Everything You Need To Know Before Starting Your Locs

Photographed by Rochelle Brock.
For some, locs evoke images of carefree island vacations and low-maintenance living. Sorry for the spoiler, folks, but that couldn't be further from reality. Growing locs takes time, dedication, and dollars... but the payoff is well worth it. After all, some of the most powerful women in Hollywood wear them, including Ava DuVernay, Chloe and Halle Bailey of Chloe x Halle, Lena Waithe, and Lisa Bonét, for starters. They exude a radiance that's striking, of course, but it also makes for a meaningful statement.
"I always loved locs. Since I was a little girl when I would see a lady in my neighborhood with them. I thought they were magic," DuVernay once captioned a photo from a Hollywood Reporter story. "No one in my family wore their hair in this style. I grew up going to the beauty salon with my Mom or getting my hair pressed in the kitchen by my Gramma. I've had every style. Short bobs. Long weaves. Braids of all kinds. But when I saw this picture... I smiled at the crown that now adorns my head. And hope some little girl somewhere comes across this image and sees magic too."
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Of course, some are still fighting for acceptance at schools, in the workplace, and even the military for wearing their hair natural. But from personal experience, the loc life is one that I can't see myself living without. Curious about joining us? Read ahead for the history of the hairstyle and tips on starting your own.
Welcome to MyIdentity. The road to owning your identity is rarely easy. In this yearlong program, we will celebrate that journey and explore how the choices we make on the outside reflect what we’re feeling on the inside — and the important role fashion and beauty play in helping people find and express who they are.
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Photographed by Rochelle Brock.
A Quick History Lesson

“Locs can be dated back to early civilizations in Egypt, Greece, India, and amongst certain groups of people,” Tamara Albertini, owner of Ancestral Strands in Brooklyn, NY, tells us. “Many ethnic groups of people all over the world wear their hair in locs for spiritual and cultural reasons, from Hindu holy men in India, to Rastafarians in Jamaica and Ethiopia.” In Rastafari culture, locs are seen symbolically as a natural connection with oneself and the earth. Therefore, manipulation of the hair is discouraged — you’re encouraged to let your hair grow freely and without constraint of maintenance and appearance.

In fact, Ethiopia is actually where the term ‘dreadlock’ originates from. “During the Invasion of Ethiopia and the exile of Emperor Ras Tafari, the gorilla warriors swore not to cut their hair until the emperor was reinstated,” Albertini notes. “It was seen to be a threat to christianity by the Europeans. The Rastafarians locs were feared and looked at as being disgusting, which is where the ‘dread’ comes from.” Nowadays, people are beginning to refer to the style simply as ‘locs’, removing the negative connotation and stigma that has long been attached to the hairstyle.
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Where To Begin

Before you decide to loc, you must understand exactly what type you are looking for... no matter what kind of hair you have. “All textures of hair can form locs, although the method to achieve that locked state varies widely,” celebrity hairstylist Felicia Leatherwood, whose clients include Issa Rae and Lena Waithe, says. “Also, understand that the different textures will produce different experiences and looks with the hairstyle.”

While highly textured hair can be coiled and will naturally knit itself together in time, Jocelyn Reneé, owner and founder of NuGrowth Salon in Lanham, Maryland, notes that looser textures need a manual tool to manipulate the hair, such as a micro crochet hook. With that tool, a loctician will move back and forth down the shaft of the loc to force the hair to tangle within itself.
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Photo: Via @aprilbeee_.
Know Your Loc Types

In terms of starting your locs, you've got to consider your texture along with your timeline. Do you want to start from scratch, or use the help of human hair? Thankfully, there are plenty of options to choose from. "Essentially there are eight different methods that can be used to start locs,” Reneé says. "The most common method is with comb coils, which only require 2-3 inches of hair and are done on textured hair. The method utilizes a comb to twist the hair in a downward motion, creating uniform coils around your head."
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Backcombing

If you've got a loose or straighter texture, this one's for you. “Backcombing involves teasing the hairs to create an internal intertwining of hairs,” Reneé notes, adding that you would then palm roll — literally using your palms to roll the hair in between your hands into the shape of a loc.
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Photo: Via @sierra_mulkey.
Two-Strand Twists

