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Lint and Long Hair

Ed Grochowski

Written 1-1-2020
lint and hair
Shed Hairs and Lint

Introduction

One of the greatest hazards to long hair is also the hardest to see. It is lint. Lint from clothing and other textiles can settle in the hair, causing tangles. Properly caring for long hair requires having an effective means of removing lint.


Sources

Clothing, bedding, upholstery, bath towels, and carpeting are all sources of lint. Direct contact with the hair is not necessary because lint readily becomes airborne. Airborne lint settles in the hair just like it settles on household surfaces.

The two main types of lint are cotton and polyester.

Cotton lint is extremely strong and will break hair if pulled. Cotton lint becomes wrapped around one or more hair strands during washing.

Polyester lint is very fine. Polyester degrades over time, eventually turning into near-microscopic fibers. Polyester lint sticks to hair.


Symptoms

Finding lint on one's comb and shed hair strands is an obvious sign of lint. However, this may not indicate the presence of lint already in the hair. Lint can remain in the hair for longer than an individual hair's growth cycle. Symptoms of accumulated lint include:

  • Persistent tangles or matting - tangles that survive repeated washing/detangling cycles because they are being held together by lint
  • A stubborn wave or fold that cannot be combed out - it is most likely being held together by lint
  • Knotting - the knot formed around a piece of lint
  • Breakage - the hair lost a tug-of-war with a piece of lint

In my experience, lint is most likely to accumulate near the scalp, especially at the nape and around the ears. These locations may not be reached by the comb tines, or had been combed in one direction only. Addressing the above problems requires removal of the underlying lint.


Removal

Lint can be removed mechanically by combing. I use a wide-tooth wooden comb and my fingers.

The first step is to dampen the hair with a small amount of distilled water. The water provides lubrication.

The hair is then combed thoroughly. The comb tines should cover the hair's length and every square centimeter of the scalp.

Combing should be done from multiple directions, i.e. top-to-bottom, left-to-right, right-to-left, and underneath. This is because tangles are directional and can rotate to pass through the tines of a comb. Use the tines to get underneath tangles and pull them in a perpendicular direction away from the scalp. Always comb from root to tip.

The comb should be cleaned frequently with a damp washcloth.

Lint that took a long time to accumulate will also take a long time to remove.


Prevention

The best way to keep lint out of the hair is to keep the hair free from tangles. The old adage about long hair requiring 100 strokes a day is very true.

The body's natural conditioner (sebum) makes an effective lint remover because its waxiness causes lint to stick to the comb. I recommend diluting shampoo or using water-only washing to avoid washing out all the sebum.

Wearing hair contained in buns or braids reduces the tendency for airborne lint to settle in the hair.

Finally, discard any old clothing or bedding that is visibly shedding lint.