Dreadlock removal. Help!
July 28, 2006 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Help me come up with a good home remedy for dreadlock removal.

My wife's hair is insanely matted in the back and sides (don't ask why). Anyone have any good home remedies, aside from conditioner, that would make quick work of this tangled mess? Please don't say mayonnaise. Thanks!
posted by OpinioNate to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have kids, one with ultra-curly hair, so I have about five different commercial detangling products around the joint. When the curly-top kid goes uncombed for too long, I sit her down with a wide toothed comb and a DVD of her choice and patiently go to town on her head.

Most commercial detanglers are just leave-in conditioners, heavy on the water, in spray bottles. I know you said "aside from conditioner", but cutting it with water and spraying on an as-needed basis might help.

Otherwise, maybe some vegetable oil? And then rinse it with a little vinegar when you're done, to make sure it's not left a greasy mess.
posted by padraigin at 9:57 PM on July 28, 2006

If it's actually matted I think you're going to have to cut it off. On the surrounding hair: detangler and a comb as suggested above.
posted by fshgrl at 10:14 PM on July 28, 2006

When I removed my dreadlocks I untwisted them manually with my fingers. I should note that I dreaded my hair over the course of several weeks by knotting my hair and not washing it with product and enjoyed the process. Furthermore, I enjoyed both the pain of the knotting and the manual process of doing it. Detangling did not hurt, but I may have a very different tolerance for pain.

Here's another method to consider. It will take a couple of days and some manual labor, but it will work.

1) Wash the hair thoroughly with a product like Sebastian's Stark Naked. It's typically only found in salons, though Target and some grocery stores now carry salon only products. Washing thoroughly, depending on the length of her hair, may take hours. Apply ample product to each dread, massage in, work through with fingers, and repeat until the hair soaps easily and feels clean and soft.

Depending on the complexity of the dreads, this may cause the dreads to loosen enough to painlessly work out.

2) If Stark Naked wasn't enough, get a detangler like Sebastian's Slinky. Alternatively, you can use a more gentle product, but you will have to use more of it to remove the tangles effectively.

As a side note, it's possible to damage the hair using these products. This is usually with repeated use, but it's worth noting. Read the directions and/or consult a licensed cosmetologist.

3) Repeat step 2 for a couple of days. Eventually, the knots will be easy to remove.

Alternatively, you can walk into many salons, without an appointment, and ask for a shampoo and/or a treatment. Many do this for little cost, but given the condition of her hair, you might consider bringing ample tip money. They can, while standing over a sink, more effectively work product into the knots and may be able to do the whole thing in one sitting. If there's a lot of hair, I'd recommend an appointment. You might be able to achieve the same effect by doing this for your wife in the shower, but it's much more difficult to do while you're both standing.
Most commercial detanglers are just leave-in conditioners, heavy on the water, in spray bottles.
If by commercial you mean drugstore brand, then yes, you're mostly right. However, professional products (whether or not they are bought in a salon) are not just leave in conditioners. Be careful, as there are many low end products labeled professional or are marked salon only that are simply more expensive than drugstore products, but are otherwise chemically similar to said drugstore products.

Don't get a leave in conditioner. Don't get something in a spray bottle. Unless the product comes highly recommended by a salon that regularly works with dreads, you want something that comes in a bottle that you work in with your hands.

Don't use a comb unless you want to damage or break your hair. Use your fingers only, but don't pull the hair. You're massaging the knots, which will cause them to detangle more naturally. A comb applies force, which will break a lot of hair.

Lastly, she can simply go for a short hair cut. If the dreads are mostly in the back, but she has lengthy hair, she can get a very nice angled hair cut. Ask a stylist or look through some magazines for women with hair cuts that slant from short in the back to long in the front. This may or not be right for your wife, but it is an option. The angle hair cut can also be done as an asymmetrical cut or as a razor cut to give texture and or cover up for oddly located dreads.

I am not a cosmetologist, but I am engaged to one and happen to be particularly interested and involved with her career. Sorry for the lengthy reply.
posted by sequential at 10:29 PM on July 28, 2006

Does she have actual, all-over dreads, or just really bad accidental mats somewhere? I think this will make a difference in your method.
posted by tristeza at 10:35 PM on July 28, 2006

What's the texture of her hair? If she is of African extraction, then she's pretty much screwed. The only way to unlock nappy hair is to cut it. I'm black so i can't speak to caucasian hair, just the 'naps'.
posted by ramix at 11:46 PM on July 28, 2006

