Dreadlocks are negatively associated with hippies, marijuana, a lack of hygiene, etcetera. If you have dreads, I’m sure someone has given you an unpleasant stare or a piece of advice that you never asked for.
I love it when I’m approached by someone and they are shocked by the fact that my dreads look clean and smell good. I’m not being sarcastic. It’s the best feeling to debunk a stereotype that often characterizes an awesome group of people.
Our hair is typically the first impression the world gets to experience about us. Most people have neat and beautiful locs yet a select few have dreads that are nothing short of a disaster. I’m willing to bet that the majority of the people reading this are part of the former group. Unfortunately, the world tends to perceive us as being part of the latter but who can blame them?
There is a small percentage of dread heads who have given us that kind of reputation. I find that most of those people have ruined their dreads because they were misinformed and/or followed bad advice.
…If only I could count the number of times someone without dreads gave me advice on how to take care of my hair.
I’m certain that you will also hear a lot of advice and plenty of it will be misleading. So, please don’t act upon it unless you’re sure that it’s well-founded.
I wrote this blog to expose the truth about many of the ingredients and products that are wrongly recommended or advertised for dreadlocks.
There are two main reasons why some products should never go in your hair.
The products that are being rubbed in or added to your locs will very likely stay in there for a long time, if not the entire time you have dreads (which for most people is years). Many companies falsely advertise that their products will “wash off”. It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make sense of the fact that most of the things going into your hair might not come out. It’s hard to remove dandruff from the surface of the dreads sometimes, how much harder is it to remove something that is snug tightly inside your locs (especially if it’s not water-soluble). You also don’t want to use products that have conditioning properties since you’re trying to achieve the complete opposite results with dreads.
A lot of products (containing both natural and unnatural ingredients) are easily soaked up by the skin. Some products are absorbed into the deeper layers of the skin while others penetrate themselves into the bloodstream. Without getting too scientific or specific, think about it in broad terms. Any substance that has the potential of being absorbed by your scalp is just a few millimeters away from your body’s main computer system: the brain. If said substance is known to have toxic effects, then it’s really scary that you’re exposing your body to it. In this post, I’ll highlight a few of the toxic ingredients that are commonly found in hair products. As a rule of thumb though (and I’m sure you’ve heard this said before), if you can’t pronounce an ingredient on a label, steer clear from it!
Never put the following things in your locs
Perfumes and other products containing synthetic fragrances are dangerous because the FDA doesn’t require that the ingredients used to make the fragrance be listed. In other words, you will never know what’s actually in them. If you’re prone to allergic reactions, it’s best that you stick to fragrance-free products, or those marked “phthalate-free” and “no synthetic fragrance”.
2. Petroleum by-products
Petroleum is a gasoline by-product. It’s the same thing you put in your vehicle to make it run. It should never go in your hair, whether it’s dreaded or not. Sadly enough, I have seen it listed as one of the main ingredients in many dreadlock products such as waxes and gels. You will often find it labeled as mineral oil, paraffin, white oil, or microcrystalline wax. The only kind of gels that should go in your hair are water-soluble gels like 100% aloe vera. Anything else is a big no-no.
Toluene is another petrochemical that is commonly found in hair products under the following names: benzene, tuluol, phenylmethane, and methylbenzene. Toluene is a known neurotoxin, skin irritant, and has been linked to fetal developmental damage, kidney damage, and liver damage.
All kinds of wax are off limits. Beeswax, candle wax, dread wax, and all the others! It’s so harmful to your dreads that I dedicated an entire blog to it. Find all the info on wax here and decide for yourself if you really want that stuff sticking around.
4. Cream-based products, balms, and butters
Creams, balms, and butters are very thick. They might work well on loose hair for shine-treatments and such but they certainly won’t work for dreads. Not only do many of them contain toxic ingredients (we will mention several of them in this post), but they’re so dense that getting them out of your hair is going to be a real challenge. Speaking of butter, no food-grade butters allowed either. I heard people recommending peanut butter a couple of times…I don’t even know why this would be an option but don’t go there.
Wood and volcanic ash are becoming popular ingredients in hair masks. They contain a lot of nutrients that are incredible for dull and dry hair, as well as alleviating for some scalp conditions. The problem is that ash and water turn into clay. Imagine getting clay out of your hair. As nice a treatment as it is for loose hair, there’s no good reason to be putting that in dreadlocks.
