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What are Dreadlocks?

By J. Beam
Updated May 21, 2024
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Dreadlocks refer to a particular hairstyle that is achieved naturally by allowing the hair to mat together as it grows. If combs, brushes, and scissors aren’t used on the hair, the hair will tangle together as it grows, eventually resulting in the twisted, matted ropes of hair. It’s also possible to get artificial dreadlocks, primarily through ethnic hair salons, by having them attached to the natural hair near the scalp.

The origin of dreadlocks is ancient. They can be traced back farther than the Rastafarians of Jamaica and are believed to have been worn in Biblical times. Ancient beliefs were developed in some areas that cutting the hair was unholy. The actual name is thought to have come from either the belief that the individual sporting these locks looked dreadful or possibly that the ancient holy men who prominently wore dreadlocks were to be feared or dreaded. Regardless of the history, this style has made its way into popular mainstream culture largely due to legendary reggae singer Bob Marley.

Though many people consider dreadlocks a natural style, defining an individual rather than conforming to a fashion statement, others consider the style to be a rebellious statement. Some people do, in fact, grow them for political, cultural, or religious belief, but mostly it’s a matter of individual expression. While some individuals who happen to have dreadlocks may have poor personal hygiene, dirtiness is a negative and false connotation associated with this style because people mistakenly think they’re grown from unwashed hair.

In reality, dreadlocks can be washed and many people who sport them, sometimes just called “dreads” or “locks,” take great care to achieve the style. It is particularly important to pay attention to the dreads, especially to dry them thoroughly when washed. There are numerous hair care products sold for maintaining and caring for hair in this style. Many of those who choose to grow them painstakingly care for their “dreading” hair and their hair can be just as clean as anyone else’s, even if it’s not combed. People with this style do not necessarily avoid shampoo, just detangling conditioners.

Growing dreadlocks takes time and begins with sectioning off the desired sections of hair and backcombing the roots. A hairstylist who specializes in the care of this style might recommend different approaches such as twisting and waxing, but everyone has their own individual approach to growing them. The removal of dreadlocks, especially long-established ones, is achieved by cutting them completely away from the head. Some people elect to have their head shaved and others simply have the dreads cut out an inch or so away from the scalp. Other famous people besides Bob Marley who wear or have worn them include Lenny Kravitz, George Smith, the Australian rugby player who cut his and auctioned them for charity, and Chris Kilmore of the alternative rock band Incubus.

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Discussion Comments

By anon198338 — On Jul 19, 2011

You can take down your love locks. In fact, I'm taking mine down right now after six years of growing them. My hair length reaches the small of my back.

My daughter and husband both had love locks for three years and I also took theirs down.

A friend of mine just took hers down and she had hers even longer than I had. Her hair is so thick, full and beautiful.

All you need to do is wash your hair and condition it. It's much easier to take your love locks down with a small comb and conditioners. Even if they have been interlocked, they can still be taken down, but this can take up to a month. Just have patience and take your time.

Don't be afraid if it looks like you are losing too much hair -- that's totally normal. Each day we are suppose to lose about a thousand strands of hair, but that's just dead hair. When you're done, you'll love your beautiful, thick, full, healthy head of hair.

By izycdb — On May 22, 2011

Yes you can take out dreads but it can be very painful. --Isaac

By anon126162 — On Nov 11, 2010

I am African American and I have been getting perms since i was a girl, but now i want dreads. do i have to cut the perm out of my hair or go natural? is there a way i can get locks with chemicals in my hair.

By anon119657 — On Oct 19, 2010

i agree with you, it can be removed without cutting your hair because i know people that didn't have to cut their hair.

By anon111870 — On Sep 18, 2010

Dreads can be taken down, and I know this because I have done it myself. I did hair for 17 years and have taken them down a few times. I agree with the previous person, you have to be very careful because you're going to lose some hair. I feel the main solution to keeping your hair is to keep it very clean and care for it.

By anon64233 — On Feb 05, 2010

Dreadlocks can only ever be cut out. If a product does remove them the hair will be drastically altered from its original state and need to be cut anyway- it is ridiculous to say dreads can be removed.

By anon61829 — On Jan 22, 2010

all you have to do is watch a video about removing locks and you will see the same video that I did.

How can you get on here and say that they cannot be removed no matter what product used?

Obviously these other people on here have removed locks and so have I and, just because you have not does not mean that it can't be done because obviously it can be done. It has been done. There are videos to prove it if you don't want to believe what we're saying.

By anon57791 — On Dec 27, 2009

That is very untrue. I had dreadlocks for eight years and I used a rattail comb and started at the end. I did lose a lot of hair but I had a lot left though, so you can take dreadlocks down but you have to be very careful and have patience. But it can be done! Coming from someone who has experience.

P.S. I now have dreads again. Dreadlocks are addictive. I hated my new straight hair. Yuck. I love my dreads for life!

By anon47034 — On Sep 30, 2009

Once hair is locked it cannot become unlocked, no matter what type prodoct you use.

By anon33885 — On Jun 13, 2009

Dreadlocks are great, but if you do get tired of them...you *do not* have to *cut* your hair.

After enjoying your dreadlocks why would you want to lose all your beautiful hair?

There is a Dreadlock Remover called Take Down Removal Cream. It not only detangles and unravels your dreadlocks, but it *saves* your hair.

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