The needs of your dreadlocks are not complicated. Your locs need to be clean, hydrated, and protected. Contrary to this realization, the market is flooded with products that don’t serve the real needs of your locs. One of the main culprits is shampoo. Depending on the size, length, and texture of your dreadlocks, your shampoo may be doing more harm to your hair than good.
Every time you wash your hair, no matter how good you are at rinsing - your shampoo may be leaving behind some of its chemical components. This is what we call residue, and in time, it will build up on and in your locs, and negative results can occur.
But don’t worry, this is not inevitable. There are ways to avoid build-up and we’ll tell you all about it.
What is residue
There are two main kinds of residue that can be left in your locs. The first is from things that are added to your loc products like conditioners, oils, moisturizers, and extracts. The other kind of residue is the byproduct of how the shampoo works. This kind is unintentional and usually comes from traditional soaps containing animal fats or even vegetable sources, like coconut oil.
Shampoo works by attaching itself to and surrounding dirt and oil, so when the soap is rinsed away, so are the other things. But in the process of cleaning, not all of the product leaves your hair. Some of it remains and is converted into free fatty acids by components in your water. Think, the ring in the tub left after a bath. Now imagine that oily ring on and inside of your dreadlocks. It’s a problem. And every time you ‘clean’ your hair, you add more residue. Now it’s a growing problem.
Signs of residue build-up in locs
It’s not difficult to see why residue build-up is particularly an issue for dreadlocks. Our locs give residue a place to hide. So, how do you know if you have a residue problem?
Here are a few signs:
- You have a grayish/white tinge in your locs. When your locs are wet, the whitish tinge disappears, but when your locs dry, the tinge reappears.
- Your locs feel a little heavier than usual.
- If there is a lot of build-up, you can squeeze your damp loc and feel the slippery/oily products.
If you recognize any of these signs, you probably have residue build-up in your locs. If you don’t have any of these signs, good for you, but you should still be mindful of what shampoo you’re using. Your build-up may not be visible yet.
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Effects of residue build-up
The residue in your tightly packed hair fills up the space inside of your locs. It eventually traps moisture and water inside the locs, cuts off air circulation, and hinders your hair from drying thoroughly. This moist, almost air-tight environment is a breeding ground for mildew, creating a condition called Dread Rot. There is an unfortunate sour smell that accompanies this condition, making it hard to hide.
Dread rot has caused many people with dreadlocks to cut them off, unable to remedy the situation. When locs are severed, you can see the white residue in the center.
Another effect of residue build-up is that it can slow the process of locking. It will keep your hair sufficiently moist that it won’t produce the level of friction that is needed to knot together. The residue acts as a lubricant and can prevent tight locking. Loose locs are not as healthy-looking as tighter, stronger ones.
Aren’t all dreadlock shampoos safe to use?
With the potential adverse effects of residue build-up, it would make sense that you could safely use any dreadlock shampoo. But that isn’t the case. Many shampoos that are marketed to you for your locs are not residue-free. Unfortunately, many of these products claim to be residue-free.
For your own protection, you will need to become familiar with what’s safe for your locs and what ingredients aren’t. One claim of unsafe shampoos is that their ingredients are all-natural. This is an attractive phrase and makes us feel safe to purchase, but many natural ingredients contribute to residue build-up in your locs. It isn’t enough that the ingredients are natural for them to be safe for your locs.
Related: Can You Condition Dreadlocks?
What is a residue-free shampoo?
Residue-free shampoos are those that clean your locs well and then can be thoroughly rinsed away.
Any of the following ingredients will surely build-up in your locs:
- Added fragrance
- Any ingredients that begin with ‘PEG’ or ‘PPG’
Following is a list of PEG and moisturizing ingredients found in shampoos that leave residue:
- Mineral oil
- Milk solids
- Lanolin oil and wax
- Petrolatum (from mineral oil)
- Tallow Polyamine
- Glyceryl Tallowate
- Sorbitan Beeswax
- Silicone/Dimethicone (any ingredient that ends with ‘cone’ or ‘loxane’ are silicones)
- Stearic Acid
- Cetyl/Stearyl alcohol (fatty alcohols)
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list. Other ingredients fall into this category.
Also, be wary of these surfactants that act as cleaning detergents - Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS).
How can I tell if a shampoo is residue-free?
There are ways that you can tell if the shampoo you want to purchase will be good for your locs. How is this shampoo being marketed? Are they claiming that it will moisturize, soften, or make your hair more manageable? These are all words telling you that this shampoo will not be thoroughly rinsed from your locs. Even if it’s a handmade soap, cold-pressed, or a Castile soap, it will leave behind a residue.
Only a few genuinely residue-free shampoos are available, and they tend to cost more than regular shampoos.
You can test to see if your shampoo leaves residue in your locs by smelling for fragrance in your locs. If your locs are full of fragrance, they are probably full of other things too. If you haven’t washed your hair yet with the shampoo, try it on your hands. Do your hands feel soft, smooth, and smell like the shampoo after you dried them? This is probably the result of residue left behind on your hands.
Related: How to Maintain Dreadlocks
How to get rid of residue
To get a fresh start and bring your locs back to a residue-free state, you can use a good clarifying shampoo. They were created for people with chemical sensitivities, so they will cut through the oils and other residues to rid your hair of it all. This will also be good for your scalp and hair follicles. Shampooing with a clarifying shampoo will keep you ahead of any residue and keep your hair and scalp clean and healthy.
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