Are “normal” shampoos bad for locks?

Commercial shampoos are a topic of debate in locking communities. Some people have horror stories involving commercial shampoos, but many others find great success with using it. Even more important than discerning between the ingredients in each product, the key to avoiding disaster with commercial shampoos is knowing how to use it correctly.

Contrary to marketing scams and popular belief, “normal” shampoos are less likely to cause buildup than “dreadlock shampoos.”

If you have hard water,  stay far away from Dollylocks, Vital Goods, Dreadlockshampoo, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, castile soap, black soap, African black soap, glycerin soap, and other kinds of handmade soap. These products interact with the minerals in tap water to create water-insoluble soap scum in the cores of your locks. This does not happen with “normal” shampoos.

If you’re unsure of your water quality, stay on the safe side and avoid soaps altogether; there are plenty of residue-free, detergent-based “normal” shampoos to choose from instead.

However, some people still fear things like buildup, so here are some stricter guidelines to follow if you’re on the more cautious side.

The photos of buildup shown in the above link are very extreme cases and generally come from washing hair with soaps not intended to be used in hair. If you are still concerned about buildup but want some looser, easy-to-remember guidelines for shampoo ingredients, here are a few simple tips:

  • Sulfate-free and silicone-free shampoos are preferable
  • Avoid all waxes or paraffins
  • “Residue-free” labels are generally safe
  • “Clarifying shampoo” is also generally safe (note: clarifying shampoo is designed to strip your hair, so be sure to condition well afterward!)

When you wash with a commercial shampoo, focus on scrubbing the scalp with your fingertips between each lock. Oil stays closer to the scalp and roots of locked hair, because gravity isn’t able to pull oil down the shaft of tangled hair as easily. In more mature locks, lightly spread shampoo through the hair, being careful not to cake it in the cores of your locks. If this seems difficult, fee fee to dilute your shampoo with water beforehand.

If your locks are new or you are freeforming, focus primarily on the scalp and roots while scrubbing. Haphazardly scrubbing the shafts of loose locks can cause them to unravel, so treat the delicate ends with care.

Always rinse thoroughly after washing. Even water-soluble and residue-free shampoos can remain and build up in your hair if it isn’t rinsed properly.

Can I start locks with layered hair?

Locks can certainly be started with layered hair. However, be aware that layered hair creates layered locks. Many people prefer the look of layered locks, but if for any reason, this is not your preference, you can cut your hair to a uniform length beforehand or trim your locks to a uniform length after they have matured.

Can I start locs with chemically relaxed hair?

Yes. While many people say it is impossible or fundamentally unwise, there is a way to start locs from chemically relaxed hair — but there are some associated risks.

Can I swim with locks?

Yes, you can! Some people choose not to submerge their locks, and that’s an option if you’re worried about it. However, you can definitely swim with them as long as they’re mature enough to withstand the washing you’ll need to do afterward.

For pool swimming, saturate your hair with tap water before entering the pool to limit salt and/or chlorine absorption in your hair. After leaving the pool, wash and rinse your hair thoroughly because chlorine buildup can damage hair very horribly if it doesn’t get washed out. Consider using a swimmer’s shampoo if you swim in chlorinated pools to effectively remove the damaging chemicals from your hair. Lastly, this process can be drying to your hair, so consider moisturizing it with diluted conditioner, aloe vera, rosewater, coconut milk, or glycerin — whatever fits your comfort levels and climate.

In natural bodies of freshwater, this washing regimen isn’t as necessary. However, there can be quite a lot of small organic materials in natural bodies of water, so try to rinse those flakes out of your hair upon exiting.

Can I wear a helmet with locks?

You can, and you absolutely should! Keeping your brain safe is way more important than keeping your hair perfect!

Wearing a helmet will not hurt your locks. The locks themselves may be a little flat after you take the helmet off, but they will poof back up after you wash them. You may need to get a larger helmet, because the helmet that fit your unlocked hair may become too snug after you start your locks.

If there is velcro exposed anywhere in your helmet, you should attempt to cover it up with tape or another strip of Velcro. Exposed Velcro is the archenemy of locks, and one unfortunate exposure to it will make you learn the hard way.

