Dreadlock Hairstyle Basics and Care

Do you find dreadlocks attractive and are considering having dreadlocks but worry about caring for them? Here, I’ll be covering all there is to know about dreadlocks and how to properly care for them.

What are dreadlocks?

Dreadlocks also referred to as locs or dreads are rope-like strands of hair formed by locking or braiding the hair.

Origin of Locs

Locs were worn as a way of expressing different beliefs in various cultures and civilizations.

Maasai warriors, in Africa, are distinguished for having long, thin red dreadlocks.

In Nigeria, children with natural form dreadlocks are known as “dada” and are regarded as unique children.

Dreadlocks can also be traced back to ancient Greece.

Some Rastafarians also sport dreadlocks because they consider them to be a scriptural hairstyle that the Nazarites wore as a sign of their devotion to God.

A small group of Buddhists and Hindus view locked hair as a spiritual symbol that represents authority and responsibility.

How to Prepare for Dreadlocks

You’ll need hair, and the longer the better, for dreadlocks to form. Although it unravels more quickly with long hair, this doesn’t mean it can’t happen with short hair. 


This also depends on the locking technique you use. There are three techniques: the neglect technique sometimes referred to as the natural or free form technique; the backcombing technique; and the twist and rip technique.

For the neglect method, your hair length doesn’t matter, you need to stop combing and the dread will grow out.

The other two methods would require having a good length of hair. I would recommend growing your hair out to at least 5-6 inches.

Next up would be to change your wash routine. Dreadlock forms in clean hair and greasy hair inhibits locking because they slip past each other. You want to slowly ease into your new wash routine so your scalp gets used to it. 

Your hair becomes softer and easier to detangle after using a conditioner. The dreads would fall free and wouldn’t be able to knot in conditioned hair.

You may need to continue brushing your hair up to the day you begin the dreadlocks if you plan to use the backcombing technique.

Most dreadies argue that there is no such thing as natural or free-form dreads and that when you do nothing to your hair, that’s neglect but setting your hair either by sectioning, back combing, towel rubbing, braids, twisting, or whatever, the dreads are not natural or free form because there was the intention behind it.

The process involved in the neglect method?

Dreadlocks process

Knots would form, followed by clumps that would grow into dreadlocks if you stopped conditioning and brushing your hair.


  • You would find the transitioning process more rewarding.
  • Natural form dreads would look different and unique, crazy and wild, and if that’s the look you’re going for? This is the method for you.
  • Low maintenance.
  • The cheapest method because it doesn’t require engaging the services of a loctician or any special treatment.
  • Scalp soreness is not associated with this method, there would be no tugging or pulling at the scalp or roots as there would be with the other methods.


  • Neglect dreads are the slowest and most unpredictable.
  • You would have little control over how they look and unevenly looking dreadlocks would be formed.
  • Occasional separation of conjoined dreads. 

Back Combing Method 

This process involves using a metal wide tooth comb and back combing clean non-conditioned hair. Make sure to brush your hair up till the day you need to backcomb. Not doing this allows knots to form and this makes the entire process a difficult one.

How do you start the backcombing process?

First, section your hair. Sectioning is when you square off your head into a chess board type of arrangement.

Next, hold the sections down with an elastic band to keep the sections together but these should be removed as soon as you’re done because the hair band restricts movement and movement is exactly what the hair needs to loc.

Make a short backward brush stroke close to the root holding the ends of the hair, and alternate where you are brushing. You should be able to see a little knotted patch forming, now start working your way back.

Backcombing dreads are going to be quite thick and poofy, over time you’ll find they get thinner. The overall tightness of the knot isn’t really important; what you are trying to do is form knots to hold the sections together.

Go through to see if there is any patch you’ve missed. Palm roll to make it look like a dreadlock shape and leave it in the bands to keep it neat while you do the rest.

Bear in mind that the knotted lump is not a representation of the finished product.


  • Low cost and low maintenance.
  • You have control over the thickness or thinness of the dreads.
  • Have a specific look in mind? This is the method for you.
  • Faster maturing time. It could take a year plus to mature and this varies according to the length and thickness of your hair.


  • Scalp soreness due to the tugging and pulling at the hair roots.
  • Limited movement is required after getting this done or working around with a dreadlock hat as young backcomb dreads tend to look messy.

Twist and Rip Method

The twist and rip method is also known as twist and pull, twist and tear, rip and twist. Thankfully, there’s no actual tearing and ripping involved.

The Process Involved in the Twist and Rip Method

After sectioning, twist the hair around. Grab two pieces apart and pull. And as you go, knots form, keep doing this as you work your way up to the tips.

The friction is coarse as the hair pulls past each other causing knots to form. 


  • Low cost and maintenance.
  • Lower chances of hair damage
  • Faster maturing time. 
  • You have control over the thickness or thinness of the dreads.


  • Scalp soreness due to tugging and pulling at the hair roots.
  • Limited movement or the use of a hat might be required as the young dreads can look very messy.

How to Wash Dreadlocks 

There’s this common misconception that dreadlocks can’t be washed or it has to be 

done in a super complicated way. That’s not true at all! Here are easy steps to washing dreadlocks

Step 1: Get in the shower and soak the dreads in completely.

Step 2: Apply shampoo directly on the scalp, it is recommended you use a residue clarifying shampoo.

Step 3: Give your head a good scrub and let the dreads act like a scrubbing brush as you move them around. Note that you don’t need to apply shampoo on the dread themselves.

Step 4: Rinse thoroughly, then squeeze out excess water from the dreads.

How to Dry out Dreadlocks

Step 1: Once squeezed, dry out some more with a microfiber towel.

Microfiber towels soak up a ton of water and are completely lint-free.

Step 2: With the towel wrapped around your dreads you could nod your head up and down shaking out the water left or swinging from side to side. This method also reduces drying time.

Step 3: You can then proceed with blow-drying your hair. Before you do this, apply a heat protectant spray to avoid damaging your hair.

Sectioning and Thickness

The thickness of your dreadlocks would be dependent on the size of your sections. Care should be taken when creating the sections because they are permanent. Special considerations to the forehead for aesthetic reasons and also to avoid creating dreads tugging on any sensitive areas.

Although two people can have their dreads done by the same person, using the same method and section size, they could come out looking very different.

Hair thickness plays a larger role in determining how thick your dreadlocks would be. So you could aspire for a particular look but don’t have the right hair for it.

Another misconception is that if you create tighter dreads you create thicker dreads. Take for example two equal-sized sections and backcomb one very tight and the other not so tight. The tighter one would be shorter and fatter as it’s more compressed while the other would be longer and thinner.

As the dreadlocks grow, the new growth will be the size set of the section. Over time, the thin hair will tighten and shrink on its own.

So, both tighten and not so tightened would have the same thickness because the same section size applies to them.

If you are after more thickness the only way to do that is to congo/ conjoin dreads. 

Congo dread is when two or more dreads grow together by increasing the section. Most times, congo dreads happen on their own and you can separate them by using your hands to carefully split them apart at the thin ends connecting them.


Caring for dreads requires enormous patience and commitment. Before embarking on this journey be sure it is what you want. 

Be prepared for both positive and negative looks, as well as comments about how unkempt your hair appears.

Enjoy the transitioning process and give your dreads the proper care and love it requires. 

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