What Are Natural Dreadlocks?

Drue Tibbits

Dreadlocks are sections of matted hair. There are no definitive criteria for determining what are natural dreadlocks and what are not. Some people feel that dreadlocks are natural only if they formed on their own without any assistance. Others feel dreadlocks that are formed without the use of chemical processing meet the definition of natural. Between these two extremes, many dreadlock aficionados consider their dreadlocks natural as long as they were created and maintained without the use of synthetic ingredients.

Natural dreadlocks are formed without the assistance of chemical products.
Natural dreadlocks are formed without the assistance of chemical products.

Hair is normally kept combed, brushed, or styled to keep it free of tangles. When hair is not detangled regularly, it will form mats of locked tangles. Dreadlocks that form as a result of letting the hair form mats on its own, also called the neglect method, is the simplest form of natural dreadlocks. It can take a long time, sometimes even years, for dreadlocks to form this way. Dreadlocks formed as a result of neglect often vary widely in thickness and density.

Some believe that natural dreadlocks are those that formed without the use of synthetic hair products.
Some believe that natural dreadlocks are those that formed without the use of synthetic hair products.

Back-combing is a fast way to create natural dreadlocks. The hair is first divided into even sections. Each section is then combed backward, creating knots and tangles along the length of the section. A natural dread wax is sometimes applied to the finished sections to help the hair remain locked. Although this is an easy way to create dreadlocks, it is labor intensive and may require the assistance of another person.

Twisting is an effective method of creating dreadlocks. It works best on African hair. The natural dreadlocks are made by simply twisting sections of hair, causing the hair to lock in place. In order to create symmetrical dreadlocks, this method is often performed in a hair salon. Smooth, straight hair will not usually twist and lock correctly.

Many people are able to create natural dreadlocks by simply rubbing their hair. A wool cap is used to rub the entire head, causing the hair to tangle and mat. Dreadlocks can also be made by rubbing sections of hair between the hands. The hair section is held between the palms of the hands, and then the hands are rubbed back and forth until the hair mats and the dreadlock is formed.

A chemical process can be used to aggressively change the texture of hair so that it more easily forms dreadlocks. This process is called a dread perm. Dreadlocks formed with hair that has been chemically altered are not natural dreadlocks.

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Discussion Comments


There are natural dreadlock extensions that people attach to their natural hair. Those can be considered natural dreadlocks right? The great part is that they don't damage hair.


I have a friend who is trying to get a whole head of dreadlocks with the neglect method. I actually like dreadlocks a lot, but his look awful. They're not even fully formed dreadlocks. He just has big mats on the back of his head that looks like he has been sleeping in the same position for years.

The mats are uneven and look like a total mess. I realize that dreadlocks are meant to be a little messy, but that doesn't mean that they don't require any care or maintenance.


For those with curly hair, twisting is really the best way to form natural dreadlocks. It's easy, so it can be done at home and it looks great.

I'm not too fond of back-combing, but I also realize that this is necessary for many people. It's especially difficult to make dreadlocks with straight and thick hair as it's unlikely to keep shape and will detangle on its own. That's why some people don't mind chemicals and other treatments being used on their hair also, because their hair is not naturally suitable for dreadlocks.

Curly hair is the best type of hair for natural dreadlocks.

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