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Whether you already have locs or are considering trying them out, an expert explains how to care for the culturally significant style.

Locs: The Ultimate Hair Care Guide—According to a Pro

Whether you already have locs or are considering trying them out, an expert explains how to care for the culturally significant style.
Locs: The Ultimate Hair Care Guide—According to a Pro

Locs are not a new hairstyle, but if they’re all over your For You page these days, you can thank a talented singing-sister duo for making them everyone’s current hairspo. Unlike other trendy natural hairstyles, locs are a bit of a commitment, so you should really know what you’re getting yourself into before booking a salon appointment.

Luckily for you, we consulted loctician to the stars Shanique Frett, who’s known for styling the iconic locs of your favorite mermaid—er, singer/actress. Read on for Frett’s must-have tips for how to care for locs, including the products you need to add to your routine.

Good hair day by @fashioncrave

What Are Locs?

Locs are a hairstyle created by intentionally or unintentionally twisting and locking strands of hair together to create matted rope-like strands. They’ve become increasingly popular over the years as they look stunning and are fairly low maintenance to care for. Of course, while locs are having a well-deserved moment on social media, red carpets, and the big screen, this style is nothing new. As Frett explains, locs have a rich history that dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

“Locs are a culturally significant hairstyle deeply rooted in various cultures and civilizations such as Egypt, India, and Ethiopia. In many cultures, locs are often worn for spiritual or religious reasons, and serve as a powerful statement of Black pride and resistance against oppression.”

Good hair day by @liplocd

What’s the Difference Between Dreads and Locs?

Whether you’re just curious about locs or they’ve been on your hairstyle inspo board forever, chances are good you’ve heard the term “dreadlocks,” and you may be wondering—are locs and dreadlocks the same thing? Yes, they are.

As a native of the Caribbean, Frett grew up calling this natural hairstyle “dreads.” She explains that it wasn’t until she moved to the United States that she regularly heard people using the term “locs.” “We’ve called it dreads all my life,” she says, “so it’s the same thing from my perspective.”

While the checkered history of the name is up for debate, many loc wearers prefer to drop “dread” from the name given the word's negative connotation.

Good hair day by @shaniquefrett

Can Any Texture Achieve Locs?

Locs are not exclusive to one hair texture, but Frett says some textures may take to the locing process easier than others.

“All textures will present their own challenges and benefits when it comes to forming locs. Straighter textures may need additional techniques and products to encourage the locing process.” Frett adds, “The coiler, tighter, or more textured the hair is, it’s definitely easier to start dreadlocks because the hair is [already] winding around each other.”

In her years of experience, the pro has learned the secret to successfully starting locs on straight and wavy hair textures is to eliminate as much water as possible from the process. So instead of shampooing, conditioning, and then palm rolling to maintain locs, Frett would shampoo, condition, dry, and then apply product so there’s more “grit to the hair.” She reaches for foams like Mizani Styling Foam Wrap when working with straight or wavy textures.

Frett also uses techniques like the crochet method—where a tiny crochet needle is used with a back and forth winding motion—to create instant locs so the hair would “loc faster.”

Good hair day by @naturalcentric

Are Locs Versatile?

If you love to switch up your hairstyle and think locs aren’t for you—think again. Not only are locs versatile, lending themselves to many popular hairstyles such as ponytails, buns, braids, and curls, Frett says loc wearers have many styling options.

“In the early stages of the locing process, many people wear wigs as the locs are shorter, making wearing a wig easy. Braiding or wrapping over locs has become a popular trend, so whether you are styling your locs or adding extensions, locs provide much style versatility.”

As your locs mature, you can also consult with your stylist on adding highlights or color. Going gray? Embrace your silver strands by simply letting them be or book a salon treatment for a hair gloss to help boost shine.

Good hair day by @samira.bem

Are Locs Healthy for Your Hair?

One of the biggest myths about locs is that there’s no maintenance required. “You still need to manage moisture and tension to ensure that you maintain the healthiness of your locs,” Frett says.

When locs are too dry, they can break off at the root or split midshaft. If you have a finer hair texture and start your locs too thick, then you can create premature thinning. Palm rolling too often or heavy locs may also lead to hair thinning (read about one writer’s loc journey halted by traction alopecia here). And without consistently and properly covering your locs before going to bed, this can lead to lint and product buildup.

Frett believes locs can be healthy for your hair, but this natural hairstyle “requires a level of maintenance like any other hairstyle.”

Whether you already have locs or are considering trying them out, an expert explains how to care for the culturally significant style.

Good hair day by @shaniquefrett

Does hair grow faster in locs?

If you’ve been staring at your locs and wondering if they are rapidly growing, it definitely can appear that way. Frett explains, “The less manipulation that you do on a daily basis like brushing and combing, the hair will have a better chance to not split, break, or be over processed. So it will grow.”

With locs for hair, you can eliminate a lot of those styling processes. Frett witnessed this, particularly at the height of the pandemic, when her clients weren’t coming into the salon. “They did their own regimen, weren’t coloring grays, or asking me to blow dry it.” She continues, “Locs is a style where we do some maintenance but the maintenance is different from how we traditionally deal with our hair. It gets left alone to flourish.”

Good hair day by @naivashaintl @brothervellies

How are locs created?

Locs are formed by matting and locking strands of hair together to create a thick strand. Frett says several techniques can be used to create locs depending on your hair texture and desired look.

