The Worst Dreadlock Mistakes (and What to do About Them)

Most Common Dreadlock Mistakes

Being informed about the do’s and don’ts of locs is your responsibility. Your locked hair is not like loose hair. It needs to be treated and cared for differently.

Due to the combination of our own ignorance and the vast amount of bad advice we tend to receive, being misinformed may cause us to do more harm than good to our hair. 

Great dreads take a lot of time and patience. Doing the wrong thing now will be extremely disappointing in the future. You don’t want your locs to be ruined simply because you were stuck to a bad habit.

Common Dreadlock Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The 19 worst dreadlock mistakes

1. Misunderstanding the dreadlock process

Dreadlocks are like six-pack abs…they don’t happen overnight! What many people fail to understand prior to locking their hair, is that it’s a journey. We go to fast food restaurants because we want food now. We text our friends expecting to get a response in seconds. We have Amazon Prime because we can’t wait a week for delivery. Our culture is shaping us to forget what it’s like to wait. But no matter how fast-paced our world gets, dreads will always require us to wait! There’s no way around that.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Don’t get discouraged during the first two years of your dread journey. It may look to you like your hair is getting worse by the day when in reality, it’s shifting, transforming, and knotting like its supposed to. Expect there to be looping, frizz, and loose hair in many places. It’s your hair’s way of adjusting to the new style, so let it do what it needs to do.

2. Expecting your locs to look like someone else’s

It’s so common to look at someone else and envy things about them. It has become a vicious cycle for many who are dreaming to look like their idols. What we often take for granted is that we are a one-of-a-kind design in this world. There is no one like you. The same thing goes for your dreadlocks. Each of your locs is unique and different- there are not two alike. Get it out of your head that you want your hair to look like so-and-sos. It probably won’t, but that’s okay!

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Love your hair and treat it right. In due time, your love, effort, and time will be manifested in the form of beautiful and perfect locs (for you!) Do your part, and your hair will do its part too.

3. Not moisturizing at all or doing it improperly

One of the lessons I learned late in my dreadlock journey was the importance of moisturizing your hair. Back when I had loose natural hair, I would wash it almost every day so it was used to getting wet. When I got dreads, I switched up my washing routine to only once a week. My hair became super dehydrated. The best way I can describe it is that it felt crunchy. Then I learned about the importance of misting my hair and scalp with water and essential oils. My hair improved almost overnight.

Many people believe that oil is THE moisturizing agent. Oil maintains moisture but doesn’t provide it in the same way that water does. In order to properly moisturize your scalp, you need to be using water and oil together. Do not apply oil to the dreads themselves because it’s going to weigh them down, attract lint, and may cause buildup.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Ideally, you should first spritz your hair and scalp with water and essential oils. Then, while your scalp is somewhat damp, apply a few drops of your choice of any carrier oil to it. Massage your scalp gently and leave it to absorb.

4. Using too many hair products

Too much product (even natural ones) can cause buildup, especially if your hair isn’t absorbing it well.

Wax, shea butter, and cream-based products are not recommended for two reasons.

1. Some ingredients are not water-soluble, such as anything that includes petroleum or beeswax.

2. They’re too thick. Once it gets inside your locs, it will be nearly impossible to remove completely.

Excessively moisturizing your locs can cause them to stay wet for too long.

Over oiling your scalp can cause major buildup in and around your roots. Clogged pores can hinder your hair growth as well as cause dandruff and other skin conditions.

A little goes a long way when it comes to products, especially because you don’t wash them off every day. Your scalp and locs can only take so much.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Quit using any of the products listed here and spray and oil your scalp as is necessary. Your hair may need a different amount of moisture than everyone else’s, so listen to your body and do what feels right.