There’s a huge misconception that dreads are dirty. Although it’s only necessary that you wash your hair once a week, your hair needs to be clean in order for it to dread properly. Some people also think that you’ll feel more connected to mother nature if you add elements of the earth to your locs. Sorry if this is offensive to someone but that’s pure nonsense. If you want to connect to the earth, ground yourself instead– just keep your head away from the ground. 😉
7. Dish soap
Dish soap works well for cutting grease. Some people will use in place of regular shampoo if their scalp is super oily as well as a buildup remover. The problem is that just about every ingredient in conventional dish soap is toxic for your skin and harmful to your hair. Do yourself the favor of substituting dish soap for natural ingredients that effectively deep clean hair, such as apple cider vinegar, baking soda, and witch hazel.
Some people believe that gluing the hair will help it to knot up better especially in newer dreads that are seemingly loose. Glue is inconvenient, harmful for your hair, and completely unnecessary. Your hair will knot up in its own time- just be patient. Meanwhile, the wood glue, super glue, hair glue, and a hot glue gun are off limits!
9. Bubble gum
I read that someone had been recommended bubble gum to help their dreads stick together. For starters, your dreads should never be sticky — they should be knotty. If they are sticky, you’re doing something wrong.
10. Cow dung
I had to throw this one in subtly even though it’s repulsive to think that someone would lather poo in their hair. There’s a rumor that cow dung and herbs will magically cure baldness and bald spots. It’s not something I would personally try but apparently, it’s a substance in question. No more commentary needed…
It’s true that honey is a natural ingredient that contains nutritious properties for the face, hair, and body. The fact that it’s sticky makes people think that it’s going to help their dreads in some sort of way. Wrong! Sticky hair does not dread- clean hair does. Plus, sugar attracts ants so good luck with that one!
Avocado hair masks are amazing for loose hair, but try to get that out of your dreads. No thanks.
13. Raw egg
A couple of years before getting dreads, I spent six months doing a no-poo treatment for my hair. Since I stopped using store-bought shampoo altogether, my hair was super greasy most of the time. The only natural remedy I found for effectively removing the excess oil was egg yolk. Eggs made my hair look and feel amazing but the entire time that my hair was wet, it smelled like a rotten egg. Not to mention that (without fail), I would always find little bits of egg that didn’t rinse off completely. With dreads, it’s a completely different scenario. Not only is your hair wet for much longer (meaning you’ll stink for a long time), but getting little bits of egg out of dreads would be a nightmare if even possible.
I tried the banana peel and mashed banana deal on my hair before, although never on dreads…let’s just say that your best options are to eat it or leave it in the fruit bowl.
Like eggs, mayo is known for making your hair look super silky and shiny. With dreads, making your hair silky should not be a priority since it could loosen up some of the knots.
Yogurt cleanses the scalp and also leaves your hair looking silky but food, in general, is a bad idea. If a little bit of yogurt (or any food product for that matter) isn’t washed off one hundred percent, bacteria or mold could start growing in there. Skip the dairy.
17. Chicken grease
I read that chicken grease, and other animal fats, are used for improving hair growth. That might work on undreaded hair, but don’t put that near your dreadlocks. As with all things food, don’t put anything in your hair that has the potential to spoil or get rancid because it will stay there, and sooner than later, you’ll smell it!
Vegetable oils are allowed on your scalp but only in moderation- maybe a pea size (tops) every night and occasionally a hot oil treatment. Never put oils on your dreadlocks directly because it will weigh them down and they’ll be more prone to attracting lint and dirt. If you’re interested in oils that improve your scalp, encourage hair growth, etc, check out this blog.
19. Flat beer
They say that pouring a flat beer after shampooing is great for repairing dry and damaged hair, adding volume, and restoring shine. I would avoid this at all costs, mostly because it reeks.
20. Coca Cola
People have tried rinsing their hair with coca cola because it leaves the hair looking shiny and voluminous. There’s no benefit to pouring Coca Cola on your dreadlocks. The consequence, however, will be residue, buildup, and stickiness. Don’t try it.
21. Old coffee grounds
Using coffee grounds as an exfoliant on your body is amazing. Using it as an exfoliant for your scalp is a recipe for disaster — if you have dreads, that is. There’s no way that anyone could successfully remove all the coffee grounds unless they brushed out their hair. It’s absolutely not worth it.
22. Chemical dyes
Be very wary of the dyes that you use in your hair- not just for the sake of potentially ruining your locs but more importantly for the sake of your health. Chemical dyes oftentimes include coal-tar colors which the FDA does not regulate – the FDA does not need to approve the use of coal-tar dyes in products. Toluene (which is distilled from coal tar) is found in bleaching and hair coloring products, usually under the names toluene-2,5-diamine (TD) and toluene-2,5-diamine sulfate (TDS). Other synthetic colors found in chemical dyes are not good for your hair or wellbeing either. You’ll find them listed as D&C or FD&C, followed by a color and number. D&C stands for drugs and cosmetics. FD&C stands for food, drug, and cosmetics.
