Top FAQ About Dreadlocks

Hair Care for Dreadlocks

A dreadlock is a clump of hair that is held together by the twisting and knotting of the strands of hair within the lock. Dreadlocks are a collection of matted hair clumps; a person with dreadlocks typically has 15+ sections of matted hair. Both men and women wear dreads, in either long or short styles, and there are several methods of starting the locks. Though they are often associated with Rastafarian culture, dreadlocks have a much older history. People with afro-textured hair have sported dreadlocks for millennia in Africa; records indicate that many ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Hidus, Aztecs and Pacific Islanders also wore their hair in dreadlocks.

If you are interested in transforming your current hair style into dreadlocks, you likely have many questions about starting and maintaining them. Here are the most frequently asked questions about dreadlocks.

How do I start dreadlocks in my hair?

If you have afro-textured hair, you can start dreads by twisting. The kinky texture of the hair locks the twists in place, though many people use wax to help hold the twists. If you have smooth hair, you must use a method called "back-combing," which is similar to teasing, except it quickly knots the hair. You don't have to use wax if you back-comb, though many people do.

Whether you start dreads by twisting or back combing, you must first section the hair into squares that are between 1" and 2", or 2cm and 5cm. Use small rubber bands to gather the hair in each section, placing the rubber band as close to the scalp as possible. Then, if you are twisting, start the twists at the scalp and work your way down, use a small amount of wax as needed to hold the dread. If you are back-combing, start at the scalp and work your way down the dread, twisting the lock every 2 inches as you back-comb.

Can I get dreads at the salon?

Yes, but they are expensive. Some people value the assistance of a skilled locktician in starting and maintaining the dreads, others prefer self-maintenance, preserving the natural manner of dreads. If you are completely new to dreadlocks, an experienced stylist can give you invaluable advice on how to care for your hair and scalp.

Do I have to use wax or any other product to keep my dreads together? Will it make my hair greasy and dirty?

Wax is optional. Dread wax is a mixture of beeswax and hempseed oil (or other natural oils) and is designed to absorb into the hair when used in moderate quantities. If you use the right amount, it shouldn't be noticeable. If you apply too much, it can attract dirt and dust particles from the air, and make your dreads look like stiff candlesticks. Dreadlockers should avoid hair products that contain petroleum, as it will make the hair very greasy and hard to clean.

In the beginning of the process, you can use rubber bands, beads, or other accessories to keep the hair in place. Over time the dreads will develop cohesion.

Can I wash my hair if I have dreadlocks? How do I wash my dreads?

Not only can you wash your hair, you must. Unwashed dreads smell dreadful. Most wearers clean their hair once or twice a week, or once every two weeks. You can use specially formulated dreadlock shampoos that leave no residue, or any shampoo that has a low-lather.

Wash your hair in cold or room temperature water if you use wax, otherwise your wax may melt. Some people wear a mesh shower cap to keep their dreads from unraveling. This is a good idea if you have new dreads. When washing your hair, pay attention to the scalp, since dreadlockers are prone to itchy scalp and dandruff. To dry your hair, squeeze dry the dreads individually with a piece of cotton fabric. Terrycloth towels may leave fuzzies in your hair.

Does it take a lot of time during the week to maintain dreads?

If you have afro-textured hair, you may need to twist and rub the dreads periodically to keep them together. If you have smooth hair, you should back-comb once in a while to maintain the cords. And as new hair grows from the scalp, it must be back-combed and twisted. Dreadlock maintenance depends on how thick your dreads are, how often you wash, how long your hair is, and how fast new hair grows. As your dreads age, they require less care. All in all, it is considered a low-maintenance style.

Do I have to shave my head bald to get rid of dreadlocks? Is it possible to untangle dreadlocks and go back to having long normal hair?

Shaving your head will give you a clean start, but you can also cut the dreads about two inches from the scalp and unravel the stumps in about an hour. To unravel the dread stumps, wash your hair in hot water and use a conditioner to lubricate the knots.

Though it takes much time and patience, it is possible to undo long dreads. First, cut off the tips of the locks. Next, soak your hair in a tub of hot water for about half an hour to melt the wax. Wash each dread with shampoo to thoroughly clean the hair and loosen the knots. After washing the dreads in hot water, soak each dreadlock in cream conditioner, making sure that the conditioner penetrates to the core of the lock. Then, use a fine tooth comb to untangle the dreadlocks, starting at the ends. Be careful not to pull or break the hair.

To avoid damaging your hair, don't attempt to speed up the process. If they are very long, you may have to undo the dreads over several days, one dreadlock at a time. Start each session by soaking the hair in hot water and applying condition. Alternatively, a skilled locktician can undread your hair.

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