The Best Length to Start Dreads

Best Length To Start Dreads
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To start my dreads, I grew out my hair for a couple of years so that it would be long enough. What I didn’t realize was that my hair was “long enough” all along. I’m still grateful that I waited because once dreaded I was still able to tie my hair back into a ponytail. It made the messy maturing phase a lot more bearable, that’s for sure. 

For everyone who is growing out their hair as I did, how much longer should you wait?

Ideally, you want your hair to be a minimum of 15 centimeters (or 6 inches), however, you can technically start dreads sooner if you’re willing to invest the extra time in maintaining them during the early stages.

The length required to start dreads depends on a few things

1. The method you’re using to start them

  • FREEFORM: If you’re letting your hair form locs in its own time, you don’t need a particular length. Just let your hair be, wash it with dreadlock-friendly shampoo, and it will start dreading when it’s ready. Remember to separate the roots early on so you don’t end up with one big knot.
  • TWIST & RIP: Using this method will give you loose dreads. You risk them unraveling if your hair is shorter than 13 centimeters (~5 inches).
  • BACKCOMBING: Depending on how you backcomb your hair, this method can either give you loose or firm dreads. You should have a minimum of 10 centimeters (~4 inches) but you still risk them unraveling if they’re this short, so if possible, you should wait until they’re 15 centimeters (~6 inches). 
  • CROCHET: The crochet method will give you a very firm / stiff dreadlock and it may hold together better in the early stages. If a professional is doing it for you, they may require a minimum length of hair to work on you but you may need at least 15 centimeters (~6 inches).

Your hair doesn’t need to all be the same length for you to start dreading it. In fact, if part of your hair is too short, you can start dreading the part that is long enough and leave the rest for later when it grows longer. Regardless of the length at which you start, each loc will mature differently so you won’t end up with all the dreadlocks of the same length.

2. The type of hair you have

Some hair types dread better than others because of the hair’s natural texture.

  • For COARSE and KINKY hair types, you should be able to start dreads if your hair is at least 3 to 7 centimeters (~1 to 4 inches). 
  • For LOOSE CURLY hair types, your hair should be a minimum of 7 to 15 centimeters (~3 to 6 inches). Curly hair has an easier time holding the shape of a dread.
  • For STRAIGHT, THIN, and OILY hair types, you should wait for your hair to reach a minimum of 10 centimeters (~4 inches) although 20 centimeters (~8 inches) is the preferred length. 

It’s better if your hair is a few centimeters longer than the minimum amount required for your hair type. The reason being that your hair goes through up and down motions until if forms a mature lock. If your hair is too short, the locks you worked so hard to form will not stay in place. As a general rule of thumb, the longer your hair is, the more knots you’re going to be able to form (and keep).

TIP 1: To protect your hair from unraveling at night, sleep with a silk cap. Also, wash and dry your baby dreads gently.

3. The “look” you’re going to end up with

If you start your locs with very short hair, they will look like pokey things sticking out of your head for quite some time— perhaps not the hottest look you’ll ever pull off.

You can either own the look, cover them up with beanies, or get dreadlock extensions. The latter is not necessarily recommended but it helps conceal the initial awkward look especially if you need them to look professional.

For extensions, your hair should be a minimum of 8 centimeters (or 3 inches).

How much shorter will your hair get once it’s dreaded?

Most people experience a considerable shortening of hair length that happens during the months when your locs are maturing. The maturing process takes months for some and years for others depending on the hair type and maintenance, among other things.

Generally speaking, if you have curly or kinky hair, your dreads may mature faster than if you have straight or silky hair. 

During the awkward stage of maturity, you can expect your hair to lose a significant amount of length. The length you lose can also depend on the method that you used to start your dreads.

Using the backcombing and tear & rip methods may cause the most shrinkage. Using the crochet method may be a bit less but again, these are just approximations. 

As your hair pulls and knots itself, you will start to see bubbles and loops. This is the clearest indication that your hair is locking and the result of that is shrinkage. Don’t worry, though. Wait the process out and you should notice your hair gaining length within the second year, if not sooner. 

The Best Natural Recipes for Dreadlock Health: Get the Book Here!

How long will it take for your dreads to get long?

Growing healthy dreads takes a lot of time and patience. It takes years for dreads to grow past butt-length unless you get extensions or you started with hair that was already down to your ankles.

Hair length depends on a lot of things but let’s start with the stage that your hair is currently in:

  • YOU’RE BALD: Some people choose to shave their hair so their dreads can start with healthy hair and even length. During the first three months, you should wash your hair with a residue-free/ sulfate-free shampoo and nothing else.

    Wash your hair once a week, if possible, so that the adjustment that your scalp goes through will be easier once your hair is long enough to start dreading. On average, hair grows a little over a centimeter (about half an inch) each month.

    Once you start gaining a little bit of length, you can start the dreadlocking process. If you start with little to no hair, you can expect to reach your butt-long dreadlock milestone in about 12 to 15 years.
  • YOU HAVE SHORT HAIR (UP TO 10 CM): Depending on the texture of your hair, it may not be able to hold a dread until it has reached about 7 cm (~3 inches).

    You can allow your hair to start dreading as it grows, by washing it weekly, not combing it at all, and separating the hairs into sections with your hands. This is the most natural way to start your dreads and possibly the best.

    Since your locs are so short, you may not experience too much shrinkage but it may seem that your hair is stuck in an “interim” phase for a while where it doesn’t shrink nor grow. The truth is that it’s still growing but maturing at the same time.

