Dreadlocks vs Cornrows: What’s the difference? 

Dreadlocks vs Cornrows: What’s the difference? 

What is the difference between dreadlocks and cornrows? This is an interesting question, as these are each excellent hairstyle options. There are a few similarities, but they are also very different.  

There are differences in history, appearance, maintenance, and permanence. The skill level to produce the styles are also quite different. We’ll explore here, what makes them different and how they are alike.

What are Cornrows? 

Cornrows, also called canerows (in Jamaica), are a style of braiding the hair. The braid is created by underhanded, upward motions that form a continuous, raised row close to the scalp.    

Cornrows can be a simple style, with long straight lines - as the name implies. Or they can be made elaborate and intricate, with geometric designs. Both ways are gorgeous!  

Cornrows are unisex and have a rich history. They date back to 3000 BC in Africa. The intricacy of your braiding, told others to what tribe you belonged, your age, marital status, wealth, and even religious beliefs.  

Today, they are more a form of self-expression, than any of these. Throughout the centuries, women have used cornrows to display their uniqueness - adding flowers, shells, beads, and jewelry to create distinction. 

Woman with cornrows and beads

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Such a versatile hairstyle has many benefits and a few downfalls: 

  • Many use cornrows to protect the hair. Once in cornrows, the hair requires no more manipulation and is allowed to grow. 
  • It is a very versatile and attractive style.
  • It is appropriate for all ages.
  • Both men and women can look attractive in cornrows.
  • They are Trendy.
  • They can last in the hair for up to 8 weeks. 

One of the downfalls is that to make the design distinct and visible, the hair may be pulled quite tight. Consistent tension on our roots is never a good thing. And hair may experience some damage and breakage in the take-down process - especially if they have been in for a long time. 

Related: History of Dreadlocks

What are Dreadlocks?

Young man with dreadlocks

Dreadlocks are otherwise known as dreads, locks, or locs. They are sections of hair that have been matted or knotted together through backcombing, interlocking, crocheting, or even naturally. 

Dreadlocks have become trendy, gaining in popularity with celebrities adopting faux versions of the natural style. This has improved the social perception of dreads, and people are more open to their beauty. The once held myths about locs being smelly, dirty, or otherwise undesirable, have been shown inaccurate.   

Like the cornrows, dreadlocks have a colorful and interesting history. The furthest back that we can find locs is about 2,500 BC, and have close connections to religion. It is even thought that in the Old Testament, Samson had dreadlocks. People of some faiths thought that to be truly holy, one should resist vanity in all its forms. This included not combing the hair. Rastafarians believed that the knotting of the hair prevents energy from being lost through the body. 

There is evidence that in many cultures, not just African, dreadlocks have been honored and respected for centuries. Many people today share this belief.

There are many benefits and a few downfalls to having dreadlocks:

  • There are many style options for the loc wearer.
  • They are suitable for all ages - men, women, and children.
  • Once established, locs are low maintenance.
  • They make a fashion statement.
  • No more bad hair days, or extensive hair prep before you leave the house. 
  • Locs can last your entire lifetime. 

Of course, there are downfalls as well. For all of the new openness, there remain some of the stigmas attached to wearing dreadlocks. Some people will still view you and your hair negatively. Maintenance, especially at the beginning, can be pricey and time-consuming. 

The Differences

Style Creation and Duration

Cornrows can be created in 2 - 4 hours. That’s it - a single session, and you’re all done. These will last for weeks before requiring any form of maintenance. To extend the duration of a style, you should wear a sleep cap on the hair at night to ensure that it doesn’t get messy. 

For an initial session to section and knot the hair for dreadlocks, set aside 4 - 8 hours.  This time is determined by what method you’re using to start your locs - it could take significantly longer. And this is only the initial session. In the early stages, dreadlock formation isn’t established, so lots of time and attention are needed. Depending on the length and thickness of your hair, and the method you have chosen to start your dreads, you may have to be seen every 4 - 6 weeks.  

Style Permanence

Cornrows are temporary. They are a braided hairstyle and can be un-braided whenever the wearer is tired of them. 

Dreadlocks are semi-permanent. They can be permanent if the wearer wishes, but we say semi-permanent because there are times when wearers opt to ‘un-loc’ their hair. It’s not an easy process and likely to cause some damage to your hair, but it is possible to remove your dreadlocks.  

Differences in Maintenance

Both require washing and cleaning to maintain a fresh look. With cornrows, it can be challenging to wash the hair and prevent it from becoming loose or frizzing. One method of maintenance is to use cotton balls with Witch Hazel and wipe along the parts (exposed scalp in between the cornrows). This will keep the scalp clean until the cornrows are taken out, and they can shampoo again.  

For dreadlocks, extra care is needed when locs are first forming. Some shampoos and definitely conditioners can cause the hair to unravel. So most practitioners advise new loc wearers to avoid washing the hair in the early stages. They can make use of the cotton ball and witch hazel method, or whatever their loctician recommends. 

Once locs have been established, cleaning is effortless and straightforward. There is now no danger of locs unraveling, so wearers should keep their hair as clean and nourished as possible. Their locs will look fresher and more attractive. 

Hopefully, this has helped you to see the differences and similarities of cornrows and dreadlocks. They both have fascinating and long histories, with deep connections to religion and social standing. Today they’re each beautiful expressions of our uniqueness. Their maintenance and duration are very different but are each well worth the time invested. Which will you choose?  

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