So you've decided that you want to wear a dreadlock hair style. Dreadlocks provide a unique look that can convey so many different, positive messages all at once: style, cultural heritage and/or spiritual awareness.
Dreadlocks have been worn all around the world and throughout time in all hair types so whether you’ve decided to wear dreadlocks because of the three reasons above or for other reasons, you’ve made a choice that requires reliable information to help you get started.
There are several ways to prepare your hair for dreadlocks (called "transitioning")...
Grow hair before locking it: Let any damaging chemicals like colors, hair texturizer or relaxers grow out of your hair or reduce the other harmful things that may be hurting your tresses.
Remember, these are things like too much sun or wind and also includes excessive washing, combing, brushing, heat styling.
Grow hair while wearing extensions or a wig before locking it: If you can’t bear the idea of yourself or the general public seeing your hair color or relaxer grow out, then perhaps wearing extensions or wigs is your solution.
Alternatively, you may want to consider styling your hair in braids until it grows to a length where you feel comfortable cutting off the new growth and starting your locks.
Cut damaged hair before locking it: Most dreadlocking methods require at least three inches (3”) of growth, so you might be waiting as long as five to six months before you're actually ready to lock your hair.
If you’re not used to shorter hair, then this is an opportunity to learn to appreciate your natural (or raw) hair.
Grow hair: You, too, must remove all traces of chemicals in order to ensure that your hair is as healthy as possible before adding pieces such as wigs, extensions or dread falls to your hair.
Whether you’ve decided to transition your hair gradually before getting dreadlocks or start them right away using your natural hair or synthetic hair, making your hair healthy should be your primary concern.
That’s because starting dreadlocks with damaged hair will only result in damaged dreadlocks. And damaged dreads? Well, that will get you into problems like locks breaking easily, hair not matting together, etc.
Is My Hair Damaged?
In the hair industry “hair damage” refers to rough, cracked, chipped or worn cuticles. The cuticle is the layer of the individual hair strand that you can see. Its job is protecting the layers of hair fibre directly underneath it.
So how do cuticles get damaged in the first place? Extreme weather as well as too much washing, combing, brushing, heat styling, and/or chemical treatments (like bleach, dye, perms, relaxers and hair texturizers). Even the wrong pillow case or hair accessories can cause hair damage.
The only way to get rid of the damage is to grow out your hair. Sorry; those products that claim to fix damage will only do so temporarily.
Starting Off On The Right Foot...Hmmm, Strand
So what can you do? Make sure you use a good strong conditioner that contains proteins and humectants that reduce dryness (look for ingredients like glycerin, panthenol and quaternium-22).
Even if you’re not used to using a conditioning product…now’s the time to whip it out!
If your hair is oily, then only condition the hair and keep it away from your scalp as much as possible. No matter which hair type you have treat your hair to a deep-conditioner about once a week.
Oh yeah, and try to stop damaging your hair in the first place. That alone will do wonders for your hair and you’ll see visible results in as little as days!
Anyway you slice it, it's ideal to start your dreads (natural or synthetic) with your natural, raw hair. You know, the hair you had when you were 8-years-old!
How Long Does This Process Take?
This process, called "transitioning" (the period of time when you decide to stop hair damage to the time when you cut off the remaining damaged hair), can take a while. The length of time depends on if you're going to wear natural or synthetic dreadlocks as well as your rate of hair growth.
If natural, the wait will be a bit longer as you'll want to ensure that you have at least three or four inches (3" or 4") of undamaged hair to work with before starting dreadlocks...and this, regardless of the method you'll use to start.
All hair types grow an average of about a quarter to a half inch (0.25" to 0.50") each month. If you're older and/or in poor health, you may find that your rate of hair growth is slower.
If synthetic, you don't need to worry about waiting as long of a time for a heap of healthy hair to grow in..especially if you're going to have professional assistance to put in your extensions, dreadlock wig or dread fall. On the downside, if you're doing the process by yourself for the first time, you'll likely want a lot more hair to work with (about 5" or 6").
Special Concerns For Synthetic Locs
The only thing to be aware of is pre-existing scalp conditions and sensitive scalps. It’s likely that a dreadlock hair style won’t take well if you have a scalp condition, but you may still be able to opt for tie-on dread falls (which don’t touch your scalp).
If you’re not sure if you have a scalp condition and are concerned about finding out before getting synthetic or temporary dreadlocks, then see your dermatologist or if available in your area a trichologist (a scalp specialist).
In the weeks and days leading up to receiving your new extensions, falls, or wig make sure to deep condition your hair, also known as a "treatment".
You can get a professional steam treatment or simply follow your shampoo with an intense conditioner once a week. This will help strengthen the hair and keep it from being too dry.
Just a few days before getting your new hair style, wash your hair but don’t condition it (especially important if you’re getting extensions). Hair product residue in your hair will affect the adhesive that will be likely used in your hair if you’re getting extensions or a wig and won’t hold the style for more than a few weeks.
Whether you’re getting your dread fall, wig or extensions professionally done or doing it yourself, make sure your hair is completely dry before starting in order to get the best results. You may want to blow dry your hair as straight as possible…it makes the hair easier to work with; just be gentle on your hair with the heat.
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