Can locks be bleached and/or colored?

Locked hair can be bleached and/or colored just like unlocked hair. This can be done as soon as your locks can withstand vigorous scrubbing.

Your locks just need to be solid enough that they can withstand the rigorous rinsing and washing required to remove all the coloring chemicals from your hair. You need to be able to rinse and scrub your locks for a minimum of 15 minutes to ensure that all the hair coloring product comes out; otherwise it can remain inside the cores of your locks, where it has the potential to cause long-term damage.

For some people this could be at about 3 months. For some, 6 months. For others, this could be sooner. Use your best judgement. When in doubt, contact a local professional in your area for guidances or services.

For detailed information about how to bleach and color locks, read this guide written by Lish Daelnar.

How can I get my roots to lock up?

This is, without a doubt, one of the the most commonly asked questions pertaining to locks. Incidentally, it has the simplest answer: Roots knot up on their own. The new growth of locks do not require any sort of manual manipulation. They will tangle up all by themselves.

This can seem false to a newbie, though, because locks never knot tightly against the scalp, no matter how much maintenance is done. There will always be 0.5-2 inches of loose hair between the tightly knotted part of the lock and the scalp. This area of looseness allows the individual hairs to move around and breathe. With very few exceptions, manually manipulating loose roots with a maintenance method to try to get knots closely against the scalp can result in redness, bumps, irritation, and hair breakage.

How can I keep my locks from growing together?

Locks will almost always want to grow together at the roots unless they are manually separated. It is important to separate immature locks once daily, or once after every wash at the very least. Just pull the locks apart from one another, and they will separate from each other at the root. Once your locks are mature, separation is not too critical, and it needs to be done much less frequently — if at all.

How can I make my locks mature faster?

After a certain point, hair cannot be forced to lock quickly. Starting and maintenance methods can only do so much. The only way hair can completely mature is if it is given time to do so. As long as you are washing your hair regularly, there is not much that can be done to make it lock up quicker. Only time and continued friction between individual hairs can do this.

There are maintenance methods that can accelerate locks along the maturation process, but even though they tighten the lock, only time itself can complete the full maturation process.

How can I manually tighten my locks?

Excessively loose locks made from looser curl patterns can be crochet hooked tighter. Re-backcombing is not advised because it often creates permanent loops and bulges in the shafts of locks. Some people bidirectionally palm roll their locks while they are damp — but it admittedly takes an excessive amount of effort to see any lasting tightening effects from this method.

Tightly coiled and kinky hair types can be crochet hooked gently, but retwisting and/or putting them in a protective style is more common to manually compress the shaft of the locks.

However, manual tightening is not required to salvage loose locks. Time itself will tighten even the loosest of locks. Here is a photo composite showing a loose lock and that same lock tightened naturally three months and eight days later.

How can I remove my locks when I don’t want them anymore? Do I have to shave my head?

Contrary to popular belief, shaving your head is not at all necessary to remove your locks. However, brushing them out may be less preferable than shearing them off.

Here is a video about how to brush locks out. All you need to remove your locks is a comb, but sometimes the comb itself can be a little fiddly, so there are other household items you can use to help streamline the process.

How do I make my hair smell nice?

Firstly, keep your locks clean. Dirty locks harbor dirty smells, and it’s difficult to cover that up. After you’ve cleaned your hair, feel free to use essential oils, fragrance oils, and scented hair spritzes on your locks to make them smell nice. Be careful to avoid overapplying strong scents, which can be difficult to remove from your hair. This generally isn’t a problem, but if you accidentally put too much of an unfavorable scent in your hair, it may be difficult to get out for a few days.

How long do I have to wait before washing my locks?

A properly installed set of locks can be washed as soon as they need to be; this can be the next day or even the next week. Whenever the hair needs to be washed, then it should be washed. There is no need to wait a week, a month, six months, or a year for your hair to “lock up” before washing it. While your locks are still maturing, just focus on gently scrubbing the scalp and try to avoid roughly handling the lower shafts of each lock.

