So I wanted to talk about hair because with my birthday coming up ( Big 26 😭), I’m going to be going through a lot of the self-care motions and hair is a big part of that process for me. I just wanted to talk a little bit about my hair journey, my choices and why dredlocs are so much more than just a hairstyle, especially during Black History Month.
I’ve had my dreds since January 2016 and dreding was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I absolutely my love my hair now, but getting to that point was a really long and drawn-out process.
I had been through the stages of relaxing, the big chop, and then protective styles from the age of 12 up until my second year of uni. But as I got to the end of uni, believing myself to be starting a new chapter in life, full of self-fulfilment and being true to myself, I felt that I wanted to have my natural hair out more often as a symbol of that commit me to ME. But the problem was that I couldn’t do my own hair. After years of having my hair done either by my mother or by my hairdresser, I had no idea of how to properly care for, or style my own hair.
I tried a wash and go’s and various other styles and care methods, but I was utterly clueless, and after years of breakage and just having generally really damaged hair, I really wanted to stay away from heat styling. But unfortunately, my 3C curl pattern; straight strands that don’t lie flat but also don’t coil and don’t retain moisture, coupled with my lack of skill, meant that I very quickly got frustrated and resorted to heat styling anyway.
I liked the idea of caring for my hair in the sense that I really enjoyed the process of washing, deep conditioning, treating and moisturising, but I really didn’t enjoy trying to style my it. Because of this, I decided that locking would be the best option for me. It had been an idea that I had been toying with for years because a lot of the women in my family have locs, including my mum. And after some severe pain in my personal life, and being overwhelmed with the feeling of just wanting to curl up in a ball and heal, I decided that right then was the best time for my hair to do the same thing.
For me, locing my hair was a life decision as well as a personal appearance decision. When I began locing my hair, it was all about revival for me. Physically bringing my hair together to be reborn. Before locing, I’d never really thought about my hair as anything more than a beauty aesthetic. But once I decided to dred it, it very much became a marker of my personal, emotional and internal physical wellbeing and all of these traits became bound up with the strands on my head. And if you follow any dredloc’d Instagrammers or read any holistic articles about locs you’ll see the same sentiments echoed over and over again. This isn’t a new concept, pre-colonisation and organised religion, many West African tribes very much understood the hair to be the resting place of the spirit and saw hair as something sacred which told the story of your life and mental state. Even after the onslaught of organised religion, slavery and it’s abolition, people like Madam C.J Walker and Annie Malone understood the connection between hair, happiness, and health, how each one affected the other, and how stress, bad eating habits and a lack of self-care in ones personal life can affect the way the strands sat, and frequently shed, from the scalp.
And locs themselves have their own history that often gets lost in the story of relaxers and miracle hair growers. Though I’ve only learnt the history recently, for anyone who might be thinking about locing, knowing the history behind the hair might be a nice little addition of knowledge to help you make your decision.
Treading the water to dreads:
Locs have traditionally been looked at in two different ways within and without the black community. Within the black community, locs have often been viewed as a hairstyle of revolution and ‘the woke’ people. It is a style synonymous with Rasterfisim and therefore has many connections to the Caribbean and the spiritual ideas of the Rastafari. Dredlocs also indicate commitment. Because of the permanent nature of locs, the required tending to new growth, adding it to the old and creating something which physically displays the work you’ve put, locs symbolise a commitment to the soul, self-improvement, growth, patience and the cultivation of self strength. And because they tend to be long lifelong formations, the decision to lock your hair frequently to coincides with a personal awakening. This may not necessarily be how everyone feels, but it is definitely how I, and many others around me, feel about our hair. Outside of black culture, and for those who have been influenced by a white, colonial understanding of locs, dredlocs have traditionally been seen as dirty and associated with drugs and unemployment.
The root of this misconception is, as always, in slavery.
