If you're new to the world of dreadlocks — or "locs" for short — then you need to know what you're dealing with in order to care for them properly and track your progress. That being said, before embarking on your loc hair 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, as the middle stages present their own set of challenges, much like children do during their adolescent and teenage years. Nevertheless, if you're serious about having locs and can handle the ups and downs, you should go for it — but not without getting up to snuff on what each stage entails first. Keep scrolling for the skinny on each step.
The starter or "baby" stage of the loc hair process will typically last anywhere from three to six months. There are several styles you can choose to begin your locs, unless that is, you go with a freeform look where you don't "cultivate" or control section size and simply allow your hair to be. A few of the aforementioned styles include braids, two-strand twists, comb coils and palm rolls. In this stage, locs will simply look like whatever style you begin them with. It's important not to create sections that are too small, however, as locs can break off if they're too thin.
During the budding phase, you might notice that your new growth is puffy and on the fuzzy side. It's crucial that you are consistently and thoroughly cleansing your hair at this time to avoid buildup, bumps, and weak spots. 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.
Like real-life teenagers, this may be the stage where you wonder what the heck is 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. This is an excellent time to invest in and experiment with cute accessories such as scarves, headbands, and head wraps so you can play around with different styles and jazz things up.
About 18 months after beginning your loc journey, you should be at the mature stage, which is when your locs are finally long enough to lie flat or hang down. You don't have to re-twist your new growth as often during this period, as the locs should be thick enough to support themselves. You'll likely be very comfortable with your locs by now and enjoy a regular shampooing and conditioning routine. Don't worry if you're over a year in and you don't feel your locs are mature yet: Looser hair textures often take longer to get to this stage, but with time and patience, you'll get there.
Once your locs are firmly in place — a feat that can take up to two years — you're officially in the rooted or "adult" stage. At this point, you can wear your locs super-long and well past your waist, or trim them if you want a more manageable style. What's more: Your haircare routine can be as simple or as complex as you like, so long as you keep your locs moisturized (don't skimp on this!) and your scalp clean.
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.