How long does it take to start a set of locks?

Depending on your hair type and the method used, it can take anywhere from one hour to several days.

For instance, folks with tightly coiled or kinky hair types may go to a loctician with quick hands and good technique. In this case, it is possible to set up twists or comb coils in less than an hour.

It takes more manual labor to knot straight, wavy, and loosely curled hair. It can take 15 minutes to create each lock via the crochet hook method — or more depending on your experience and the length of your hair. Backcombing may take less time because it takes less handwork.

People who choose the freeform method of creating locks don’t spend any time starting. The friction and motion of everyday life allows the hair to create knots on its own without manual intervention. However, it can take more than three years for the locks to fully mature with this method.

How long does my hair need to be before I start my locks?

When starting locks at home, it is best for looser curl patterns to be at least six inches in length. However, tightly coiled and kinky hair types may be started at shorter lengths. This length helps keep the lock from unraveling, because short hair is very difficult to tangle.

Many professionals have enough skill to start locks on hair at much shorter lengths. If a professional is starting your locks, then ask what lengths they are comfortable starting with.

How much product should I use on my locks?

Brambleroots does not strongly advocate the use of commercial holding products (e.g., gels, pomades, creams) in locks. If you choose to use products in your locks, try to use a little product as possible, and use it as infrequently as possible. However, beware to never use wax.

If you choose to use product in your hair, try to use as little as possible. Understand the uses and limitations of products, as well. Product cannot successfully rid of all frizz; only time and the maturation process can do that. Product is intended to encourage new growth to form in a particular shape. Do not try to glob product into baby locks to make them appear more mature, because that can cause many problems down the line.

How much shorter will my hair be after I start locks?

The amount of length immediately lost when starting locks is dependent on your hair type and the methods used to start locks.

Comb coils, two-strand twisting, and braidlocking often makes tightly coiled and kinky hair types appear longer. This is because these methods stretch out the natural curl pattern and can make each individual hair seem longer.

Backcombing tends to make baby locks look the shortest, but the tight setup may loosen a bit over time to give a bit of length back. Twist-and-rip locks lose less initial length than backcombed locks, but they are still subject to shrink during the maturation process.

Between the startup and the final stages of maturation, your hair can “lose” up to half of its apparent starting length.

How often can I wash my locks?

Some people prefer frequent washing and some prefer less. However, it is imperative to wash hair that needs to be washed. How often that is depends on a few factors, including how much oil your scalp naturally produces, if you exercise, what kind of debris from your daily routine sticks to your hair, and even the weather!

For instance, if you exercise daily, you may have to wash your hair every day as well. Spraying a fragrance on your head only hides the problem and can cause buildup along the way. Washing when your hair needs to be washed is important and always good for your locks, even if that does mean washing every day.

Everyone is unique, so while some people wash multiple times a week, some people may only wash one or twice a month. However, there are some guidelines for knowing when your hair is needing to be washed:

  • When your head itches, and you get yellowy stuff under your nails
  • When your head starts to smell less than fragrant
  • When you sweat all day long
  • When you get pollen, cotton, dirt, sand, dust, or sawdust in your hair
  • When you simply think you need to wash your hair — intuition can guide you!

If you don’t have anything barring your from washing your hair, we encourage you doing so for general hair health reasons. However, some people don’t wash their hair because of spiritual beliefs, disabilities, or other personal reasons. Each person is in charge of their own body, and that’s okay!

How often should I apply product to make my hair lock?

Brambleroots does not strongly advocate the use of commercial holding products (e.g., gels, pomades, creams) in locks. If you choose to use products in your locks, try to use a little product as possible, and use it as infrequently as possible. However, beware to never use wax.

Hair will knot on its own; product is not required to make it lock. Therefore, there are no “shoulds” in its application, and using product is completely optional. There is an implicit risk in using products, because some can cause permanent buildup.

Tightly coiled and kinky hair types may sometimes benefit from product in maintenance, but it is not at all necessary. Looser curl patterns tend to benefit less, because it is less necessary.

No matter the hair type, though, using product in a set of locks will always make removing them more difficult. So if you plan to brush your locks out in the future, consider starting an maintaining your hair without products.