I got rid of my dreads last year via the "cut them in half and then work them out with your fingers" routine. [pix]. The only thing I have to add to sequential's advice is to trim off at least the ends and then just work work work slowly. It takes a really long time but it can be done and it's a little icky but nothing terrible. You get a lot of hair oils on your hands. Once the dreads were mostly out, I went into the shower with a ton of deep conditioner and left it on for 15 minutes and only then rana comb through my hair. One thing to keep in mind if you are contemplating a cut is that unravelled dreads are much longer than knotted up ones.
posted by jessamyn at 5:24 AM on July 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Think like a horse: Mane & Tail Detangler. I had to get my dreads totally chopped, but my ex-equestrian friend's dreads were substantially saved with this solution (there are a few brands out there, which is why I didn't link to any particular one). Mine also hurt like hell on removal, but she didn't have too much of a problem in the way of pain.
posted by avocet at 5:32 AM on July 29, 2006

3 suggestions:

1. Go to a beauty supply store that specializes in Black hair care products and buy a product called Better Braids Un-Braid. It uses a) salicylic acid to break down gunk that might be holding the mat together and b) glycerine as a lubricant. I used it to remove leftover knots/mats caused by braids that I'd had in for months. It worked wonders. Spray it in, saturating the hair, let it sit for a few hours (or overnight), then get to untangling with a fine-toothed comb, respraying if you need more moisture to help you along.

2. Try the Tangle Tamer. I'd heard good things about it, so I bought one, but I never used it, due to the success of the above product.

3. Children's detanglers. I've used a number of these for lighter-duty detangling, and they work fairly well. I'd try suggestions 1 and 2 first though.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 5:54 AM on July 29, 2006

I dont have dreads nor children with dreads but I do manage a dog care facility with a groomer. One of her tools for dreads (or in dog terms matts) she uses a dematter tool. It combs thru the hair and has tiny razor blades that cut single hairs cutting only the matt away depending on the severety it might help without hurting so much.
posted by meeshell at 6:46 AM on July 29, 2006

When I accidentally grew matlocks, I went to a beauty school and let them figure out how to remove them. They used a tool much like the above Tangle Tamer, but more industrial, and it did the job.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:07 AM on July 29, 2006

What Not to Do:

My sister did this... it worked, but then she almost died. She brought gasoline in the house and went in the bathroom and closed the door. Then she poored gas on her hair. Lets just say she killed the last of her brain cells.

It worked tho.
posted by bleucube at 11:45 AM on July 29, 2006

I spoke with my fiancee about my answer. She has offered the following corrections:

1) If your wife's hair is just lightly matted or in the first stage of dreading, using the above products, or similar products is recommended. She highly recommends Sebastian's Detangling Milk over Slinky.

It's important to note if she uses a clarifying shampoo, like Stark Naked, to clean her dreadlocks, under no circumstance should she use a comb, brush, or any amount of force. Clarifying treatments actually spread the cuticles of the hair, which will leave it prone to damage (like breaking). If she finds that she needs or wants to use a comb afterward, she should use an acidic shampoo to help close the cuticle of the hair before attempting to comb it out.

2) If your wife's hair is in the second stage of dreading, this is a stage from between one year and five years of having dreadlocks, she will damage her hair beyond repair by using any of the methods mentioned above. During this stage, the cortex of each individual hair begins to bond. Breaking this bond breaks the hair. To fix hair that has broken this way, it must be cut and regrown. She can use product to cover for the damaged hair if this happens, but in the long run she will simply have to grow her hair out.

3) If your wife's hair has been dreaded for five years or longer, and these times vary, the individual hairs have long since died and formed what can be thought of as one, thick hair per dread. (I'm over simplifying.) At this stage, dreads can only be cut off.

This is coming from Milady's Standard, the industry textbook. Salons that deal primarily with ethnic hair have a lot more experience and understanding of the whole process than one can glean from the textbook. My fiancee happened to learn primarily on ethnic hair, therefore has a better understanding of this than most. The best advice will come from someone who deals regularly and extensively with clients that have dreads if you should choose to seek other advice.

Regarding the Better Braids Unbraid, it works and can be found in the ethnic section at your local Sally's or Ace Beauty Supply store. It may even be available at Target or other such stores if they have a significant ethnic hair product section. It will also cure her acne. (I'm kidding, but the main ingredient of Better Braids Unbraid is found in most OTC acne fighters.)

Regarding the Tangle Tamer, yes, it removes tangles, but it does so by breaking the hair. If your wife wishes to avoid damaging her hair, avoid this method.
trim off at least the ends and then just work work work slowly.
Excellent advice. I did not do this, but again, I liked the pain. Your wife should probably get a trim either way to take care of split ends and have someone with plenty of experience look at whatever damage might have been caused.
One thing to keep in mind if you are contemplating a cut is that unraveled dreads are much longer than knotted up ones.
And much curlier! I had an afro for a week.
posted by sequential at 7:57 PM on July 29, 2006

« Older Locked my keys in a Ford Explorer   |   Los Angeles area liquor wholesalers pricelist... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.