Why is wax bad? most dreadlock product websites recommend waxes or gels?
If you start searching for dreadlock information it won't take long until you come across websites encouraging the use of wax. The definition of what actually constitutes a dreadlock wax has become a little loose - there are creams, gels, pastes and straight up waxes. Sites that sell them often attach fantastical claims to their products, claiming that they're essential, they'll help dreadlock growth, or that they'll reduce the time it takes for the locks to form. Unfortunately, as is most often the case with stories that are 'too good to be true'.... the promises fall short and once you understand how dreadlocks form, it's easy to see why.
The wax sellers will argue that waxes only produce negative effects if used incorrectly or if used to excess. There's a slight problem there - who is the wax intended for? people who have dreadlocks that have reached maturity should have little need for such products as their dreads will be already locked up. Wax is aimed at the people with young dreads, the people who are new to the process and don't necessarily know how young dreads are supposed to feel, look or progress. Young, new dreads are not going to just be loose in a few spots, they're going to be loose throughout. Mature dreads are strong and tight, young dreads are loose and messy. For young dreads to become strong and tight, they need to be become mature dreads. So the problem with saying wax problems only arise due to overuse is that trying to use such a product on young dreadlocks is immediately going to lead to "overuse" due to the nature of young dreads. If the negative effects of wax are proportional to the amount used... such problems can be avoided altogether if the wax is not used.
Dreadlocks form and mature when hairs knot and become matted together forming the locks. In order for this to happen, the hairs have to move. Hairs that don't move are not going to magically knot together. It's through day to day interaction that the hairs form an increasingly complex structure of knots that will tighten over time, eventually producing the tight, strong dreadlocks that people envision when starting out. There is a misconception that starting methods such as backcomb or twist & rip produce 'instant dreadlocks'. What these methods are actually for is holding hairs together in sections - they knot the hairs into lumps and over time these hairs that are held close together from the initial starting method will be able to interact with one another, slowly knotting up and getting tighter. It's perfectly normal for dreadlocks started using such methods to loosen up before they get tighter. As long as they remain in their sections, they will be able to knot up over time. Waxes cash in on people's insecurities by promoting a mind set that the dreadlocks should be tight and together from day one and since when dreadlocks are young the knots are not yet numerous or strong enough to produce tight dreadlocks the use of waxes will be encouraged to hold everything together. The problem is that these products inhibit the movement of the hairs, they hold the hairs together - which will indeed stop the initial backcomb or twist & rip from loosening, but also inhibit the movement that allows natural mature knots to form. This means that instead of the dreads initially loosening up and then tightening and tightening to maturation, you can end up with dreads that remain stunted in their starting positions, held up and patched together with products - the progress actually slowed by the products. This then encourages repeat purchases to buy more and more products to keep the hairs stuck together, meanwhile your hair will be getting no closer to becoming mature, self-locking dreadlocks.
People who make and sell waxes are running a business, they have a product to sell and creating a product that plays off of people's insecurities about their new dreads that actually over the long term slows progress and creates repeat buyers.... well it seems to be good business! But you don't have to take my word for it, I only offer my insight and opinions based off of personal experience, but it is still only one opinion, however I do invite you to investigate for yourself - the places that will recommend dread-wax products are most often the very places that sell them and have money to gain. Whereas I have nothing to gain from steering people away from waxes, I have nothing to sell. If there was a product out there that truly did deliver on the promises made by waxes then I would surely recommend it to help people out...
Now if slowing down the progress of the dreadlocks and paying for the privilege was not enough - waxes are non-water-soluble, this means that they will not wash out of your hair. The wax will remain trapped in the core of the dreadlock, slowing down the rinsing and drying of the dreads, which can then lead to soap residue being trapped, lint and dirt getting collected. The trapped moisture and increased drying times can lead to the dreadlocks starting to smell like a damp towels that haven't been hanged to dry and can go on to cause mold, mildew or 'dreadrot'.
Now while it's not something I enjoy telling people, in my experience, there is no way to effectively, completely remove wax from already formed dreadlocks. When I started my dreadlock journey, I myself bought into (literally) the notion that waxes were a normal and important part of dreadlock maintenance. It's all to easy to find websites that promote and encourage it's use (coincidentally while having such products for sale). While not all products are the same, my experience with dreadlock wax concluded with my original length of dreadlock being completely trimmed off - I started my dreadlocks using hair that was down to my chest and all that length had to be cut off and discarded. There are methods and products available that are designed to help remove wax (ironically some are actually sold by the same places that sell the wax in the first place!), but all my attempts at effective wax removal were unsuccessful - I soaked the dreadlocks, used straighteners and hair driers to soften the wax - I even boiled the dreadlocks.... and still, once I trimmed the length off, the wax still remained in the core of each lock. Fortunately new growth is unaffected by the wax, so I was able to continue to grow my dreadlocks to the point where I could cut off all the waxed length, leaving behind only the new, unwaxed dread. I can't say that this is really a recommended path to follow if it can at all be avoided though as it did mean losing all my original length formed from chest length hair - years of hair growth wasted. If it all possible it's better to brush the dreadlocks out and start fresh, wax-free.
Wax is only a 'good' idea if you know you aren't keeping your dreadlocks for the long haul. If you don't plan on keeping your dreadlocks long enough for them to mature and you only want hair that looks roughly dread shaped, then go ahead, throw whatever you want at it. If you want dreadlock-like hair for a week or a halloween party, then wax might be the solution. But if you plan on keeping the dreadlocks long term, trust me - you want them to be formed from knots, not products.
Click here: to read why some people recommend wax despite it's negative effects.