    It can take somewhere between 8 to 12 (or more) years for your dreads to get past your waist if you started the journey with short hair.
  • YOU HAVE MEDIUM-LENGTH HAIR (BETWEEN 10 CM AND 35 CM): Many locticians won’t dread someone’s hair if it isn’t a minimum of 10 centimeters long (about 4 inches).

    Like before-mentioned, young dreads go through a natural tangling and detangling process. If your hair is too short, they might unravel within the first few days. It would be a waste of effort (and money) to put in dreads that are likely to fall out.

    If your hair is several inches long, dreadlocking should be a faster process- whether the method is freeform or backcombed, tear & rip, crocheted, etc.

    During the maturing phase, your locs will experience a little bit of shrinkage but perhaps only a few centimeters. Once they’ve reached maturity (usually a little bit past the first year), you can expect to see them get longer.

    This process is unique to everyone so be patient with it… you will see noticeable length in due time! You may be able to reach your butt-length dreadlock milestone in about 7 to 10 years if you started with medium-long hair.
  • YOU HAVE LONG HAIR (ANYTHING OVER 35 CM): If you start your dreads with long hair, you should expect them to shrink a lot before they start showing growth.

    The maintenance process for longer dreads is not as meticulous as it is with short hair but it might take you over two years to notice significant growth. Let your hair do its thing. It will be long before you know it.

    Butt-length dreads might be reached in as little as 3 years if you started the journey with long hair but it could take up to 6 years or so.

Of course, all of these are broad approximations. There is no sure way to determine how fast your dreads are going to grow because so many things influence hair growth.

If you’re interested in growing your short dreads faster by using a natural approach, check out this article! I list several tips there that I hope will help you.

Do your locs need a boost? Check out these 39 DIY all-natural recipes to revitalize your dreads!

You might also be wondering…

How much does it cost to get your hair dreaded?

The price of getting dreads varies extensively. You can get them for free or pay hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars, depending on the way you choose to get them done. To get a better idea of the best way to start your dreads and stay within your budget, you can check out this article.

Is it better to start dreads short or long?

It is better to start dreads when the hair is at least shoulder-length, as shorter hair may not have enough length to properly form into dreads. Starting with longer hair also allows for more flexibility in the styling and maintenance of the dreads.

In any case, it is possible to start dreads with shorter hair, but it may require more maintenance because it will take longer for the dreads to stay in place.

At what length should I dread my hair?

It is recommended that your hair be at least 6 inches long when starting dreads. 

Hair length isn’t the only factor to consider when starting dreads; other factors like hair texture, hair density, and the method used to start your locs (i.e. backcombing, interlocking, crochet, two-stand twists, etc) play a big role in the process and outcome of dreading.

Can you start dreads with 1 inch of hair?

It is possible to start dreads with hair that is 1 inch long for those who have Type 4 hair, but it may be more challenging to manage and can take longer to form properly. Starting with shorter hair will also limit the styling options and may require more maintenance and patience in order to achieve the desired look.

For those with Type 1, Type 2, or Type 3 hair, it’s recommended to wait until the hair has grown to at least six inches in length.

How do beginners start dreads?

There are several methods for beginners to start dreads. 

For those with thin and silky hair types, the most common method to do on your own is the “twist and rip” and “backcombing” methods. The most common method used by professionals is “crochet”. 

For afro hair types, the most common methods to do on your own are “two-strand twists” and “comb coils”. The most common method used by professionals is “interlocking”. 

Another method is called “neglect method” is the process of not doing anything to the hair after washing it. The hair is left to dry naturally, and over time, it naturally turns into dreads.

Starting dreads with any method requires a lot of patience because the hair will not lock immediately. Depending on a person’s hair type and method used to start their locs, their dreads can take from 6 months to 3 years to mature.

Is it better to start dreads wet or dry?

It is recommended to start dreads on dry hair, as dreads formed on wet hair may not lock as easily because the hair is too flexible. 

Is it hard to maintain dreadlocks?

Maintaining dreadlocks is not difficult but contrary to popular belief, it does require regular care and attention. The level of difficulty can vary depending on the person’s hair type and the way the locs were started.

New dreadlocks will initially require more attention than mature locs, because it’s completely different than caring for loose hairstyles. 

Maintenance typically includes regular cleaning, moisturizing, periodically tightening loose hair on the roots, and, in some cases, palm rolling to help the dreads become evenly shaped. Click here for my complete DIY maintenance guide

Neglect method, which is a method where you do not do anything to the hair after washing it, requires little to no maintenance, however this method is not suitable for everyone because the outcome is not as neat as the other methods.

Do dreads grow faster when they lock?

No. Your hair won’t grow at a different pace because it’s in locs. However, since the hair that naturally sheds remains stuck within the dreadlock, it’ll appear like it’s growing faster than hair that is not loc’d. 

This article was originally published on April 18, 2019. It has since been updated and improved.

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  1. I have a condition called discord lupus which has cause me to have bald patches on my scalp,and I find it hard to disguise them. I have been wanted to grow locks for sometime now and was wondering if it would be suitable for my hair. Can you advised?

    1. Hi Andriea, I’m sorry to hear that. 🙁
      That’s a great question. Dreadlocks won’t necessarily contribute to more balding if you don’t put pressure on the scalp– say, by constant maintenance or pulling on the roots. However, if your hair is continually falling out (more than the natural amount), it will weaken the locs over time (as you lose hair). At some point, you may lose entire locs because there’s not enough hair to hold it together at the root. Does that make sense?
      I hope that helps!

  2. Hello 🙂 I am a 17 year old African American with kinky hair! Currently, my hair is 2 and 1/2 inches and I want dreads. I am willing to grow my hair out. Any ETA on how long this will take? Thanks!

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