dark side of dreads

Yes, I know the title of the post is dramatic, but I would be remiss in not sharing the dark side of dreadlocks for those folks considering starting their own dreads.

Spoiler alert: for each downside of having dreadlocks, we’re going to discuss the bright side too! So maybe I should have named this post, “The Bright Side of Dreadlocks”, but hey, I had to get your attention somehow. 🙂

In this post I’m going to address the so-called dark side of dreads, which most often fall under the unpleasant umbrella of negative stereotypes. Stereotypes can run rampant, especially in the case of dreadlocks. As frustrating as that can be, even more frustrating is that sometimes these stereotypes can be true.

But fear not! After discussing negative stereotypes, we’ll discuss simple solutions to overcome those stereotypes.

There are a million and one reasons for you to get dreads today, and those are simple to outline for newbies, but talking about the bad stuff is often a bit harder for a newbie. 

Sharing the bad too early in a potential new dreader can scare them away or gross them out to what they might be getting themselves into. There is also a sense of responsibility from those who have had those experiences, those darker moments, those silly mistakes you may have made, that will teach and educate the next generation of dreadheads.

Honestly, there are not many bad things about having dreads that those with their natural hair wouldn’t also deal with but there are a few stereotypical occurrences that actually do happen more often than you might like to admit. The good news is that there are steps you can take to overcome these problems.

Dark Side (sometimes): Dreads Are Very Permanent

I would be remiss in not mentioning that dreadlocks are very, very permanent. This can be a positive OR a negative. For those who are on the fence about getting them, it’s important you understand this. They are difficult at best to get out, and impossible for some, so you better make sure they turn out right. The dark side comes in when they don’t turn out the way you want them to, and then you’re either stuck with them, or you can try to undread them (maybe), or you can decide to cut them off if you can’t fix them. This is why it’s so important to know the most effective and efficient way to start your dreads.

Bright Side: If You Love Your Dreads, You Wouldn’t Have Them Any Other Way

On the flip side, if you started dreadlocks and love how they turned out, then their permanence is actually GREAT news. At the store the other day, a lady in the checkout lane complimented my neat dreads, and then asked me if I ever regretted getting them. Apparently she was considering them for herself, but was nervous about how permanent they were. I told her emphatically “No way, I love my dreads!” and then repeated myself just to be clear. When you’re dreads turn out great, they’re like the peanut butter to your jelly. You wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂

Dark Side: Dreads Can Be Hard to Start

Yes, if you take the incorrect approach for your hair type then dreads can be difficult and time consuming to start. True story: when I started my locks over 15 years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing and so I stumbled around looking homeless for a solid two years before my locs matured. It didn’t have to be this difficult, but I chose the incorrect approach (braiding, then haphazard backcoming) for my softer hair type. On top of that, I was initially too stubborn to get advice from someone who knew what they were doing. Many of the horror stories I hear from other people tend to be cause by taking the wrong approach to start them.

Bright Side: With the Correct Method, They Can Be Quite Easy

However, if you start your dreadlocks with the correct method for your type of hair, then you need not deal with all of that drama! As a starting point, I tend to generally recommend the latch hook method as a great way to create permanent dreads with days (you read that right), and it works for a wide variety of hair types and races. As long as you use the correct technique with the correct tools, this method can give you great results.

I hope you’re starting to catch on that the “dark side” of dreadlocks really doesn’t have to be dark at all if you go about them the right way. Let’s move on to another “dark side”:

Dark Side: Dreadlock Stereotypes

Dreadlock Stereotypes

The stereotype of dreads being stinky is almost never true, but it’s actually weighted in some truth and some terrible experiences. There have been instances where people with dreads do not care for them correctly and things start to get weird. And, weird is an understatement.

The truth is that when dreads are not cared for properly, they can start to have build-up on the inside. Maybe it’s old hair, leftover shampoo and conditioner, or the excess wax that you used, it all seems harmless, right? 


All of those things can build up over time and actually cause mold to sneak its way into the inter workings of your hair. Yes, that’s mold. Inside your hair! Talk about stinky. 

Bright Side: Dreadlock Truth

Dreadlock Truth

So now the real truth. Yes, it does happen, but it is also very preventable. In fact, it will happen from product build-up, excess wax or other products, or even lint from your blankets, pillows, or hats. It’s true, all of those things can cause the build up and when a few things get in there without being noticed, they start to multiply.

The real deal is that caring for your dreads is not a joke and while there are tons of reasons why dreads are less maintenance than real hair, the cleaning part is not one of them. Being mindful of the products you use, how much of them you use, and whether those products are accurately cleaned and replaced is all part of the delicate balance.

Take Action!

Dreadlock Action to Take

What happens if any of these “dark sides” covered in the blog post happen to you? You start to notice your dreads smelling a little “off” and you notice some fading in the color or maybe more oils collecting in parts of your hair? It’s time to investigate.

First, figure out what the root of the problem is. For every problem there are always multiple solutions. Are you sleeping with wet hair? Using poor products? Getting stuff caught in your hair without removing it? It doesn’t matter because most people with dreads have had these issues at one time or another but it is important to outline the underlying causes.

Next, move to the solution phase. There are two simple ways to both fix this issue if you are currently having it and prevent it from happening if you haven’t experienced it.

Option #1: switch shampoos. There are a lot of product reviews on this site about stellar clarifying shampoos that would be best in this situation. Using a good quality shampoo is going to be a game changer. Find one that another trusted dreadlock owner uses and try it out. Every person’s hair is different but that shouldn’t stop the shampoo from being highly effective.

Option #2: if the mold is there and the funk is real, consider an apple cider vinegar rinse. One tablespoon of apple cider vinegar matched with about one quart of water will give you the right balance. Pour the concoction into a spray bottle and get to work, then wash it out. In fact, vinegar will not only kill the nasty mold buildup, but it will start the process of balancing the PH of your hair so repair can begin as soon as the gunk is out. Some folks even add baking soda for an added 1-2 punch.

Option #1: Consider updating your maintenance method. This is super important. I understand it’s totally easy to fall into the habit of using the same method to maintain your dreads, but it’s important to consider the most updated, efficient methods out there. For example, has the interlocking method been giving you sub-par results in locking your new growth? Is backcombing leaving your hair fuzzy? Consider trying a different method. My personal recommendation: consider the crochet hook method. When done with the correct technique and with the right tools, it can yield instant results without being time consuming.

Dreads are awesome and everyone should get them, but there is still an educational learning curve. Making yourself aware of the good and the bad are the best ways to really understand if you are ready to take on a new type of responsibility and a totally rad hairstyle.

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