I know this has nada to do with acne, but I get emails all the time asking me questions about my dreadlocks, how I made my dreadlocks, should they get dreadlocks, can they see my dreadlocks down.

So it is finally here: The Ultimate Guide to Dreads (with lots of pics!)

When and Why Did You Decide to Get Dreads?

My dreadies were born in February 2008, a good four years ago now. Why did I get them? Well I guess the real answer is that I’m just a hippie at heart, but at the time I was simply a regular person who was sick of her hair and needed a change. My normal hair was straight… sometimes a bit wavy because I used to perm it… but mostly limp and not much going on. I yearned for more volume.

My hair immediately before getting the dreads put in. I used to perm my hair to try and make it more exciting, so the top is my natural hair and the bottom is my growing out perm.

One weekend, I was having brunch with some friends at a funky breakfast joint in Victoria, BC, and our waitress had really cool dreadlocks. Once I get an idea planted in my head, I usually won’t rest until I’ve made a decision on it. I went home to my computer and researched fervently until I had it all worked out that I was going to do it and how it was going to get done. I commissioned a couple friends to put them in for me and a couple weeks later, I was a dreadhead!

And I don’t regret it for a second. I have all the volume I’ll ever need!

How Do You Make Dreadlocks?

There are actually a lot of different ways to make dreadlocks, including common methods such as backcombing, twist and rip, and neglect. It’s too much to go over each method here in detail, but this website can give you a good little overview if you’re interested. 

The method that I used was backcombing, so I will be talking about that since it’s the one I know the most about.

Step 1:

Wash your hair with a residue free shampoo (and NO conditioner) in order to prep your hair and remove any past residues from commercial shampoos and products. While you have dreadlocks, I’d recommend baking soda be your shampoo of choice followed by a little bit of an apple cider vinegar rinse (I’d recommend these even if you have normal hair!)

Step 2:

Get a friend to divide your hair into a kind of grid pattern all over your head and hold each chunk of hair with a rubber elastic at the base. Each bunch of hair represents one future dreadlock, so if you want skinny dreadlocks, make them thin. If you want thick dreadlocks, make them thicker.

Step 3:

Get a couple of steel tooth combs that won’t break easily, and a couple of friends who love you very much. I wouldn’t recommend getting a salon to do your hair. Considering how long it takes, it will cost you a fortune, and from my understanding, they usually don’t do it properly. I actually had numerous friends do a dread or two on my head during their creation because it’s very easy for them to get the hang of. It doesn’t need to be done by a professional.

Step 4:

Put on some movies and get to work! Backcombing works like this: you take one bunch of sectioned off hair (keep the elastic on for now) and hold it in your left hand, while you quickly comb the hair toward the scalp so that it begins to create knots. It’s a bit hard to describe, so here is a video that shows you how to do it (Note: While you may be tempted to, I don’t recommend you buy anything from this company, Dreadhead HQ, or the other big dreadlock company, Knotty Boy, but I’ll talk about that later).

To warn you, this whole process is super time consuming, very monotonous for your friends, and quite painful for you as it is continuously yanking on your scalp (get yourself a stress ball).

Clutching my stress ball.

My hair took about ten hours to complete, with at least two friends working on it for the majority of the time. The actual process of doing the backcombing is really boring, and as times goes on, your friends will be tempted to start doing a shoddy job, but try to keep them on track. When it’s finally done, take the elastics off and have a look at your new ‘do!

Immediately after they were done. Yay, it’s over.

What Next?

What happens next is a unique adventure. No two sets of dreads are alike and they will grow and change and become as wild as the forest, or just stay as nice as can be – you never know.

One thing that many people don’t really understand is what dreads really are. A true dreadlock is tight and hard – the little barbs on the hair have opened up and rubbed together with their neighbouring hairs so much that they have become like one entity, and they certainly are not coming apart.

When you first backcomb your dreads, they are not real dreads. They look kind of like real dreads, but they are just knotted up hair. Over the next few months, the hair goes through many changes as the hair rubs together and “locks” (that’s where the name comes from).

You should expect to not have very attractive hair in the first year of having dreads. The first 6 months are the weirdest. Things started to work themselves after that, but the dreads usually aren’t fully mature until a year old.

What do I mean by weird?

Well, for one, the dreads will probably be a bit fluffy and fuzzy – definitely not as smooth as they will be later on. Another is that your hair tends to get shorter as the dreads tighten and shrink up. Another is that sometimes one side of the dread locks up faster than the other side, and it forces these weird loops out of the dread (these go away and smooth out later). Another is that the knots at the tips can fall out leaving too much straight hair at the ends, and they can also curl up on themselves once they really begin locking.

Your head might also get pretty itchy in the first month or so – this isn’t dandruff or anything, I think it’s to do with the dreads suddenly pulling all the hair in directions that your scalp isn’t used to. Either way, it does go away once your scalp gets used to it.