When Africans were stolen from their continent and taken to the Americas and the Caribbean on ships without access to personal hygiene and hair care, the long journey often meant that their Afro hair did what it naturally does when unattended to for long periods: it matted and tangled together. When the white people assessing their new cargo saw this, they referred to the matted hair as ‘dreadful’. The sight of them became ‘dreaded’ by the white slave owners, who now had the added pressure of not only owning human beings but keeping them looking healthy and clean also, so as not to reflect poorly the availability of their wealth. They then lent this word ‘dreaded’ to the matted Afro hair, and it became ‘dreadlocks’, associated with bondage, degradation, and savagery.
So these conflicting associations caused many in the locs community to create the term ‘dred’, or simply use the word ‘locs’, to disassociate from the negative connotations of ‘dreadlocks’- all of which are untrue and, as usual, are constructs of white supremacy.
It is because of this that white people locing their hair is so problematic. From what I have seen, many white people see locs as merely a style; an aesthetic to match their outfit, ignoring the cultural and historical backdrop of the hair, and the negative connotations that history has given to those who, at one point, had no choice but to adopt ‘dreadlocks’. And this behaviour is what constitutes cultural appropriation. You are taking a hair formation from someone else’s culture and history that they were ridiculed for, and are still ridiculed for when trying to reclaim it and trying to adopt it as your own, without paying any homage to that culture or history. You ignore the potential suffering that those who had no choice but to adopt the formation have undergone to be proud of that culture. And you are happily ignoring all of this to maintain your ‘alternative’ aesthetic.
We dred ourselves to reclaim our hair. You dreaded ours to degrade us. And a part of that degradation is helped by the spreading of myths around loc’d hair- and there are loads of them. But, as locks have been on the rise there has been a lot of myth-busting going on online and in books in recent years.
Busting Loc’d Myths
Loctitian’s and salon owners will already know that these are misunderstandings. However, many people, especially those just starting out, don’t have that knowledge, and I still get a lot of questions about how locs work. So let’s talk about a few of those myths now :
- Locks are dirty:
Dredlocs are NOT dirty. If someone has dirty locs, it has everything to do with their own personal hygiene standards and nothing to do with their hair type. Locs are just hair. They are not intrinsically unhygienic, they are not beehive protective styles. They are simply hair, and all hair is clean until the owner decides otherwise.
2. We don’t wash locs:
Please wash your locs as often as you would your natural hair. If you would have washed your hair every two weeks before locing, then continue to do so after locing. The only thing to remember is if you have starter locks, do continue to wash as often as normal, but don’t wash it too rigorously as you don’t want to untwist you’re new locs. If your locs are mature, however, go ahead and wash them as rigorously as you need to. But please wash them. We don’t need to be perpetuating a harmful stereotype needlessly.
3. You don’t need to do anything to them:
It is true that the less you manipulate your locs, the better off they will be, but this applies only to physical manipulation and the use of certain types of products. It does not mean that you do nothing to them at all.
As well as washing them regularly you do also have to moisturise continuously. It usually is not advised to use cream moisturisers because these can cause too much build-up and as locs can’t be unravelled, it does mean that too much build-up can cause unhealthy and even damaged hair. But you still need to moisturise and twist if your that way inclined to seal the roots. And one thing to remember with locs is to never underestimate the value that a spritz of water and oil can do for you.
And cream leaving conditioners can still be used on the new growth at the roots. The scalp also still needs to be greased regularly, and it is essential to note that choosing the right products for your hair is so important.
I use a variety of different products to keep my 3C hair clean and moisturised. And I am pleased with the selection of products that I currently have. But this selection has been formulated mostly by trial and error. So even though I am giving advice, I don’t expect your hair to react the same as mine to these products. If you do try them, I don’t expect that your locs will take to every product in this article, some will work, some won’t, and if not, then at least it will be a launchpad for looking at other products that will.
Hair regime and Products
- Shampoo and Co-Wash
So my favourite Shampoo at the moment is the Mielle Rosemary Mint Strengthening Shampoo. Even though I haven’t been using it for long, I really love it because it gives me that really clean feeling. I used to use the Shea Moisture Jamaican Castor Oil Shampoo but found it didn’t give my scalp that cool, fresh feeling that the Mielle one does, and it was always hard to wash out. Mielle is black-owned and is specifically for natural hair, and because of that, I adore it. I wash my hair every two weeks, and if I feel like my hair is not that dirty, I may use the Aunt Jackie’s Coconut Milk Conditioning Cleanser after the first 2 weeks and then shampoo at the end of the month. I find that Aunt Jackie’s co-wash leaves my hair feeling really soft, but if I want that really squeaky clean feeling, then I have to reach for my Mielle Rosemary and Mint Shampoo.
