Dreads & Sweat: How to Keep Your Locs Fresh

Dread & Sweat: Keeping Locs Fresh and Clean

The best part about finishing a tough workout is taking a shower at the end. Dreads can become inconvenient when the scalp becomes overly sweaty and your “shampoo day” is still a few days away. Sweat that is left to dry on your scalp can contribute to itchiness, buildup, and stinky hair, amongst other things. 

This brings us to two common questions.

  1. Should athletes think twice about getting dreads? Absolutely not.
  2. Should people with dreads give up the gym? No way. Caring for your hair and your body go hand in hand. 

Workouts aren’t the only time when your scalp will get sweaty. Your body sweats when you’re stressed, after eating spicy foods, and when you’re in a humid climate.

Quick story! Two months after getting my locs installed, I spent a month backpacking through Southeast Asia. Statistically, it was the hottest and most humid month of the year…lucky me! My locs weren’t too pleased and neither was I.

I think I washed my hair twice during the entire trip because I didn’t have a hair dryer and I feared that the climate would be too humid for my hair to dry properly. I was also sweating a lot…all day, every day! On top of the sweat, I didn’t palm roll my hair once because I worked up too much of a sweat doing that.

My hair turned into a complete disaster as you can see in this photo.

Nadia Zbyszycki in Thailand - messy dreadlocks
Can you count any individual dreads? …yea, me either.

The first person I visited upon returning home was my loctician. She is amazing! She spent more than five hours fixing my roots and retouching my locs.

Completely neglecting my hair taught me a lesson. Ever since then I have been more proactive in caring for my hair especially after my scalp gets sweaty.

Is sweating bad for dreads? 

Sweat is just saltwater, so it can’t be that bad, right? Wrong!

Sweat is the body’s natural way of cooling you down while releasing toxins from your body. With this criteria, sweating is actually a good thing — for your health. In loose hair, you can wash those toxins away every day if you wanted to, but with dreads, that’s not the case.

If you don’t clean your scalp after you sweat, all the toxins your body just released can start to build up and cause irritation, itchiness, dandruff, and eventually, hair loss. 

Dreadlocked hair absorbs all the sweaty moisture and it takes a while for it to dry off. This creates a breeding ground for bacteria which can lead to stinky hair over a short period of time.

Sweating can lead to dirty hair which, as we know, does not dread nearly as well as clean hair. In other words, it can slow down the maturing process. 

On the other hand, washing (and even rinsing) your hair after every workout will not only loosen up your knots but also increase your risk of mildew because the hair doesn’t have a chance to dry properly from within. Locs are like sponges. Mature locs can take up to 24 hours to dry thoroughly. The thicker they are, the longer they’ll stay wet, and the higher the risk you pose.

How to prevent sweaty dreads

Whether you’re an avid athlete, you’re going on a tropical vacation, or you just sweat a lot, remember the following tips to keep your hair always looking clean and smelling fresh! 

Accessories for non-sweaty dreads

  • STRETCHY LARGE HEADBAND
    If you’re going to the gym or doing an activity where you expect that you’ll be sweating, make sure to use a headband made from moisture-wicking fabric. I take these every time I travel because they fit anywhere and I always find the need to use them— I even keep one in my car just in case. Cover your hairline and keep your hair tied up in a bun to prevent your locs from getting sweaty too. I heard Bondi Bands are amazing, although I have never tried them myself. I found these headbands on Amazon— they have better reviews and are a bit cheaper than the Bondi brand. Win-win!
  • LARGE ELASTIC SCRUNCHIES
    Make sure you’re using ties that don’t put too much strain on your scalp. If your hair is pulling too tight, you could end up with a headache and worse, alopecia. These are my favorite ties because they’re gentle on the hair and hold a bun securely.

How to wear your hair

  • TIE YOUR LOCS IN A HIGH BUN.
    Tying your hair up will keep it away from your face, neck, and back, which is where a lot of the sweat collects. Having it tied up will assure you that the only part of the loc that absorbs any sweat will be by the root and not everywhere else.
  • COVER YOUR HAIR.
    With the amazing advancements in fabric technology, you can now worry less about sweat accumulating around your hairline. Moisture-wicking materials are specifically made to absorb moisture. Get yourself a few headbands made with this kind of fabric and use it during your workout and anytime you’re in a humid climate.
  • DO NOT WEAR A BEANIE.
    I know many people that are used to stuffing their dreads in a tam or beanie. While this might work when the weather is cold, it’s not a good idea during hot summer days. The sweat your scalp produces doesn’t absorb well in the beanie— in fact, it makes it worse— so your hair is going to stink because it hasn’t been exposed to fresh air.

Post-Workout / Post-Sweat Care 

  • ALCOHOL-FREE WITCH HAZEL SPRAY
    Witch hazel is an astringent, meaning that it helps to remove excess oils. After a workout, make a witch hazel spray by combining 2 tablespoons of alcohol-free witch hazel with 15-20 drops of your favorite antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial essential oil (like peppermint or tea tree), and 2 cups of distilled water. Shake well, spray it on your scalp, and massage it gently. Peppermint might be a little bit more gentle on sensitive scalps, but like tea tree, it will still leave you with a fresh tingly feeling.
  • VODKA TINCTURE
    I heard a lot of things about the benefits that vodka can have on the hair, one of them being the removal of buildup on the scalp. Although there aren’t any government-funded studies on the effectiveness of that, I think it’s worth a shot. No pun intended! 😉

    For this simple hair tincture, mix half a cup of vodka with 10 to 15 drops of your favorite essential oils in a spray bottle. I like to use a blend of cedarwood, lavender, and rosemary but you can use your preferred combination of antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal essential oils. Shake the bottle and spray it on your scalp after a workout. Let it air dry. When it dries completely, you will smell the essential oils and there will be no trace smell of vodka.