These can be done with as little as four inches of hair. “This is a style that is often the go-to method for longer hair or looser textures,” Reneé explains. “You create a solid internal foundation by twisting your hair throughout, and with time, your hair will begin to condense within itself."
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Instant Locs

For those wanting immediate results, Reneé suggests this. Starting with your loose, natural hair, a crochet hook is used to intertwine the hairs together at once, creating a loc in one sitting versus a loc forming and solidifying on its own over the span of years.
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Photo: Via @ceceolisa.
Sisterlocks

Dr. Kari Williams, a celebrity hairstylist who works with Brandy, Meagan Good, Keri Hilson, and more, suggests these for people with active lifestyles. “Sisterlocks are micro-locs, formed by tightening the roots of your hair with a latch-hook tool,” Williams says. Unlike other styles mentioned, Sisterlocks require specialized training for locticians; this is not a style you should do on yourself if you are not professionally trained. Because the style can be 400-plus locs, the initial installation can take up to three days by your loctician, and three to five hours every time you go back to retighten the new growth. Sisterlocks are a style that utilizes a special crochet tool to interlock the hair into small sections, usually with 400 or more locs.
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Goddess Locs

Years ago, Dr. Williams created and patented this style that's been seen on Good, Tyra Banks, and other celebs. And it's trickled down from Hollywood all the way to local salons all around the country. Unlike other loc styles (both with your hair and with the addition of extra hair), Goddess locs are created by wrapping human hair around small sections of your own hair and leave the ends loose... or you can wrap the faux hair around your individual braids.
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Loc Extensions

If you want to bypass the transition time and want cultivated locs right this minute, Reneé suggests this method. “Loc extensions are attached about an inch from the bottom of your loc with human hair fibers, someone else’s locs, or a pre-made set of crochet locs using a crochet hook," she explains. "Anyone with locs, aside from those with Sisterlocks, can do extensions on their hair. The hair you attach will at some point seamlessly blend with your own if done properly.”
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Photo: Via @golden_emeral.
Freeform Locs

Just leave your hair alone — no styling, trims, retwisting, or anything else — and it intertwines with itself.
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Photo: Via @crazisexylocqueen.
Now, Let Them Grow

When you first get your locs, it takes time for them to form and solidify into the locs you see on people who have had them for years. It is certainly not an overnight process, unless you opt for instant locs. Sit back, relax, and be patient, because they take a while. There are four main phases to loc growth: the budding phase, the baby lock phase, the teenage phase, and the mature loc phase.

Budding Phase

“Buds start off soft in the beginning of the loc process and begin to harden as the loc matures,” Dr. Williams says. “The loc starts budding, where it looks like it is physically expanding, in the middle of the loc and extends to the ends of the loc. Finer hair types and looser curl patterns will also go through budding, however the ends of their locs may never fully lock.”

Usually lasting up to 16 weeks (though depending on your hair texture, times could vary), the budding phase is the most important time in your loc process. “Once your hair starts the budding process, it is important that you cultivate the locs properly,” says Reneé. That includes using lightweight, water-soluble ingredients to avoid buildup. “For most people, this includes staying away from wax, butters, creams, or heavy oils,” Albertini adds. When it comes to retwisting the new growth, she recommends oils, a shea butter blend, or natural hair gels made of flaxseed or chia seed. Just make sure that your produts don't have alcohol, which dries the hair out.

While the budding phase isn't always pretty, Dr. Williams suggests playing around with styles (like cornrows) to keep your locs neat and stylish. And to help with the frizz, you can wrap loose hairs around the forming loc with a little product to keep it neat.
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Photo: Via @wildlybrittishh.
Baby Loc Phase

Known by many as the “struggle” stage, this is when your hair just can’t seem to get it together. During and after the budding phase, comes what’s informally known as the ‘baby loc’ phase, where your hair will begin to form itself into an actual loc.

