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.
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.
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.