So you’re ready to comb out your dreads and go back to your natural hair? Unfortunately Removing Dreadlocks is a daunting task and can be quite damaging, but with this guide you’ll learn how to get rid of dreadlocks with minimal damage to your beautiful locs and go back to your natural hair!
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What you’ll learn in this article (nav links):
Intro to Dread Removal Principles
Why do people remove their dreads?
What should I expect with removal?
How long will it take for removal?
Will it be painful to comb out?
How much of my hair will I lose?
By: Age | Method | Product | Ethnicity
Dreadlock Removal Guide
Principals of Removing Dreadlocks Introduction
UNDERSTANDING THE LOCKING PROCESS
Dreadlocks have a spiritual and identity connection to most people who wear them. Literally speaking however, dreadlocks are nothing more than a large mass of knots. Therefore, in order to remove dreadlocks, they should be treated similarly to brushing out knots in normal hair. The concept is the same, it just takes far more effort because there are thousands more knots in dreadlocks than your average head of normal “un-dreaded” hair.
To comb out dreads, you’ll need to wet the hair and smother it with a lubricating conditioner to get started. Then you’ll use a pick or metal comb to very patiently start picking out the hair from the tip of the dreadlock working toward the scalp. This is an incredibly tedious process that will leave your hands, your head, and your patience fatigued. But if you follow this guide, have a great deal of patience and persistence, and you’re willing to put in the time, you should be able to get rid of your dreadlocks with minimal damage!
Why do people comb out their dreadlocks?
MESSY PHASE / FREE-FORM DREADS
One of the more common reasons why people comb out their dreadlocks is because they don’t like how messy they look. The messy phase is most commonly associated with free-form dreadlocks, where the person allows the dreadlocks to form on their own. Other methods may also lead to the messy phase if done poorly or not taken care of.
If you’d like to get your dreadlocks fixed up instead of getting rid of them we invite you to consider our Dreadlock Repair Services. We’re pros at fixing problems that other salons can’t fix or problems they cause in the first place.
CHANGE OF JOB OR LIFESTYLE
Some people need to look presentable for a new job opportunity leading them to remove their dreadlocks. While some other people make big changes in their life such as ending or starting a relationship, moving to a new city, or any other major change which may lead them to want a change in their hairstyle as well.
TOO OLD, LONG, OR HEAVY
Old dreadlocks, especially ones that are past the waist line, tend to get quite bothersome and heavy. Some people are just tired of dealing with their dreadlocks being too long and always getting in the way. Other people experience headaches or neck issues because of the weight of the dreadlocks. In some cases weight may be a sign of product or wax buildup over the years. If you haven’t done a deep cleanse recently we highly recommend using our Dread Cleanse Guide to remove buildup to help take some of the weight out of your dreadlocks.
What to expect when removing dreadlocks
Removing Dreadlocks is usually a wet, messy, and slippery process. The removal process requires the dreadlocks to be very wet and lubricated with plenty of conditioner. Some people choose to use a Dreadlock Removal Kit or Removal Cream to help with the process. These kits can help simplify the dreadlock removal process, however you can usually get by with lots of conditioner. Also, you WILL lose hair in the process and it will take a very long time to complete – more on those topics below.
How long will it take to get rid of my dreadlocks?
The Dreadlock Removal process can take as little as a few hours to a few weeks. The amount of time varies DRASTICALLY depending on many different factors.
For example, the photos included on this page took a total of 5 hours for two people to comb out the single large mass of knots. This was done by Rick and Colby teaming up, two members of our team. Our client had already combed out the rest of his dreadlocks and he was quite patient and helpful in the process.
I also tried combing my dreadlocks out years ago with the help of a Dreadlock Removal Kit. It took me 3 hours to comb out a single dreadlock that was about 8″of dreadlock (formerly about 16″ of hair). I didn’t know much about dreadlocks at that time. Knowing what I know now I would’ve done things a bit differently. Ultimately, I was inexperienced and uneducated because I didn’t have this blog post to learn from! I gave up because I thought I could remove my dreadlocks in an afternoon and I thought was doing something wrong.