2. Deep Conditioning
Before washing at the end of the month, I usually deep condition of my hair overnight before washing it, I only do this every four weeks. I typically spritz my roots with rice water and then apply my Shea Moisture, Jamaican Castor Oil Strengthen and Restore Treatment Masque, or, more recently my Aunt Jackie’s Deep Conditioning Coco repair, Coconut Crème Deep Conditioner.
Both of them are very good I’ve been using the share one for longer so I no its benefits more but after a short period of time Aunt Jackie’s has really converted me by how soft and nourished it makes my roots feel. And again it’s black-owned.
The next day after spending a night with my hair Being deep conditioned, I usually, again only at the end of the month, give my hair and oil treatment. Like I said before my 3C hair does have a tendency to get very dry and brittle, so keeping moisture is a must. What I usually do is spritz the shafts of my locs with water and then drenched all of my hair with Taliah Waajid’s Phenomonoil-14, Intense Oil Treatment which gives my hair a really lovely softness after the treatment and makes my locs feel really conditioned and sealed.
3. Scalp Oil
After shampooing naturally, I have to grease my scalp, and then I grease it once a week. You can use any oil you need for this depending on what you have grown up with and what your hair needs. Personally, I have always used Jamaican Castor oil as a base oil to which I add Rosemary oil for growth and Tea tree oil to keep my scalp clean.
I moisturise my hair twice a week. Many moisturise their everyday-I’m not into that, I feel like it weighs my hair down too much. But when I do moisturise, I use rose water as a base mixed with the Taliah Waajid Shea Leave-in Daily Conditioner to moisturise my hair and then I use Hemp and Avocado oil to grease. I used to use Coconut oil and Almond oil, but I found that my hair wasn’t holding it, so I went for more fatty heavier oils.
5. Seal and Twist
And then to twist my hair, I use Taliah Waajid ‘Tight hold’ twisting gel. I have used other twisting gels which were awful, and eventually, I settled on the Cantu twisting gel for a long time but found it didn’t hold for very long and left a white residue in my hair. And it’s not black-owned. The Taliah Waajid ‘Lock it up’ range is the best. They have different ones for varying loc maturities, and their formulation has no alcohol, so it doesn’t dry out your hair. And even though it’s ‘tight hold’, it washes out easily when needed and causes no build-up. If you have 4A-C hair then you don’t need such a stronghold, so you can use the other twisting gels in the Taliah Waajid range, but if your hair is like mine, then you will need the stronger gels, or more frequent twisting in order for your hair to keep the twist – which isn’t suitable for finer hair textures– so I just use a stronger gel for newer locs, and I only twist once a month – no one is tryna lose their edges.
And then to seal I lock it up with Taliah Waajid Healing Oyl. My hairdresser used it on me the first time I went to the salon to fix my hair months of ill-treatment, and I just loved the smell of it, and how nourished it made my hair feel for such a long period of time
It’s essential to find a good loctician. Anyone can twist, but not everyone knows how to do your hair types nor how to treat your hair when it goes wrong. I go to all the way to East London to do my hair, Purely natural, because after doing research their belief in natural hair and experience convinced me, and proved to me that my hair would be in safe hands. I also learnt a lot about my hair needs by going there, and I’ve been able to look after it better. All of the products I have mentioned are black-owned as well, I’ve made sure of that, so take a look at the brands to see if anything might work for our hair. And do your research. No two heads of locs are the same. Do your research, watch Youtube videos and follow loc’d Instagrammers like @KeishaCharmaine, @_alyssiadawn and @Beckywiththelocdhair, to see what their doing to their hair and if you can tailor their tips to fit yours. Experiment and listen to what your hair and your health is telling you and remember what our ancestors have always taught us: that the power really is in your hair.