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Loc vs Dreadlock – Differences between the two styles

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Locs and dreadlocks – these two natural Black hairstyles can be interchangeably. However, there are some distinct differences between traditional loc and salon-style dreadlocks. Understanding the variations helps you determine which option best suits your hair type and personal style preferences. 


  • Dreadlocks have a long history and spiritual significance in various cultures. Most notably, dreadlocks are associated with Rastafarians and the Rastafari movement. However, ancient Egyptians, Maasai tribes, Hindu holy men, and more have also worn dreadlocked hairstyles. The term “dreadlock” comes from the English verb “to dread” – fearing the look when it is first encountered.
  • Locs have roots in Africa and early Black American culture. Locs are related to African tribal hairstyles designed to express identity and status in certain communities. The term “locs” comes from the word “locust” or clustered, referencing the bundled look of the hair.

Texture and type

  • Traditional locs form through matting and meshing of the hair over time. So kinky, tightly coiled 4C hair textures are best able to naturally dread into locs. Those with looser curl patterns usually require intentional backcombing or twisting to lock.
  • Dreadlocks work for a wider range of curl patterns and hair types. From 3C curls to straight hair, nearly any texture is sectioned and encouraged into forming dreadlocks. The salon methods used to start dreadlocks allow more hair types to take to the style.


  • Natural matting, traditional locs tend to be quite small and thin in diameter. They form slim, rope-like bundled strands of hair. Backcombing and twisting methods used for dreadlocks allow them to be started in larger, chunkier sections. Dreadlock size ranges from pencil-thin to very thick and jumbo. 
  • Locs usually measure around a 1/4 inch or smaller in diameter on average. With maintenance like combining, the slim locs increase in size over time. Salons section dreadlocks much larger from the start – 1 inch across or greater. The waxing methods also encourage dreadlocks to thicken as the hair locks together.

Formation method

  • Traditional locs form naturally through matting and meshing over months. The hair knots together forming loc’d strands without any manipulation. With straight or loose curl patterns, intentional neglect and palm rolling will encourage natural locing.  
  • Salon dreadlocks form through sectioning and backcombing or twisting the hair. Backcombing involves combing sections of hair to create tangles that bind together into dreadlocks. The two-strand twist method uses gel or wax to twist adjacent hair strands into permanent spirals forming locked dreadlocks. Maintaining neat sections requires regular retwisting.


  • Due to the organic formation, traditional locs have a highly textured, ropy look. They appear bumpy and strand-like with visible knots and character. An organic, imperfect look is created by the hair webbing and meshing irregularly as it Locs.
  • Dreadlocks often have a smoother, more uniform look. Their shaped and sectioned formation allows for neat, consistent patterning and size. Dreadlocks often appear round, symmetrical and intentionally styled into place based on the backcombing or twisting technique used.

Upkeep and maintenance

  • Traditional locs require minimal upkeep. After the initial growth period, hair naturally locks with little hassle. Loc’d hair needs an occasional wash, separation, or palm rolling of sections for maintenance-free. Avoiding manipulation keeps the organic look.
  • Dreadlocks require more regular maintenance. Every 4-6 weeks, new hair growth is re-twisted or backcombed into the locs to avoid loosening. Wax or gel often needs to be reapplied to encourage neat formation. Loc retightening appointments entail additional upkeep. 

Cultural associations

  • Within the Black community, dreadlocks have strong ties with Rastafarian culture. The religious movement founded the style which holds deep spiritual meaning. Locs are considered more of an organic Black hairstyle without the strong roots in Rastafarianism.
  • There remains much debate over whether non-black people should wear locs or dreadlocks. Many feel it is cultural appropriation for those outside the culture to adopt styles holding such meaning in the Black experience. Others argue hair texture itself allows dreadlocks for some. It’s a complex issue still being discussed.

Cost considerations

  • Locs cost nothing to start and require little care at home. All that’s needed is time and avoidance of manipulation. With patience, nearly any tightly curled Afro-textured hair will naturally loc. 
  • The professional salon methods to start dreadlocks carry more upfront costs. From $100 to several hundred dollars, you will pay for the sectioning, twisting, and/or backcombing time and labor. Products like wax to form and maintain the locs also require investment. Ongoing maintenance like re-twisting means higher long-term costs too.

As you can see, while dreadlocks and locs share similarities, some clear differences set these styles apart. From formation and appearance to maintenance needs, these details impact which choice best suits your hair type and lifestyle. Traditional locs allow kinky hair to naturally knot and mesh over time with minimal upkeep. Dreadlocks offer customizable sizes and formations for a wider range of hair textures if you don’t mind professional styling and regular retightening.