To Wax or Not To Wax: The Leading Dreadlock Debate

To Wax or Not To Wax: The Leading Dreadlock Debate
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Dreadlocks are made up of knotted strands of hair. Many people believe that in order to get dreads, they have to constantly be doing maintenance and adding products to it. This is true to a small degree but you can’t get too crazy. 

Dreads are a hairstyle that requires very little maintenance and products. The main goal is to keep your hair constantly clean- free from any debris, dirt, lint or whatever else is floating around in your environment. Less is more when it comes to your locs!  

Using Wax in Dreads

Is wax bad for dreads?

Contrary to popular belief, dreads don’t need wax or any sticking agent for that matter. Hair knots itself naturally. 

Think about your pre-dread stage for a minute. There are all sorts of conditioning and detangling products out there to make the hair appear silky and soft. If we didn’t add conditioner after a wash, our hair would knot all over the place. 

Here’s another way to think about it. After cooking spaghetti, many people add some oil to prevent it from sticking. If no oil is added, the noodles become stuck to each other within minutes. 

Our hair works the same. If we add wax to it, we are coating the hair strands and preventing them from locking up properly. 

Dreads require an enormous amount of patience…that’s it! The first couple years are a struggle. I can relate first-hand. Patience is hard to come by in our fast-paced world, but that’s why they call it a dreadlock journey. You won’t get to where you want to be overnight.   

Wax replaces patience in the short-term. We’ll discuss the pro’s and con’s to using wax in this post, but first I’ll highlight the ingredients that are used in the most popular brands of dread waxes. 

What is dread wax?

Dread wax is a product that is typically used in the formation of dreadlocks, usually in the beginning stages but also during maintenance. It’s used to maintain the locs in place and allows for a cleaner look because the frizzies become stuck to each other during palm rolling.

There are different types of waxes that are commonly used in dreads. Not all of the options are healthy for the hair because many contain harmful ingredients that are often disguised under their scientific names. 

  • BEESWAX is popular because it’s a natural and unprocessed ingredient. Beeswax is stiff and thick. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to remove from natural hair because it’s not water-soluble. It’s a nightmare to remove from dreadlocks. The melting point of beeswax ranges from 62 to 64 °C (144 to 147 °F). That temperature will scald your scalp.
  • PARAFFIN WAX is the most common type of wax used for making candles and crayons. As you can imagine, it’s also extremely stiff. It’s a gasoline by-product. It is not biodegradable nor water-soluble. Petroleum jelly is soft paraffin wax and used in many dreadlock products. Paraffin wax melts at a temperature between 46 and 68 °C (115 and 154 °F).
  • MINERAL OIL is also known as white oil, paraffin oil, and liquid paraffin. It’s a liquid derivative of the process in which crude oil is turned into petroleum products like gasoline. Baby oil is mineral oil with added fragrances (horrible, I know!). Mineral oil on its own is not soluble in water or vinegar, therefore it requires an emulsifier. 
  • PETROLEUM by-products are commonly mixed in dread waxes (like I just mentioned). In the cosmetic industry, it hides under the names: petrolatum, xylene, liquid paraffin (paraffinum liquidum), toluene and mineral oil.  It has a thick, gooey consistency. Petrolatum melts at approximately 37 °C (99 °F).
  • MICROCRYSTALLINE WAX is a vegan form of beeswax. It’s considered to be an alternative to paraffin wax, however, its melting point is higher than paraffin. It’s synthetic and also derived from crude oil. It contains adhesive and elastic properties. Vaseline is an example of a microcrystalline wax which, as you might know, also has a gooey and thick consistency. Commercial grade microcrystalline wax melts at a temperature ranging from 63° to 93° C (145° to 200° F).

I’m going to dive into four of the most popular dread waxes. Before you buy them, it’s important to really know what’s in them. I don’t have any personal affiliation with any of these companies. I found the list of ingredients on each of their websites since none of them offered a clear ingredient description anywhere else (Amazon, eBay, etc). 

Whether you choose to use these on your hair is entirely up to you. I don’t want to bore you with an ingredient list but I want to show you what they contain to make my point. 

Dread Head HQ Dreadlock Wax

Ingredients include:

  • Beeswax
  • Microcrystalline Wax
  • Mineral/ White Oil
  • Hemp oil
  • Vitamin E
  • Fragrance

Ingredients of most concern: 

  • Beeswax
  • Microcrystalline Wax 
  • Mineral Oil

Jamaican Mango & Lime Locking Firm Wax

Ingredients include:

  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Microcrystalline wax 
  • Beeswax
  • Fragrance
  • Honey
  • Benzyl Benzoate
  • Linalool
  • Geraniol
  • D-Limonene
  • Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde

Ingredients of most concern

  • Petroleum jelly
  • Microcrystalline Wax
  • Beeswax
  • Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde (This is a synthetic fragrance that can cause allergies, such as dermatitis, upon contact. The European Union has prohibited its use in the cosmetic industry.)

