair. Use a detangling brush with your favourite detangling spray or lotion, and you’ll have swishing, silky hair in no time at all!
How we test detangling sprays
At Expert Reviews, we know that the best way to test products is to use them ourselves. We test all the detangling sprays and lotions we review by using the formulas as directed. Where a product is recommended for a particular hair type, we test on that hair type where possible to ensure we’re able to provide an accurate recommendation.
To start, we note the initial effects of the product on locks: how well it adds slip to the hair and allows for ease of brushing and detangling, as well as the softness and shine of hair after use. We note its fragrance, its overall pleasantness on hair and how easy it is to apply. We also consider how the product feels in use and any heaviness, stickiness or greasiness after using; how much product is used in one application; and how long the detangling effects last.
The best detangling sprays and lotions you can buy in 2023
1. Cantu Coil Calm Detangler: The best detangler spray for Type 4 hair
Price: £7 | Buy now from Boots
Coily and curly hair can be particularly prone to tangles; the coiled strands of the hair wrap around each other much more readily. Type 3 and 4 hair can tend to be drier since bends in the hair tend to open the cuticle, leaving the surface of the hair more ruffled and prone to dryness, frizz and tangles. Cantu’s Coil Calm conditioning spray addresses these issues by deeply moisturising the hair with nourishing coconut and shea butter oils.
The spray is sulphate- and silicone-free, and leaves hair soft, lustrous and smelling delicious. Coil Calm can be used on type 3 and even type 2 hair – the product is densely lubricating, so less-coily hair types may find a little goes a long way – but for most hair types the spray does a fantastic job of melting stubborn knots away.
Key specs – Pack size: 237ml; Sulphate-free? Yes; Silicone-free? Yes
2. Shea Moisture Raw Extra Moisture detangler: The best detangler for moisturising hair
Price: £11 | Buy now from Look Fantastic
If your hair is tangled as a result of dryness, this super-hydrating detangler with nourishing shea butter, sea kelp and argan oil may be just the treat your hair needs. The shea butter adds immediate slip to help brush through tangles, while argan oil moisturises deeply to quench and condition parched hair. Sea kelp adds strength and helps to smooth down the cuticle, boosting shine and preventing further damage.
Shea Moisture’s detangler is free of drying alcohol and sulphates, and smells gorgeous. To use, comb through after washing the hair and leave in for soft, shiny and tangle-free hair.
Key specs – Pack size: 236ml; Sulphate-free? Yes; Silicone-free? Yes
3. Paul Mitchell The Detangler: The best detangler for long hair
Price: £24 | Buy now from Look Fantastic
If your long hair is tangling overnight, this rinse-out treatment from hair-care specialist Paul Mitchell will leave your hair soft and tangle-free. Grape seed oil infuses hair with moisture and slip to help unwind snaggled locks, and Paul Mitchell’s signature awapuhi ginger extract adds softness and shine. The Detangler also contains carrot extract rich in beta-carotene, to guard against UV damage.
The lotion is safe for colour-treated hair (and adds useful hydration to hair that’s been damaged as a result of bleaching) and is gentle enough to be used daily. Apply a handful in the shower after washing, massage through and rinse out completely – your tresses will be super-easy to comb through after rinsing.
Key specs – Pack size: 500ml; Sulphate-free? Yes; Silicone-free? No
4. Oribe Leave-in Conditioning Detangler: The best luxury detangler
Price: £34 | Buy now from Niche Beauty
This thick, rich cream is a godsend for anyone with unruly hair that tangles easily. It’s especially good for hydrating and nourishing Type 2 or 3 curls, but suitable for anyone with dry, damaged or thick hair that tends to snag. Murumuru, mango and cocoa butters smooth the hair to make detangling easy; olive, avocado and jojoba seed oils moisturise deeply to reduce dryness and damage over time.
The product feels rich and creamy on the hair and smells wonderful. The leave-in lotion moisturises through the day, and is great for adding separation and definition to curls. A pricey product, but a very effective one.
Key specs – Pack size: 250ml; Sulphate-free? Yes; Silicone-free? Yes
5. Pantene Gold Series Leave In Detangling Milk: The best leave-in detangler for type 3 and 4 hair
Price: £10 | Buy now from Boots
Pantene’s new Gold Series is designed with the needs of type 4 afro hair in mind; it’s also suitable for type 3 curls, especially if your curly hair is on the thicker or dryer side. This lightweight leave-in conditioning milk, enriched with argan oil, is great for adding slip and shine to hair, allowing easy combing without weighing the hair down.
Pantene’s detangling milk contains the brand’s Pro V vitamin formula, and silicone to lock in moisture and help coat the hair to make detangling easier. Smooth into dry or damp hair, work through with the fingers, and then comb through with a wide-toothed comb to separate any tangles.
Key specs – Pack size: 225ml; Sulphate-free? Yes; Silicone-free? No
6. Curlsmith Super Slip Primer: The best pre-wash detangling lotion
Price: £23 | Buy now from Curlsmith
Unlike most of the products in our list that are used after washing and before styling, this pre-wash primer from curl specialist Curlsmith is formulated to add moisture and loosen tangles before you reach the cleansing step of your wash-day routine. The priming treatment is made with fermented rice water for strengthening, and hydrating ginger and guarana root, as well as a compound of prebiotic ingredients that are similar to those you’d find in yoghurt.
To use, wet the hair and massage a generous measure of the creamy treatment through from roots to ends; detangle with a wide-toothed comb and then continue with your shampoo, without rinsing out the primer. The fresh-scented treatment seals in moisture and helps reduce friction and frizz on all hair types. It’s especially suitable for dry and delicate curls that need an extra moisture boost.
Key specs – Pack size: 335ml; Sulphate-free? Yes; Silicone-free? Yes
7. Organic Sprout Miracle Detangler: The best detangler for kids
Price: £15 | Buy now from Amazon
If your child has longer hair – especially if it’s wavy or curly – then you may find it tangles easily through the normal course of sleeping, bathing, running and playing. This supercharged detangling spray from Organic Sprout allows you to gently comb through knotty and matted hair, without any pain or tears.
The detangler spray is gentle enough to use on young children and toddlers, and is free of allergens including soy, nuts, honey or dairy. It contains softening jojoba oil, cucumber and rosemary for a pleasant smell that also helps to repel lice. A great product if hair-brushing time is a bit of a struggle with your little ones. Simply spray onto dry or damp hair, brush through and go.
Key specs – Pack size: 354ml; Sulphate-free? Yes; Silicone-free? Yes