5. Doing conditioning treatments on your locs

Once your hair is dreadlocked, you don’t need to condition your hair any longer. Conditioner softens and untangles hair. It sort of defeats the point of locking it in the first place. Plus, most conditioners will leave residue on your hair, which prevents proper knotting.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Keep your hair clean and don’t worry about the conditioning part. For softer locs, try a hot oil treatment once every month or so. Drink more water and mist your hair once or twice a day. Once every three or four washes, you can do an apple cider vinegar rinse. This will soften your locs and balance your scalp’s pH at the same time. It does loosen your knots a bit, so don’t abuse it.

6. Washing your hair too often, or not often enough

Washing your hair four or more times per week is too much. Leaving a day or less between washings will certainly not allow your locs to dry thoroughly, which puts you at a huge risk for the growth of bacteria and mildew.

Going to the other extreme and washing your hair once every couple of weeks or months is not enough. Your hair collects dirt, debris, and whatever else is floating in the environment. If you’re oiling your scalp and misting your locs with moisturizing sprays, it will build up over time if you’re not washing them off weekly. This will cause dandruff and hinder the locking process. Your hair needs to be clean to knot.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Wash your hair once every 7 to 10 days. Having a consistent routine helps to stabilize the sebum production in your scalp.

7. Believing dreads need to be sticky

Ew, no. This should never be.

Whoever made you believe this myth is so wrong. Even though dread-heads are stereotyped to be dirty (and surely some are), the vast majority of us are not. I have never paid more attention to my hair than since the moment I got dreads.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: If your locs are foul, sticky, excessively dirty, etc, do a deep cleanse treatment with baking soda and essential oils. Soak your dreads for a minimum of 30 minutes and scrub them until they’re clean again. Wash your dreads with a clarifying shampoo and rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar.

8. Letting your locs get ‘too close’

Locs love to mingle and they will marry each other without your permission. Some people think that once they get locs, they can neglect them altogether. What’s gonna happen if you do this, is that you will have major knots occurring in all the wrong places. If you want to separate them later on, it will be nearly impossible (or extremely painful) to do so. Been there, done that! Learn from my mistakes. 😉

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Even if you’re free-forming your locs, you should be separating them at the root every other day. Use brushlike motions with your fingers to “brush” your locs and gently pull apart any hairs that are growing into the wrong dread.

9. Styling the locs too tight

Constantly putting your locs in a ponytail or bun puts too much stress on your scalp. If your scalp is sore after wearing your hair up all day, it’s a clear indication that it was under too much tension.

If you do this too often, your hairline will start to recede over time. Your locs will start to thin out in the areas that have been stressed by the crease of the ponytail.

In extreme cases, you could get alopecia- a condition where you start balding because the tension on the scalp was severe enough to disrupt the hair follicle.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Don’t style your hair at all. I understand the first few months are going to look funky, but you need strong roots to grow strong locs. If you have to keep them neat for work or formal events, wear a headwrap, headband, or loose ponytail instead.

10. Using rubber bands for weeks at a time

Many people, including professional locticians, use rubber bands to separate the roots while during the installation and maintenance process. It’s okay for a few hours but not for much longer.

I have friends who kept their rubber bands for more than a month to keep their original roots intact. This is a mistake for two reasons.

1. Rubber bands are not made from durable elastic. If one breaks, the dread can literally absorb it. Over time, it can collect bacteria and moisture which may lead to dread rot or mildew.

2. Rubber leaves an impression on your hair. Just like a hair tie, rubber bands will leave a crease on your locs. If used for too long, your loc will retain that crease and adjust properly.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Remove rubber bands as soon as all your locs have been installed. To keep the roots intact, separate your hair with your fingers ever other day.

11. Wearing loc accessories for too long

I love beads, loc pieces, and cuffs. They look super fashionable and chic! Using them is not bad but over-using them can be.

There are three main problems you can encounter if you use tight loc accessories.

1. Like rubber bands, leaving a bead in the same spot for too long will leave a chokehold that may never go away. It’s going to look weird if you ever want to take that bead off.

2. Wearing loc jewelry too early in the dreading process can cause your hair to stay loose in the spots where the accessory is present because it doesn’t have room to move around.