Knotty Boy Dread Wax

Ingredients include:

  • Beeswax
  • Castor Oil
  • Shea Butter
  • Hemp Seed Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Kukui Seed Oil
  • Jojoba Oil
  • Vitamin E
  • Black Walnut Extract (In the dark wax only)

Ingredients of most concern

  • Beeswax

Murray’s Cream Beeswax

Ingredients include:

  • Water
  • Beeswax 
  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Microcrystalline Wax
  • Cetearyl Alcohol
  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Glycerin
  • Safflower Seed Oil
  • Tea Tree Leaf Oil
  • Shea Butter
  • Canola Oil
  • Propylene Glycol
  • VP/VA
  • Menthol
  • Panthenyl Ethyl Ether
  • Dimethicone
  • Vitamin E
  • Carbomer
  • Disodium EDTA
  • Methylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Triethanolamine
  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • Polysorbate 60
  • Fragrance

Ingredients of most concern

  • Beeswax
  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Microcrystalline Wax
  • Dimethicone (This ingredient traps skin oils, sebum, bacteria, and other impurities. It’s known as an irritant for skin and eyes.)
  • Triethanolamine (This ingredient is highly toxic and not recommended for prolonged use- especially not in large doses.)

I also have to point out that Murray’s Cream Wax contains TOO many ingredients. Not all of the ingredients are bad for your hair but I’m certain that it will leave buildup (the seller on Amazon confirms the buildup claim too, by the way). It’s water-based, yes, but it has several key items that aren’t. There are other beeswax products by Murray’s that have different ingredients, so make sure you’re carefully reading the labels.

The pros and cons of using wax on dreads

All of the products I just mentioned are well-known among the dreaded community, but popular does not mean that they’re always good for you. Thoroughly research the ingredients of any product you plan to put in your hair. I’m not just referring to waxes, but also shampoos, moisturizing sprays, and conditioning treatments. You want ingredients that will leave NO residue and will NOT leave your hair sticky to attract lint and dirt.

So let’s get to the pros and cons of dread wax!

The cons of using wax

I’ll start with the bad news first to end on a good note. 🙂

  • WAX BUILDS UP IN THE LOCS, no matter how much or little is used. You have to palm roll your dreads in order to incorporate the wax into the dread. Wax on its own is considered a residue. So why would you willingly ADD residue to your hair when you know buildup and residue is the enemy of dreads? No amount of wax is beneficial.
  • IT’S EASY TO USE TOO MUCH WAX. The instructions for each wax mixture differ in how much they recommend you to use. Dreadhead HQ recommends using “the size of a headless gummy hear” and Knotty Boy recommends “working a very small amount and applying more as needed.” On the other hand, Jamaican Mango & Lime recommends that a “generous amount” be applied. These instructions are not just unclear but also misleading.
  • WAX MAKES THE HAIR FEEL HEAVY AND OILY. Contrary to the stereotype, your dreads should never have a sticky or uncomfortable feel to them. They’re supposed to feel lightweight and clean. The more product you apply, the dirtier they can become. Also, note that too much weight on your scalp will create tension on your roots. This, in turn, may lead to future hair loss or thinning dreads.
  • WAX HINDERS THE LOCKING PROCESS IN THE LONG-TERM. It works much like a lubricant in that it coats your hair strands and sticks them together to maintain a dreadlock shape. This doesn’t allow the hair to move around and adjust itself freely (as it needs to). At the same time, it adds unnecessary buildup, weight and a slippery surface where the hair cannot lock. Your hair requires friction and a clean strand to knot up, that’s why during the baby and teenage states your locs will be loose in some areas and matted in others. Wax merely glues the hairs together.  
  • WAX CANNOT BE DISSOLVED IN WATER. Wax is not only insoluble in water but it also has a high melting point. In other words, no matter how many hot showers you take, you’re probably never going to be able to completely remove the wax from the center of your dreads.
  • WAXED DREADS ATTRACT MORE FUZZIES, LINT, AND DIRT than unwaxed dreads since they have a stickier feel to them.
  • WAX WILL GIVE DREADS A DIRTY APPEARANCE. In the long run, wax is going to resurface on the dreads and it will look like buildup and dandruff got stuck all over your hair. Yuck!
  • WATER CAN STAY TRAPPED INSIDE OF THE DREAD. Since water is repelled by wax, when you wash your locs it becomes impossible for the water to flow naturally and cleanse your hair properly. After washing, it will take much longer for your hair to dry thoroughly. If any water remains stuck inside the loc, it can lead to the growth of mildew and cause dread rot. Mold can start growing on your hair in as little as 24 to 48 hours, so long that the environment (ideal humidity and temperature) allows for it.
  • PROLONGED USE OF WAX WILL HARDEN DREADS. Every time you palm roll, the wax penetrates the inner layers of your locs. As wax is being caked on, your hair will harden and get heavier. It may give you the impression of “locked” dreads but this is not the case. If you were to cut through the middle of one loc, you would see they’re just strands of glued hair mixed with a lot of buildup.
  • WAX IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF DREADLOCKS BEING CHOPPED OFF. I read hundreds of comments on the internet and spoke to several friends in the dreadlock community who made the mistake of starting their locs with some type of wax. Some people brushed their hair out within the first month and others chopped off their dreads completely. When you search for products on Amazon, read through the positive AND negative reviews. Many people regret using wax on their hair immediately after applying it. There are positive reviews as well, and I think the results are highly based on hair type as well as how much is being used. 
  • WAX IS COSTLY. A $20 container of wax might last you several months or even years, but skipping it altogether is free! I don’t know about you, but free is always a better option for me. 🙂

