To Dread Or Not To Dread: The Basics of Dreadlocks - Rumors Vs Truth - The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Recently, I went out with some friends and met new people. We had a great conversation and talked about many controversial topics from religion, violence and abuse, to interracial dating. One thing that we talked about though that created a lot of tension was about dreadlocks. I did not realize that someone in our group was from the West Indies/African, and being the opinionated person that I am, I made a comment that dreads are not hygienic and clean. This person got offended and insisted that it was not true; that you can wash and clean dreadlocks, so I decided to research dreads more and debunk the rumors and lies from the truth. 

I was taught against dreads, so it is possible that some of what I was told is due to the tension between Africans and Blacks, but it is also possible that dreads are treated differently today, than they were in my grandmother's or great grandmother's time. So, I am going to talk about washing them, lice, rot, and balding/alopecia; the good, the bad, and the ugly about dreadlocks.

Are They Clean? Can You Wash Them?

The woman I met was right, you can wash them these days, but there are still some problems that are a health concern. Overall though, when people wash their dreads, they soak them in a bath bomb that is made for dreads, or they wash it like everyone else washes their hair with a shampoo or cleanser made specifically for dreads, or which will leave no buildup behind. 

The problem comes with the buildup and the drying process. In previous generations, I can see how dreads got a bad reputation because I could salon's telling people to infrequently wash their dreads since you need to avoid buildup in them, and any shampoo, conditioner, or hair product will almost always create some buildup. However, there are so many products available today that did not exist years ago, so cleansers specifically for dreadlocks, or products that do not leave buildup behind, likely did not exist in previous generations, or they were hard to come across. 

Regardless, there is still an issue with how infrequently people choose to wash their dreads. Some sites recommend keeping them clean and washing them weekly, but many people will not wash them weekly; they may choose to wash them every two weeks, once a month, every couple of months, or even once a year. My grandmother met people with dreads in the past who said they washed their dreads only yearly or every six months, so this is where hygiene becomes a problem and dreads gain a bad reputation. 

The reason people do not want to wash their dreads often is because it is inconvenient and time-consuming. The longer you have dreads, the longer they take to dry, and the drying process gets long when the dreads are not new, so I can understand how some people may skimp with this. So in the end, it is based on a person-to-person basis, whether or not their dreads are clean.


If the person chooses not to wash their hair at least once a week, dreads or otherwise, their hair and scalp can become a breeding ground for lice, mites, and other parasites. These bugs can easily be passed around to those around them because they are passed by having your head next to theirs, and the eggs can be on the person's clothes, bag, and other items in their possession. 


One big issue that people have with dreads in the hygiene department is the fact that it is dead hair and it can rot. Our natural hair may not be a living thing and alive, but it does not often rot when you just let it air dry, which is what happens to dreads if they stay wet or you let them air dry. Natural hair can grow mold or mildew, which is what dread rot is, but it is far easier for dreads to do this than natural hair. 

Natural hair dries much more easily on its own, but dreads can not, so if you do not take the time to maintain them well, rot can come quickly. This aspect of dreads can make them a health hazard, but if they are properly taken care of, rot can be avoided. We live in a time though where everyone is in a hurry and time seems short, so I can see how people could neglect their dreads when things get really busy, and cause rot.


Hygiene aside, one of the reasons I don't recommend dreads, especially for women, is because they can cause traction alopecia. It is not just a dreads problem though; any tight hairstyles can cause this. Places that sell dreads will sometimes tell you this is not true, but they are lying to you. If you really think about it, it makes sense. The dreads should not be loose; they need to be tight to look the way they are suppose to and for them to stay in place, so when you wear a tight hairstyle like this, it pulls on the hair at the root, and puts tension and friction on the hair and scalp, which will make the hair come out and cause hair loss and balding in patches and/or all near the front of the hairline.

"There can be a downside to these classic braids, and if you’re not careful with how much pressure you’re putting on your scalp, you can end up with hair loss as well as bald patches...Traction alopecia is a form of hair loss that’s caused by force being applied to the roots of the hair. The hair weakens over time and can either snap off or be pulled out and usually affects the hair around the temples or behind the ears, however, dreadlocks can damage the crown and sides of the head as well. At its worst, traction alopecia can cause scarring and permanent damage to the hair follicles, resulting in bald patches where the hair never grows extreme cases this could lead to a visit to a hair transplant clinic!" Source: "Men's Health Can Dreadlocks Cause Hair Loss?" by The Idle Man:

Final Thoughts: The fact that dreads can rot much more easily than natural hair, and that they can cause balding and hair loss/alopecia, makes the health concerns surrounding them very valid. I do have a very different opinion about them now though, and I am more comfortable with them, but I have not changed my views on them when it comes to working around food and drinks. I still do not think that anyone wearing dreads should work without a hairnet in these settings because you do not know how often they are washing them, and they are just too big, bulky, and long. Anyone, dreads or otherwise, should wear a hairnet when working around food and drinks if they have excessively long, big hair that takes up a lot of space for hygiene purposes and to prevent contamination of food and drinks. 

If you choose to wear dreads, I think they work best under these circumstances:

1. They are better for men more than women, since it does not matter if men have hair as much socially, the way it does for women.

2. If you do not have thin or fine hair, because these hair types are far more fragile than thick hair.

3. If you are willing to, or have the time to spare, to wash them weekly.

4. If you attach them to the middle or ends of your hair, rather than at the very roots; attaching them to some of your hair rather than all of it, like in this photo:

What do you think of dreadlocks? Would you ever get them done? 

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