Knotted and tangled hair doesn’t just look messy: it can also be painful and difficult to comb out, and it can lead to a great deal of breakage. There are many things that can cause tangled hair, including particular hairstyles and heat products, but knots can also occur in the shower or when you dry your hair. Tightly curled hair is even more prone to knots, and it can also be difficult to keep long hair tangle-free. There are ways to remove knots once they form, but if possible, it’s always best to take preventative measures that will stop knots before they form.

1. Brush your hair before you wash it. Always use a wide-tooth comb or a paddle brush with plastic-tipped bristles, and comb through your hair before showering. This will help stop your hair from tangling when you wash it.

As a general rule of thumb, don’t brush your hair when it’s wet, as wet hair is more prone to damage and breakage. Instead, use a wide-toothed comb to gently detangle your hair.

2. Shampoo properly. Wash your hair by focusing your shampooing on the scalp, rather than the hair, and never pile your hair on top of your scalp. Use a natural shampoo that doesn’t contain sulfates or harsh detergents, as these can dry out your hair.

When you wash your hair, work the shampoo in a downward motion from the roots to the tips. Do not work the shampoo up the hair as this can cause the hair to tangle more.

Don’t wash your hair every day, as this can strip your hair of oils, leaving it dry and more prone to breakage.

3. Condition after you shampoo. After you shampoo, work a conditioner into your hair with your fingers and remove any tangles. When you have removed all the knots, gently comb through with a wide-toothed comb. This will detangle your hair without breaking the strands.

It is important that you use a comb and not a brush for this step.

If you have thick, coarse, and tightly curled hair, condition your hair twice daily as opposed to just once. Condition once in the morning or after you shampoo your hair, and again before bed with a moisturizer, leave-in conditioner, or dry conditioner.

4. Dry your hair gently. Instead of wrapping, twisting, or rubbing your hair, gently squeeze it with a microfiber towel to get out the excess moisture. It’s also best to avoid heat products, such as blow dryers and flat irons, which can dry out your hair and leave it prone to damage and tangling.

If you must blow dry your hair, towel and air dry it until the hair is mostly dry. This will help cut down on the blow dryer time.

If using a hairdryer, never point the nozzle up towards the roots. Instead, work it down the strands towards the tips to help protect the cuticle of your hair.

5. Moisturize hair regularly. Healthy and moisturized hair is less likely to knot and tangle, so along with regular conditioning, try a weekly hair mask or deep conditioning.

To deep condition, work a quarter-sized dollop of deep conditioner into your hair. Wrap your head with a shower cap or plastic wrap, and allow it to rest for 30 minutes to an hour before rinsing.

6. Seal the tips of your hair. After you condition your hair, apply a hair butter or oil to the tips. This will seal in the moisturizing conditioner and help smooth and relax the ends of the hair, thereby preventing them from coiling around themselves and forming knots.

Another way to seal your hair is to switch your hairdryer to its cool setting. Blow the cool air over your hair, starting up near the roots and moving downwards towards the tips.

This step can be skipped if you have fine or medium hair but should be followed for hair that’s thick, coarse, and tightly curled.

7. Gently stretch the ends of your hair. This is particularly useful for tightly curled hair, as the stretching will prevent the hair from coiling around itself and forming single-strand knots. You can stretch the tips of your hair by wrapping the ends around rollers.

You can also protect your hair from knots by using hairstyles that stretch your hair, such as twists, braids, and buns.