Locs or Locks in Black Hair

Woman with blonde locs/locks/dreadlocks
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Short for, or replacing the somewhat negative term "dreadlocks," locs is a hairstyle where the hair that one would normally comb or shed locks on itself, creating ropelike strands. Hair is not combed during the locking process, which is what causes the strands to coil around themselves into fused units.

Also Known As: dreadlocks, dreads, locks

How Are Locs Formed?

Although some people simply stop combing through their hair in order to form the style, often called "freeform" locs, many others prefer a more cultivated look with neat, even partings throughout.

Cultivated locs tend to have a uniform size to each unit, unlike freeform locs, which will have a variety of sizes, ranging from thin to fat.

Common ways to begin manicured starter locs include:

  • Coiling
  • Braiding
  • Twisting
  • Palm rolling

Typically, the tighter the natural curl pattern, the faster the hair will lock. People with tightly curled hair may begin their locs with simple palm rolling, while someone with a looser texture may have to braid her hair to begin locs. It takes several months for locs to grow from the baby stage to the more rooted teen stage, where they're usually established by this point.

What's Wrong With the Term "Dreadlocks"?

Contrary to some people's beliefs, locs aren't only worn by people of African descent. This hairstyle has a long history dating back at least as far as ancient Greece and is/was worn by people of various religions and cultures, including Hindus and ancient Israelites.

With the trans-Atlantic slave trade in full force during the 1600-1800s, Africans brought to America (and other places around the globe) arrived in an unkempt state, due to being unable to perform their normal hair grooming practices. After traveling months on ships with no hygiene available, slaves arrived with their hair matted and locked.

It's said that slave owners referred to the "dreadful" sight of the captives, thus the term "dreadlocks" and its negative association.

However, many loc wearers proudly call themselves "dreads" and debate the supposed history of the term dreadlocks. Instead of "dread" being used in a negative way, dreads often recount the respectful meaning of the term along with how it's used in certain parts of the world to denote awe and spirituality.

What Can I Do With My Locs?

Locs allow for a range of possibilities in styling, including playing around with color. They can be formed in braids, twists, set on rollers, put into updos, cut into shorter lengths and more. Loc wearers can be incredibly creative, incorporating hair jewelry and shells into their styles as well.

Can You Unlock Locs or Do You Have to Cut Them to Start Over?

This is a common question for anyone wondering what happens if you ever get tired of your locs and want to go back to loose hair. Many people believe that you have to cut your locs off because they're too tightly entwined to undo. This is definitely the easier path, although some determined types have unlocked their hair by combing the locs out. The unlocking process will take hours or days, and if the hair has been in a locked state for a very long time (say, decades), it simply may not be possible.

Expect a lot of shed hair if you choose to unlock because almost all the hair that normally falls on a daily basis is captured in the locs. You may have years of shed hairs to deal with.