The Best Shampoos for Dreads
If you have dreadlocks or are thinking of getting them, it’s important to know that they can’t be treated like regular hair when it comes to washing. Dreadlocks, or dreads, need special shampoos to help keep them sleek, clean, and unbroken. It’s also important to note that dreadlocks shouldn’t be washed in the first two weeks after first forming them, so all advice in this article is for established dreads only.
Picking a shampoo for your dreads isn’t as simple as grabbing the nicest smelling bottle off the shelf. You’ll need to take into account your hair type, whether it’s prone to becoming too oily, too dry, or if you have an easily annoyed scalp. It’s harder to wash products out of the core of your dreads, so it’s important that there isn’t any residue or allergens in the shampoo that could irritate your scalp over time.
Dyed or bleached dreadlocks also need special care to stop them from becoming brittle and to maintain color. Though we’ll only be covering synthetic dye free shampoos here, much of the advice for dry dreads will help dyed dreads too.
You’ll sometimes hear dreadlocks referred to simply as locs, but the two words should refer to different things. In general, “locs” refers to purposefully forming hair strands into ropes through braiding or rolling for aesthetic reasons, whereas “dreadlocks” are often naturally formed and are of more cultural and religious significance. However, the care for each is very similar, and we’ll be using both terms interchangeably in this article.
This list aims to give you information on a variety of the best shampoos for dreads out there, so we’ll be highlighting those for three types of hair: Normal, dry, and oily.
The Best Shampoos for Dreads
Not everyone has issues with their dreads! If you’re just starting your dreadlock adventure or looking for a replacement for your current dread shampoo, you’ll want to take a look at the following top three best shampoos for dreads.
1. Blu Atlas Shampoo
Blu Atlas prides themselves on their all-natural, vegan, preservative free products. Made only with natural, premium ingredients, this shampoo keeps things simple with a formula including jojoba oil, aloe extract, and saw palmetto. By choosing to use shampoo with only natural ingredients, you can also be sure that your shampoo is paraben free and phthalate free, so you know you’re not applying anything to your scalp that could harm the skin.
As is often the case with beauty products, don’t be fooled by the scary looking ingredients list on the back – these ingredients really are from natural origins such as plants, fruits, and minerals. Blu Atlas uses the chemical names of natural ingredients, so you know exactly what parts of the plant go into their shampoo.
For instance, cocamidopropyl betaine sounds like something you’d find at the pharmacy, but it’s just a thickening agent derived from natural fats such as coconut oil. This naturally sourced ingredient gives Blu Atlas Shampoo its rich, creamy texture, perfect for massaging into your scalp.
Speaking of massage, It’s important to clean carefully around the base of each dread to make sure that you remove any buildup of dirt or dead skin. Unless you’ve encountered something dirty or smelly (and smell does love to hang around in dreads), you’ll want to go easy on the shampoo for the lower two thirds of your dreads. This is because It’s easy for repeated washing to dry out your dreads, leaving them brittle and rough.
To use Blu Atlas Shampoo to wash away oils and dirt, massage a quarter sized dollop of shampoo into the roots of your wet hair before giving your scalp a thorough rinse. If you have come in contact with something dirty or with an unpleasant smell, you’ll want to dilute the shampoo 1:3 with water to thin it down, before applying it to all of your hair and rinsing thoroughly.
If you prefer a more tropical scent, Blu Atlas have also released a second scent sensation with their coconut and apricot shampoo.
2. Knotty Boy Dreadlock Shampoo Bar
Knotty Boy’s original shampoo bar has been around for over two decades, and it’s easy to see why. Another brand that knows the importance of keeping things simple and natural, the Knotty Boy Dreadlock Shampoo Bar is made of saponified vegetable oils, with the addition of peppermint, rosemary, and tea tree oil to give your locs a fresh scent.
The antibiotic properties of these oils also help prevent bacterial and fungal growth, which is vital for stopping your dreads from smelling musty. If you have, or plan to have, thick dreads, it’s extra important to make sure that they dry out fully as soon as possible after you wash them.
To ensure your dreads dry as fast as they can after washing, always press as much water out as possible with your towel. If it’s cold or damp outside, use a hair dryer set to a cool or warm setting (not hot!) with a diffuser attachment to help dry your dreads without damaging them or causing them to fluff up.
If you’re not into shampoo bars, Knotty Boy also sells a liquid version of this shampoo, but we found it doesn’t lather up as well as the bar. Although the shampoo version works just as well, if you love that sudsy feel, you probably want to stick to the bar.
