Haircare in a nutshell
2.5 years in and I can finally say that the initial, waiting for mature locks to form phase is over and I'm finally able to just watch them grow! It's a milestone.
I remember starting my commitment to dreadlocks and wanting to read and see everything I could get my hands on to make sure I was making the right decision (hence this account). So I'll share my haircare here in case there's anyone out there who was like me.
SPOILER: The only real secret is PATIENCE
PRE-DREADS: WATER-ONLY WASHING
I gave up using all soaps on my hair 2 years before even thinking about wanting dreadlocks again ("again" because I had a set when I was younger that were terrible). I chose to wash with water only. There's a whole bunch of other people who have terrific websites dedicated to water-only washing transitions; I highly recommend them!
Basically shampoo strips the natural oils and the conditioner puts them back with artificial ones. These chemicals anger our scalp into producing too much natural oil to flush them away, which is why we get greasy hair after not washing it for a few days. Naturally our hair can go weeks before getting too greasy.
Starting to wash with just water (I did a regimen of literally only wetting my hair once a week; that was the washing) the scalp gets REALLY greasy for a while. Mine was 6 months. For my entire 3rd year of university I wore a hat. It was bad, but I knew it would get better (gotta love the internet for people putting up every random detail about their lives, cheers). I brushed it with a natural bristle brush and scratched the scalp to preen the oils through the hair, yes like a bird.
Eventually it got better, my hair was able to go an entire week or two without getting greasy. This was the hair I started working with. Not everyone wants to be able to do that before dreads but I'm thankful that I happened to.
* I live in an area with hard water so sometimes I used an apple cider vinegar rinse after washing with water. 4tbsp or so of ACV in water in one of those excessively large 1L Gatorade bottles that are sold in America, plus essential oils if you don't want to smell like a foot.
EARLY: THE FIRST YEAR
The preamble above was to just say that I had no scalp issues and why.
I went on a long-distance hike for 3 months during the first year, during the messiest time. I continued to wash with only-water once a week while in trail towns and did a deep clean when I got back.
I continued to wash with just water until just over 1.5 years. I worked in a restaurant with a VERY STRONG onion and curry smell. I'm talking bad. People visiting stores next door to it would leave with the signature scent on their clothes.
I needed something stronger than water because my hair smelled BAD. But I refused to think that I needed any sorts of soaps on my hair. I tried apple cider vinegar rinses more frequently but it didn't get rid of the smell. Deep cleans weren't feasible because doing them every week is damaging.
So I admitted that my lifestyle and hairstyle changed since I first decided to wash with water, and I needed something new. But I refused to use many of the soaps and shampoos that many people recommended. I know that many "natural" things aren't actually natural so you have to be careful. It also had to work in hard water.
Dr Bronner's bar soap: I've heard that people don't recommend it. But I was caught up with the romantic vision it has: "It says all-one!" I'm stubborn and can't make a decision unless I've learned a mistake for myself. I used it properly, not directly applying the bar to my dreads, but this stuff literally just puts residue into dreadlocks and the hard water made it worse. End of trial, and back to water-only until I found something better.
Alaffia Authentic African Black Soap (liquid): After a lot of research I decided on this one. I tried it, and it completely washed out, as if I was washing with water-only. Not that Dr Bronner's junk. This left no residue and has proven to be great for the second year of dread growth.
While working my restaurant job, I washed once a week, in the mornings on a day off to let them dry completely. Now that I don't work there anymore, I still use Alaffia soap, but I wash my dreadlocks every 2 weeks now. On the weeks that I don't wash, I still separate and use a bit of oil to moisturize. That's also what I do after washing them. I find that going over once a week without separating is too long for me, even now, and important now that they're finally starting to grow.
Hope this was informative!