How should I prepare my hair before starting locks?

When making locks, be sure to have clean hair that is free of product. The best way to do this is to wash with a clarifying shampoo beforehand. For most methods, your hair should be completely dried before you begin your starter locks. If you’re going to a professional, be sure to ask them how they’d like you to prepare, because there may be special instructions given your hair type or starting method.

I don’t want wax in my hair anymore. How do I get it out?

There is no way to safely remove 100% of wax from locks without brushing them out. There are chemical compounds out there that can dissolve wax, but they are very toxic to the human body.

However, there are ways to remove some of the wax in locks without brushing them out.

One method involves carefully dipping your locks in a shallow skillet of boiling water. This is best done with long hair, otherwise you run the risk of burning your face or scalp. The heat of boiling water is higher than the melting point of wax, so some wax will break off and separate itself from the lock.

Wax is “hydrophobic,” meaning that it does not dissolve in water. This makes it difficult to melt completely out of locks when submerged in water. So another, more effective way of removing wax from locks is to fold a paper bag around the lock and flat iron around that paper bag on high heat. This will melt the wax out of the lock, and the paper bag will absorb the melted wax.

If a nonblack person has locks, is it cultural appropriation?

Inherently, no. Locked hair has appeared independently across millennia on every inhabited continent. Natural, biological processes like this cannot be appropriated — even dogs, horses, and alpacas can have locked hair. However, be aware that locked hair can sometimes be used as a tool of appropriation. It ultimately depends on the wearer’s intent.

If I get locks, can I wash them?

Unless you subscribe to a faith or belong to a culture that does not wash hair, Brambleroots strongly recommends washing locks. Many people are under the impression that locks cannot be washed for a variety of reasons, but this is very false. Hair that is washed regularly and kept clean locks faster than dirty, unwashed hair.

Should I use elastic bands on my locks?

There is a common myth among people with loosely textured hair that suggests elastic bands can be used to keep roots or entire shafts of locks together. Locks should be started tight enough so that elastic is unnecessary to hold them together. The truth is that if your locks fall out without elastics, then they were not started properly.

Locks form by allowing friction to induce knotting. Hair tangles, moves freely, and begins to trap itself up in itself, and it needs to have freedom of movement to do so.

Putting elastic bands on a lock prevents locking by paralyzing the free movement of the hair. This means the lock will mature more slowly.

If left in when the locks are initially made, elastics block knotting near the root, preventing you from getting the tightest possible setup.

Elastic bands can also become tangled up in the roots of locks when left in long-tern, becoming painful and annoying to remove. Those that get lost in a lock can become weathered and eventually decompose into the lock.

But of greatest concern is the weak spots elastics cause. Constant tension from elastics causes permanent looping, bulging, and weak spots. Here is an example of this. There is a weak spot surrounded by two very large lumps that are permanent from the restriction of immature locks worn in a ponytail too ofter.

Photo of a brown lock with a weak spot surrounded by two bulges

For more information, check out Astrid Rose’s video on the topic.

What about lock extensions?

Lock extensions are a nice way to make your locks appear longer and skip the awkward short phase where it’s difficult to style your hair.

They can be made from human hair or from synthetic hair. Human hair is more expensive, but it is lighter and locks up more similarly to your own hair. Synthetic hair is cheaper, but it is heavier than human hair.

Human hair extensions can usually be bleached and/or colored (though some are so chemically treated that you cannot), but synthetic hair cannot be dyed or altered in color at all. This means you will have to remove synthetic extensions if you’d like to change the color.

Lock extensions can be installed to the ends of locks as soon as Day 1 when a skilled professional adds them to your hair. However, adding them this early in the process can necessitate more frequent maintenance sessions in the beginning stages of your locks.

If you want to add extensions on your own, consider letting your locks mature for 3-6 months before adding the extensions. This lets your hair mature to give the extensions a sturdier anchor to hold onto. Otherwise, extensions added to a weak anchor may slip and fall out — sometimes when you’re out in public! Install at your own risk.

What are the pros and cons of rounded and loose tips?