3. Some accessories are sealed all the way around, so they can hinder some spots from receiving air flow and drying properly. If it doesn’t dry fully, you risk mildew.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Move your accessories around. Keep them in one spot for a maximum of two weeks and move them up or down a few inches for the next week or two, so on and so forth. I recommend moving them on the days your hair is wet because it’s more flexible then, and you can assure yourself that you’re drying your loc all the way through.

12. Sleeping without protecting your hair

For the first year or more of your loc journey, your hair is going to feel like velcro. And just like velcro, your dreads are going to be more prone to attracting lint.

When we sleep, we move a lot and there’s a lot of friction between the pillow and our heads. If you don’t protect your hair, you could wake up with a bunch of lint all over, not to mention really frizzy hair.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Satin and silk protect your hair from frizz and breakage. I like to sleep with a satin bonnet. If that’s uncomfortable for you, use a satin pillowcase instead. It really is worth the investment.

13. Going to sleep with wet hair

One of the worst mistakes you could possibly make is going to bed while your hair is still wet. Unlike in loose natural hair, your dreads take a long time to dry when there’s a breeze. They will take even longer to dry with stagnant air.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Wash your hair early in the day, preferably first thing in the morning. This will allow your hair more than 12 hours to dry. If you must wash your hair in the evening, blow dry it until you’re sure that it’s 90% (or more) dry. Don’t cover your hair the night you wash it. Sleep on a satin pillowcase and spread your locs out so it doesn’t hold moisture overnight.

14. Re-twisting your locs wrong

Re-twisting is an important part of maintenance, however, it can cause long-term damage if it’s done wrong. There are three mistakes people make when re-twisting their locs.

1. Re-twisting your hair dry. Palm rolling, maintenance, and re-twisting should all be done on damp hair. Dry hair is a lot less flexible so it’s more prone to breakage.

2. Re-twisting in the wrong direction. Hair whorls, meaning that it grows in a clockwise or counterclockwise pattern on the scalp. In most people, the hair will grow clockwise. If you twist your locs in the wrong direction, you can cause damage to the hair follicle. Friction in the opposite direction causes breakage and thinning.

3. Interchanging locking methods during maintenance. Changing up the locking method can alter the pattern of your hair. Be consistent by using the same method that you started with.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Always moisturize your hair before doing any maintenance to it. Always re-twist your hair in the same direction to prevent damaging your hair follicle at the root. During maintenance, stick to the same dreadlocking method you always use.

15. Over-maintaining your locs

I know we all want to keep our locs as neat as possible, especially during the first year or two when they’re unbelievably unruly. Twisting your locs too frequently (even if you’re not doing it professionally) will cause a lot of damage in the long-term. In serious cases, it can cause alopecia (balding) due to the constant tension on the scalp.

The process and time it takes for dreads to mature is not a comfortable one for most, but you can’t do much about it if you are aiming for healthy locs in the long run.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Re-twist your hair once every 6 to 8 weeks. In the meantime, suck it up, buttercup. Put on a beanie or head wrap if you have to make them look professional, but otherwise, let them be. They’ll be beautiful before you know it!

16. Repairing your own thinning locs

I’m speaking to those who don’t have much experience in dread maintenance. Thinning can occur on any part of your loc for various reasons. Fixing them is usually possible if you do it the right way. If you tie your locs into knots in the spots where they’re thinning out, they will look oddly lumpy. I’m not going to tell anyone what to do and what not to do with their hair, but if you want smooth locs, don’t tie them in knots. Let the knots tie themselves.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Go to a professional who knows how to fix it. If that’s not an option, crochet them with a latch hook. Worst case scenario, you can cut the loc at the point where it’s too thin. It sucks but it’s not the end of the world and hopefully, your hair will grow back quickly.

17. Cutting the frizz off the locs

Just thinking about this makes me cringe. Not that cutting hair is a painful process, but it’s absolutely detrimental to your locs! Recently I saw a YouTube tutorial where, during maintenance, a woman cut off the frizz off of her client’s dreads with scissors. It still shocks me.