All of this happened to my hair. But it worked out really well in the end. People tend to obsess over their dreads in the beginning – “is this right?” “Is this how it should be?” “Are they ever going to smooth out?”. Just don’t worry about it. Like your skin, just let it go… busy yourself with something else, and your dreads will be fat and tight before you know it.

My hair at 2 months. Apparently I had pretty abnormally loopy dreads.
Dreads at 3 months. Beginning to tighten and shrink up significantly in a funky, curly kind of way.
A close up at 6 months. Still trying to work out its loopy issues – not cool and curly anymore, but not quite smooth. Awkward puberty stage. I also began trimming the tips at this point because they began curling up on themselves and looking very strange. Between that and the shrinking, the dreads ended up very short around the 7 month mark. Began as chest length and ended up chin length.
My dreadlocks at one year. Still some little lumps, but they are mostly tight and straight at this point. They’re done shrinking and are beginning to grow.

Washing Your Dreadlocks

The myth that you have to stop washing your hair to get dreadlocks is completely and utterly false – in fact, it’s the complete opposite. Think about it – does your hair hold knots when it’s greasy? No, it’s a lot more likely to get tangled when you have just stepped out of the shower, especially if you used shampoo and no conditioner.

The friction on the clean hair makes it easy to knot and lock up, so it is very important to wash your hair quite often when your dreads are new (two or three times a week is a good average to aim for), although you may want to be extra gentle with them in the first week or so when the knots are brand new.

You can’t wash your hair with just any shampoo though, like I said above, it must be something that does not leave any residue behind. This is because the residue gets trapped on the inside of the dreadlocks and can begin to rot. Almost all soaps and shampoos, even natural ones, have scents that leave residue in your hair, so they can’t be used. Baking soda followed by a wee bit of apple cider vinegar will do really well.

This being said – don’t put any other junk in your hair either – no gel, no mousse, no hair spray, and NO dread wax (I’ll talk about that later!)

Another thing to remember with washing your hair or getting it wet is that you MUST let it dry completely after (no fancy hair styles until it’s dry). If you don’t let it dry itself out in good time, or you keep getting it wet again before it is completely dry, mould can form inside the dreads and that’s when you get people with stinky locks. It’s kind of like if you leave wet towels in the washer too long – they begin to stink.

Once your dreads are mature, it’s not necessary to wash your hair so much. The tighter and longer they are, the longer they take to dry, and I just find it a huge pain. I also think mine look really .. um… ugly (like the swamp girl) when they are wet, so I just prefer to forego it most of the time. They don’t smell, itch, or anything else, so I don’t see a problem with it. I just wear a big shower cap when I shower.

Dreadlock Maintenance and Products

If you do any research on dreads online, the first websites you will come across are those of the big dreadlock companies – DreadHead HQ and Knotty Boy. They have a lot of great information – but they also just want to sell you a bunch of useless products for your dreads, some which may seriously harm them.

Their biggest thing is dread wax. These companies tell you that you need to put wax on your newly backcombed hair in order to control fuzzies and keep the knots together so they can dread. This is all a big lie. Wax easily gets stuck in the centres of your dreads, causes rotting, and can also prevent your hair from locking properly. Wax doesn’t wreck everyone’s hair, but many people’s dreads have been ruined by the use of wax.

These companies will also tell you that you need to palm roll, root rub, and do all this other time consuming stuff in order to get your hair to lock faster.

The truth is that you do not have to do anything to your dreads to get them to lock up, except washing them and be patient and giving them time. I fell for all this stuff in the beginning, bought all their products, and spent hours putting wax in my hair and palm rolling them. I was spending way more time on my hair than I did before dreads, and all it did was make my hair sticky and look like candles.

Me happily waxing my new dreads like a sucker. I know I sound bitter about this wax scam – maybe it reminds me of jerky companies trying to sell us useless acne products?

I thought “this just doesn’t seem right”, so I began reading deeper online and found out how damaging wax is. I quit doing anything to my hair, and I was so much happier, and luckily I stopped using the wax before it hurt my locks.

One thing that I can recommend to help your hair lock up a bit faster is to make a solution of salty water and spritz it on your head after washing (DreadheadHQ has something called ‘Locking Accelerator’ that they will sell you for ten bucks, when it’s really just salt and water). Salt water (swimming in the ocean!) helps create friction, which helps it lock up quickly. I used to do this all the time and I think it really helped things along – but it may have also been why my hair got so loopy.

Later on in your dreads’ life, everything will be good and locked and no maintenance will be required, except that there will eventually be loose hair growing out of your head that can sometimes make things look a little unkempt. You can just trim these off, or if you can gather enough hair that’s long enough, you can backcomb them into a new dread.

Oh yeah, one other thing – soon after you get your dreads, you’ll notice that they begin to want to stick to each other like velcro (this is particularly prevalent after you wash your hair). After you wash your hair, or whenever you notice your dreads trying to grow together, gently rip them apart to keep them separated (absolutely do not cut them apart). If you don’t rip them apart, they will eventually become one dread with two tails (they call these congos). I admit, it does kind of hurt to rip them apart, but you’re strong – you can do it. The need to rip them apart does go down as the dreads get older, but the need never fully goes away (probably another reason I don’t wash my hair much).

