One of my most commonly asked questions is: what shampoo should I buy to wash my dreadlocks with?
With non-dreaded hair it’s easier to see that everyone’s hair is slightly different - You’ve got people with long hair, short hair, straight hair, curly hair, fine hair, thick hair - dry hair and greasy hair. When you’re picking a shampoo to use on non-dreaded hair you’re always trying to get your hair into that perfect balanced state - hovering equidistant between too dry and too oily - if your hair is oilier you’ll need a shampoo that swings the balance one way - if your hair is drier you’ll want one that takes it the other way. If you had very oily hair and your friend had very dry hair and the two of you swapped shampoos, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find that the shampoos didn’t work out quite so well for each other. When you go into your local shampoo stockist you’ll likely find shelves and shelves of various different types of shampoo catering to different needs and hair types.
What some people with dreadlocks seem to forget is - even though their hair is dreadlocked, those dreadlocks are still formed from the same type of hair they’ve always had - Instead of thinking about the need for a shampoo that works well with their hair, hair type, scalp etc, some people can think that they no longer have the hair-type that they used to have, and instead look simply for something that has worked for another dreadhead— regardless of whether their situations are at all similar - and this can lead to problems. I’ve had people contact me saying that after starting their dreadlocks their hair has become incredibly dry, or incredibly greasy, or that they’ve developed issues with dandruff - and they will assume that it’s the dreadlocks - and not what they’ve been washed with - even though using the wrong types of shampoo on their non-dreaded hair would have had similar effects. What works for one person will not necessarily work the same for the next person - it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or your hair, it just means that you haven’t found what works best for you yet. When you have dreadlocks you still have to get your hair evenly balanced on that dry vs oily scale - though often people will aim for a slightly drier balance as the optimum balance for forming dreadlocks is not quite the same as the optimum balance for regular hair - but there is still a balance.
Ok so now we’ve got that out of the way, what do you need to look for in a dreadlocks appropriate shampoo? - you want something that washes out from the dreadlocks effectively and so won’t leave a build up of residue - you want something that balances YOUR hair: not so conditioning that it softens the locks, but not so dry that it leads to damage - you also want to make sure that it’s something that’s practical and economically viable for your situation:
Low in residue: This is of universal importance for dreadlocks - it’s important that whatever you put into or onto the dreadlocks can wash out again easily - if it doesn’t easily wash out then you can find that traces of it will begin to accumulate in the core of the dreadlocks, building up and slowing down dreadlock progress, reducing the ‘freshness’ you get from the washing process and can eventually lead to moisture getting trapped and mould forming. To keep the risk of excessive residue to a minimum you will want to make sure you’re washing with something that’s designed to be as low in residue as possible. A lot of dreadlocks shampoos will list themselves as “non-residue” or “residue-free” - in my experience, in practice they will still leave trace amounts of residue that can slowly build up - but significantly less than what you can experience when using a shampoo that has not been designed to be residue free - it’s not important and some would argue not actually possible to find a shampoo that is perfectly 100% residue free in all situations, but a practical solution is simply to find a shampoo that leaves behind so little that it does not become noticeable in the time between dreadlock deep cleans (and deep cleans will remove built up residue). In avoiding excess residue it’s also important not to use too much shampoo - the more you use, the more you’ll have to rinse out and therefore the more likely it will be that some is left behind. You need only apply shampoo to your scalp and let it rinse it’s way over and down - the amount needed is often a lot less than people expect - I use around half a teaspoon per wash, although exact amounts vary depending on the soap I’m using. Most regular shampoos do not work very will in this regard because they have not been designed to rinse as easily or to be as low in residue - as there is no need to design normal shampoos in this way as things will simply wash off or get brushed out - dreadlocks, with their ability to soak up liquids are a unique case and a small market and so most regular shampoos are not designed with dreadlocks in mind. It is also worth mentioning that the effectiveness to which a shampoo will wash out is also affected by the mineral content or “water hardness” in your area - with “harder” water being less effective at removing soap residue - and therefore you can find that a soap which works great on dreadlocks in a “soft water” area does not fair as well when used in a “hard water” area.
Correct balance: As I covered earlier, everyone’s hair will require slightly different care in order to maintain a comfortable, healthy balance. It’s important that the shampoo you use correctly addresses your needs. Find the right balance and your dreadlocks will be clean, pleasant and comfortable - get the wrong balance and you can end up with your hair being either too oily or too dry and ending up with irritation and discomfort. It’s really not all that easy to tell which you’ll find the most suitable before you’ve actually tried them. I would recommend trying out as many different options as you can in order to see which one works best for you - some dread shampoo sellers will offer the shampoo in smaller sizes and sometimes even sample or travel sizes and I would recommend picking these up to test them out before investing in a larger quantity. I also think it’s a good idea, where possible to try out the shampoos before you start your dreadlocks - young dreadlocks can be a little uncomfortable in their own right - if you then go on to throw an inappropriate shampoo into the mix, you’re probably not going to be in for a good time. It is also worth mentioning that environment will play a role in the overall balance - the humidity of your environment will affect your hair - this is expected in non-dreadlocked hair, but sometimes forgotten about by dreadheads - what balances well in the more humid months might need to be adjusted during the drier months and vice versa.
Economical and practical: Something that isn’t often so well covered is the practicalities of buying dreadlock shampoos. With the internet being global when you ask people for shampoo recommendations you could be getting reviews made on shampoos in the US… but you might be living in Australia - shipping shampoos long distance can be expensive and prohibitive - there’s no point settling on shampoo that you can’t actually get a hold of when you need it and so local availability will also play a role. With dreadlocks being a pretty small, niche market, most stores won’t stock anything dreadlock specific - sometimes you can get lucky and find something appropriate in speciality stores, but in most cases online shopping is the way to go. A major criticism I seem to come across a lot is the pricing of dreadlock shampoos - they are often marked considerably higher than off the shelf regular hair variety soaps and shampoos - this is again down to it being a niche market - large brands are able to mass produce huge quantities of shampoo, whereas more often than not dreadlock shampoos are designed, produced and distributed by very small businesses and even in some cases individuals and therefore the costs are always going to be slightly higher. It is worth mentioning though that over the long run these expenses more than balance out - as mentioned earlier dreadlocks only require very small quantities of shampoo per wash and dreadlocks will usually be washed less often than comparable regular hair - all in all this leads to a bottle of dread shampoo lasting much longer than a bottle of regular shampoo - with it not being uncommon for a large bottle to last up to a year - at which point the pricing becomes more reasonable and understandable, especially compared to buying a years worth of shampoo, conditioner and even hair cuts with regular hair.
So in conclusion - there’s a whole world of different dreadlock soaps, dreadlock shampoos as well as alternatives out there - By all means research potential shampoos as thoroughly as you can - check out shampoo reviews to see how other people got on - though do search out independent reviews and not just those displayed on the seller’s/store’s website - but remember, everyone’s situation is different, what works great for one person with one hair type in one location may not work as well for you - do not be disheartened, just move on to the next alternative. There is no one-size-fits-all dread soap and so it’s up to each dreadhead to try out the various options available in order to find the perfect fit.