Will it be painful when combing out dreads?
Most of the process won’t be painful at all, but the closer you get to your scalp you get the more painful it will be. Anyone who has had knots combed out of their natural hair will understand the feeling you’ll experience. A significant benefit of doing this process on your own is that you can go at your own pace and stop when things get too painful for you.
How much hair will I lose when removing dreads?
The amount of hair you’ll lose in the removal process will vary greatly. It’s undeniable that you WILL lose hair, and it will look like A LOT of hair! Despite how much hair comes out you should be left with plenty of healthy hair in the end. Ultimately, the amount of hair you’ll comb out mostly depends on a wide range of factors listed in the sections below.
Expectations on Removing Dreadlocks based on Age
YOUNG DREADS – UNDER 6 MONTHS
Removing Dreadlocks in young dreadlocks is the easiest out of all age ranges. Young dreadlocks tend to have healthier hair to work with while also having less time for knots to tighten and mature. Combing out young dreadlocks is the best case scenario! You should anticipate keeping more healthy hair after combing out dreads within the first 6 months.
INTERMEDIATE DREADS – 6-18 MONTHS
As time passes your locs will tighten and create more densely formed knots becoming more and more difficult to comb out. You can still get rid of dreadlocks in this age range, but it often requires more work and more patience. You will lose more hair in the removal process of dreadlocks in this age range compared to younger dreadlocks.
MATURE DREADS – OVER 18 MONTHS
The older your dreadlocks age and mature the more difficult it is to comb dreads out. Mature Dreadlock Removal can still be done but it will require the most time and patience in this list of age ranges. You should expect more hair to come out with this age range as well.
Dreadlock Removal expectations based on installation method
FREE-FORM / NEGLECT REMOVAL
Removal of Free-Formed Dreadlocks will vary significantly based on the ethnicity and shampoos being used. Overall, free-formed dreads take a long time to mature and if removed when the dreadlocks are young hair loss should be at a minimum. Older free-form dreadlocks will become more difficult to remove and will result in greater hair loss throughout the process.
NTERLOCKING / LATCH-HOOKING REMOVAL
Removing Dreadlocks in hair that has been interlocked from root to tip is almost always the easiest to comb out. The reason is because interlocking doesn’t actually form knots in the hair, it actually forms more of a braid. In some cases all you have to do is cut the last inch of the dreadlock and the rest will come out with ease. If this is your case you are in luck because you are likely to lose the least amount of hair among all methods listed here.
Some dreadlocks are formed with other methods and then maintained via interlocking. If this is the case for you then you will have a more challenging time removing your dreadlocks. We suggest reading over the other methods in this section to obtain a greater understanding for the methods that apply to your situation.
TWISTING / PALM TWIST REMOVAL
Removing Locs in Afro Hair that has been twisted will mostly depend on the age of the dreadlocks. Young dreadlocks that have been twisted should be relatively easy to remove with little damage. Whereas, older dreadlocks that have been twisted will result in more mature and tightened knots and more damage when removing.
Removing Dreads in straight hair that has been twisted is usually VERY easy to remove and you’ll lose the least amount of hair, especially for young dreadlocks. Straight hair and mixed hair respond very poorly to the twisting method
CROCHET METHOD REMOVAL
There are two main variations of the crochet method:
One variation is executed by backcombing then wrapping hair around the backcombed hair to contain the hair underneath. This version will be relatively easy to remove if done when dreadlocks are still young. However, the more time that passes the more difficult removal will be and the more hair you will lose.
The other method, which is the method we use, is executed by backcombing then pulling a few strands of hair through the backcombed section creating a ton of tiny knots throughout the shaft of each dreadlock. This method is often very difficult to remove at any age range due to the formation of instantly tight knots. You will struggle more with this variation of the crochet method and you are likely to lose more hair.
BACKCOMB / TWIST AND RIP REMOVAL
Removing Dreadlocks that have been backcombed and/or twist and ripped will be relatively easy to remove when they’re young. The more time that passes with these methods the more difficult it will be and a greater amount of hair will come out.