What About the Roots? Wouldn’t the Dreads Just Grow Out?

No. Somehow the new growth just ends up becoming dreadlocked automatically. Don’t ask me how this happens – I don’t see how hair held taught at both ends could tangle and dread, but it just does it like magic.

However, DreadHead HQ will certainly tell you you have to sit there and rub your dreads in circles on your head all the time with their product called ‘Locking Peppa’ to get your roots to lock up, but you don’t. I find that simply rubbing and massaging your scalp in the shower as you wash your hair is more than enough.

On that note, your dreads also appear to grow at a snail’s pace compared to what it used to when you had normal hair because the new growth is twisting and shrinking, instead of growing straight out.

Do You Have to Shave Your Head When You Want to Get Rid of Them?

Ah, the classic question. Not in the beginning – if you backcomb your dreads and decide they aren’t for you, you can comb them out. Your friends who did them might hate you for it, but it’s fairly simple to throw some conditioner in your hair to make it slick and then comb out the knots.

Once they lock up and become real dreads, it’s verging on impossible to comb them out if they’re long. I’ve seen it done, but it’s not pretty and your hair is an absolute wreck after. I also can’t imagine how painful it probably was for that person’s head. I seriously cannot imagine combing mine out.

Anyway, with mature dreads, you don’t actually have to shave your head, but you do need to cut them pretty short, throw some industrial strength conditioner on there, grit your teeth, and comb the little shorties out. I am not looking forward to this day, and I have no idea when or what will make me decide to cut mine off – so I just don’t think about it.

What If You Get Lice?

I got an email from someone thinking about dreads and this fear seemed to be her biggest obstacle with getting them – but I can’t say it’s something that ever worries me, maybe just because I’ve never had lice. She obviously had.

Having dreadlocks does not make you more likely to get lice than a normal haired person, but if you did get lice, it’s way harder to get rid of it. You can try and irradiate them with a few different methods, but most people end up having to cut their dreads off. That would suck, but why live in fear?

What Does Your Hair Look Like Completely Down?

I know I don’t ever wear my hair completely down, but I just don’t like it as much that way, so I don’t do it. It feels too much like a mop.

I actually just cut my hair though because it was just getting to be way too long and unruly to handle (just too much hair for my small frame, and it was getting heavy), but here is what it looked like all down before I cut it. Pretty wild, hey?

My hair at the height of its glory

And here’s a video I made for youtube showing you what my hair looks like down currently:

How Do You Do that Up-do Thingy You Always Do?

That up-do thingy I always do

I just tie all my hair into knots at random until they look cool and are secure enough not to move. Then over the next few days and nights, some will fall out, but I just tie them back in until everything that can fall out does, and then it’s secure like that for ages. Practically zero maintenance!

What Are Those Colourful Things in Your Hair?

The fun thing about dreads is that you can do so many cool things with them. Lots of people like to put beads in their dreads. I have a couple of those, but I like the wraps – you can just wrap each one in a piece of coloured wool to make it funky (it should be a natural fibre not synthetic. Wool is best). I did those myself, but it’s probably easier to have someone help you.

What Should I Consider Before Getting Dreadlocks?

Well, frankly, if you don’t want people to think you’re a hippie, then you shouldn’t get dreadlocks. That’s just stereotyping, but it’s true (you can also expect everyone to just assume you are a vegetarian. I get asked that about a thousand times more than when I had straight hair. So maybe if you are a vegetarian, dreadlocks will be quite helpful!).

To me and people who consider themselves hippies, we use the term lovingly. I mean, of course there are all breeds of hippie including the lazy, shady, dirtbag kind, but to me, the general “hippie” movement is synonymous with creative, conscious, open minded people who are respectful of nature, our planet, and each other. They also aren’t so wrapped up in made up societal pressures and expectations, which I think is amazing.

However, it is unfortunate, but the mainstream still equates hippies with being lazy and dirty, so if you really want an office job or something, you might want to reconsider your dreadlock plans. This isn’t universally true if you keep them tidy and inconspicuous, but it can definitely make things harder.

I actually think my dreadlocks have really helped shape who I am and forced me to be more true to myself.

I don’t think I was too much of a hippie when I got my dreadlocks, but I know the hippie spirit was definitely sparking inside me, and something subconsciously pushed me to just go ahead and get them (even though I was actually taking an office administration program at the time).

Afterward, I was too scared to go for any office jobs because I figured that they’d take one look at my dreads and turn me away. Of course I didn’t know that for sure and I was just creating a self fulfilling prophecy for myself, but in the end – why did I want an office job anyway?

My dreads kept me off the corporate path and subconsciously led me to explore my hippie roots, interact with like minded people, and grow into the person I am today. I LOVE being a hippie and I love my dreads, so I don’t really care what anyone thinks about my hair. But it is definitely something you should think long and hard about before you get them.

Alright. Any more questions about dreadlocks? Gonna get yourself a set?

photo by intedinmama