Twist outs are deceptively simple. As far as natural hairstyles go, they’re the easiest to achieve, but the most difficult to perfectly execute, evidenced by the many memes devoted to what happens when they fail. And speaking from personal experience, there’s nothing worse — absolutely nothing — than putting time and precious product into a twist out only for it to turn into a puffy, definition-less mess. And while I love a little puff and frizz, that’s the exact opposite of what a twist out is supposed to do. A good twist out results in luscious, bouncy looking curls that have definition and shape.
In the past seven or so years of being natural, I’ve attempted the twist out tirelessly, hoping for better results as my hair grew longer or I got a fresh trim. I watched all the videos. I bought all the products in all the videos. I brushed up on my techniques. I heeded all the tips and tricks, fluffing and separating with oiled fingers and letting it dry all the way. And though I’d get close, it was never quite right. That changed in the early days of quarantine, when I had nothing but time and no way to reinstall my beloved knotless braids.
My first successful twist out felt like an anomaly, a fluke, a rare blessing from the natural hair gods (bestowed on me when I had nowhere to go, of course). But then I tried it again and got the same triumphant results. A third time, the same thing. I hadn’t changed my technique, I hadn’t trimmed my hair — the only thing I’d been doing differently from my hundreds of previous attempts was the cocktail of products I was using, which I’ve edited and reedited over the years. Finally, I’ve mastered the mix. I have type 4A hair that has a pretty normal density and porosity but fine strands that are prone to single-strand fairy knots. To help with the knotting, I use lots of moisture-rich products (more on that below) that help to keep my strands supple and separated. Below, everything I’m using to achieve my ideal twist out, along with a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way.
One of my OG natural hair favorites, this is the first step of my twist out. I use this as a detangler and leave-in both, and it hasn’t failed me since the summer of 2015, when my hair was so short it barely touched my earlobes. Formulated with ingredients like mango extract, marshmallow root, and slippery elm, it has an almost gooey consistency that feels substantial but not heavy. It’s different from my other leave-ins, which tend to be a little heavier or come in a spray format. I like this one in particular for twist outs because it imparts moisture and definition without weighing my hair down too much or leaving a filmy residue.
Another early favorite and natural hair staple, I use this after my leave-in. It gives my hair immediate definition and is ultramoisturizing thanks to ingredients like shea butter and coconut oil. I like to do the LCO method (that means I use leave-in, cream, and then an oil to seal it all in), and this is another product that doesn’t leave my hair feeling greasy or too weighed down. I like to detangle my hair again at this step to ensure that the product is distributed evenly from root to tip.
As for oils, I like this one from Camille Rose. It smells much more expensive than it looks, contains olive and jojoba oils, and layers nicely with the rest of my products. I use oil on my hair in its entirety but pay special attention to my scalp and ends, and this oil really makes my hair look shiny and feel nourished. I also use it to separate my twists once dry, and it’s good at lubricating the strands enough to define them without my hair looking greasy.
Hold is also another key to a good twist out, especially with my hair, which can’t be trusted to maintain the curl on its own, twisted or not. I like this gel from Urban Hydration because it offers hold but doesn’t get crunchy (a quick way to ruin an otherwise good twist out). I rake it through my hair section by section as I twist, and it makes my twists look juicy and well-moisturized.
While I love the Urban Hydration Gel, I found that on its own it doesn’t give me as much hold as I would like, especially if I want to wear my twists as a style for a few days before taking them down. For that reason, I layer it with the ubiquitous Eco Styler Gel with Argan Oil, which gives the kind of hold that I’ve only experienced with traditional, alcohol-based gels. It also reactivates itself with water, so I don’t need to use a lot, and I don’t have to be precious about my twists when I hop in the shower or get caught in a little rain. I use the tiniest bit (too much will make your hair hard) with Urban Hydration, and it gives that extra bit of hold without drying out my hair.
Outside of proper product choice for your hair type, twisting technique, and letting the style dry, fully detangling is incredibly important. This becomes apparent especially when separating: If your hair is tangled, it creates frizz when trying to pull it apart and ruins the overall style. I’ve waxed poetic about this brush before, noting the way it separates without ripping and cuts my detangling time down by more than half. It’s become a savior for twist outs, which require hair to be well detangled. I use this in the shower and right after, spritzing my hair with water as it dries. This brush requires wet hair to be truly effective, and while some people prefer doing twist outs on dry, stretched hair, I like to do mine on freshly washed, wet hair when my hair is most defined.
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