How to Take Care of Braids and Dreads

Yes, you need to wash your dreads, dude.

Dreads

Both braids and dreads have a reputation for being relatively low-maintenance, since your hairstyle is more or less already in place when you wake up in the morning. But unless you want bedraggled braids and disheveled dreads, you still need to put in at least some effort. With help from barber Asia Jackson, we’re exploring what that should look like.

How to Take Care of Braids
Before we dive into the upkeep, a brief note about achieving braids: You should always consult with a professional braider — not some random friend who claims to be a braid expert — about what kinds of braids are best suited for your unique hair.

Also, make sure to set aside a good chunk of time when being braided, since braids can take anywhere from four to eight hours. “If you have games on your phone, you’ll be fine,” says my colleague Erin Taj, who’s been sporting braids since she was a kid. “Also, I’d recommend eating before going, because taking a break in the middle to eat will make the process even longer.”

Likewise, make sure to detangle your hair with a deep conditioner and a brush before being braided to ensure a smooth and relatively painless braiding process. Speaking of which, while braids can make your scalp feel tender, tell your braider if they feel too tight, as this can damage both your hair and scalp.

Now, once your hair has been braided, one of the best things you can do to keep them in place is sleep with a silk headscarf, satin pillowcase or something similar. “You should tie your braids down every night,” Jackson says. That way, you can avoid frizziness and shortening the lifespan of your braids by preventing them from going all over the place while you sleep. Plus, Taj says the silk and satin can help the hair retain moisture, which she explains is especially important “when you have kinkier, naturally drier hair.”

Jackson says you can go without washing your braids, depending on how long you keep them. But if you so choose, you can incorporate a gentle cleaning routine, focusing more on your scalp then the actual braids, like this:

  1. Lather a dab of shampoo between your hands.
  2. Using the tips of your fingers, apply the shampoo to your scalp only.
  3. In circular motions, rub the shampoo into your scalp, carefully maneuvering your fingers between your braids.
  4. Rinse thoroughly, allowing the soapy water to soak through your braids.
  5. Repeat with conditioner.
  6. Squeeze any excess water from your braids, then squeeze dry them with a soft towel or old T-shirt.

Nice and clean! If your scalp itches despite a regular cleaning, however, consider using a braid spray from time to time. Similarly, Jackson recommends applying the occasional dab of moisturizing oil between your braids from time to time.

Finally, make sure to undo your braids after no more than eight weeks — Jackson suggest taking them out after two or three weeks — and give your hair another couple weeks to rest. Due to the nature of braids being so tight, wearing them for too long can result in hair loss and damage to the scalp, which nobody wants.

How to Take Care of Dreads
There are several ways to make dreads, the most natural being the neglect method, which involves — you guessed right — neglecting your hair by forgoing combing, brushing and cutting altogether. This method can take years, but fortunately there are all kinds of ways to dread your hair that take much less time, including backcombing, twisting and dread braiding.

Maintaining dreads is kinda similar to maintaining braids, but there are a couple unique pieces of advice, the first being that you should leave them unwashed for the first week or so, since new dreads are super delicate and are prone to loosening and unraveling. So just use a shower cap for that first week, at the very least.

The second tip is to use a residue-free shampoo one to three times a week from then on out, unless you prefer a more natural look — or have particularly dry and thick hair — in which case, Jackson says you can get away with washing only every three weeks. This is important because normal shampoos leave behind residues that lubricate your hair and will loosen your dreadlocks. Also — prepare for some grossness — that residue can build up in your dreads and promote the growth of mold.

Your scalp can benefit from a dread conditioning spray, too, which should help prevent dandruff and itchiness (Jackson also says you can use moisturizing oils). And when you go to apply that spray or oil, check to see if any of your dreads are merging together, and pull them apart if so.

Next, whenever your dreads feel like they might be loosening up, apply some dread wax and roll them together between your palms to tighten them up — you might have to do this every week or so when your dreads are in the early stages. Similarly, Taj says that when your dreads do inevitably get too loose, you should head to a stylist to have them tighten the roots. “You should get them re-twisted probably every month,” Jackson adds.

As with braids, you should wear your dreads up in some sort of wrapping while you sleep to prevent them from collecting lint and fuzz. Likewise, if you work in manual labor that involves lots of dirt and dust, you might want to keep your dreads inside a beanie or up in a headband to prevent them from collecting all that gunk.

Finally, you may experience some discomfort on your scalp, since dreadlocks have a tendency to weigh down heavily, so consider massaging your scalp for a couple minutes each day before going to sleep. Not only will this keep your scalp healthy, but hey, it feels pretty good, too.