TOWEL RUBBING METHOD REMOVAL
The towel rubbing method is probably the most difficult type of dreadlock method to remove. The reason is because rubbed dreadlocks tend to get extremely solid and dense within a short amount of time. When knots are this tight it will require much more effort, patience, and products to loosen up those dense dreads!
Removing Dreads Expectations based on shampoos & products
LUBRICATING VS. TIGHTENING
The products you use while you have dreadlocks may play a very big role in how easy or difficult it is to remove dreadlocks and how much hair will be lost in the process. Each product will either contribute toward tightening the knots inside your dreadlocks or contribute to lubricating your hair allowing your knots to be much looser.
SEA SALT SPRAYS AND THE OCEAN
Tightening sprays made with sea salt or swimming in the ocean can dramatically tighten and mature dreadlocks which can make Dread Removal far more difficult. Sea salt water is effective at absorbing and reducing oils from the scalp and other lubricating oils and products. As a result, the knots in your dreadlocks will tighten quite noticeably. The only exception to this is the twisting method, where the twist will come undone in the ocean due to the products that are used to hold the twist in place.
PRODUCTS THAT ARE LUBRICATING
We’ve seen plenty “Locking Gels” that actually lubricate and keep knots loose. There are also plenty of shampoos, and even “Dreadlock Shampoos” that are terrible for dreadlocks and don’t clean very effectively. Any shampoo that doesn’t clean well allows scalp oils to accumulate in your dreadlocks which can lead to a waxy semi-lubricated scenario that allows the knots to come out easier.
Products we’ve seen loosen knots:
– Dollylocks Shampoos
– Jamaica Mango & Lime Products
TIGHTENING & EFFECTIVE SHAMPOOS
The shampoo you use for your dreadlocks plays an extremely important role in your dreadlock journey. Any shampoo that helps to tighten your dreadlocks will result in a more difficult time removing them. When removing dreadlocks you might want to completely skip using a shampoo for several reasons. First, most shampoos are high in pH – more on why this is important below. Second, shampoos are designed to clean the hair and therefore will help to tighten knots. These two reasons should help you loosen knots in preparation to combing out your dreadlocks.
CONDITIONERS AND OILS
Conditioners and oils tend to loosen knots and are great for Removing Dreadlocks! We highly recommend against using these products with dreadlocks for these reasons, however they’re perfect for getting rid of dreadlocks!
Conditioners should be used with hair that is kept wet for removing dreads. Not all conditioners will get the job done well, so we recommend finding one designed for extreme detangling.
Oils such as Olive Oil should only be used on completely dry hair that is product free for the removal process. Water and oil repel, so the hair must be free from moisture in order for the oil to penetrate the knots to help loosen and lubricate them.
BLEACH & HAIR DYE
Bleaches and any dyes that lighten hair undeniably weaken the hair. In order to lighten hair the outer sheathe of the hair strand is removed exposing the lighter part of the hair shaft underneath. This outer sheathe is basically the protective armor that protects each hair strand. Once removed, your hair is exposed and the structure of the hair strand is compromised resulting in much weaker, dryer, and damaged hair.
With that being said, you may end up breaking and losing a lot more hair with bleached dreadlocks. In some cases you may still be able to remove dreadlocks that have been bleached. But if your locs have been bleached harshly and a lot of time has passed, you might experience a significant amount of damaged hair that comes out when combing out dreads.
pH LEVELS & HARD WATER
Hard Water and pH is a factor that seems to be overlooked by everyone, yet it’s so important for the health of your hair and scalp. The pH of hard water is typically above 8 and when pH levels are over 7 the cuticles of the hair remain open which leads to tighter knot formation. This may sound like a good thing to create dreadlocks, but it’s actually quite damaging (more on the topic of pH in an upcoming article, stay tuned…) When the pH of your hair is over 7 the cuticles of your hair strands are open. When the cuticles are open while removing dreadlocks the cuticles may rub against each other likely to result in damage and breakage. Therefore, you’ll want to keep the pH under 7 and ideally around 4.5-5.5 to reduce breaking hair when combing out dreads.
