If you are new to dreadlocks and want to learn the basics and important bits about them, this is the place to start! The information on this page has been gathered from the decades of collective experience and knowledge shared amongst the community and organised into this FAQ to help beginners develop a good understanding of what dreadlocks are as well as how to start and maintain your own!
If you can't find the answer to your questions, use the forum to ask the community!
Dreadlocks are ropes of knotted hair. The sections to which the hair forms in to dreadlocks can be either naturally occurring (often called "patience" or "natural" style dreads) or persuaded by the wearer with methods such as backombing or twist & rip. (See "Starting Your Dreadlocks" below!)
The hair is held together simply by the way of tangled strands. The knotting over time is what creates the form and density of the locks - that's it!
Put away your comb, and stop brushing your hair. In time, it will section off and tangle up all on it's own, regardless of race or religion. Because of this we can generally assume that dreadlocks are as old as the human race and have been with us since the very beginning of our existence. This makes it nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly when or where societies began to wear these twisted locks of hair as a cultural or religious symbol, but we have found several examples of their existence throughout our history.
Dreadlocks in the Middle East
Dreadlocks in India
Sadhu and sadhiv are holy men and women who renounce a normal life in order to pursue spiritual enlightenment and liberation. Many allow their hair to become locked as a way of giving up their vanity, as well as their connection with modern society. Many are followers of Shiva (or one of his many forms) and are considered to be holy by many people...they are often asked to bless weddings and the sick or settle conflicts between individuals and families.
Dreadlocks in Africa
The Baye Fall are a sect of the Islamic Mouride Brotherhood in West Africa, and they are known in part for their colorful clothing, and their dreadlocks which they call ndiange (strong hair). The Baye Fall were established during the late 1800's, and show their devotion to go through their hard labor.
Dreadlocks in the Americas
The historian William H. Prescott wrote of Aztec priests wearing dreadlocks in his book, The History of the Conquest of Mexico in 1843. When describing human sacrifices, Prescott wrote, "On the summit he was received by six priests, whose long and matted locks flowed disorderly over their sable robes, covered with hieroglyphic scrolls of mystic import."
Dreadlocks in Europe
Dreadlocks in the Caribbean
Dreadlocks in Modern Society
Yes! Anyone can have dreadlocks regardless of their ethnic, religious, political, or social background - dreadlocks have been around for a long time and are not exclusive to any one group of people.
Dreadlocks can also form in any type of hair, from thin and straight to thick and curly without any extra, special attention. However, the length of time it takes for the dreads to fully mature may vary depending on your hair type and texture.
Yes, you absolutely can and should wash your hair with dreadlocks. Clean hair dreads best, as oils will coat the hair and make it too slick to knot properly. The general consensus will tell you to use a residue-free shampoo or soap. You won’t be able to eradicate residue or build-up through brushing like you normally do on non-dreaded hair, so it is fairly important to get a soap or shampoo that will not leave a nasty residue on your scalp.
Some people suggest avoiding the use of shampoos with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), which is a foaming agent that is believed to cause scalp irritation. But generally the same things that could clean your hair pre-dreads will work post-dreads, simply avoid conditioners or shampoos with conditioners and softeners added.
At least you should avoid conditioner with immature dreads. Conditioner leaves residues in the hair to make it easier to brush and remove knots, and is thus is an enemy of dreadlocks. As your dreads get older and more mature, you may find them able to stand up against conditioner and able to use it from time to time but it's generally best to wait at least 4 years or so before applying conditioner to your locks to avoid as much untangling as possible.
It is most important to know that dreadlocks do not require installation by a loctician or a hair salon. Dreads are a hairstyle that can absolutely be achieved for free on your own, or with a friend or two helping, and with no expensive products!
There are several methods one can employ to obtain a head of dreadlocks. We at DT do not endorse any one method over another, but hope to steer you clear of using those that will cause permanent damage to your hair or spending unnecessary money on products that don't necessarily expedite the dreading process.
~ You can look through the timelines section on our forum to see how the different methods develop at different stages! ~
• The natural (or patience) method
Stop brushing your hair. Yes, that's it! Many people with gorgeous locks have obtained them by simply tossing out the comb. Dreadlocks are just mats of hair formed by tons of tiny knots, over time any hair type can form into dreadlocks if not interrupted by brushing and conditioning.
Remember, locks that use this method (and any other!) still need to be kept washed and clean. See "Can I wash my dreadlocks?" below! You will likely find that sections try to join or merge, so as well as washing you may need to "rip" these sections. See "How do I stop my dreads from joining together?" under Along The Dreadlock Journey below.
