White Stuff in Dreads? This is What it is and How to Fix it!

White things in dreads
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Are you seeing little white dots in your dreads? If so, know that you’re not alone and there’s a solution for all of them. In this article, we’ll explore the different root causes of the white dots you might be experiencing, what to do about them, and how to prevent them from happening again in the future. 

What are the white things in my dreads?

The white stuff in dreads can be caused by several things, including excess sebum on the scalp, dandruff, product buildup, club hairs (aka white bulbs), bugs (i.e. lice nits…eeek!), mold, or lint.

So, what are each of these specifically?

  • Sebum is an oily substance that is produced by the sebaceous glands. It helps to keep the skin and hair moisturized. When there is too much sebum, the natural oils and dead skin cells can build up and form a plug in the hair follicle.
  • Dandruff is a condition of the scalp that causes dry scalp flakes to form. Dandruff can be caused by a number of things, including dry skin, oily skin, and sensitivity to certain hair products. Dandruff appears as white flakes centered around the scalp. It is not contagious and it is not harmful to the scalp. However, it can be embarrassing and it can cause excessive itchiness.
  • Product build-up is, as the name suggests, buildup caused by products. Unlike loose hairstyles, your dreads require special products that will wash off thoroughly and not get stuck inside the locs. The majority of traditional shampoos, conditioners, and creams contain ingredients that will coat the hair strand. This makes it difficult to wash them off completely.

    As a result, these products can become trapped inside of the loc and become impossible to remove. In a previous article, I highlighted a list of ingredients that are bad for locs. Contrary to popular belief, wax of any kind is also an enemy of dreadlocks— here I explain why.
  • Club hairs are little white (or brown) bulbs found at the tip of the hair follicle. This is the root of your hair that is attached to the scalp. Being that they’re no longer attached to your scalp is nothing to worry about- in fact, this is the natural result of your hair shedding.

    Since the hair you shed gets trapped within your locs, you’ll notice these small bulbs appearing near the top of your hair (usually around the two inches nearest to your scalp). The color, whether they’re white or brown, depends on the melanin that your body produces.
  • In rare cases, bugs such as lice nits (eggs) might be the reason you have white dots scattered throughout your locs. Lice can be found anywhere on your scalp and hair but you may see more of them around the hairline and behind the ear. The most common accompanying symptom to be on the lookout for is an itchy scalp. Also, unlike dandruff, they cannot be shaken off.  
  • Mold, although usually not white in color, can also be the culprit of the stuff you see in locs. Much like bugs, mold is very rare but also worth mentioning as a possibility because it happens. Mold occurs when the core of your dreads remains wet for too long, thereby creating an environment that encourages bacterial growth. You can quickly identify mold growth by the sour smell of dread rot.
  • Lint can be found throughout any part of the locs, and may be white or other colors. Because of the texture of dreadlocks, lint can attach itself to the outside of the dreads, and if not removed in time, can get sucked into them over time. Lint can initially look like mold, but the defining factor between the two is the foul smell or lack of.

What are the consequences of having white stuff in dreads?

The consequences of having white spots and things in your locs can be cosmetic or medical.

Cosmetically, it can make the dreads appear dirty and can be difficult to remove. If the white stuff is sebum or product buildup, it can attract dirt and dust, which can make the dreads heavy and look even dirtier.

Medical consequences can include scalp infections, such as folliculitis, scalp psoriasis, or an inflammation of the scalp and hair follicles. This can cause the hair to fall out and can lead to scarring. In severe cases, it can even cause permanent hair loss or inhibit hair growth.

If any of the above symptoms are accompanied by severe itching, redness, or flaking, it is important to see a doctor or dermatologist to rule out any underlying scalp conditions. 

How can you get rid of it?

Getting rid of the white stuff in your locs is dependent on what the root cause of the issue is.

  • In the case of excess sebum on the scalp, my recommendation is to wash your locs and scalp more often. The best way to do this is by using a dreadlock-friendly shampoo. A residue-free shampoo or clarifying shampoo will help remove the sebum and the dirt, and will also help prevent further build-up. I recommend washing your hair at least once a week and no more than twice a week.
  • In the case of dandruff, I recommend washing your scalp with an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo. The downside is that most of the over-the-counter products designed to treat dandruff contain chemicals that do not belong near your locs (i.e. coal tar and propylene glycol).

    If you’re wanting to stick to natural ingredients, do an apple cider vinegar rinse and only target the scalp. [For an ACV rinse, mix 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of water. Shake well and apply to scalp after shampooing).

    The only problem with this method is that wet hair will smell like vinegar until it dries thoroughly. There are two solutions to mitigate this. Either add strong essential oils (i.e. tea tree) to the ACV, or dry your hair with a hair dryer.

    If the dandruff situation is severe, a doctor may prescribe a medicated shampoo. Click here to find additional tips and learn what I did to reduce dandruff.
  • In the case of buildup, I recommend that you switch over to residue-free products immediately and then do a deep cleanse. In this previous article, I discuss why it’s important to do a deep cleanse twice a year and the benefits it can have in your overall loc health.

    ** Note that deep cleansing is not recommended for dreadlocks that are younger than six months old. This is because the ACV rinse and soak component may result in a bit of unraveling and slow down the locking process of new dreads.
  • In the case of club hairs, there’s unfortunately not much you can do. You could go loc by loc and cut them individually, but that would be extremely tedious, time-consuming, and would require constant upkeep. The next best option would be to accept it, but I understand that it could make some people self-conscious.
  • My final solution, which I do not necessarily recommend, is to dye the hair. I personally wouldn’t dye dreadlocks because the chemicals are too strong. If the dye lingers too long on your dreads, it could damage them, cause your hair to become weak, and result in extensive thinning. If you decide to dye them anyway, do so at your own risk but know that it could have permanent consequences.
  • In the case of lice or other bugs, read this article. In it, I explain several methods to kill and remove bugs, how to treat your hair, and how to prevent them in the future.
  • In the case of mold or lint, the first step is identifying which of the two you have (fingers crossed it’s lint!). Even though they look similar to the naked eye, stinky dreads are a defining factor of dread rot.

Getting rid of mold and lint is much harder than preventing it.

  • To prevent mold, you need to be diligent about keeping your locs dry on a regular basis. Air drying is great but only if your hair gets wet during the earlier part of the day. You need to allow the inner part of your locs to dry thoroughly, and with locs you’ll discover that it can take a very long time. The amount of time will vary based on how thick your dreads are, as well as the climate you’re in.
  • As for preventing lint, there are two simple and effective ways to do this. The most important one is by protecting your hair while sleeping. You can sleep with a silk pillowcase or a silk bonnet— I prefer the bonnet but you pick what feels more comfortable for you. The second thing is to use a lint-free towel when drying your hair. Microfiber towels are my absolute favorite because they soak up a lot of water and they don’t leave lint in my hair. Win-win!! (Already have lint? Learn how to get rid of it here!)

Whether you’re a victim of mold/ lint or not, I encourage you to read this guide to ensure you’re caring for your dreads properly and taking the appropriate measures to prevent them in the future.

In that article, I also explain the best solution for getting rid of both mold and lint.

I hope this article helped you identify the reason why you have white stuff in your dreadlocks. It’s an important thing to remember that just like loose hair, dreads are not a low-maintenance hairstyle, especially during the early stages. Much like normal hair, locs require regular cleaning, a healthy scalp, the right products, and lots of love and patience.

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