Everything You Need to Know About Locs Hairstyles

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Dreadlocks — preferentially known as "locs" — are a popular hairstyle that includes sections of hair that have been matted and knotted together to create a rope-like appearance. Locs hairstyles have been around for what feels like forever (historians have dated its origins back as far as 2500 BC, according to Ebony), but whether you've officially decided to try it out for yourself or it's still something you're looking into, there's a lot you should know about the process and maintaining the look before you get started.

If you're interested in trying a new natural hairstyle like locs but unsure of where to start, read ahead for a quick and easy-to-follow breakdown of everything you need to know.

Dreads vs. Locs

Locs hairstyles feature ropes of hair also known as Jata (in the Sanskrit language), dreads, and locs. Though all the names are accurate, the most popular and preferred name of them all is "locs," due to the negative connotation of the word "dread." The origin of the term "dreadlocks" is believed to be associated with the slave trade, a period in time when enslaved people didn't have the time or resources to properly groom their hair. As a result, enslavers often referred to this hairstyle as "dreadful" and enslaved people who wore this look were criticized for it, ultimately making the term a reminder of a traumatic history for African American communities all around the world.

How to Start a Locs Hairstyle

How you start your locs is up to you, but there are a few different ways to do it.

1. Comb Coils: One method shown in the photo above is called comb coils, which is when you use a small-tooth comb to twist small sections of the hair until they form coils.

2. Palm Rolling: Palm rolling is when your stylist takes the hair in small sections and rolls it in their palms to help it tighten and lock up the hair, which will eventually give the traditional loc appearance.

3. Braids or 2-Strand Twists: If you're looking for loc styles for medium hair, you can start your loc journey with braids or two-strand twists, but keep in mind that it may take six months to a year for the braiding pattern to fully disappear if this is the method you choose.

4. Organic/Freeform: This is when you stop detangling your hair altogether and let your hair lock up naturally, with little manipulation.

Locs Hairstyle Stages

Starter stage (lasts three to six months): Locs typically grow in five stages, and the first one lasts three to six months. "In this stage, the hair is being started in coils, double-strand twists, or box braids," Gabriele Benjamin, a New York City-based "loctitian," tells POPSUGAR. If you leave your hair in one of these styles, it begins to tangle, and this is where your coils start to wrap around themselves, forming a "loc."

Budding stage (six to 12 months): The second stage is when the hair begins to lock up and become matted. According to Benjamin, this stage is an easy one to grow frustrated with since your hair may end up being a little fuzzy as it grows out. But that's not to say you should worry, as it's all part of the process. Just make sure you're routinely shampooing and retwisting. (More on that later.)

Teen stage (from month 12 to month 15): During the third stage, your hair should experience a lot less unraveling when manipulated. In some cases, your locs may not be growing in the intended direction, but this part of the process will only last for a few months before your hair reaches the fourth stage.

Mature stage (from month 15 to month 18): This fourth stage is basically when your locs are long enough to hang and you have a clearer idea of how to clean and maintain them.

Rooted locs stage (from month 18 to month 21): Lastly, rooted locs are like the 30-somethings of locs. You reach this stage once you have had your locs for several years and are comfortable with managing them however you feel is necessary.

Types of Locs
Getty | Jamie McCarthy

Types of Locs

There are actually quite a few different kinds of loc styles:

  • Sisterlocks
  • Traditional locs
  • Freeform locs
  • Two-strand twist dreads/locs
  • Interlocking locs

Sisterlocks are more like microlocs; they're very small and the installation process is very time-consuming, so you'd be better off going to a professional to get them done. Because of their size, they're pretty versatile and easier to style since they mimic small hair strands. For this style, you should expect to have to retighten every four to six weeks.

Traditional locs, on the other hand, are standard-size locs that are usually no bigger than a medium-size box braid. The upkeep on these isn't super involved, which is why they remain one of the most popular kinds of locs.

As for freeform locs, these are locs that are created naturally, as in you'll have to clean and wash your hair as you normally would, then let it loc up over time. They require little twisting or manipulation and are probably the most low maintenance of them all.

Two-strand twist and interlocking locs have almost more to do with technique than a style of locs itself. The former can be used to start traditional locs (but do bear in mind that these tend to look bigger and frizz up a tad more easily). The latter uses a "pull-through" method where you take the ends of your hair and pull it through the roots of the loc using either your fingers or a tool similar to a crochet needle. You can pull it through up to four times going north to south and west to east to keep the knot firmly in place.

How Often Should You Retwist Your Locs Hairstyle?

That depends on what stage you're in on your loc journey. "I recommend [people with] starter locs come in two to three weeks after their initial start," Benjamin says. "Then after that, they can revert to four weeks in between retwists."

For people whose hair is already locked, Benjamin recommends waiting five to six weeks before retwisting.

How to Maintain Locs

How to Maintain Locs

One of Benjamin's favorite products for locs maintenance is the African Formulas Super Grow Hair Gel ($8), as it uses natural ingredients to strengthen the hair and promote healthy growth.

A few other popular products include the Locksteady Tropical Dreadlock Tightening Gel ($16), an aloe-based formula used for controlling frizz; Jamaican Mango and Lime Resistant Formula Locking Hair Gel ($13), which provides a strong hold without the added product buildup; and Murray's Gel Loc-Lock ($8).

Loc maintenance also includes making sure your hair is properly hydrated, moisturized, and styled. Achieving optimal loc maintenance varies person to person, but basic hair-care rules still apply. Make sure you are hydrated and drinking water, give your hair clarifying treatments, and, alongside using water-based products and oils when doing your hair at home, make sure to incorporate professional hydrating treatments when visiting a salon.

Additional reporting by Ariel Baker

Ariel Baker is the assistant editor for POPSUGAR Beauty. Her areas of expertise include celebrity news, beauty trends, and product reviews. She has additional bylines with Essence and Forbes Vetted.