Backcombing is a process that requires using a fine-toothed comb (metal flea combs work best) to comb one's hair back towards the scalp. This teases the hair and helps to kick-start the formation of knots. Generally, a person will first divide their hair into sections before starting - the size of the sections will help determine the final size of the dreadlocks.
For a video tutorial on how to backcomb hair into dreadlocks, click here!
• Twist&Rip (T&R)
For this method, the first stage is to twist a section of hair into a larger strand using your fingers. You then split the hair at the end into two halves, like the fork in a snakes' tongue, and take each fork between your finger and thumb of each hand. By pulling these sections in opposite directions the friction causes knots and tangles to form. As you pull the sections further, the knots are pushed up the hair towards the root to "pack" the knots into the hair.
• Dread perm
A dread perm is a service that some hair salons offer, where the hair is backcombed, and then a permanent solution is applied. This solution causes the hair to swell, lose its original shape, and shrink back into whatever shape it is set in (generally on curlers). These dreads at first are quite curly and the permanent solution smells rather bad.
From Scratch: This method is very much discouraged. It puts your hair through a lot of torture. Broken hairs are very common when crochet-from-scratch is employed and your dreads are only as strong as the individual hairs that comprise them. Crocheting is most effective and least damaging when there is a strong base of knots to pull loose hairs into.
Sparingly: Crocheting is often used in conjunction with backcombing and also as maintenance. With this method, a small-diameter crochet hook is used to tighten backcombing by pulling loops/hairs from the outside of the dread to the inside of the dread.
There are a few issues with crocheting. As previously mentioned, crochet hooks can cause damage and breakage to hair.
Additionally, locks that are crocheted tend to be thinner than those that are not because they generally do not loop in the same way that backcombed or natural locks do. This creates less volume in locks that are crocheted. If done cautiously, it can help without too much detriment, but it is advised that crocheting be used sparingly and intelligently or not at all.
"Needle Felting" however, should never be used as a means of creation or maintenance for dreadlocks. A felting needle is very different from a crochet needle, do not confuse the two. A felting needle is a small, sharp, and barbed needle that is often used in fiber arts, mainly with wool. Wool reacts to needle felting in a very unique way, a way that human hair does not. When a felting needle is used on human hair, it severely damages the hair strands, breaking them apart and creating a weak spot in the dreadlock.
• Two-Strand Twist
Here at DT, the simple answer to this is a resounding NO.
Waxing is a hotly debated topic in the realm of dreadlocks. Some will say you absolutely need wax to make dreads, while others say you can just throw away your brush and the dreads will come. If you've found this page, chances are you're at least slightly confused as to what path to take on your dread journey. Here at Dreadlock Truth, we firmly believe that wax is an unnecessary and detrimental product, and here's why...
Above: member-submitted photos of their hair prior to removing wax.
No. Some websites and salons will tell you to put rubber bands at either the root or the tip of your dreads to keep the roots separate and encourage knotting. Rubber bands are a bad choice for this.
The recommended length for backcombing is at least between 5-7 inches. You will initially lose a some length through backcombing, and if your hair is too short, it's less likely to work.
Yes, you can! There are many people with thin or thinning hair with beautiful 'locks - it just means that there may be larger spaces between them than someone with thicker hair, but it doesn't affect whether you can wear dreadlocks or not.
Dreadlocks also gain a LOT of volume as they start to mature, so your hair will seem much thicker in a year or so anyway! :)
It depends on your hair type, but you will most likely lose at least a little length. Thin, straight hair tends to lose more length than any other hair type. In general, your hair will shrink a great deal in the first year as your dreadlocks mature and after that initial shrinking phase it will then quickly begin to gain its length back as your hair grows out more.
The most efficient way to get dreadlocks dry is to use a bonnet hair drier like you’ll find at a hair salon. Of course, not many of us have these in our living rooms so the more common options are:
Towel drying. Use a towel to absorb the excess water from your dreads. Super-absorbent towels are a preferred option among many dreadheads with thicker locks.
It is best to first wring out the majority of the water several times before air drying, blow drying, or towel drying to speed up the process.
Not at all. There are incredibly inexpensive and natural alternatives to locking accelerators & tightening gels should you feel you want to try them out.
As for locking accelerators, most of them are just a salt water-based spray. These are really easy to make on your own. Combine water, salt, and an optional drop or two of essential oil or a squeeze of lemon and voila! A locking accelerator that you don't have to invest much in putting together. In fact, I'd wager a guess that most of us have salt and water already available in our homes. Also, if you live by the ocean or a salt lake, you can just take a dip in the water. No need to pay for shipping on chemical additives and salt water!