Keep your pH in the 4.5-5.5 range:
- Test pH of products with strips
- Water Softener systems
- Apple Cider Vinegar Rinses
- Pure Aloe Gel
- Find a shampoo in this range
- Most conditioners are pH balanced
What to avoid with high pH levels:
- Hard Water – pH of 8 or higher
- Excessive baking soda – pH of 9
- Bleach – 12.6!!!
- Castile Soaps / Dr. Bronners
What to anticipate when Removing Dreads based on Ethnicity
AFRO DREADLOCK REMOVAL
Afro Hair is the most brittle and the most damage prone hair of all ethnicities. As a result, the products and methods used on Afro hair are important to keep the hair strong and healthy. If your products or methods have resulted in weak and damaged hair then you may experience a significant amount of hair that comes out during the removal process.
Even with the best products and the most gentle methods Afro Hair may still be too brittle in some cases – proceed with caution.
CAUCASIAN & HISPANIC HAIR
Caucasian and Hispanic hair will vary significantly. Some hair is extremely fine and already thin whereas other hair is very coarse, strong and full.
Italian hair is one that tends to be more like Asian hair with a thick, coarse texture. This hair type should be easier to remove compared to other Caucasian hair and you should also anticipate loosing less hair with this type of hair.
Other types of hair that are very fine will still be removable but you may experience more hair loss during the process. Some very fine hair types actually lack the outermost layer to the shaft of hair resulting in a weaker strand of hair.
ASIAN DREADLOCK REMOVAL
Asian dreadlocks should be the easiest to remove by far. The strands of hair with Asian ethnicities are typically large in diameter and very round which result in being the strongest among all ethnicities.
MIXED RACE DREAD REMOVAL
Mixed races that include African ethnicities are often easier to remove because most African American salons twist or interlock mixed hair types. These two methods and the products associated with them usually don’t lock up very effectively, especially in hair that isn’t very kinky. Therefore, combing out dreads with this mixed race hair is often easier compared to other methods and ethncities.
Other mixed races will vary significantly and so will the results of dreadlock removal. To get an idea of what to anticipate, we recommend comparing your mixed race hair type to the most similar type based on the content listed in the other ethnicity sections above.
Dreadlock Removal Guidelines
CONSIDER DREADLOCK REMOVAL SERVICES
Though we don’t advertise our Dreadlock Removal Services, we still offer it in some cases. We encourage people to remove their dreadlocks themselves due to the amount of time required. Most people don’t want to pay our hourly rate for 20, 30, or 40 hours of our time. If you manage to remove most of your dreadlocks but need some help with the dreads in the back we can help with that. You also might have some luck with other salons, but most of them won’t be willing to spend the time to do this because most salons are focused on making money and will rush through this process.
If you’d like to hire us for our Dreadlock Removal Services please visit our Dreadlock Repair Page here, read the beginning of the page, then “Request a Quote / Appointment” to launch our intake form.
KEEP pH OF HAIR UNDER 5.5
As stated earlier in this article, keeping the pH of your hair under 5.5 is a very important aspect of removing dreadlocks. In most cases the simplest way to do this is by avoiding shampoos and only using conditioners. Keeping hair under 5.5 will keep the cuticles of your hair strands closed allowing for safer and slightly easier removal.
HAVE TOWELS CLOSE BY
To put things simply it will be messy. You’ll be dealing with wet, slippery products and hair that comes out throughout the process. Keeping a few towels nearby will be very necessary.
STEP 1 – SELECT REMOVAL PRODUCT:
CONDITIONERS / DETANGLERS / OILS
It is important to understand the difference between conditioners, detanglers, and oils.
Conditioners will help balance pH and lubricate hair. If using a conditioner to remove dreadlocks you must keep the hair thoroughly wet and saturated with water and conditioner. It’s a good idea to keep your conditioner and a water spray bottle on hand to keep the hair wet and fully saturated with the conditioner as you work through each dreadlock.