The only objective pro/con on the subject of rounded and loose tips is that loose tips dry faster than rounded tips, and rounded tips can sometimes make thick locks harder to style.

Everything else is aesthetically based. Rounded tips make locks slightly shorter than leaving them loose. Loose tips will be curly if your natural hair texture is curly, and this can add a lot of character to your locks. However, some people don’t like the look of curly ends and would rather the ends be rounded without any curls.

What are the risks of maintaining my locks?

Maintaining locks is perfectly fine, and many people do it. However, maintenance, when done too frequently or with improper tools/technique, can cause permanent damage to your locks.

Do not heavily maintain your locks with extreme frequency.

Do not maintain wet hair, unless you are simply twisting the roots. Wet hair is structurally weaker than dry hair, and heavy manipulating wet hair can break individual hairs. This is risky, because locks are only as strong as the hairs that make them.

Lastly, listen to your hair. If your scalp is being pulled and is uncomfortable, or your hear the sound of hairs snapping when you are maintaining your hair, stop immediately and readjust your maintenance style.

Maintenance can be done very safely with no risks, but doing it improperly can result in some of the horror stories floating around the Internet. Just be cautious, and you should be fine!

What do I do if my locks are flat or squished?

Minor cases of lock flattening can be simply fixed by dampening the flat lock and palm rolling it back into a round shape. However, not all locks respond to this treatment. There are two things that can can be done in this instance:

You can leave it and see if the problem resolves itself. Young locks often flatten and later round themselves back out as they mature. The second option is to crochet hook them back into a round shape, which yields immediate results and requires no waiting.

Regardless, there is no negative aspect to having flat locks, so the perceived “need” to fix it is for aesthetic preferences only.

What hair types can become successful locks?

All hair can be successfully locked, whether it be thin, thick, straight, wavy, curly, kinky, fine, coarse, oily, dry, or chemically processed. There are different starting and maintenance methods that work best for each unique hair type, but it is never impossible.

What is my hair type and what does it mean?

In Andre Walker’s hair typology, each “hair type” has two components: curl type and strand thickness. Curl type is designated with a number, and strand thickness is designated with a letter.

The curl type can be any number 1-4. Here is what they are:

  1. Straight
  2. Wavy
  3. Curly
  4. Kinky, Zig-zag (“Afro-textured”)

Brambleroots typically gives information based on the broad categories of the curl types listed above. But in case you’re curious, the hair texture letters are as follows:

  1. Fine (thin)
  2. Medium
  3. Coarse (thick)

Type “3c” tends to be the only exception to this rule; basically, it is “telephone cord”-like ringlets. This is usually found only in mixed-race and black hair.

For supplementary information, check out this site. Though the images are rather vague, the site has a great text table that explains each letter and number combination.

A given hair type does not suggest anything good or bad about one’s hair. It is not a categorization system used to discriminate; it is used on this site to match each hair type with the best starting and maintenance methods.

What should I do if I get lice?

Killing lice in locks is easy. They can be exterminated with commercial lice removal solutions, or they can be killed/suffocated with a variety of home ingredients such as isopropyl alcohol.

However, once the lice are killed, removing their bodies tangled in the knots of your locks cannot be guaranteed without cutting your locks off. Some people keep their locks after killing the lice, but others cannot stand the thought of bugs permanently remaining (and perhaps even decomposing) in their hair, so they shear their locks off.

What should I do with frizz and loose hairs?

Loose hairs can be woven back into the lock or left alone. Loose hairs pose no risk to the health of one’s hair, so long as the locks are separated regularly. Locks left unseparated too long can tangle with the loose hair can cause matting at the root and painful sectioning.

Frizz and loose hairs are more prevalent in immature locks. During the maturation process, many stray hairs will tangle into the body of a lock on their own. However, after one’s locks are matured, the loose hairs are less likely to fix themselves. If you would like reduce frizz and loose hairs, no matter what stage in the locking process you are in, use a maintenance method such as crochet hooking or needle and thread maintenance to weave the hairs back into the correct lock.