    Another way to make this tincture is by adding a few herbs to a small jar filled with vodka. Let it infuse for a week or two and use that to spray on your scalp. The herbal scents might not be as strong as essential oils but they’ll still be very beneficial to your scalp.
  • BLOW DRY YOUR HAIR
    After a workout, my head is usually pretty sweaty. Sometimes it’ll be completely dry by the time I get home, but if it isn’t, I spend a few minutes drying it with a blow dryer. Whenever possible, dry your hair with the “cool” setting because the hot air can cause damage to your locs. Plus, hot air is going to make your scalp even more sweaty during the summer!
  • OIL SCALP CLEANSER
    I know that when your head is dripping in sweat, the last thing you think about is adding more things to it. Our general perception is that oils are thick and sticky so a super greasy scalp would not benefit from it at all. This is not entirely true. Lightweight oils, like grapeseed and jojoba, have cleansing properties and do not clog the pores.

    Once your sweaty scalp has had a chance to dry, I recommend mixing a few drops of peppermint or tea tree oil with grapeseed or jojoba oil and massaging your head all over. Massaging this combination of oils will help to remove the toxins and bacteria while retaining vital moisture and nutrients (which you would be removing if you washed your hair daily).
  • WASH YOUR HAIR
    If your hair is abnormally greasy or dirty even after trying the witch hazel or essential oil sprays, you can wash it twice a week. I wouldn’t recommend washing it more often than that, even though some people do it up to three times a week. Do what works best for you but always make sure you dry your hair completely.
  • BAKING SODA AND ACV
    Baking soda is great for exfoliating and stripping off any buildup on the scalp. It can be a little bit harsh if it’s used on its own, so you should follow it up with an apple cider vinegar rinse. ACV not only neutralizes the pH of your scalp but also helps to remove the buildup. It can loosen up your dreads if you use it too often.

    For the baking soda wash, start by mixing together 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda with 1 cup warm water. If you want, add a few essential oils to it as well. Dissolve the mixture and then gently pour it over your wet hair. Massage your scalp for a few minutes and rinse it off well.

    For the ACV rinse, mix together 2 tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar with 8 ounces of water. I combine them in a plastic squeeze bottle because it helps me to pour it evenly over my scalp. Shake the bottle well and apply it to your scalp, massaging the roots of your hair for a couple of minutes. Rinse it off completely. When your hair dries out, the smell of the vinegar should disappear but you might smell like vinegar if your scalp gets wet again.

    * I would recommend doing this only once a month but try it out and see how your hair feels afterward. If you feel like it’s really beneficial, I’m not going to stop you from doing it more often. 🙂

General dread & sweat tips

  • EAT A CLEANER DIET.
    If you’re working out a lot, I’m sure you care enough about your health to pay attention to the foods you’re eating. It would be counterproductive to eat a bunch of junk and processed foods and then spend an hour or more working out. You sweat regardless of what you eat, however the worse your diet, the worse toxins you’ll be sweating off. Your sweat might not stink as much if you’re eating fresh vegetables and fruits, versus processed foods.
  • PROTECT YOUR HAIR.
    Any time you’re doing outdoor activities, you should protect your scalp from the sun (to prevent sunburns) and your hair from dirt and the elements. A headband is perfect for that! Plus, if you’re sweating, the headband will absorb a lot of the moisture that might otherwise be absorbed by your dreads.

This is the bottom line: Your dreads will need a little special attention if your scalp is sweating a lot.

There’s no such thing as “100% neglect” dreads, okay? Well…maybe there is! If you want to neglect your hair entirely, you can expect it to look like this after a decade:

Long dreadlocks
Sadly, there’s no photoshop here. You can credit me for the amazing blurry photo skills.

I hope the tips were helpful to you!

You might also be wondering…

Will dreads make you feel hotter in warmer / cooler temperatures?

They might.

Wearing your hair loose can make your neck feel warmer and that heat might get transferred to the rest of your body. 

Hair extensions, especially synthetic and wool ones, will definitely make you feel warmer. Those kinds of extensions should be used during winter months and avoided during summer months, or if you’re planning to travel places with humid climates.

Will my dreads get ruined if I swim?

Swimming is no problem if you have dreads. Chlorine is not going to hurt your locs any more than it would hurt loose hair. If you’re swimming in the ocean, saltwater will help your dreads tighten up.

  • It’s recommended that you go swimming on the same day that you’re planning to wash your hair, that way you don’t get it wet too much in the same week.
  • After swimming, wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo to remove any chlorine or saltwater.
  • If you swim a lot and you haven’t gotten locs yet but are considering it, my advice is that you get thin dreads. Thick dreads take WAY too long to dry completely and leaving your hair wet for a long time is not an option. A good thickness would be about the size of a number 2 pencil.
  • If you swim every day (or almost every day), you have two options. One is that you get a dreadlock swim cap. Hopefully, you’re not swimming with the intent to make a fashion statement, because these caps will not help you out in that regard. But since your locs are way more important, the cap is totally worth it! 😉 If you don’t like that idea, option two is that you pick a different hairstyle. Having wet dreadlocks for more than two days straight puts you at serious risk for mold. Eventually, that can become a health issue that shouldn’t be messed around with.

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