Many sources recommend rubber bands at the roots and tips of new dreadlocks to help things lock up at the root and to help to prevent knots from migrating out the end of your baby dreads at the tips, and suggest they be worn for at least four weeks. However, there is a right (see image above at left) and wrong way to go about using rubber bands. Bands at the roots should never be tight or restrict the dreadlock as this can cause weak spots. However, bands at the tips can be fairly tight with little risk.
Several different resources we’ve found in our research suggested that rubber bands can damage the hair. It’s true that they CAN damage the hair, but, in my opinion, only if worn too tightly. If worn too tightly (see photo below at right for an example of bands that are too tight around the roots) one risks creating weak spots in the dreads, but also risks breaking hair which weakens the dreadlock over time as well. Rubber bands at the roots should only gently hold the roots in place, but not squeeze or restrict them.
Another claim is that rubber bands can melt into the dreadlocks creating a gooey messy that’s impossible to remove. My research showed that the melting point of rubber if 262 degrees Farenheit and the only chemicals that are capable of melting rubber (acetone and methyl ethyl) are ones that are not exactly found in common dreadlock products. However, the rubber can be heat damaged over time by the repeated use of hair blow dryers. The best thing you can do to prevent this is to air-dry your locks, and/or replace the bands every 4-6 weeks. Another common occurence is the rubber bands getting ‘sucked into’ the dread during the locking process. That is normal and expected, which is probably at least part of the reason it’s only recommended to wear them for 6 weeks.
The third and final claim I’ve heard a lot is that rubber bands restrict movement of the hair inbiting the locking process. This, like the first claim involving bands damaging the hair, is due no doubt in fact to individuals who used rubber bands incorrectly. Sure, if you place the bands so tightly around the roots that they are constricted, no there will be no movement. This is a big part of WHY they should be placed relatively loosely. It’s very true that friction and movement is what causes dreadlocks to knot and lock up. (Which is why pinch rolling is so effective!) So, keep ‘em loose and you’ll still get plenty of knots!
If after reading all of that you still have your reservations about using elastics or you are concerned about rubber bands ‘melting’ or getting ‘sucked in’ to your dreadlocks you have a couple of different options.:
This is the most simple one: don’t use them! Rubber bands on new dreads are entirely optional, although we do use them on rare occasion.
Use silicone bands instead. Silicone sometimes breaks a little more easily having less elasticity as most rubbers, but it has a much higher melting point of 932 degrees Farenheit. Also, if you have an allergy to rubber/latex you would want to use something else anyway.
Replace your bands every 4-6 weeks to prevent them from being ‘sucked in’. This could be a good preventative step regardless of whether you use rubber, silicone, or anything else.
Finally, some sites suggest to instead use something that is less damaging and gross in the event they get sucked in such as string or hemp. This can be a good suggestion if you’re wanting to try it, but they are less likely to stay put than rubber or silicone since they lack the tacky/rubbery surface that helps them stay in place on the roots. (NOTE: String SHOULD be removed after 4-6 weeks just like rubber bands, NOT left in.)