Relax! Dreadlocks take quite a bit of patience and backcombing is nothing but a kick-start, you can't expect immediate results from any method. Your hair will go through phases, and loosening up a bit after backcombing is a pretty common one. Your backcombed dreads are most likely going to loosen and then tighten back up on their own as they progress.
It is important to realize that no matter what method you employ for locking your hair, they will take approximately a year to look how you thought they would.
It is up to you to decide how you start your journey, but each path takes you to the same place in about the same amount of time. The differences are mostly seen in the development stages between the starting point and maturity.
For most people, it comes as a sigh of relief to find out that you do not in fact have to shave your head to remove dreadlocks. It is definitely possible to comb out dreadlocks, even very old and mature dreadlocks can be combed out.
Another method of removing dreads, rather than taking the time to brush out the full length, is to cut them half or three-quarters of the way and brush out what is left.
For the most part, yes!
For specifics, please check out the "Modifying" category below. :)
It's important to know that it is absolutely not necessary to do any sort of tidying or maintenance to your locks, other than washing. Dreadlocks form perfectly well and healthily without maintenance and usually look more natural and charismatic. However, some people will want or need their dreadlocks to be neat and tidy.
If your dreadlocks are still very young (up to around 6 months), then some mess is inevitable for most people. You will likely have loose hairs coming from your roots and dreadlocks and some may try to join together at the root. Here's what you should (and shouldn't!) do:
Many people worry about keeping loose hairs tucked into their dreadlocks. If your dreads less than roughly 6 months, the best thing to do is to forget about them for the moment. To do any sort of maintenance to dreadlocks, you first need a solid base of knots which you probably don't have when they're so young. Without this base of knots, any maintenance you do will most likely just fall out again quite quickly and look just as it did before. In this situation, people often think that more maintenance is needed but this is not true - the fact that it fell out is a sign that your hair is not yet ready for maintenance! Repeatedly maintaining your hair (especially if you're using a crochet hook or something similar) is likely to cause damage to your dreadlocks that you will suffer the effects of later.
If, however, you think your hair's ready for some maintenance then there are a few common techniques used. The most popular has been mentioned already: crocheting. A crochet hook is a fine, steel hook using primarily in knitting. People often use a crochet hook to pull loose hairs through the body of their dreadlocks. If you choose to do this, be careful! Do it gently and do your absolute best not to shred your hair. We generally don't recommend crocheting for this reason.
The better and safer alternative to crocheting is to use a sewing needle (you may need a slightly wider eye than a standard needle's). Thread your loose hair into the eye of the needle and pull it through the dreadlock in the same way you would with a crochet hook. The benefit of this method is that your hair is not at risk of being torn or shredded by a fine hook.
Palm-rolling is another popular thing to do when trying to deal with loose hair. Palm-rolling does give a temporary impression of neater dreadlocks but it has little, if any, lasting effect on the appearance of locks. Palm-rolling may cause your roots to weaken due to the stress of being twisted vigorously. If you do choose to palm-roll, be sure that you aren't doing it too roughly and do bare in mind that it may not have a permanent effect on the loose hairs.
YOU SHOULD NEVER:
Burn your locks, cut/shave loose hair, apply any sort of adhesive such as wax or glue or use a felting needle. If you have heard of a technique not listed here and you're unsure whether it will be helpful or damaging, please ask on the forum - we will let you know if it is safe! :)
+ Not burning your 'locks seems really obvious, but some people suggest it. Seriously, why would you burn your hair?
This is the next common worry, that new hair growth won't dread without maintenance. This is a myth is should not concern you. New hair growth will dread just as naturally as the rest of your hair and will be sucked into your dreadlock roots as it grows. Some hair between dreads may take longer to do this, but they will eventually either join the nearest dread or form a new, baby dread! If you want to keep the roots tidy, you can use a sewing needle as described above.
Don't worry about the root of your dreadlocks being loose. If your hair was dreadlocked too close to your scalp, it would be painful when you moved your head due to the tension. Almost everyone has an inch or two of loose, or looser, hair by their scalp for this reason. If you leave your roots to do their own thing, the hair will dread at a comfortable distance from your scalp.
YOU SHOULD NEVER:
Root flip. Root flipping is a technique that involves feeding a dreadlock through its root and pulling it through the opposite side. Doing this will cause a weak spot in the lock that is unlikely to ever properly knot up - it has no benefits.