Please be aware that the roots and shafts of each lock will inevitably have some sort of frizz, no matter how old or carefully maintained they are. Do not go overboard with maintenance to achieve “perfect” locks that cannot be attained. You can cause permanent damage and even generate more frizz by attempting this.

Where do buds, loops, and zigzags come from, and how do I get rid of them?

“Buds” are swells of hair that are resistant to retwisting in the beginning stages of locks started in tightly coiled and kinky hair types. These are a part of the maturation process and are a sign that your locks are maturing. Though they are frustrating, they always go away on their own, so there is no reason to fret.

Wiggles and zigzags found in locks are called “loops” in loose curl patterns. They tend to be most numerous in the beginning stages of locking, but most of them tend to go away on their own as your locks become more mature, which is usually near the one-year mark.

Loops come from hair shrinking on one side of the lock and staying long on the other side, which causes the longer bit to scrunch up. It’s similar to what happens when you are pulling up your blinds and something goes wrong — one side is pulled up too fast, the other is left to stick out and hang in a fan shape. As the rest of the lock begins to tighten up again, the loops will go away on their own, just like how crooked blinds can be corrected by pulling on the cord again.

Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic to stave off all loops while your locks are maturing. There are crochet hook techniques that can get rid of or diminish the look of loops. If you try to crochet hook your baby locks too often while they are still trying to shrink, you’ll be on a time-consuming futile whack-a-mole hunt for months, and you run the risk of harming the integrity of your hair. For some people, it seems like just when you crochet hook a loop back in, another one will show up the next morning.

That’s why, if you must, we suggest doing crochet hook maintenance only at infrequent intervals. So be sure to relax and space out maintenance sessions. One loop won’t hurt between sessions; they are actually a good sign of maturation. But don’t forget about maintenance if you want neat, manicured locks; loops left unmaintained for too long can become permanent. So find a healthy balance that’s best for you.

There is no way to prevent all loops, but luckily, most tend to diminish in size and sometimes go away on their own. It’s all part of the process. For more information about loops, check out this informative video about the topic.

Who should start my locks?

For most folks, it is not necessary to mechanically start locks. Most hair types can be freeformed (“neglected”) to create locks, simply by discontinuing the use of brushes and continuing to wash one’s hair.

However, not all people prefer the freeform route and want to have more control over the locking process. In these cases, it does not matter who starts your locks. You should go with your personal preference, while also weighing other pragmatic considerations. A professional may be able to do a more skilled setup on your hair, but it will also cost money. Starting locks at home is free, and some people like the pride of knowing they started their locks on their own. Additionally, some religions and spirituality view the head and hair as holy, and others cannot touch the head, therefore dictating that the individual must start their own locks.

However, beware that not all salons know how to work with all hair types. Ask the stylist questions and inquire about portfolio photos of work done on clients with similar hair to yours.

Why are some people’s locks neat and others’ messy?

The neatness of locks isn’t so much determined by the starting method, but more by the individual’s hair type, as well as frequency and technique of maintenance. The only exception to this rule are locks started via freeforming, which tend to be messier than other methods. But other than that, locks that are maintained infrequently tend to be messier than those that are maintained regularly. Some hair types lock very tight and smooth without maintenance, and others stay messy if left unmaintained. There are many variables that determine the aesthetic outcome of a set of locks.

Why won’t my locks grow?

At first, it may seem like your hair isn’t growing because the starting and maturation process often makes your locks shrink up to lengths shorter than the individual hairs. Therefore, it can take a while for your locks to grow back down to the “original length” of the hair you started with. However, rest assured that locks do not change the rate by which your hair grows.

Will washing my hair ruin my locks?

It is possible to wash locks without causing them to unravel — in fact, locks mature faster in the long run if they are washed regularly.

Unwashed hair has an excess of oil and dead skin coating the shaft of each hair. This gunk coating makes it difficult for the individual hairs to knot up, because the hairs slip around each other rather than tangling.

A properly installed set of locks will not unravel or develop any sorts of problems when washed, no matter how soon that may be required. For fragile lock setups such as comb coils, consider using a mesh cap over your head while washing for the first month or so.