for those of you who follow me on facebook (or in real life), you know i've spent the last few weeks dreading my hair. i had dreads once before, from october 2007 - late april 2009, but i never finished the very front. this time i'm dreaded 100%, and i love it! i've chosen dreadlocks because they're a hair style that won't look greasy after only a few days, will keep flyaway hairs out of my eyes, will help me look like an awesome wild woman, and in general will require less materials, time, and energy to clean and maintain.

for anyone who's interested, i've written out my understanding of dreading hair so far, based on having back combed dreads in the past and using back comb and twist and rip methods to dread my hair again in the past few weeks.

last time i dreaded my hair i left the very front un-dreaded. 80% or more of my hair was dreaded in this photo. when in a ponytail, you almost couldn't tell i had dreads. fooled my grandma every time.

before you start
think about your hair type and choose a method. depending on your job/situation you may want to do all your dreads in one sitting, in which case it helps to have a couple friends over to watch movies for a while so you have extra hands to help. time-wise, i have heard of folks who have dreaded their hair in one afternoon/evening With friends. i've also heard reports of people doing it by themselves in a total of 13 or so hours spread out over a week or so. i did mine over the course of two weeks, spending anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours on them whenever i had the energy for it. the last time i had dreads, i was much more casual about it, adding a dread here or there every few weeks.

it's good to section your hair off to make the dreads easier to start. they don't have to be exact squares, but the easier it is for hair from one section to accidentally cross over into another, the more of a pain in the ass your dreads will be later. you can use little rubber bands to section them off, or you can braid each little section to keep it out of the way while you dread everything up.

it doesn't matter whether your hair is wet or dry ultimately, while dreading. if you have a preference, go for it.

dreads often look pretty crazy when they're first created, especially if you back comb. they calm down, though.

salon dreading - involves creepy chemicals and a 'dread perm' and costs money. screw that!

crocheting - can be used to tuck in loose strands of hair later, or can be used to completely dread hair. this can be pretty damaging, and i've never done it before. supposedly it's a pain because when you push the crochet hook Into a dread to tuck hairs in, it'll just loosen other ones that you'll have to deal with later.

twisting - folks with kinky/african-american hair can just twist and twist and twist a lock of hair and then use little clamps for 1-8 hours to get it to hold tight. since i'm white, i have no experience with this, but have talked to a friend who dreaded his hair that way. looks nice.

back combing - this is how i dreaded my hair last time, and partially this time. it's really easy, but does cause some damage to your hair. you use a fine toothed comb and, while slowly twisting a lock of hair, comb backwards starting at the base until you meet resistance from the hair knotting up. then you just work your way up the dread until there's an inch or two left. you can look up details and videos online. back combing creates dreads that are pretty fuzzy at first, and you can palm roll them to calm 'em down. they also calm down on their own later. in my experience you don't have to be rough when back combing, so it doesn't hurt and seems to work fine even with silky/straight hair.

twist and rip dreads look like fuzzy braids for a while. 

twist and rip - i did half my head using this method this time around. i think it's the least damaging way to dread hair. you hold a lock, split it in half, and separate the halves, pulling down to the base of the hairs. then lay one half over the other and take two different halves (this is the 'twist' - you twist the lock so that when you halve it, you get different hairs in each half than you had the first time) and pull apart again. this knots your hair on itself over and over again, creating a tight dread that will look braided for a while. this works great for small dreads, and presumably for larger ones, too. back combing can be tricky on tiny dreads. there are also details and videos of this method online (videos are really helpful for this one, since it's odd to explain in words)

neglect/natural - i've never done this, because my hair Does Not knot up on its own. the idea, though, is that IF your hair knots up pretty well by itself, you can just Not wash it for a while and let it get knotty. eventually little dreads will start to form around your head, and you can gently separate, palm roll, and encourage them to dread how you want them to (bigger dreads, smaller dreads, etc). this can take months and months and months depending on your hair type. definitely look up more information online if you want to dread your hair this way.

when you have dreads with tapered ends, it can look pretty normal in ponytails.

general tips
loose roots - your dreads are going to be loose at the roots. it's okay. don't freak out. depending on your hair type, it could be loose for as much as two inches. as long as the dread is tight/knotted up beyond the root, it's fine. the roots need to be loose so the hair has room to move and keep locking up as it grows out. some people will tell you to split the base of your dread and loop the dread through it to tighten it up. this makes it harder for your hair to knot on its own and causes painful pulling on your scalp, so don't bother.

loose ends - you can look up inforomation on how to make 'blunt' ended dreads online. i've always left my ends loose, or 'tapered'. either way is fine. the only logistical difference is that tapered ends drain water better, whereas blunt ends will have a harder time getting really dry. if you have silky hair, your tapered ends may come undone and be longer than when you first dreaded your hair up. you can keep re-knotting them if you want, but as long as at least a good inch or so of the dread stays firmly knotted, you're going to be fine.

