If you're new to the world of dreadlocks— or locs, as they're often called—then you need to know what you're dealing with before deciding that they're the hair leap you want to take next. They're high-maintenance at first, so you should know what you're getting into. That said, before embarking on your loc journey, it's important that you familiarize yourself with the five different stages your strands will go through: starter, budding, teen, mature, and rooted. Some loc wearers find the beginning and end phases to be the easiest, because the middle stages present their own set of challenges. Some people find the beginning stages the hardest. Nevertheless, if you're serious about having locs and can handle the upkeep, you should go for it—but not without getting up to snuff on what each stage truly entails first.
The starter (aka. "baby") stage of the loc process can last anywhere from three to six months, depending on your hair type and how fast it grows. There are several styles—such as braids, two-strand twists, comb coils and palm rolls—that you can choose from to start off your locs. You could also always opt for a freeform look, where you don't "cultivate" or control section size and simply allow your hair to be. It's important not to create sections that are too small, as locs can break off if they're too thin or too dry.
"In the starter stage, it may seem difficult because your hair keeps coming undone when shampooing," Chimere Faulk, natural hairstylist, loctitian, and founder of loc care brand Dr. Locs tells us. "Dr Locs’ Jinan Leave-In Conditioner ($28) is a perfect daily regimen to use to keep your scalp and baby locs moisturized."
During the budding phase, you might notice that your new growth is puffy and on the fuzzy side. "During this stage, your hair will start to stick or matte together at the tops of your coils after shampooing," Faulk notes. However, it's still crucial that you are consistently and thoroughly cleansing your hair to avoid buildup, bumps, and weak spots. "Dr Locs Yasin Shampoo ($27) is designed to run fluidly throughout your hair and to never create a product build-up. You’ll notice less of your coils come undone making it easier to groom afterwards."
During this phase, it's a great idea to practice a re-twisting routine to promote new growth. Make sure to keep track of the original section partings when re-twisting to maintain a consistent and uniform size.
It may be tempting to re-twist often, but it's important not to overdo it, as this can lead to thinning locs and breakage.
"The teenage stage feels fun because you start to see the vision," Faulk says. However, not unlike human teenagers, this is also the stage where you wonder what could possibly be going on with your hair. Too short to lie down easily, your teenage locs may seem to sprout all over your head and go in whatever direction they want. This can be a tough stage for some, but if you can persevere, it'll be worth it.
She explains: "Your locs start to plump up and develop its form. You want to be careful with product use before the next steps because of product build-up. Dr Locs Imani Locking Spray ($22) is a water based solution designed to gently hold locs in place without the excessive build-up." This is also an excellent time to invest in and experiment with accessories such as scarves, headbands, and head wraps. They'll enable you to play around with different styles and jazz things up.
"The mature stage could begin as early as 1 year after beginning your journey depending upon the texture of your hair," Faulk tells us. Don't worry if you're over a year in and you don't feel your locs aren't mature yet, though; looser hair textures often take longer.
You know you've reached the mature stage when your locs are finally long enough to lie flat or hang down. She asserts that "Maturing occurs when your locs are firm and there’s no more reforming," so you won't have to re-twist your new growth as often during this period. The locs should be thick enough to support themselves. Odds are you'll be comfortable with your locs by now, and able to enjoy a regular shampooing and conditioning routine.
Once your locs are firmly in place, you're officially in the rooted or "adult" stage. "This stage comes several years later," Faulk makes a point of saying. "In the final stage, your locs will hang differently. They feel heavier and at the same time more slender."
At this point, you'll be able to wear your locs well past your waist, or trim them if you want into a more manageable style. What's more: Your haircare routine can be as simple or as complex as you like, although Faulk emphasizes that "Throughout each stage, you want to make sure you keep your locs hydrated."
If you're not comfortable with re-twisting or even choosing a starter loc style, you can always visit a professional loctitian, who can guide you in the right direction.