The pros of using wax

Now that the bad news are out of the way, I’ll shine some light on a few of its benefits.

  • YOU CAN HAVE SHORT-TERM LOCS. Wax gives your dreads the appearance of mature locs. Say you’re going to a dress-up party and you want to rock your Jack Sparrow look. You’re not gonna win the prize for “Best Costume” if you don’t have some realistic-looking dreads. Wax is going to save you two years of growing dreads by giving you the neat locs of your dreams in under a week. It can also make a fun April Fool’s prank for your grandma. 
  • WAX PROVIDES TEMPORARY STRUCTURE TO THE DREADS. It will make them look smooth and mature, even though the maturing process takes a minimum of one year in product-free dreads. If wax is added in the initial stages, the hair might never have a chance to dread. (Darn it, I’m going back to cons. Sorry!)
  • YOU CAN TRY IT OUT ON A SINGLE DREAD. If you’re still not convinced that wax is a horrible idea for your hair, then my best suggestion is that you buy the wax of your choice and only use it on ONE dread. Pick a dread somewhere in the lower part of your head, that way if you regret it, it will be somewhat hidden among the other locs (…last resort you can cut it off). 

What to do if you already used wax on your dreads

If you have ever used wax in your hair, don’t be too discouraged yet. There are a couple of options for you. 

OPTION 1: The first thing you can try is Wax-B-Gone. It might take a few applications for it to work, depending on how much wax you used up until this point, but it’s definitely worth giving it a chance. I don’t have any affiliation with the company that makes it but I have read only positive reviews about them. Many people have had success with this product in particular which is why I recommend it, especially if you’re at the point where cutting off your dreads is your final option.

OPTION 2: Apple cider vinegar is effective in making the wax less noticeable in your dreads. While it will not remove it (especially not at the core of the dread), it will remove some of the stickiness. Dilute apple cider vinegar with water and let your dreads soak in it for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse and dry your hair thoroughly.

Dread wax alternatives

There are a couple of alternatives to wax, but it depends on what you were planning to use it for in the first place.

– You want neater dreads

If you work in a professional environment and your frizzies are out of control (yup, I’ve been there before!) then a great alternative is 100% pure aloe vera gel. I like to use the aloe leaf because it guarantees that there are no additives. Scrape the gel into a blender, blend it until it’s all the same consistency. Then, strain it into a bowl. Only use the portion that has been strained so the little gel pieces don’t get stuck throughout your hair.

Aloe vera also works surprisingly well as a natural itch-relief! Check out my favorite uses for aloe vera here.

– You want to accelerate the locking process

I know we all get impatient with the way our dreads progress. It’s almost guaranteed that you will have a messy head for the first year and possibly the second one. But don’t worry, there is one thing you can do to lock your dreads a little bit quicker: spray your hair with a locking accelerator spray. (I say “a little bit” because too much of this will dry out your hair and can cause permanent damage. So use it in moderation!)

One of the cheapest and most effective loc accelerators is made by mixing sea salt (or Himalayan pink salt) with warm water. Get the recipe here as well as some tips on how to prevent damaging your hair.

Dreadlocks are all about patience. What they need is time, not wax. The messy stage is organic, wild, and beautiful. It’s a wonderful and unique journey to experience. 

Baby and teenage locs will loosen up way before they become tight and mature. Don’t expect your locs to look perfect overnight. And when they unravel, be extra patient and leave them alone. In due time, they will dread up again!

Give your dreadlocks the love they deserve. Keep them clean, moisturized, and protected.

Don’t screw them up by adding unnecessary and counter-productive waxes. Make sure your loctician doesn’t use them either when you’re getting them professionally maintained.

Enjoy your process and let your dreads happen!

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