This particularly affects young and developing dreadlocks, but is likely to occur throughout the lifetime of your dreadlocks.
You may find that some dreadlocks will try to combine and join together at the root as one. These are normally called congos and you can either separate the dreadlocks again or allow them to grow out as one thicker dreadlock with two tips. You may notice a thicker dreadlock will take slightly longer to dry, but there's no other advantages or disadvantages to either choice - it's pretty much entirely an aesthetic decision. Some people prefer to keep congos, others will prefer to stay on top of separating the roots.
If you do want to separate the roots, the most important advice is that you should never use scissors to cut roots apart! Using scissors will cause a weakened area where your lock may be thinner. The way to separate two dreadlocks is to rip them apart. While this sounds a bit vicious, it is in fact harmless and will allow you to keep your locks separated with no side-effects.
To do this, you take the dreadlocks that are trying to join together in each hand and gently pull them in opposite directions. This makes the knots causing the congo slip and untangle and you'll probably hear a ripping sound as you do this - but don't worry! As mentioned above, this does not inflict any harm upon your dreadlocks. If you have a particularly stubborn or well-formed congo developing, ripping is easier when your hair is wet so if you have difficulties it's often easier to wait until you next wash your hair to try again.
Yes, you can! Check out Katie's tutorial on combining dreads to find out how!
Yes, you can but it's slightly different to dying brushable hair. Check out this brilliant guide to dying dreadlocks by Lish - compunction.org/dyeing.txt
Yes, you can! Have a look at Katie's extension tutorial for more information.
Beads are a great and easy way to decorate to your locks! Websites such as Etsy have thousands of unique beads hand-made from a variety of materials with holes large enough for dreadlocks, all by independent artisans.
If your dreadlocks are young (less than 6 months) then you should be aware that dreadlocks have been known to consume beads during development. This can happen when your hair is still settling and knotting up in the initial months after starting - it is possible for hair to knot around beads meaning that they are permanently trapped inside the dreadlock unless you cut the hair that has trapped the bead (which will possibly weaken the dreadlock at that point).
Another way to add loads of character to your dreads is to wrap them with coloured thread. To find out how to do this, read this guide to wrapping dreads written by Slang. :)
Unfortunately, many people don't find out the truth about dreadlock wax until after they've already purchased and used it. There's no need to panic though, removal can be done!
The most efficient method of removing dread wax, though probably also the most unpopular, is to simply brush out your new dreads, wash all the wax out (this may take several washings, depending on how much wax is used) and simply start over. Yeah, we're not too fond of this idea, but if your dreads are brand new, less than a few weeks, they can easily be combed out and your hair can be cleaned thoroughly. Like I said, this isn't the most popular method. But it is an option, and it works.
Now, another option is to melt the wax out of your hair. There is more than one way to do this. One way to melt it out is to wash and soak your dreads in very hot water, as hot as you can stand. You'll likely need to do this several times, but you should notice a definite improvement.
Of course, deep cleaning is also a very beneficial step in helping to remove all the dirt and debris attracted by the wax. Kyndmama's deep cleaning concoction really does work wonders for your hair. The before and after shot from one of our members really speaks for itself.
If you're experiencing an itchy scalp and/or dandruff it could be a number of different reasons. The sudden change in washing behavior, your shampoo, your body chemistry, your diet, psoriasis, etc. Here is a list of easy and natural home remedies:
• Boil a mixture of chamomile tea and about a couple sprigs of rosemary (chopped) or some lavender. Cool and strain the mixture and rinse the hair with this solution.
• If your scalp is a bit sore from scratching and you are in need of some extra relief, use a squeeze of lemon in a quick rinse. Take a fresh lemon, squeeze the juice into a large cup and fill the rest with water, then pour it over your scalp. The lemon is a good astringent and if you have any small cuts in your scalp there are natural antibiotics in lemons.
• Aloe vera gel is also a great quick fix for itchy scalp, it washes out easily as well.
• Massaging the scalp with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water is fantastic for reducing itchiness as well as improving general scalp conditions considerably. Mix about one part apple cider vinegar to four parts water. Add some baking soda for an extra combatant against dandruff.
As well as these home remedies, there are various dermatological shampoos which are designed to solve issues like dandruff. At least some of these are residue-free and good for use on dreadlocks. Coal-tar based products in particular will be effective at eliminating dandruff, psoriasis etc.
NOTE: Just as an FYI, dreadlocks do not attract lice or bugs any more than other hair types. If you are in close proximity with someone who already has lice chances are you can get them, regardless of whether you wear your hair in locks or not.