Detanglers and Dreadlock Removal Kits
These products are likely to be a better choice compared to your typical conditioner. Detanglers are designed to be highly effective at removing knots which should give you better results when combing out dreads. Be sure to read the instructions for each product. Some products are designed to be used on dry hair. Consider these Amazon links as options:
Oils such as Olive Oil
Oils may be very useful but require a different approach. Not all oils are created equal! Some oils are drying such as Tea Tree Oil. Other oils are VERY lubricating such as Olive Oil or Vitamin E oil. For Dreadlock Removal purposes you’ll want the most lubricating oil you can get your hands on. Another very important point when using oils is to make sure the hair is completely dry and free from moisture before applying oils. Oil and water repel each other, so it’s important that the hair is dry so it can absorb the oils to help lubricate the knots.
Oils range on the pH scale – some are completely undefined. Therefore, if using oils, it would be important to balance the pH within the 4.5 to 5.5 range. As stated earlier, pH above 7 will result in more damage when removing dreadlocks.
The best way to reduce the pH below 5.5 would be to prepare with an Apple Cider Vinegar Soak. You can do this with warm water and Apple Cider Vinegar mix. Simply mix the two ingredients and soak your dreadlocks for at least 5 minutes but no longer than 10 minutes. It’s crucial to allow your dreadlocks to dry 100% after the soak which typically takes 24-48 hours. Then, once dry, apply oils very liberally to penetrate each dreadlock and proceed with the dreadlock removal process.
STEP 2 – SELECT THE RIGHT TOOL:
USE A PICK INSTEAD OF A COMB
Many people try to use a comb or a brush to comb out dreadlocks, but we recommend using some sort of pick or needle for several reasons. First and foremost, combs or brushes may work for basic knots in normal hair, but with dreadlocks you’re pursuing a much bigger undertaking. Second, the teeth of combs will likely break or bend. Third, combs are likely to grab too many knots at once resulting in a more difficult time removing dreadlocks and the possibility of breaking more hair.
We recommend using one of the following:
#1 choice – Crochet hook with ergonomic grip – when things get slippery you’ll want the most ergonomic handle you can get. We also recommend wrapping rubber bands around this tool very tightly to help give you more to grip.
#2 choice – Pin Tail Combs – 3 pack on Amazon – these are inexpensive and durable options but may be hard to hold because of the long length. You’ll want to use the pick end of the comb instead of the teeth of the actual comb.
#3 choice – Steel tooth dreadlock comb – sometimes you can use the end of this comb to grab a few knots at a time. We certainly recommend our first two options over this tool, but it may be a decent backup.
STEP 3 – PROPER DREAD REMOVAL:
START FROM THE TIP OF THE DREAD
Start from the tip and work toward scalp
When you start to remove dreadlocks you’ll want to start at the very tip of the dreadlock. Start by slowly picking just a few strands of hair at a time. As you pick out one tiny knot at a time you’ll start to realize that you’re making some progress. Don’t be discouraged if it feels like you’re not getting anywhere. Sometimes it’ll take an hour or two until you can start to see a noticeable difference. It will take a significant amount of time.
As you make some progress you’ll continue this process until you get closer and closer to the scalp. Eventually you’ll remove the entire dreadlock!
We recommend starting with one of your dreadlocks in the back or side from underneath. You’ll gain a lot of experience from that first dreadlock and it will allow you to do a better job removing the important sections of your head.
You’ll have a small pile of hair
Don’t be surprised if it looks like you have a small animal worth of hair that has been combed out. It may look like a lot but you should be left with plenty of healthy hair as well.
Always keep hair saturated with product
It’s very important to keep your hair saturated with whichever product you decided to use for your dread removal. The lubricating nature of these products will really help to contribute to easier Dreadlock Removal and less damage throughout the process.
Removing Dreadlocks Conclusion
Dreadlock removal can be a very inexpensive process with less than $30 worth of supplies. But on the other hand it’s a very time consuming and tedious process that will put your patience to the ultimate test! It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart! We hope you’ve learned a lot of valuable information with this post, but if you still need some help you can request a quote and appointment from our Dreadlock Repair Services Page here.