Let me preface this post by saying that we have had to deal with this only once (I don't think many people need more than once to learn their lesson), and probably not to the extent the some people have. I can only speak about the personal experience that I have had and tell you how I dealt with it. Like a lot of what I post, our methods might not work for you, depending on the details of your situation and what type of hair your child has. If you are coming to this post with a child that has hair that hasn't been cared for properly for a lengthy period of time, who has matted hair that has started to loc, I cannot guarantee that you will be able to detangle the hair. But hey, there's no reason not to at least try to detangle before resorting to the scissors, right?
All hair types can become matted. This is nothing specific to chocolate hair, although the curlier the hair is the more quickly it can happen. And of course adding additional products that can build up in the hair will only increase the likelihood.
The one time that Boo's hair started to loc was when I left in twists (that were not banded at the base) for a few days longer than they should have been. This happened when we were moving into our new home and I didn't make the necessary time to care for Boo's hair like I normally do. She did a lot of outdoor playing, including several trips to the sprayground. I was watching her hair daily, of course, to add moisture as needed. But when it came time to taking the twists out I was in for the shock of my life! The twists, themselves, were not locking together, but each of the two strands that formed the twists were well on their way! D'oh! It didn't happen to all of the twists, but there were a few that made it worth the effort to write down how we got them out so as to help anyone else who might run into this problem.
The first thing I needed to do was forgive myself for letting it happen and move on. I pride myself on being able to really care for my daughter's hair and (even now) feel horribly guilty that I could have let it get as bad as it did. When something like this happens I feel like a complete failure and do an excellent job of beating myself up over it, which does no one any good and certainly doesn't help Boo's hair one bit.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
This is probably one of the few times that I need to whip out the trusty ACV rinse. ACV is "apple cider vinegar" and has been my saving grace when trying to get the "gunk" out of Boo's hair. This includes that stuff that builds up around rubber bands; it looks sort of gooey and sometimes might be white or gray in colour. The ACV does an excellent job of breaking up this gunk and allows me to separate the hairs. See my post on Using Apple Cider Vinegar to Cleanse Hair for more details on ACV specifically.
3. My Good Ol' Fingers
After giving the ACV a chance to do it's magic, I will start working on the section of hair that is bonded together by gently pulling the sections of hair apart from each other. I will start just by taking the clump and separating it into two sections; then split each of those sections into 4 sections and so on. As I get further along pulling the hairs apart from one another I can start to see the product build-up that was holding the hairs together more clearly. This is when I will start attacking the "goo," sliding it off the hairs and out of my way. Using your fingers is ideal for this in large part because you can actually feel what is going on with the hair; you can tell how elastic the hair is, how much you can tug on it without pulling it out in a way that you cannot if using a comb.
Depending on how many sections have started to bond together, this whole process can be rather lengthy. However, to do it right, with as little damage to the hair as possible, the one thing that you really need is time and patience. It is extremely tedious trying to separate the hairs from one another and pull out the gunk and it might be tempting to try to run a comb through it to help the process. Doing so will only encourage hair-breakage, so I would highly recommend against using a comb until the gunk is out and the area of hair in question is very well finger-detangled.
5. Oil or Detangling Conditioner
Once you get most of the "goo" out you can start working through the normal detangling process by working in your favourite detangling product (oil, conditioner, whatever you regularly use for detangling).
Overall I feel very blessed that we didn't have to cut any of Boo's hair. As her hair is filling in I have noticed that things that used to work in the past no longer work, and this includes the amount of time that I can leave certain styles in without running into problems like this. The last thing that I wanted to do is take scissors to my daughter's hair, but at the time I knew that it was a very real possibility. If there was any section of hair that I would not have been able to detangle it would have to have been cut. There is not leaving in locked hair; if one section starts to loc it will just continue to grow, sucking in more hair around it until it is removed, either by detangling or cutting. Thankfully, we were able to go with the former rather than the latter in this instance. Whew!