3. Dollylocks Tea Tree Spearmint Liquid Shampoo
Dollylocks have a multitude of dreadlock specific products to help you keep your dreads in top condition. Their Nag Champa Liquid Shampoo has a significant online following, but we prefer the milder, more herbal scent of their Tea Tree Spearmint Liquid Shampoo. Dollylocks use a combination of jojoba oil, aloe, rosemary, tea tree, and spearmint to create this treat for the senses.
You’ll see jojoba oil on this list a few times. Jojoba oil is common in shampoos as it’s particularly effective at hydrating the scalp without causing greasy hair. The oil also forms a protective coating over your hair roots and scalp which can help prevent dandruff.
Although oil is useful in strengthening your hair, too much of it can loosen your dreads. Dollylocks have avoided running into this issue by balancing the right amount of jojoba oil with astringent botanicals such as rosemary and spearmint, which can be drying to free hair. However, a little bit of dryness is just what most locs need to help them hold together.
You can also help keep your dreads tightly knotted by giving them a spray of salt water now and then. Dollylocks sell a range of tightening sprays containing botanical extracts as well as salt water to condition your hair while helping lock up stray strands. If you’d rather do it yourself, it’s easy enough to dissolve a tablespoon of sea salt in a pint of warm water and spritz it on your dreads. Just don’t overdo it, as regular use of sea salt can make your hair brittle and dry
The Best Shampoos for Dry Dreads
If you do have naturally fine, dry hair, locs are an excellent option to keep your hair controlled and healthy. The structure of dreadlocks help keep hydrating oils locked within the center of the braid or dread. That being said, too much oil can cause your hair to detangle, which leads to the same issue as dried out dreads – fluffy locs.
While some do like the fuzzy look, if you’re the kind that prefers a tight rope, you’ll want to keep on top of that fluff. Along with regular rolling and the occasional tucking in of loose areas with a crochet hook, applying dread wax can help keep things in shape.
Unfortunately, although wax can assist in keeping your dreads well shaped, dread wax should never be applied to the scalp, as it will leave you with the issue of fluffy roots. This is where a hydrating shampoo comes in. Combining dread wax with a hydrating, nourishing shampoo will help keep your dreads sleek from scalp to tip.
1. Chatto’s Uni-Locs Residue Free Shampoo Bar
Chatto’s Residue Free Shampoo Bar does exactly what it says on the tin – or in this case, environmentally friendly cardboard packaging. With no synthetic chemicals, preservatives, or colorants, this ethically conscious option provides you with another cruelty-free way to keep your dreadlocks hydrated.
The shea butter soap base is enriched with a variety of essential oils, such as lavender, peppermint, and tea tree. So far, pretty normal. This shampoo bar then sets itself apart from others with the addition of horsetail, yarrow, nettle, and hops.
Horsetail is a plant found around the world with a number of health benefits. Unfortunately, there’s no scientific evidence that it encourages hair growth, as is often claimed. But it does strengthen hair, with horsetail hair rinses being used for hundreds of years to good effect.
Nettle and hops provide a variety of nutrients and minerals which can also help strengthen your hair and nourish your scalp. Together, these ingredients work to keep your hair strong, preventing brittle hair and potential thin spots in your locs.
While this shampoo isn’t extremely hydrating, it will strengthen damaged hair without leaving any oily residue.
2. Lion Locs 2 in 1 Co Wash for Dreadlocks
If your dreads are getting a little too dry, maybe give Lion Locs 2 in 1 Co Wash a go.
This shampoo and conditioner in one can be used as an everyday shampoo, or as a leave-in conditioner. One of the best things about Lion Locs Co Wash is that it takes time to sink into the core of the dreads, so you can leave it in for as little or as long as you like depending on how dry your dreads are.
When using this as a shampoo, you’ll want to apply it to damp hair, massaging it in from root to tip. In order to get even coverage, it’s best to split your dreads into four or more sections and work on each individually. Depending on your hair type, it can take some work to ensure that your roots are covered evenly, but if you’re only washing your hair once a week, it’s well worth the effort.
One thing to note about this 2-in-1 is that it barely lathers up. Most shampoos for dry dreads won’t, because foaming agents often strip natural oils from the hair. If you’re new to non-foaming shampoos, this can make it difficult to get the shampoo to where it’s needed most – your roots. While splitting your hair up into sections makes it easier to get proper coverage, some shampoos need to be mixed with an equal amount of water to thin them down.
