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Fairy Knots

Posted by Adria Marshall on

The term Fairy Knot conjures up thoughts of cute, little tangles that are easily sorted with the flick of a wrist, right? WRONG. Few phenomena are as mockingly wicked as these tiny unbudging balls of evil on the ends of our curly strands! But what are they and how did they get there? What's the best way to remove them and prevent them altogether? If these are some of the questions that scroll through your mind as you take a magnifier to your hair shaft, you've come to the right place. And lucky for you, I'm one of the few FKS (Fairy Knot Survivors). I used to be plagued by these nasties constantly and now, I rarely get them at all. So, I'm happy to share my personal thoughts alongside the research that I've gathered for you!

What are Fairy Knots?

A Fairy Knot (or Single-strand knot) occurs when a lone strand of hair tangles up on itself. It's far more common, as you might imagine, for a curly hair strand to tangle with a neighboring one. However, a single-strand knot, as the name implies, happens when a self-contained knot is formed on, well, a single strand. The coilier the hair, the more likely you are to find these fiends. My hair has a combination of Type 3c and 4a patterns - when I was getting Fairy Knots frequently, I found them on both patterns equally.

How to Remove Them?

A sharp set of scissors is your best friend. Please. please, please don't yank off the knots! If you do this, you're just creating split ends, doing more harm than good. When I was getting single-stand knots on the regular, I kept a pair of hair-cutting shears in my shower, on my bathroom counter and at my bedside - anywhere where I frequently found my hands in my hair and could come across a knot. Then, I'd literally, nip the problem in the bud (see: "Search and Destroy")
In doing my research, folks suggested getting trims regularly to get rid of Fairy Knots. To be honest, this didn't work for me. Being natural for over 20 years, I've experimented with my trim frequency and single-strand knots remained a constant.

How to Prevent Them?

Alrighty, the good stuff! Again, I read several articles and agree with some of the tidbits but not others.

Theory #1: Shorter hair seems to get Fairy Knots more frequently.

My Thoughts: I agree, kinda. When my hair was shorter and I wanted to keep it shorter, I was getting trims every couple of months. So, of course, I had very few single-strand knots. However, a few times in my journey, I decided to let my tresses grow out. Once I began spacing out my trims, the fairy knots were abundant. This would carry on for a couple of years until my hair reached arm pit length or so. At around that point, I began noticing fewer single-strand knots.

Theory #2: The curlier the hair, the more single-strand knots you'll find.

My Thoughts: I agree with this. Again, my hair is a 3c/4a combo and I've frequently experienced single-strand knots. As my hair has grown, it's weighed itself down and stretched out the pattern (I've also been stretching my hair more on wash day) - this very well might contribute to the reduction of fairy knots that I've noticed.

Theory #3: Adding moisture, specifically deep conditioning, often will prevent single-strand knots.

My Thoughts: I don't agree with this one. I've been deep conditioning weekly for decades and this had no impact on the number of single-strand knots that I found. 

Theory #4: Protecting your hair at night reduces single-strand knots.

My Thoughts: I might give this one partial credit. Although I've always used a satin pillowcase, over the past 6 months or so, I've also used a satin scarf to really keep my hair in place overnight. It is quite possible that this has contributed to the reduction of my Fairy Knots. However, I saw no impact to the amount of single-strand knots when using a satin pillowcase alone.


In Summary, I believe the following to have contributed the reduction of single-strand knots that I've experienced:

1. Protecting my hair with a satin scarf in addition to a satin pillowcase

2. Stretching my hair on wash day to elongate the pattern

3. Growing my hair out (elongates the pattern)

4. Keeping hair trimmed (if you're happy with your length/shape)


I really hope this post was helpful! What's your experience with Fairy Knots? Do you have tips to share that have worked for you or a different perspective? I'd love to hear your thoughts!



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