Dirty Little Secrets About Dreadlocks: What No One Will Tell You

Dreadlocks. Oh, do I love them. Long, thin, rope-like strands of hair cascading from the head. Maybe it’s my rebellious side showing, but they are everything “controlled chaos” to me. Organized yet messy. Smooth yet textured. Tamed but wild. And the style possibilities are endless – lose and free, braids, wraps, updo’s, you name it.

Dreadlocks have been an obsession of mine for nearly two decades. Which begs the question: if I’ve been so obsessed, why have I had dreads for only two years?

Oh, I’ll delve into that. Along with several other dirty little secrets about dreads — things you need to know if you are considering the hairstyle, just got your dreads, or are simply curious.

But first, like any good blog post, some backstory

Granted, there isn’t much backstory here. I’ve always ogled other people’s well-kept dreads. It was during my teen years I realized I wanted them. I remember the scene perfectly:

I was grooming for my trainer at a show in central Colorado. We were between classes so I was taking a small break, sitting on a patch of green grass in the early-summer shade. Across the way was the practice ring. Several riders were warming up their horses, but that wasn’t what caught my eye. There was a woman next to the ring, dressed in jeans and a black hoodie. She spoke to a rider, then turned around and marched off. And I was in awe.

She had red, down-passed-the-butt dreadlocks.

I was enamored.

And I’ve been hooked since. Even though I wanted dreadlocks myself, I had a big problem: I didn’t personally know anyone who had the kind of dreads I wanted. And I had so many questions. Since I’m a natural researcher, I couldn’t commit to a semi-permanent hairstyle until my questions were answered.

It took a while, but I finally met someone who answered my questions. And now I’m here to fill in the gaps for you.


So let’s address some things about dreadlocks you won’t find answers to

Do you have to shave your head when you want to get rid of them?

Oooh, this question is very important to me. The answer is the single-most reason why I didn’t dread my hair for years.

If you ask almost anyone, they will tell you “yes.” Think about the nature of dreadlocks: ropes of knotted hair. Seriously, the term “rat’s nest” describes each dreadlock perfectly before they reach maturity. And if you’re doing the hairstyle right, the knots only tighten with time.

But do you have to shave your head to get rid of them?

The answer is a resounding no.

Instead of shaving your head, you can comb those bad boys out. Don’t get me wrong, it will take time. Lots and lots of time. How do I know? Because on occasion, I still comb out a dreadlock or two. Why? Because as they mature (I’ll talk about maturity in a minute) sometimes they don’t smooth out into a graceful rope. So personally — and this is just how I handle it — I comb it out and start again.

Dreadlocks are expensive

That depends on how you do them.

But if you are paying a dreadlocks artist or loctician, yes, dreadlocks can be very expensive to put and keep up. But if you learn how to do them yourself (which I highly recommend), no, dreads are not expensive.

Personally, I have spent $0 on my dreads by enlisting a trusted friend and learning how to do them myself.

No matter what you do, those dreadlocks are dirty

Over the years I’ve thought this one myself. Everyone has seen that picture of neglect dreadlocks. So depending on your style, sure dreads can be very dirty.

Or they can be very clean. 

The general recommendation is to wash your dreads every 1-2 weeks with a residue-free shampoo. Now, washing your hair once weekly actually isn’t unhygienic. Your scalp produces oil at the rate you strip it from your hair — it’s your body’s natural reaction to keep your hair healthy. So the more frequently you wash your hair, the more oily it will be.

In the case of dreads, water actually has a tendency to loosen the knots in your hair (let alone scrubbing, oy). So when you’re trying to keep your locks tidy, less water is ideal. 

And if you’re doing it right, you’re using a residue-free shampoo and occasionally doing deep cleanses to keep your dreads spiffy. 


Let’s talk about the time involved

I won’t lie: dreadlocks are time-consuming. 

When I dreaded my hair, it was long. Down-passed-my-hips long. It took both me and a friend working on my hair for about 19 hours to get those ropes formed. And that’s when I stopped counting the hours. 

For the first couple of months, dreadlocks take a lot of upkeep. If you have stick-straight, smooth hair like me, it doesn’t want to stay dreaded. You’ll spend a lot of time knotting those strays and tucking them back in. (I didn’t use beeswax or any kind of additives to help keep the knots in, because I wanted uber clean dreads.)

But really, the amount of time you spend depends on how meticulous you are. After the first few months, dreads tend to form themselves and require less work. 

And we can’t forget the daily upkeep! Which is…none. On a daily basis, I pay no attention to my hair. Sometimes it gets put up (which takes seconds), sometimes it’s down, and sometimes it doesn’t leave the braid I slept in (momlife, ya’ll)

Oh, and BTW, maturity is a joke…

…sort of.

If you’ve done any research, you’ve seen articles about the glorious period when your dreads finally “mature.” It’s a magical time when they require less work and essentially form themselves.


I won’t lie: as my dreads have mature, the length of them has required less work. But there is an area where I am committed to constant upkeep:

The roots.

The average person’s hair grows about half an inch every month. That’s half an inch you need to palm-roll or crochet to maintain your hair’s appearance. That’s half an inch every month that is a brand-new, baby dread. And that’s not even taking into account the knots you lose in washing. 

But don’t lose heart. Half an inch is a lot less than four, six, or eighteen inches. Yes, your dreads are constantly in a state of brand-new-roots, but if you’re willing to put in the work, they are completely worth it.

Another thing you need to know about dreadlock upkeep

Working on those roots I just mentioned? Don’t be surprised if your head hurts the day after you tighten those locks.

I’m putting that nicely. In my case, I get what feels like a massive tension headache for two days after tightening my roots. It’s not because I’m being rough on my scalp, but because that much concentrated handling – especially since your scalp isn’t used to the stimulation of brushing anymore – leaves it feeling a little sore after.

You can placate this a little by not over-tightening your roots. Leaving them a little loose does the world for comfort – and protects your roots from being accidentally pulled out.


And let’s not forget about exposure.

Yup, exposure. This is one I did not find ANY info on when I was looking into doing my dreads. Let me put it simply:

Your scalp is going to get an unreal amount of exposure. Sunlight, wind, dry-winter-air, you name it. And if you live in the right climate, bugs. That’s right, mosquitoes and black flies will be particularly attracted to your naked head-skin.

So I recommend being prepared. Whether that means using a hat or scarf or plenty of sunscreen or insect repellent, just be prepared. 

Your head will instantly be a colossal toy.

Dude, no joke. The instant my dreadlocks were in, my eighteen-month-old decided they were the coolest toy in the world. Hours have been spent tickling noses, ears, and necks with the paintbrush ends of my dreads. 

And if you have pets, beware. My head became one huge cat toy. Something about the long ropes screamed “pounce on me” to my cats. It’s been nearly two years and just the other day one of my cats still decided to pounce on my hair as it hung over the edge of the couch. Oy.

I could go on and on about the reality of having dreadlocks

These are just some of the answers to the question of “should I dread my hair?” that only experience could teach me. And if I could tell you, would I do it again?


Where my dread-heads be? Shout-out in the comments if you’ve had similar experiences (or completely different!)

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