If you’re just getting started on growing dreadlocks, it can be a bit overwhelming. Taming your hair into locs that no longer behave themselves can feel like an impossible challenge. Don’t worry, we all have been there, thinking it impossible to take care of those things.
Growing dreadlocks is a process. You can’t just let your hair grow, wash it, and expect to have dreadlocks. It’s not that easy! Don’t be surprised if it takes longer than you expect to grow a head full of locs, so don’t get frustrated if they don’t look like every other dreadhead straight off, they will in time.
Where do you start?
Starter locs are the baby stage of dreads. This is when new sections of hair are twisted to eventually become locs once they mature. They are usually small in size, neat, and have easily defined parts.
The starter phase can last anywhere from 3 to 6 months depending on your hair type and how fast it grows. Many people find this phase to be difficult. This is mostly because when you wash your hair your baby locs can unravel or look frizzy. This is normal and will stop once your locs develop more.
Before starting your locs, imagine what you want your mature looks to look like. Depending on what that look might be and your hair type can greatly change how you start your locs. You’ll need to determine what type of locs you want (braided, comb coiled, freeform, interlocked, palm rolled, or twisted), their size, and parting pattern.
It all comes down to your personal preference! Regardless, ensure your sections aren’t too small or dry, as this can cause breakage in the future. Expect your locs to be about half as short as your loose natural hair. And don’t be surprised if you don’t see huge gains in your locs right away. The starter phase is known to be the slowest growth stage.
Because of the shrinking, frizzing, slow growth, and overall maintenance many people quit their dreadlock journey here. No matter what ups and downs you may experience in this process, remember each phase is going to have its own struggles. Until then, there are many things you can do to keep them in check and build a strong foundation to make sure they keep growing.
And remember, growing dreadlocks is much different than maintaining them. If you’re starting your journey to have a full head of dreadlocks, try these tips and tricks to deal with the frustration that comes with achieving the perfect start to your locs.
#1 Wash Your Locs
When to wash your scalp and hair is one of the first issues you’ll face. If you wash too soon in the starter phase, you can easily unravel your locs and have to start over. So, wait at least 4 weeks before you wash for the first time.
If you feel like your head is getting itchy, you can take a cotton ball soaked in witch hazel and carefully clean your scalp. Try to stay on your part line to prevent disturbing your locs too much.
Once those first four weeks are up and you are ready to wash, be super gentle. Avoid washing your locs the same way you would your loose hair. Put more of the focus on your scalp and roots, then work your way down to the ends of your locs.
When finished, gently squeeze out any excess water from the roots of each dreadlock and allow them to air dry. Don’t use a blow dryer as the direct heat can damage your locs. After that initial wash, continue washing your hair every 2-3 weeks.
#2 Use Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Your hair is going to be pretty fragile during the starter phase. This means your hair needs extra love and attention when it comes time for washing! To get started, your shampoo should be sulfate-free and lather free.
Sulfates are common ingredients in shampoos, but they often strip the color from your hair, dry out your scalp, and cause breakage. Sulfate-free shampoos contain and help maintain the natural oils on the scalp and hair, which ultimately leaves your hair with more moisture.
You can also try using a mesh stocking cap while washing your hair. The stocking cap can help give your locs the support they need while giving you the confidence that you aren’t unraveling your start locs.
Make sure to rinse your hair thoroughly with cool water as warm water will cause shrinkage. This will help keep them from tangling together during drying time—and tangles are no fun!
#3 Keep Your Locs Hydrated
Locs need to be hydrated, but not weighed down!
When most people think of keeping your hair hydrated, their mind goes straight to a deep conditioner. This may be the case for loose hair, but it isn’t ideal from your locs. This is because when locs become really soft they tend to unravel.
But don’t take this as you don’t need to keep them hydrated. Moisture is essential to dreadlocks, but we are looking for something lightweight so as not to weigh down your locs. Your conditioner should contain protein and moisture rich ingredients such as aloe vera, coconut oil or jojoba oil (or any other nature oil).
To maintain the health of your dreadlocks, try using a lightweight leave-in conditioner or oil after showering and before bedtime. You may need to hydrate your locs more or less than the next dreadhead. Your hair and skin type, the season and climate, and your diet can all influence how much hydration your locs may need!
No matter what type of product, avoid using anything that contains alcohol since this will dry out your hair and cause it to become brittle over time. Your starter locs will thank you!
#4 Wear a Cap at Night
Do you toss and turn at night? Even if you don’t, when you sleep the friction against your pillow can cause your locs to unravel and frizz. Wearing a cap or scarf while you sleep can help reduce that friction. You can even try a silk or satin pillow case. A cap or scarf will also help retain moisture, prevent breakage, and protect from dirt and debris.
Caps or scarfs are easy to make yourself out of any fabric that has elasticity and breathability like cotton, wool and silk. For the best results, use a soft material and make sure it fits snugly on your head. If you’re using a scarf, tie it tightly around your head so it doesn’t slip off during sleep.
#5 Retwist Every 4-6 Weeks
If you’ve familiar with locs, you know that they need to be retwisted every so often. But how often should you do it? Well, the answer depends on how long your locs are and how fast your hair grows. The general rule of thumb is every 4-6 weeks or whenever you wash your hair.
Never retwist dry locs. This is why it is recommended to retwist after you wash your hair. If you retwist your locs too much or too tight, over time, your roots will weaken and this could lead to breakage—not what you want when you’re working toward a healthy head of hair.
How do you know you’ve survived the starter phase?
You’re well into the starter phase and questioning how will you know you’ve survived. The last time you washed your hair, did you notice your hair wasn’t unravelling like it once did? Take a look in the mirror! Are you noticing new growth? Or now you might notice your locs are looking a little bit fuzzy, fluffy, lumpy, or bumpy?
Don’t panic! These are signs that you’re moving into budding phase of loc maintenance. But don’t jump the gun and run off into budding maintenace.
You are going to want to be sure you’ve successfully made in to the budding phase. When your hair stops coming undone during washes and is solid and you notice those “buds” in almost all of your locs, then it’s budding.
As you know, dreadlocks are not formed overnight. It takes a lot of patience and a good amount of commitment to grow one’s dreadlocks out. The one thing you always want to remember, is that the starter locs will grow into the full locs. Be patient! And take care of those things! It takes time. But now you’ve made it to the next phase!
You should be proud of your accomplishment. You’ve stuck to the journey, and remained positive! The next phase, the budding phase, will be a fun one which allows you to start styling your hair to your liking without getting caught up in the process of starter locs.