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 to familiarize yourself with the five stages of locs your strands will go through: starter, budding, teen, mature, and rooted.
While your loc journey can take between 18-24 months, some loc wearers find the beginning and end phases to be the easiest, because the middle stages present their own set of challenges. Conversely, others say they find the beginning stages to be 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. We reached out to loc expert Chimere Faulk for more detail.
Meet the Expert
Chimere Faulk is a natural hairstylist, loctician, and the founder of loc care brand Dr. Locs. Upon noticing build-up in her clients' locs, Faulk decided to create her own line of products that worked throughout the entire process.
Keep scrolling to get a full breakdown of the loc stages by month.
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 your locs. This is the stage where you'll begin to create a parting pattern if you wish. 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. Either way, it's important that you don't 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," says Faulk. "Dr Locs’ Jinan Leave-In Conditioner ($27) is a perfect daily regimen to use to keep your scalp and baby locs moisturized."
The length of this stage is entirely determined by your hair type and how fast your hair typically grows, but expect about three to six months. Your locs will look pretty uniform and neat. The best course of action during this stage? Just letting them grow.
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 afterward."
It's a great idea to practice a re-twisting routine to keep the maintenance of the style of locs you choose or for you to transition in sizing your locs. You can keep track of the original section partings when re-twisting or maintaining a free-form style without parting. It allows you to get into a consistent routine while keeping up with the rapid growth process. This stage can last anywhere between six to 12 months.
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 and can prolong your loc growth.
"The teenage stage feels fun because you start to see the vision," Faulk says. However, this is also the stage where you wonder what could 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 their 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 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.
This stage can last anywhere from 12 to 15 months and again, you don't want to re-twist too much because it can cause damage to your hair.
"The mature stage could begin as early as one 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 (about 15-18months) 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." This will be around 18 to 21 months.
At this point, you'll be able to wear your locs well past your waist or trim them if you want a more manageable style. What's more: Your hair care 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 hairstyle, you can always visit a professional loctician, who can guide you in the right direction.