Before we dive in, please note that this article is written under the premise that you have (or want to cultivate) manicured dreadlocks.
Who this article is for:
Who this article is not for:
Reason being is because with freeform locs, you are committing to allow your hair to lock up free of any manipulation. No twisting, no coaxing, no nothing. Whatever happens after it grows out of your head is fair game, and whatever nearby hairs it chooses to entangle with is good.
With freeform locs, you simply keep the hair clean and let it do what it do.
So on the maintenance spectrum, freeforming is all the way to the left in the low maintenance section.
Now let’s travel to the right…
For those that opt for a more manicured look, expect some maintenance to be required.
But you have a few options in this regard.
You can find a local loctician to maintain your locs for you or you can choose to do it yourself.
Just as many LocStars perform their own dreadlock maintenance as those who choose to visit a loc stylist. It’s really more a matter of time, patience and preference that guides which path you choose. And you’re likely to use a combination of both throughout the life of your dreadlock journey.
Maintaining dreadlocks is a process that gets easier with time as your experience grows. When you are new on the journey it may seem a bit intimidating because maintaining dreadlocks is very different from what you’re used to with loose hair. The tried and true methods you used when your hair was loose won’t work anymore now that you’re locked.
Everything from combs to daily/weekly washes, even to the products that you use to shampoo and condition your hair with will change. It’s like learning a whole new language. Well, maybe not that hard but expect a period of adjustment.
Essentially, dreadlock maintenance could be summed up into six unique categories.
6 Essential Elements of Maintaining Healthy Dreadlocks:
Managing New Growth
But what does that mean exactly?
Well, an important consideration is residue. Residues from shampoos, conditioners and stying aids are more damaging to locs than loose hair.
Don’t get me wrong, residue is not necessarily good for loc’d or loose hair but it affects dreadlocked hair more dramatically simply because when the hair is matted, these residues get trapped and lodged inside the loc.
Residue is not washed out as easily and is neither combed nor brushed out because the hair care rituals of dreadlock wearers don’t utilize these styling tools on a daily basis, if at all. (*Side note* We do offer a specialized loc brush that you can learn more about here).
The reason residue is a hindrance to dreadlocks is because residues coat the hair shaft. This ‘slipperiness’ keeps the hair from tangling together to eventually matte and lock, thus delaying the locking process. Residues can also cause dirt and oil to build up on the scalp which can lead to itching and irritation.
So you’ll want to incorporate residue-free products into your maintenance regimen. Ask your loc stylist for recommendations on residue-free, naturally based products that promote good hair and a healthy scalp.
If you’re doing it yourself, read the ingredients on the labels and choose products with natural ingredients instead of synthetic ones.
Related Article: Tips on Choosing A Dreadlock Shampoo
Now, it’s common to slather on the shampoo to get a really good lather but this is actually not a good idea when you have locs. And for the same reasons we mentioned above. It doesn’t wash out as quickly or easily and you have a greater chance of some being left behind in your locs.
Say you’re in a rush and don’t rinse your hair thoroughly…boom, you’ve set the stage for product build-up.
Or maybe you use a creamy shampoo with a lot of slippage…boom, you’ve set the stage for product build-up.
And further still, if you follow your shampoo with your favorite creamy conditioner. Yep, that didn’t rinse out all the way either.
I know it’s a lot to consider, and you’re probably like ‘dang, it’s that serious’ but these seemingly small individually insignificant things do add up over time and cause frustration later in the life of your locs in the form of dry, dull, lifeless looking locs that attract lint and harbor whitish-gray nodules of gunk. (Insert horror face.)
Related Article: How To Get the Gunk Out of Your Locs
If you’re one of those people that don’t feel your hair is really clean unless it’s full of creamy white suds, gradually train yourself to change your mindset.
Most of us squeeze the shampoo directly on our heads (I, myself guilty as charged) and so it’s hard to tell how much we’re using with each squeeze.
