Because it is not recommended to use shampoos with residue that otherwise might “condition” and coat them preventing or stunting the locking process, often over time dreadlocks can become dry and brittle. For this reason many choose to “condition” their locks. However, the methods by which one can or should condition dreadlocks is extremely dependent on their age. Younger, less established dreadlocks required extra precautions to ensure that the locking process is not adversely affected. Likewise, conditioning older, more mature locks is much less restrictive.
Young, unestablished dreadlocks should NOT be conditioned by “traditional” means. (Although if by “traditional” we are referring to commercially sold hair conditioner, that shouldn’t be used on dreadlocks of any age!) A very good general rule for conditioners (or products of any kind) for young dreadlocks especially is that it should be water soluble meaning it will wash out easily. So first we will focus on SAFE conditioners for younger locks and then launch into a discussion about conditioning mature dreadlocks.
Young Dreadlocks —
The options for conditioning younger dreadlocks are relatively slim. The good news is that most individuals who use an all-natural shampoo (like most of those recommended on the Washing page) will find that their own, natural oils (sebum) will sufficiently condition the hair. However, some people have naturally dry hair. (This seems especially so with individuals who have very curly hair in which the sebum may not coat the hair evenly.) It is for those people that the following can be helpful.
1) Aloe Vera – Aloe is an amazing conditioner for hair. It not only moisturizes the hair, but also encourages locking. Rastafarians and Jamaicans have long praised the locking benefits of this plant. It can be mixed with lemon juice to help promote additional locking. Aloe is the base ingredient for a few dreadlock gels/sprays that are available including Knotty Boy Locksteady Gel. This product also utilizes the locking power of citrus, which using its natural acidity will roughen up the hair and help it tangle and lock.
2) Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) – As discussed in previous modules, the hair and scalp have a naturally acidic pH, ideally between 4.5 and 5.5. This wonderful substance works on the hair by causing the cuticle to lay flat to give the hair a smoother feel and appearance. It helps to restore the hair’s natural health. ACV has so many other amazing uses for dreadlocks and should never be far from anyone’s home dreadlock care arsenal. In any situation where there is an imbalance of pH caused either by the products used or a natural imbalance, ACV can be used to restore it.
Angelica – Anti-inflammatory
Burdock – Increases blood flow to the scalp (good for dry dandruff)
Chamomile – Good for soothing an irritated scalp. Also a cleansing herb.
Chickweed – Good for itchy skin and soothes rashes.
Comfrey – Helps the hair and scalp retain moisture.
Fenugreek — A stimulant that increases blood flow to the root of the hair.
Ivy burdock — A deep cleanser that can help block hormones that cause hair problems in the scalp.
Lemon Balm – Astringent
Nettle – Cleansing, clarifying, and an emollient.
Thyme –Deep cleanses the scalp follicle to remove build and debris that keeps hair from growing. Deep cleanses pores on the face of bacteria.
Rose petals – Helps the hair retain moisture.
Rosemary – Soothes the scalp. A great astringent; helps to tone and restore elasticity to the skin and hair
Sage — Deep cleansing and purifying herb for skin care and hair care products.
4) Coconut Milk – The term “coconut milk” is something of a misnomer since it does not refer to the liquid inside of a coconut. It refers to an infusion created from the fresh OR dried flesh of a coconut. Coconut milk is extremely beneficial to the hair. It is nourishing and moisturizing. The easiest way to use coconut milk is to use it like an herbal infusion that is poured over the locks (or that the locks are soaked in) made with pre-made, purchased coconut powder. Locks should be rinsed out after leaving to soak for up to an hour. (Check out the Moisturizing Coconut Milk Soak recipe page to learn how to use this!)
Mature/Established Dreadlocks —
What make a dreadlock mature? That’s a pretty hard thing to define since a lot of it is visual. I can tell you that the generally accepted age of maturity for dreadlocks is anywhere between 18 and 36 months. How they are cared for and maintained can shorten the journey to maturity towards the shorter end of that range. However, for the sake of the discussion sometimes (often) dreadlocks are considered to be established or “locked” prior to maturity. Locked usually refers to the quality of the dreadlocks being solid and established enough to not fall apart with excessive washing or conditioning.
The length of time for dreadlocks to be considered “locked” is relatively variable. However, usually they are locked by six months (some as soon as two and some as long as a year or more if using the wrong products). So, dreadlocks as young as six months, although waiting a year to eighteen months or even more would be more prudent, can be conditioned using the following means in addition to those listed above:
1) Butters. The most common butters used for the purpose of conditioning dreadlocks are cocoa and shea butter. However, butters (solidified oils) are residue. So it is recommended to take steps to prevent the butter from building up as residue over the long term. (Periodic to regular apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinses mixed with witch hazel and citrus essential oils are most recommended for this purpose as they cause the hair cuticle to lay flat allowing water to bind to the product to be rinsed away as butters are hydrophobic. Check out the wax removal version of the baking soda and apple cider vinegar rinse for more information.)
2) Oils. This is covers a WIDE range of conditioning products. There are many dreadlock oils made and marketed towards individuals with kinky/coily hair that contain a slew of ingredients in addition to any oils that are not recommended for dreadlocks of any age.The best oils to use, however, are pure base oils without any additional ingredients added. Many oils are rated by how well they are absorbed by the hair and skin. For younger dreadlocks especially, one would want to stick with relatively “light” oil such as apricot kernel oil, camellia seed oil, grapeseed oil, hemp seed oil, jojoba oil, or rosehip oil. These lighter oils are much more easily and quickly absorbed by the hair and skin and, therefore, much less likely to build up as residue and/or lubricate the hair which can stunt the locking process. The older, more mature dreadlocks can take heavier oils with less detriment sometimes, as they absorb oils well due to how dry they can become (especially at their tips). Heavier oils that some use for this purpose include coconut oil, avocado oil, almond oil, neem oil, evening primrose oil, palm oil, and sunflower oil. These oils, contrarily, are not so easily absorbed and may leave a lingering, oily feeling on the hair and scalp. The application of heat (via a blow dryer) may help the hair better absorb the oils and prevent residue build-up.
Again, oils are residue! So it is recommended to take steps to prevent the butter/oils from building up as residue over the long term. (Periodic to regular apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinses mixed with witch hazel and citrus essential oils are most recommended for this purpose as they cause the hair cuticle to lay flat allowing water to bind to the product to be rinsed away as oils are hydrophobic. Check out the wax removal version of the baking soda and apple cider vinegar rinse for more information.)
It is our opinion that the best bet is to stay away from straight butters or oils entirely and stick to the water soluble stuff indefinitely, but many individuals use butters and oils with great success. If you’re really stuck on oils and butter (or have a hair type that just seriously needs that extra boost of moisture that oils and butters provide) here are a couple of our favorite variations:
Whatever you choose as a moisturizing routine/product for your own locks, just make sure they are being used mindfully with all the indications and counter-indications kept firmly in mind. And always remember that healthy dreadlocks = happy dreadlocks!