Community member Moonshyne has provided her anecdote (and antidote!) here.
Now, you'll have to do this again in about 3-5 days because the alcohol only kills the bugs, not their eggs (remember, most of the actual lice shampoos don't kill the eggs either...) so you'll have to do this process over again to kill any newly hatched critters, before they have time to reproduce. At this point you really should be lice free, though I would suggest you do it yet again in another 3 days.... just to be on the safe side.
One more note... using tea tree oil in your hair acts as a lice/insect repellent. Dr. Bronner's makes a soap with tea tree oil, and that's what we use. You can also buy it as a fancy, overpriced spritzer to spray in your hair. I think you're better off with the soap, personally. We also use tea tree oil in the deep cleaning concoction. I've read that rosemary also acts as a lice repellent, though I've never used it myself."
Despite what you may have heard, dreadlocks require no more maintenance or special treatment than normal hair. You can wash them, dry them, dye them, and just about anything else you feel like doing with them. As dreads mature, they naturally require less washing. This is because daily brushing causes the scalp to produce extra oil with normal hair. Of course, with dreadlocks, you no longer need to brush your hair and this leads to less oil production, meaning that as long as your child isn't rolling around in the dirt, he eventually won't have to wash quite as much as he did pre-dread.
Excessive or daily washings can cause damage to mature dreadlocks, because they would be less able to dry completely. This can cause mildew and unpleasant smell, so dreadlocks are actually cleaner with fewer washings.
Actually, the DreadlockTruth.com community recommends that you DO NOT waste your money buying overpriced dread products. Wax and rubberbands can actually ruin newly forming dreadlocks if not used properly, and they do nothing to speed or help the locking process. In fact, wax can make dreadlocks sticky, allowing dirt and debris to collect in/on them and making hair difficult to wash. The companies that sell these products want you to believe that they are necessary, because this is how they make money.
If you find that your child has questions or is in need of assistance, our community is full of tutorials, advice, and personal experience....and we do it free of charge.
It has been a common misconception that an interest in dreadlocks must mean there is interest in drugs, namely cannabis. This most likely comes from the fact that one of the world's most well known dreadlocked individuals, Bob Marley, was also known to use and support the use of cannabis. These two things do not always go hand in hand - there are lots of people who do drugs who have never worn dreadlocks, and lots of dreadlocked folks who don't even use caffeine.
Bottom line is, dreadlocks or an interest in dreadlocks do not cause people to use drugs.
I've heard only Rastafarians wear dreadlocks. Does this mean my child is abandoning his/her Christian/Muslim/other faith?
Although dreadlocks were introduced to mainstream America through the Rastafari movement, they have roots in many different races and religions and are worn by individuals from all walks of life now. The Rastafari religion is relatively new, dating back to the 1930's. Stories of twisted locs of hair can be traced thousands of years in biblical stories (the Jewish/Christian hero Samson had 7 locks of hair) and there are Muslim groups that started wearing locks well before Rastafarians. Hindu holymen and deities were also known to wear ropes of hair many hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
The members here at Dreadlock Truth come from all kinds of backgrounds and religions, and we respect that. There is no need to assume that a change in hairstyle means there is also a change in beliefs.
No, it is not necessary to shave your hair in order to remove dreadlocks. If your child decides to remove their locks, it will take some time but they can be brushed away with a little hard work and a lot of conditioner. However, if they wait and decide after 2 or 3 years that they no longer want locks, they may need to cut them off a few inches from the roots and brush out what's left.
Your child's hair will most likely be short, but they should be able to save a decent amount without shaving.
Oh yes, that is not a concern for most of us. It may prove slightly more difficult to work in places such as McDonalds, but generally, finding work is not a problem. If, however, you do find a problem with the typical teenage workplace, branch out and try something new. Your child may find it easier applying at book stores and health food markets, or any of the trendy clothing shops where having dreads might actually help your child get a job.
Whatever your question might be on this topic, "Will dreadlocks cause lice?", "Will my child have to shave his head if he gets lice?", "are dreadlocks more likely to get lice?", and any of the other questions associated with dreadlocks and lice, none of it is true.
If your son or daughter gets a lice infestation, it is because he's been in close proximity to someone else that already had them. Dreadlocks do not attract lice any more than any other type of hair out there. But occasionally it happens, and when an infestation occurs it can be very easily and cheaply treated without having to shave off any hair or using any poisonous chemicals. If you need more information on the treatment of lice, please visit this page for more details....and don't worry.