But you can start to wean yourself from using so much soap the next time you shampoo. Instead of using a handful of shampoo, use a quarter full, working you way down to a nickel.
One tip is that when you squeeze the shampoo into your hand, start to suds it up right there in your palm before you apply it to your hair. The soap will begin to dilute in your hand and you’ll end up spreading it on more of your hair instead of it all glopping in one section and burying undiluted shampoo into your locs.
You’ll be able to distribute the soap further than you normally would and not feel the need to reach for another dollop of shampoo prematurely.
Another good tip is to use a shampoo wash brush. Using a dreadlocks shampoo brush has many benefits. Not only does it help distribute the shampoo, but it also massages the scalp without adding extra frizz or disturbing the freshly twisted new growth that still is preparing to lock.
Now it’s time to rinse.
This is actually the most important part, yet it’s the part we tend to rush through.
Your scalp is squeaky clean and you’re feeling accomplished, so you give a quick rinse and are on your way.
Not so fast, it’s important to remember that you’re working with matted hair. Hair that has lots of twists and tangles. So you have to go the extra mile to ensure that all of the soap is washed away.
What I like to tell people is to rinse until the water runs clear and there are no more suds. Then rinse until your hair doesn’t feel so slippery (evidence of the shampoo). Then rinse one more time. And once again. Take your time and do not rush through this part. Never wash your hair when you’re in a hurry.
Now when it comes to moisture that’s when LocStars get a bit more creative. Many opt for natural oils and water to add moisture back into the their dreads.
Moisturizing your dreads is important because your hair’s natural oil (a.k.a. sebum) doesn’t get a chance to coat the entire hair shaft due to the twists and turns of the matted hairs.
Normally, the sebum would also have a chance to travel the length of the hair with daily brushing and combing. But that doesn’t happen when you have dreadlocks.
As a result, dreadlocks can easily start to feel dry and brittle.
Dry locs is the number one complaint I hear from my LocStars.
However, using any over the counter conditioner is not recommended either.
Although it’s very tempting to grab the latest natural hair beauty find or creamy conditioner, remember, the more product you use, the more lint and build-up you attract.
When you hair is dry, it’s not oils and creamy conditioners it’s craving. Actually, it’s water.
But since water evaporates so quickly, we use the oils and butters to help seal in the moisture to try and keep it in a little longer.
So what can you use then?
Well, it depends on your hair texture.
Thicker, coarser hair textures can handle thicker oils and butters. Finer hair textures cannot.
For example, castor oil is a very heavy oil. Jojoba oil is a very light oil (and closest to your hair’s natural sebum). So putting castor oil on fine hair will only weigh it down, make it feel heavy and greasy and may even clog your hair follicles. Whereas a kinky hair texture can easily thrive with castor oil.
You can create your own moisturizer by mixing three parts water with one part oil in a spritzer bottle and spray your hair with it every 2-3 days. Shake well before each use because the water and oil will naturally separate when settled.
You can also add an essential oil to your moisture mist for extra healing properties. If you have an itchy scalp, ylang ylang or a mix of peppermint and rosemary are good essential oils to try. About 10-20 drops of each in 12 oz of distilled water is a good start. See how your scalp responds and adjust as needed.
Related Article: How to Lock In Moisture to Your Locs
Healthy Scalp Care with Dreadlocks
If you have any scalp conditions such as itchy scalp, dandruff, psoriasis, eczema or alopecia, first consult with a trusted health practitioner to uncover the cause and/or triggers of your condition. A dermatologist can help you diagnose scalp conditions and recommend a treatment plan.
Be sure to ask them about natural alternatives to any prescriptions they offer (or seek a holistic practitioner). A lot of times there are natural alternatives that are just as effective and provide relief but we don’t think to inquire about them and the doctor assumes that you just want a prescription.