“Locs can be achieved in several ways, such as neglect (free form locs), twisting, palm rolling, or interlocking or crocheting,” she explains. “The journey can be started with comb coils, two-strand twists, braids, instant locking with a crochet needle, or faux loc extensions.”

Good hair day by @cesar4styles

How To Care for Your Locs

One of the best things about locs is how low maintenance they are, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect your haircare routine. That said, your haircare routine may look slightly different depending on how far along you are in your loc journey.

When your locs are brand new, it’s crucial to manipulate them as little as possible, as that may hinder the locing process. For best results, consult your loctician about how long you should wait before washing and conditioning your locs. Frett recommends waiting anywhere from three to six weeks, depending on the texture of your hair. While you wait for your locs to mature, you can manage any scalp itch with a few cotton swabs and witch hazel.

Step 1: Shampoo

Once your locs begin to mature, Frett recommends washing your locs every two to four weeks. Because she suggests going longer periods without washing your hair, choosing the right shampoo formula is important.

“A good clarifying shampoo is necessary as it aids in removing buildup and dirt that gets trapped in the loc,” she explains. “You want to be mindful that excessive shampooing could lead to dry and brittle locs depending on the texture.”

Frett recommends using the L’Oréal Professionnel Metal Detox Shampoo. Formulated with patented technology, the Metal Detox Shampoo features Glicoamine, a molecule small enough to penetrate and neutralize metal inside the hair fiber.

Step 2: Condition

Shampooing your locs is a no-brainer, but there’s been some debate about whether you should condition locs. Those against conditioning worry the conditioner will soften the locs too much, causing them to unravel, but Frett says you can and should condition your locs—as long as you have the right conditioner.

“You want to choose a lightweight and residue-free conditioner to avoid buildup. Leave-in conditioners are also great to avoid buildup but provide moisture retention,” she explains. “My conditioner of choice is Matrix Food For Soft Hydrating Conditioner.”

Step 3: Dry

This step seems pretty straightforward, however, some professionals have different views on the best method to dry your locs. Frett says locs can be air dried, but if you are short on time, she recommends having a hot tool or two on hand to speed up the process.

“Air drying maintains the integrity of the locs and helps to avoid heat damage,” she says. But locs tend to have a longer drying time, so Frett recommends starting with a hooded dryer, then air drying to finish the job.

Frett cautions against towel drying and swears by the T-shirt method instead. She explains, “What the T-shirt is going to do is eliminate lint from getting into your locs, but it will also soak up the majority of the water out of the hair. You’ll need to just blot it, squeeze, and dry.”

Step 4: Mist

When it comes to daily loc maintenance, you’ll want to make sure that you mist your hair with essential oils. Frett’s favorite is jojoba oil because she believes it’s the closest to the natural oils our strands secrete. She recommends mixing jojoba, peppermint, and rosemary oils along with equal parts water to create a DIY mist that you spritz on hair every day.

“[The water] is opening up the cuticle so that the essential oils can go into the hair and not just sit on top of the hair,” says Frett.

Step 5: Cover

If you’re in an environment that is humid and there’s exposure to lots of sun rays like the beach, Frett strongly encourages you to protect your locs. She suggests tying your hair up so the sun doesn’t dry it out and make it look dull. You can also protect against humidity with an anti-frizz spray like Mizani HRM Humidity Resistant Spray, which was created with all textures and curl types in mind.

You’ll also want to be mindful if you work in a factory or are exposed to dust and debris. Frett explains, “Everything gets trapped in your locs…[which can] make them look dirty, unkempt, and unsanitary.”

When you go to bed, Frett says you always need to use a satin or silk bonnet or scarf to tie your locs down. Worried about your head covering slipping off while you sleep? The loctician recommends wrapping a cotton fabric on top to ensure the silky material doesn’t move.

Good hair day by @pekelariley

How To Remove Locs

Many people who opt for locs commit to the style for a lifetime, but that doesn’t mean you have to. When you’re ready to retire your locs, Frett says there are several ways to remove them.

“You can cut at the new growth or take a more tedious route by taking a pin or comb and detangling the locs out. This is also dependent on hair texture.”

If you decide to comb out your locs, just know that the process can often take up to several days to complete depending on the length, thickness, and age of your locs. Be prepared to see a lot of shedding, as much of the hair that makes up your locs is no longer attached to your scalp and only remains a part of your style because your strands are twisted and matted together. While the shedding is likely intense, if you aren’t dealing with hair loss and have been taking care of your locs, your hair should be healthy and ready for the next style.

Hydration should be a priority after removing locs. “I would do a balanced treatment of moisture and protein with a steam to push all of that into the cuticle,” says Frett. She also advises to minimize flat ironing and other heat styling to maintain moisture in order to get back the integrity of your hair.

Change your mind and want to reattach your locs? If your locs weren't long to begin with, Frett says they may not be worth saving. But if you have at least three to four inches that were cut as blunt as possible, loc reattachment is definitely a possibility. “Shampoo and dry them really well,” she explains. “Do not keep them closed up because they will mildew or get funky. Keep them open to preserve for reattachment.” Your loctician will comb out the top part of the cut locs so that you have loose hairs to crochet back onto your natural hair.

Whether you commit to locs for a lifetime or just a season, equipped with Frett’s expert tips, you’re sure to slay the style.

NEXT UP: How To Perfect Your Wash-And-Go Routine In 4 Easy Steps

Header image credit: @samira.bem

Still not sure whether locs are for you? Use our salon locator to book a consultation at a salon near you. Explore The Texture Edit for more expert advice on natural hairstyles.

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