Single Strand Knots: Woes and Cures

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Single strand knots (SSKs) are exactly that … knots that form on a single strand of hair. Still don’t understand? Well, consider yourself blessed. The tangles they create are so pesky that they are often called “fairy knots” because the knots are so small that only an evil fairy could manage to tie them! They’re actually quite common among naturalistas because of the texture and coily structure of natural hair.

I never really experienced them very often until my hair started to get a little longer (around the 6″ to 7″ mark). But, even then, I only saw one or two. Recently, though, they’ve been appearing a lot more. Those fairies have really been working overtime!!!

I mostly ignored them, but the more I did, the more I noticed a flux in the growth and length retention of my hair. One month my hair would be 7″, then a week later only 6.75″. I thought I was out of my mind until I was detangling my hair a couple of days ago before bed and felt my comb snag at the end of my hair. That never happens! So, I immediately looked closer to investigate. And, lo and behold, I saw a fairy knot. I rolled my eyes in annoyance until I realized that what I thought was a single knot had many cousins. In fact, my head was FULL of them!

I’m not going to lie. I panicked. I tried the needle method to try to untie each knot, but it was too cumbersome, and each knot was next to impossible to unravel. So, I took out my shears and did what I knew I had to do. I’ve always believed in the health of my hair over length. So, numerous snips later, the knots are gone, but my hair is a lot shorter … almost a full inch shorter, in fact! I basically lost an entire month of growth! Thankfully, my hair grew a full inch in December. But, those dangerous SSKs took my hair from 9.0″/9.25″ to 8.25″/8.5″  in just one day. YIKES! Needless to say, I was incredibly disappointed, especially since I have been babying my hair and only using a minimal amount of heat (only twice in 2013).

So, what causes SSKs? And, how can you learn from my fairy-induced hair woes? Unfortunately, in all the research I’ve done, I have yet to come across a method that can claim to completely eliminate SSKs all-together. But, there are ways to minimize and prevent them. Here’s what you need to know …

Fairy #1


  • Wearing your hair “out” too frequently
  • Not “stretching” your hair after you have retained a certain length
  • Lack of moisture (dry ends)


  • Ignore them: Ignorance IS NOT bliss! Ignoring SSKs can damage your hair! The longer you ignore them, the greater the tendency SSKs have of latching onto neighboring healthy strands. When SSKs become entangled with other hair, the size of the knot and the number of knots can increase. Your hair will become more difficult to detangle and more likely to break mid-shaft (by snapping above the knot). Ignoring them can also create rougher edges and make your hair more prone to develop split ends.
  • Unravel them: If you have the patience (and the skill), you can try to unravel SSKs with a needle by slowly releasing the hair trapped within. However, this IS NOT as easy as it sounds. Moreover, constantly jabbing at your strands with a sharp object can put undue stress on your strands.
  • Cut them: This is the easiest option and also the most effective for preventing future damage since SSKs can cause your hair (especially the ends) to fray.

Fairy #2


  • Choose the Right Shampoo. Most shampoos contain harsh detergent agents that strip the hair of their natural oils. Your hair should never feel “squeaky” clean. If it does, the cleanser has likely raised your hair cuticles too much, which makes it more fragile and prone to breakage. So, try to use sulfate-free shampoos whenever possible.  
  • Consider Using a Pre-poo or an Oil Rinse. Saturate your hair with an oil of your choice prior to shampooing (pre-poo) or just after shampooing (oil rinse). This will provide extra “slip” by creating less friction between your strands during the washing process.
  • Section Your Hair. I’ve seen many people wash and style their hair in sections, but I always thought that was for naturals with 20+ inches of hair. But, truth be told, once your hair reaches shoulder length, you should probably consider sectioning your hair, especially if you have thick hair. Depending on your preference, you can wash your hair in quadrants of chunky twists or loose braids. Doing so will discourage SSKs and prevent tangles.
  • Use Low Manipulation Hairstyles. Protect your ends by tucking them in (a.k.a. any style where the hair is not worn loose). This includes braids, twists, bantu knots, buns, etc).  While protective styles will not make your hair grow, they can help you to retain precious length. This is because they require little manipulation of the hair over an extended period of time. So, protect your hair from potentially damaging elements (i.e., the weather or even shirt collars). Natural hair tends to thrive the less it is manipulated. Less manipulation equals minimal tension and fewer tangles. Just, don’t forget to moisturize and seal your hair before protective styling.
  • Baby (and S-T-R-E-T-C-H) Your Ends. The ends of our hair are the oldest and driest part of our hair. As a result, they are delicate and need to be handled with love and care. Moreover, shrunken curls and coils are a breeding ground for SSKs. Moisturized ends are smoother, more manageable, and less prone to breakage. Stretching your hair also reduces fairy knots and keeps them from readily forming. There are multiple ways to stretch your hair: (1) with heat (via blow dryers or flat irons), (2) flat or two-strand twists, (3) braids, (4) bantu knots, (5) roller sets, etc. Use the method that best works for you, your schedule, and your hair type.


I think the primary cause for my mountain of fairy knots was created from wearing my hair “out” too much. I literally wore my hair in a wash ‘n go every day for the last three to four months! So, from now on, I will be saying, “No!” to the wash ‘n go. Instead, I will be washing and stretching. This doesn’t mean that I will no longer wear my hair down, but I will try to be more cognizant of how often I do. I think balance is key. I now know for certain that wash ‘n gos increase the number of tangles and SSKs in MY hair. As a result, I plan to section my hair more frequently (during the wash and styling process) and start to use protective styles.

Have you ever fallen victim to SSKs? What’s your plan of attack?


Filed under Hair Regimens, Length Checks

7 responses to “Single Strand Knots: Woes and Cures

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