23. Alcohol (short-chain)
Alcohol is used as an emulsifier for cosmetics but is also a very drying ingredient causing frizziness, thinning, and breakage. There are two kinds of alcohol- the good kind (long-chain) which is suitable for drinking. The bad kind (short-chain) is added to most cosmetics. Short-chain alcohols are labeled as isopropyl alcohol, isopropanol alcohol, propanol, propyl alcohol, ethanol, ethyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and SD alcohol 40. Alcohol will strip your hair of moisture and, in the case of ethanol, will increase the absorption of chemicals (making it easier for them to end up in your bloodstream). Some products, like the Witch Hazel that I use, contains 14% all-natural grain alcohol (the good kind of alcohol).
Parabens are synthetic preservatives used in cosmetics to prevent mold, yeast, and bacterial growth. Parabens have many known side effects, such as skin irritation, contact dermatitis, dysfunction of the immune system, reproductive and developmental disorders. Some studies have found that parabens contain properties that mimic the hormone estrogen which can lead to breast cancer, a reduction in sperm production, early puberty, and faster aging. Parabens are disguised under the following pseudonyms: ethyl-, methyl-, propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl-, and isobutyl-. Sometimes the word “paraben” will follow one of the pseudonyms but not always.
Sulfates strip your hair of its natural oils and can cause skin irritation. Some people are allergic to it and will develop skin conditions like acne. It’s commonly found under the names sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), and anything that closely resembles those names.
26. Silicone products
Silicone (a plastic-like substance) is added to hair products to give the impression that your locs are shiny. What it really does is it coats the scalp and hair strands, sealing off water and air, and most certainly leaving residue. It’s not just bad for your hair but is also bad for the environment. Avoid products that end in -col, -conol, -xane, or -cone, for example, dimethicone.
Phthalates are much like parabens in that they interfere with early puberty, are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, as well as birth defects, premature births, and reproductive problems. This is an ingredient commonly found in fragrances (diethyl phthalates), which is neither specified nor disclosed to the public. Dimethyl phthalate is used in other hair care products.
28. Propylene Glycol (PG)
Propylene glycol is used in many skin and hair-care products. Even one of my favorite cosmetic companies, Lush, carries it in 67 of its products while claiming that it has no side-effects. It’s considered “safe” to most and is water-soluble, however, it’s a known skin irritant, it can cause contact dermatitis, neurological issues, and may not be safe for pregnant women. I’ll let you decide if you want to use it or not.
29. Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs)
Polyethylene glycol is another petroleum-based product. It’s a known human carcinogen and extremely toxic, even in minimal amounts. Unfortunately, this chemical compound has been found in almost 50% of products that are labeled “natural” or “organic”. Inspect labels carefully for the name PEG followed by a number. The number represents the average units of ethylene glycol that the product contains.
30. Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT)
These two compounds are used as preservatives in hair products. They have been linked to neurotoxicity as well as lung toxicity and allergic reactions.
31. Ethanolamine Compounds
These compounds are commonly found in shampoos, hair dyes, and other beauty products. They are known carcinogens and have been linked to organ toxicity. They hide under the names diethanolamine, triethanolamine, and several other names which include the acronyms DEA, TEA, and MEA.
32. Tight accessories
Baby dreads are often kept separated with rubber bands at the roots to prevent congo-ing. Keeping the rubber bands long-term will deform the dreads. If a rubber band breaks, the dread might “swallow it up” and melt inside the dread if you blow dry them. Rotting rubber bands can contribute to mold. Tight beads are also not recommended, especially in baby locs, because they will cause weak spots within the dread. If you choose to use beads anyway, make sure that you move them around on occasion to give those parts of the hair the ability to dread properly
33. A flame
I had to finish this post with the most interesting (and horrific) advice I’ve heard for frizzy dreads. I heard that in order to remove the frizzy hairs and maintain the loose tips, you should burn them with a flame. The smell of burning hair should be enough of a turn-off, but the long-term damage done to your hair would be irreversible. Please never do this!
I hope this post was helpful and that you never put any of the 33 listed items in your hair. There are so many ways to naturally treat scalp and hair conditions, that chemical ingredients should never be an option. The locs themselves take months, if not years, to fully mature. Learn to love the process and nurture your hair with products that are healthy and not harmful to you or your hair.
What crazy advice have you heard with regard to dreadlock products? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!