As wonderful as dreadlocks are, they can become dry and brittle, if you don’t tend to them. They must be moisturized regularly to keep a healthy shine, experience consistent growth, and have maximum strength.
If you have dreads, you have to think of them slightly differently than you did with your loose hair. What works for one might not work for the other.
As useful as cream shampoos and cream conditioners are for your loose hair, they can spell disaster for your beautiful locs. But how should you condition your hair, if not with regular cream conditioners?
When can you begin using conditioners?
When you are beginning your loc journey, your young dreads can be undone by cream conditioners - literally. The job of commercial conditioners is to soften the hair and make it smooth. The problem with that is soft, and smooth hair doesn’t loc very easily.
You could find your locs loosing up to the point of completely un-dreading themselves. You will hinder your progression by conditioning your hair too early on. You may miss the lovely scent of your favorite hair conditioner, but remember you’re aiming at something - a head full of fabulous dreadlocks.
As your locs mature and are more firmly loc’d, you can get back to softening them, though even for mature locs - cream conditioners are no friend.
As we’ve already stated, cream conditioners are for softening, detangling, and smoothing the hair. They accomplish this by smoothing down the hair cuticle, locking in nutrients and moisture—all good things unless you have locs.
I still remember the first time I used a creamy conditioner on my locs. I got out of the shower, towel-dried my hair, and gasped as I looked in the mirror. My locs were coated in white residue, despite having vigorously rinsed it out. I had to get back in the shower and shampoo my hair all over again. Fortunately, the residue was washed away, but it left me wondering how I could apply the benefits of cream conditioners - without the cream.
Cream conditioners are dangerous to locs because of the way the cream clings to the hair shaft. Their use can cause buildup, which can lead to other issues.
Buildup is the residue of hair products that won’t go away and eventually attracts dust and lint to the loc.
Does this mean we can’t avail ourselves of the benefits of hair conditioners? Of course not. We have other ways to strengthen our hair, give it shine, and to moisturize it.
What Can You Use?
Many commercial brands of conditioners market themselves as exclusively for locs. These are an excellent place to start but don’t hang your hat there. Not all are created equal. Look for the product to say that it won’t leave a residue, or that the ingredients are water-soluble. (Water-soluble means that you’ll be able to wash it out without much effort)
A search for a list of commercial conditioners that were completely safe for dreadlocks was unfruitful. This is not to say that there are none, only that we couldn’t find any. So if you must use a product that contains oils, waxes, butters, or other substances that may leave residue in your dreads, it isn’t the end of the world.
An ACV and baking soda soak or rinse every two or three months, should keep any buildup at bay. There are several good recipes available online. Here is one:
1 cup Baking Soda
½ cup of ACV
Method: Fill a basin with warm water (as warm as you can take it). Add the above ingredients, allowing for the chemical reaction of the ACV and baking soda together. Soak your dreads in the water for 15 - 30 minutes - squeezing them often to get them completely saturated. Rinse.
We have established that your dreads need to be conditioned and moisturized. But if you choose not to use commercial conditioners, what can you do? Here we have found some healthy alternatives:
Aloe Vera is a great natural conditioner. Not only is it an effective moisturizer, but it also aids in the tightening process. It will make a juicy treat for your thirsty locs if mixed with a little lemon juice and essential oils of your choosing.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
As mentioned earlier, ACV is a friend to your locs. Having a similar effect as commercial conditioners, ACV lays the cuticle of your hair flat, producing a smoother appearance and softer feel. However, it doesn’t make your hair slick, so ACV doesn’t hinder the tightening of your dreads.
ACV is a powerful cleanser because of its acetic acid content and its low pH level. ACV balances the pH of your scalp and hair to it’s optimum 4.5 to 5.5 level. This creates a healthy environment for new growth. ACV also has potent anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Do this soak two or three times per year, depending on your lifestyle. If you use a great deal of product in your hair, workout often, or spend a lot of time in dusty environments, you may need to soak your locs more often.
Herbal Tea Rinses
Herbal tea rinses are another impressive way to condition your locs. They will strengthen your hair, promote growth, and give it shine. Some of these recipes will reduce frizzies, and others will brighten or darken the color of your locs.
Hibiscus and Rosemary tea promote hair growth.
Green and Black Tea reduce shedding.
Burdock root, thyme, peppermint, green tea, and nettle restore health to an irritated scalp.
Sage tea reduces oil buildup on the scalp and promotes growth.
Black tea, sage, and rosemary tea will darken your hair color.
Chamomile tea will brighten blonde hair.
Hibiscus and rooibos teas will deepen the color of red hair.
Method 1: Brew your chosen tea in a pot until the water boils. Then steep them for another 15 - 20 minutes. Let them cool, then add any essential oils you would like. Rinse this over your locs repeatedly until every loc is saturated (so I hope you made plenty). Cover with a plastic cap and let sit for 15 - 30 minutes. Then rinse out.
Method 2: Boil water, then let steep with loose leaf tea until cool. With leaves, pour the mixture into a large jar and cover. Refrigerate overnight. When you’re ready to use it, strain out the leaves and pour it into a spray bottle. Spray your scalp, as well as the length of your locs. If your solution is sufficiently diluted, you may be able to use this as a leave-in conditioner.
Your gorgeous locs need moisture, hydration, and strengthening. Commercial conditioners will provide this. Unfortunately, the ingredients they use to accomplish it will also leave residue in and on your locs. If you decide to use these products anyway, an ACV soak will prevent buildup. If you choose to avoid commercial products altogether, we have some efficient (and lovely) alternatives.