Lion Locs Co Wash is already fairly thin, but if you do need to thin it further, don’t add water. Instead, it’s better to warm it up between your hands first. If it’s really chilly, pre-heat the jar in a bowl of barely warm water. The thin consistency does have one serious downside when combined with the packaging design – it’s very easy to knock the container over and lose the whole lot, so be careful.
3. Locsanity Rosewater and Peppermint Moisturizing, Conditioning and Nourishing Shampoo
Another 2-in-1, Locsanity’s Rosewater and Peppermint shampoo and conditioner delivers a significant dose of hydration for your locs. Co washing, or 2-in-1 washing, is particularly beneficial for dry dreads due to the fact the emulsifiers used in co washes are different from those in normal shampoos.
Instead of a traditional detergent, Locsanity has used brassica alcohol as the “shampoo” in this product, which dissolves away buildup on the scalp. As alcohol by itself is extremely drying to the scalp, this 2-in-1 also contains a healthy dose of oils, including shea butter, black castor oil, jojoba oil, and almond oil. While the alcohol is easily washed away in the water, the oils present cling to your hair, soaking in and restoring shine and strength.
Because of the efficient hydration this shampoo and conditioner provides, we don’t advise using it on locs that haven’t fully set in. However, if your locs are beginning to show their age, this is an excellent product to restore lost shine and softness.
Locsanity’s shampoo and conditioner is friendly to your scalp, but like many 2-in-1s it can cause a greasy buildup of dead skin and oil over time. This buildup isn’t due to any residue from the product itself, but due to the gentle nature of this 2-in-1. Without a stronger cleanse, natural oils, hair products, and dead skin may build up in the core of thicker dreads. The occasional apple cider soak and rinse (read on for more info) can help prevent this buildup without drying out your scalp.
4. Carol’s Daughter Monoi Repairing Sulfate Free Shampoo
If you have really, really dry locs, it may be time to break out this choice in our list. While this shampoo isn’t designed for dreadlocks and may leave behind a residue, it also acts as an emergency treatment for chemically damaged locs.
If you’ve overdone it on the salt water or had a dye job gone wrong, you’ll want to treat your dreads to a dose or two of Carol’s Daughter’s Monoi shampoo before returning to your usual routine. If you happen to naturally suffer from very dry hair, it might be better to only use this occasionally, and instead rely on some of the other shampoos mentioned.
You don’t want to use this shampoo on dreadlocks too often, as the same compounds which repair and strengthen damaged hair can get caught in the center of your dreads, causing buildup over time. Instead, consider adding a conditioning spray for dreads to your routine. These can be applied only to the outside of your dreads, where they’re needed most.
Unlike all of the shampoos mentioned so far, this product doesn’t have an easy to read, all natural ingredients list. You might be put off by the fact it contains PEGs, which have been controversial due to the carcinogenic chemicals required during the manufacturing process.
While PEGs definitely do help strengthen hair, manufacturers have to be very careful to ensure none of those manufacturing chemicals make it into the final product. Carol’s Daughter is a well-known, responsible brand, so it’s extremely unlikely that there’s any contamination in their products. In this case, the presence of PEGs isn’t an issue.
So, this product can leave residue and doesn’t have the benefit of an all-natural ingredients list. Why would you want to put it in your hair? Because it really does help your locs recover, without leaving them greasy. If you need that urgent repair, this is the shampoo for you.
Best Shampoos for Oily Dreadlocks
Before we start this section, we need to clarify something: “Oily” dreads are not a problem unless they are sticky or dirty. Clarifying shampoos are designed specifically to remove a buildup of dead skin, natural oils, and hair products that accumulate around the roots and inside the core of dreads over time. This means they do a really good job of stripping everything from your hair – including the natural oils your scalp and hair need to protect them.
Over use of clarifying shampoos can cause a dry, itchy scalp and brittle hair. It’s better to keep using a shampoo that leaves as little residue as possible and use a clarifying rinse once in a while.
You can make your own gentle clarifying rinse for your hair with vinegar and water. Mix half a tablespoon of vinegar per cup of lukewarm or cold water. Pour this over your hair and scalp or soak your hair in and leave for two to five minutes, then rinse out with cold water. Don’t worry, it won’t leave you smelling of vinegar!
Some clarifying rinses involve adding baking soda to the mix, which isn’t really helpful. If you’ve ever been to a high school science fair, you’re probably familiar with the baking soda volcano, which is exactly what you’re making. Vinegar and baking soda mixed together make carbon dioxide gas and sodium acetate, a chemical used in many shampoos. It’s good for your hair but won’t do anything to strip out buildup.