Why is this a horrible mistake? Your hair is constantly adjusting and moving throughout the loc. At times, it gets loopy, other times some strands will stick out of nowhere, aka frizz. Cutting those hairs off will weaken the dread dramatically in the long run because it lost its cohesiveness and movement. You might have thinner sections or in worst cases, you could lose entire parts of your loc. [Think of it this way: Little pieces of rope that have been glued together won’t hold the same as one long piece of rope that has never been cut.]

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: To tame some of the frizz, mist your locs with a moisturizing spray and palm roll them. If you’ve cut the frizz off your locs, never do it again. I don’t know if there’s a remedy. Only time will tell how bad the damage was to the dreads. At that point, a professional loctician who understands your situation may be the best place to go for advice as to how you should proceed.

18. Touching your scalp too much

The pH in your head is different than the pH of your scalp. If you mess around with your roots you will disrupt the pH balance. Also if you scratch your head too often, you can cause minor lesions on your scalp that can become infected if you have any bacteria under your fingernails.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Use a head massaging brush to soothe an itchy scalp. It not only feels great, but it works well to remove dead skin cells while you’re shampooing.

19. Dying your dreads

I know I’m touching on a very controversial issue here. That’s why I saved this one for last.

A lot of people color their locs and it appears to be successful. The truth is that just because someone’s hair looks okay doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

Hair dye is very harsh and doesn’t wash off the same in locs as it does in loose natural hair. When you color your hair, the inner part of your locs absorbs all the components and chemicals of the dye. Removing the dye from your hair is the hard part and keeping it in your locs for too long will literally burn your hair off.

Bleaching is the absolute worst- it literally strips the color (and everything else) from your hair strands. Adding color after you’ve bleached it doesn’t make it any better.

If you dye your hair, you risk damaging your hair texture, stripping away vital moisture and luster, and losing entire locs completely. Even dying your roots alone can be a dangerous task.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: If you must dye your hair, I only recommend the pure powdered henna because it strengthens and conditions your hair. All other types of henna, natural dyes, chemical dyes are strongly discouraged. To lighten your hair, you can try chamomile tea. Even though it’s not as effective as bleach but it’s a much healthier option.

If you’ve dyed your locs in the past and are dealing with damage, try a hot oil treatment. You should also moisturize your locs and scalp daily to add nutrients back to your hair and nurse it back to health.


There you have it– the 19 most common dreadful mistakes that people commit. Have you ever made one of them? If so, were you able to resolve it without causing further damage to your hair?

Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments!

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5 comments

  1. My loctician trimmed my frizzies twice at the early stage of my dreads. I’m only 4 months on the journey. Please, I’m worried my hair won’t thicken out

    1. oh no! For your next maintenance appointment, ask your loctician not to trim the frizz. It might look a little messier but it’s part of the locking process. I hope they’ll thicken out properly!!

  2. I recently just started dreads and they was short but also locked and everyday I tried to style them do it can look neat but I didn’t know I was thinning them so now I have some dreads that’s really thin that’s about to break off so I’ve been combing them with other dreads and hope to get a stronger root what should I do. To fix this one side of my head is very thin compared to the other side I don’t know if it’s growing or not

  3. I’m curious about the mention of dye. Have you done research on or do you have any experience with more conditioning dyes, like Lime Crime, NRage, or Lunar Tides? I’ve got partial locs in dyed hair now and am hoping to get the rest locked in a couple months. Would like to get dye out, but have no interest in bleach.
    I’m wondering if my locked hair will be super damaged?

    1. Hi Jennifer!
      I don’t have experience using conditioning dyes. Chemical dyes can be more damaging to dreads than loose hairstyles because removing the dye from the inner parts of the locs is difficult. If you accidentally leave the product in too long or don’t successfully get it all out, the chemicals can ruin your hair and cause irreversible damage, such as breakage. For this reason, I highly advise against it, but if you choose to do it anyway, I would recommend getting advice from a professional loctician who has experience dying locs. 🙂 Best of luck!!

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