“The size of the loc begins to expand larger as a result of the budding and detangling of the hair strands within the loc,” Dr. Williams says. “Forming happens simultaneously with the budding phase and continues for up to a year.” For many, this will be time when your locs finally start to look like locs. To ensure the health of your hair during this time, Albertini recommends sticking with a minimal-product lifestyle. “The less products you use, the healthier your hair will be,” she says. “Oil your scalp with your preferred choice of castor oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, and other carrier oils, when needed. Also, don’t wait too long to get your hair treated unless you are freeforming your hair.”
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Teenage Phase

After the formation of your locs, you’ll start to see them solidifying and hardening. You may notice that your locs have swelled up (due to budding) almost twice their original size, and at this point, you are in what’s considered the ‘teenage’ phase. Some things you’ll notice, according to Reneé, include your hair being unruly and seemingly not growing.

“This is because during the teenage stage, your locs are becoming denser and they are tangling on the inside,” assures Reneé, who notes that the teenage stage can last anywhere from 6-18 months. To help control some of the swelling, especially if you work in a corporate atmosphere, you can experiment with pressure styles. “Try wearing low-tension buns or ponytails to keep your hair in control,” suggests Reneé. At some point, you may also notice that your locs start shrinking to a smaller size, which is a result of those strands condensing themselves so tightly. “This stage can last up to two years,” notes Dr. Williams. “But afterward, you’ll be in the mature loc phase, and that’s the end.”
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Photo: Via @adibynicolej.
Adult Phase

After the locs solidify completely, they continue to grow longer. This is also the time when your locs will normalize in size your hair will stop appearing fuzzy. “You’ll see a difference once you give your hair time,” notes Reneé. “You’ll notice that your hair is denser, your ends will ‘seal’ off, which means they will not be strands, and your hair will continue to grow because it is no longer swelling.”
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Let's Talk Maintenance

Unless you are free-forming your hair, you'll have to manipulate your new growth to help it loc. Camille Friend, the lead hairstylist for Black Panther who Eric Killmonger's asymmetrical locs, swears by palm rolling.

“While holding the loc between your hands, use a product to smooth out the hairs and twist the new growth at the scalp,” Friend instructs. “This is hair that is loose and unlocked. Frequent retwisting is what will allow it to eventually loc to itself and begin the budding process, though you want to keep retwists spaced out and not too frequent at a risk for hair loss.”
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For people with loose hair textures who typically deal with unravelling locs, another common method is interlocking. “Interlocking requires a loc tool like a crochet hook, and literally ‘hooks’ your hair into itself,” Friend explains. “A method like this should be done sparingly, but it is helpful if your hair doesn’t take quickly to palm rolling.”
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A common question often raised, especially in the beginning stages of locs, is if one should wash their hair. The answer is yes, though the type of products you use should vary. "Shampoo plays an important role in the health of your locs," Reneé says. "You always want to wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo that will cleanse the scalp, then follow up with a lightweight, moisturizing shampoo.”

Some pro-loved clarifying shampoos include Kenra Clarifying Shampoo, Paul Mitchell Clarifying Shampoo Two, or even Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo. Alternatively, one could do a 1:2 ratio of apple cider vinegar and water — pour the solution over your hair, and lightly massage the scalp with your fingertips, and then rinse.

According to Reneé, clarifying is important because locs hold onto products and debris. Thoroughly cleansing the scalp is a necessity for the health of your hair. When it comes to conditioners, various people have different opinions on whether you should use it or not. “Conditioner is debatable because it's meant to detangle the hair," Reneé notes. "And that’s counterintuitive to locs where you are trying to have the hair tangle. But generally, cream-based conditioner should not be used on locs, and instead one could do a herbal rinse (specially made by your loctician) formulated for your locs.”
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Photo: Via @drkariwill.
And you can’t forget about your edges, either. “Your hairline and roots are very important, and the frequency of care is essential if you want to prevent hair loss,” Friend says. And that time can truly change to be even longer, depending on your personal needs and wants.

However, don’t add too much tension to the scalp by over manipulating your hair. In the long run, you’ll thank yourself. For locs that unravel and uncoil, Albertini recommends retwisting them gently and letting them do the work on their own. She also recommended staying away from heavy products, as they will seep into the shaft of your locs which adds a ton of weight and can later cause your locs to pop off. This can cause alopecia around your hairline.

Like any hairstyle, the preservation of your locs will truly depend on how you take care of them (no pressure).
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