Baking soda by itself should not be used on your hair. While it will help remove oils and dead skin, it can also damage your hair and irritate your scalp. If you’re really struggling with buildup, it’s better to use one of the clarifying shampoos listed below.
1. DreadHead HQ Dreadlock Soap
DreadHead HQ is another name that’s been around for over two decades. This small company puts serious effort into minimizing the impact their product has on the ecosystem, using environmentally friendly materials and leftover unused packaging from other companies to contain and ship their product.
This shampoo can be used as a regular shampoo as it doesn’t leave any residue and is drying enough to help dreads set without turning your hair brittle. If you find that you’re not getting a good lather, you might need to do a second wash. Wash your hair as normal first. Then rinse out and reapply. Let the shampoo soak in for five to 10 minutes before giving it a really thorough rinse.
This cleansing shampoo has a very thin consistency, so it’s easier to work into the roots of your dreads where most buildup occurs. It’s very drying and can be used on dreads that haven’t fully set yet to help them tighten up.
2. Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo
Although Neutrogena’s anti-residue shampoo isn’t specifically designed for dreads, it does a great job of removing buildup caused by hair products and hard water.
If you find that no matter how often you wash your dreads you’re still getting a greasy, heavy residue on them, you might be living in an area with hard water. Hard water is drawn from underground and contains a heavier concentration of various minerals than rain or reservoir water does. These minerals can mix with the natural oils in your hair and cause an insoluble buildup that your average shampoo won’t shift.
Neutrogena’s anti-residue shampoo is particularly good at dealing with hard water buildup without causing damage or attempting to rehydrate your hair afterwards. It also removes the natural oils present on your scalp and around the base of your hair follicles, so you may want to follow up with a very light conditioner around the roots of your dreads to ensure you don’t get a dry scalp.
3. Locsanity Dreadlock Deep Clean Detox and Rejuvenation Powder
Locsanity have already snuck onto this list with their co-wash for oily hair, but they also deserve recognition for their Deep Clean Detox and Rejuvenation Powder.
Sometimes, hair care products, your natural oils, and hard water can react to cause a waxy white buildup inside your locs that even the best shampoos for dreads won’t shift. Apart from being unsightly, this buildup makes your dreads heavier and prevents shampoo from cleaning the core of your dreads, trapping odor and debris.
The solution to removing this buildup is a long soak in a cleansing mixture. Cleansing mixtures often contain alkali products, which react with the waxy buildup to turn it into a more soapy substance which can then be washed out with a regular shampoo.
This delightfully scented mixture of what is essentially baking powder and Himalayan salt is effective when used as a soak only – a quick rinse won’t do the job. While we’ve warned about using baking soda on its own, this soak is mixed with citric acid to prevent it from damaging your hair and scalp.
To use, dissolve one to two tablespoons in a basin of warm water and let your dreads soak for 15 to 20 minutes before moving on to your usual shampoo. If you don’t have a sink at a comfortable height, inflatable hair basins are cheap and an essential when removing buildup.
Clarifying washes need time to soak in and do their job, and this all-natural plant based product doesn’t have any foaming agents added to help it sink in faster. So, put on a podcast, lie back, and enjoy the scent of this rose and peppermint cleanse.
Don’t Dread Cleaning Your Dreads
There’s a wealth of information out there claiming that washing your dreads will unravel them. This simply isn’t true. However, we can see why some people might be looking for any excuse not to wash their dreads – it’s a painstaking task getting the shampoo into the base of tightly fixed dreads, and if you have curly or coiled hair, it can be even more of a struggle.
After washing your dreads, you should also be taking the time to roll them between your hands to keep things properly maintained, and weave any loose ends in with a crochet hook. More work! And then there’s waiting for hours to ensure that your dreads dry fully before you can apply dread wax and go to sleep, wear a hat, or tie your locs up.
Given the time it takes to do a full wash, style, and fix of your dreads, it’s important to make the process as pleasant as possible, or you can find yourself putting it off for later. Choosing a shampoo that doesn’t just work, but also smells good and feels good in your hands, is a big step towards making the whole process much more relaxing. If you’re finding your current dreadlock maintenance products work well but you hate the texture or smell, look to change things up.
It’s a good idea to schedule a time once a week where you can set aside an hour or two to do proper maintenance, particularly if your dreads are new. Turn this time into an opportunity to relax by using scents you enjoy, put on some music, and do nothing but look after yourself. You’ll find that it does wonders for your head, as well as your dreads.