Once you have a name for what’s ailing you, that’s when you can put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and start investigating…
Do your own due diligence in researching the condition, the causes and any and all potential solutions whether allopathic or naturopathic so that you can make an informed decision as to what’s the best path for you.
Paying as much attention to the scalp as to the hair itself will, as they say, ‘do a body good.’ After all, the scalp is where the hair originates so it’s condition is just as important as the hair itself.
Treat yourself to a scalp massage once a week. Apply a light oil (your moisture mist from the previous section is good) and massage your scalp with it. This is not only relaxing, but it also stimulates the hair follicles and promotes hair growth.
Of course, you can use your hands, but one of our favorite scalp massagers is this one here. It feels like heaven running its fingers across your scalp). Be careful though, it can put you in such a relaxed state, you may just fall asleep. So be sure all of your chores are done for the day before you start your massage sesh (smile).
Managing Dreadlock New Growth
Throughout the course of having dreadlocks, you’ll routinely be coaxing your new growth into the mature part of your locs.
The mature loc is when the dreadlock is compact and completely matted. This can take several months depending on your hair texture.
For this reason, there are many ways to perform dreadlock maintenance on new growth.
The most common methods on afro-textured hair are:
The most common methods on European or fine hair are:
- Rip & pull
For a more in depth explanation of maintenance methods, check out these articles:
With any of these methods, the end goal is the same…to get your new growth to integrate itself with the existing lock of hairs surrounding it. This is not something it will do naturally right out of the gate.
Particularly if you are wanting a consistent look to your dreads and to maintain your parting system, it will not do this naturally at all, so you must help it along (a.k.a. dreadlock maintenance).
How fast your hair grows will determine how often you need to do these maintenance sessions. Some people retwist as soon as a half inch of new growth is visible. While others wait until several inches of new growth have accumulated.
Depending on how neat and tidy you prefer your hair to look will also guide you in how often you perform your dreadlock maintenance.
It’s important not to over-twist or over-manipulate your hair though because that can cause too much stress on your roots. Too much stress and tension can lead to weak locs that start to break later once some weight is put on them.
Why Dreadlocks Drying Time Is Important
Drying time is easy to overlook. I mean, you’ve covered the main essentials, right?
✓ Condition & Moisturize…check.
What’s left to be done but style and go, right?
Well, again, not so fast…
When your hair is damp and unable to completely dry, moisture gets trapped in the dreadlocks and provides a breeding ground for mildew to develop. Updos, ponytails, buns and locs are prone to this when not given the opportunity to thoroughly dry.
When mildew forms, you get a musty odor in your hair. Not fun. But it’s not only the smell that’s unwanted, it’s fungus too.
I know it’s super boring to sit for hours under the dryer, and not to mention…hot. So consider using a bonnet dryer, lint-free microfiber towels or letting it dry loose and free before pinning it up in your desired style to ensure that your hair is dry through and through.
Everyday Care Considerations for your Dreadlocks
Lastly, to help keep your locs looking their best, it’s recommended to cover your hair with a satin scarf at bedtime and when doing household chores.
Related item: Dreadlock Sleep Cap
This will go a long way in keeping lint and debris out of your hair and becoming embedded into your locs. It will also help preserve the freshness of your retwist or maintenance session.
After all, you’ve taken great care up until this point to keep your locs as fresh and stylish as they can be. There’s no sense in getting lazy with your hair care routine now. You’re in the home stretch.
Another important consideration is tension.
As your locs get longer, they’ll become more and more heavy. This heaviness creates tension on your roots and hairline. If you have long locs that extend past your shoulders and beyond, they’re also likely tugging on your neck every time you sit down too as they catch between you and the couch or chair.
Help relieve some of that tension and neck strain by keeping them up and off of your neck. Whether you use a rubber band or one our our stylish loc ties, this one healthy hair hack can save your edges and keep your mature locs from thinning and snapping under the weight.
If you have any other questions about how to maintain dreadlocks, feel free to drop a comment below and best wishes on your loc journey.