washing - keep your dreads clean. you might want to wait a week or so after you first start them to wash your hair, and if they seem fragile you can soak your hair in soapy/shampoo water rather than really rubbing your hair around much. use a very gentle soap/shampoo that won't leave a residue, like diluted dr. bronner's. or even wash with baking soda mixed in water and rinse with vinegar (proportions and details can be found online), that's what i've been doing for over a year and it's been great for my hair. the most important thing to remember whenever you choose to wash your dreads is that they Have to dry Thoroughly. otherwise they can mold, and that's just gross. so if you're washing, make sure you've got time to leave them loose and hand dry them a lot or be out in the sun where they can dry on their own.

changing dreads - don't freak out if you get 'loops' in your dreads sometimes or if they get curvy or develop 'personality'. this is normal, since your hair will be constantly growing, moving, and knotting up more. it's likely the loops will go away on their own.

my dreads were a year and a half old in this picture, so most of what you see grew out and locked on its own, with basically no effort on my part. this also shows another example of how a bit of normal hair at the very front can conceal a ton of dreads... most of my head was dreaded.

the deal
so, the deal is this: you're not actually creating dreads. you're knotting your hair up so that, as new hair grows out, it automatically tangles and eventually dreads up on its own. this is called both 'dreading' and 'locking'. it may take as long as a year (if your hair is Really silky) for your hair to Really lock on its own. over time you'll notice your dreads firming up and 'locking' up tighter of their own accord. that's when you really have dreads. that's also why you'll hear some folks say that there is no way to get 'instant dreads'.

these dreads are 4 months old. they aren't as fuzzy as before. i was still using rubber bands to keep the ends knotted.

palm rolling - you can keep dreads looking more smooth and 'clean' vs. messy by palm rolling. take a dread between your palms and roll your hands back and forth over the dread for twenty seconds or more. this doesn't really do anything permanent, but if your dreads are really fuzzy it'll calm them down and make you look more presentable.

rubber bands - you can fasten those tiny rubber bands at the end of each dread to keep the ends from coming undone at the beginning. i suggest replacing them with fresh rubber bands before they rot, cause that's gross. i used them last time i dreaded my hair, and they definitely did the job. i'm not using them this time, and my tapered ends have gotten longer (in other words, the ends of my dreads have come undone), but i'm fine with it as long as there's still a tight section along the dread closer to the base. if you want your dreads to stay knotted down to the end, rubber bands definitely help.

aloe vera - you can use straight aloe vera (from the plant, or from a bottle if it's 100% aloe vera) to smooth your dreads and make them look more presentable/chill. it's good for you.

dread wax - dread wax is mostly just a way to get you to spend money on products you don't really need. depending on the recipe, dread wax can leave residue in your hair that will get gross later and in general not be a good thing. if you really, really feel like it's necessary, try to use simpler, more basic ingredients like a bit of shea butter or just aloe vera. there's no need to buy fancy overpriced dread wax.

crocheting - see mention above in 'methods'

separating - over time, all hair dreads if left alone. this also means that hair, once dreaded, will keep seeking out further knottiness - it gets all tangled up and just keeps twisting around knotting onto other things. your dreads will become friends. two dreads may turn into one dread. if you never maintained them, eventually you could have one massive ugly dread, often referred to as a 'beaver tail'. especially at the base of your dreads, the loose and new hairs will tangle together regardless of your nice, neat sections. as your dreads mature, pay attention to what they're doing and how they seem to be growing. maybe once a week, maybe once a month (just pay attention to your own hair and you'll figure out what's ideal) you should go through and pull your dreads apart at the base so that they all stay separate. this is the Only actual, necessary maintenance for your dreads. everything else is optional. it only takes a few minutes at a time. it can hurt a bit, especially if you have someone else do it for you, kind of like taking off a band aid.

my dreads are all done. the tapered ends make it look pretty normal. you can see that the 'twist and rip' dreads up front look more braided, and the back combed ones in the back look a bit fuzzier.
there ya go
in general, dreads are a great, low maintenance hair style. the best thing to remember is just to use common sense - pay attention to your hair, your hair type, and what your dreads are doing. if they're getting gross, clean them. if they're growing together, maintain them and keep 'em separate. overall you'll spend way less time maintaining your dreadlocks than you would normal hair (unless you're anal, in which case you can spend all the time you want on your dreads, but it's not necessary), and they'll still look great. hooray for dreads!

11/19/11 - for more up to date dread opinions from me and updates on my own dreads, see the new 'dreadlocks' post.


Ariel said…
Thanks for the info!