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Wax vs Gel For Dreadlocks: Which Should You Choose?

The wax vs gel for dreadlocks debate is misleading. Many people with mature locs don’t use either, and even if you’re just starting your loc journey, you should probably follow suit.

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What Is Wax For Dreadlocks?

All-natural dreadlock waxes are supposed to help keep new dreads in place after you’ve hand-rolled them.

In reality, waxes attract dirt and lint, trapping debris in your fresh dreadlocks. It’s incredibly difficult (sometimes impossible) to wash wax out of your hair since it won’t dissolve in water, and many only melt at temperatures that would scald your scalp.

Lots of brands that manufacture dreadlock waxes point out that their wax is “easy to wash,” but even if you manage to scrub away the surface-layer of wax, you still run the risk that there’s built-up wax in the shafts of your locs.

If you wash your dreadlocks regularly at home, you know that residue is the #1 no-no of dreadlocks. When you go to wash your locs, that built-up wax can trap water in your dreads, and mold can grow. That’s known as dread rot.

It’s one reason for the misconception that “dreadlocks smell bad.” Dreadlocks made with wax often end up smelling bad.

You don’t need wax to form your dreadlocks, so why run the risk?

Who Should Use Wax For Dreadlock?

In truth, nobody should use wax for dreadlocks. It has too many risky side effects for your hair, and there’s no getting rid of the wax once it’s there. There are plenty of ways to form dreadlocks naturally without wax.

However, wax is still popular among guys who want fast, temporary dreadlocks. I recommend gel over wax for that purpose, but the dreads will look stiffer. You can also braid wool dreadlocks into your hair (or have a professional do it) if you want temporary dreadlocks.

Still…for guys who want long-term dreadlocks, but don’t have the thick, textured hair that easily forms locs, wax is a tempting option. It has a firm hold, even on thin, fine hair. I really recommend seeing a stylist and troubleshooting other ways to get dreads, but if you’re dead set on wax, here’s how to do it:

How To Use Wax For Dreadlocks

I still stand firm in saying that you shouldn’t put wax in your dreads. But for stubborn guys, the most common method is hand-rolling and teasing.

Before you start, make sure you have a wax that’s designed to be used on dreadlocks.

While it’s dry, section off your hair into the locs that you want. Then, taking them one at a time, put a bit of wax in your hands and twist the hair, applying the wax to the surface of the dreadlocks as you go.

Some guys stop there. But for extra loc security, you can take a comb or teasing tool and pick at your hair to get it to tangle more (loc experts argue whether you should use dreadlock crochet hooks or not, but that’s an entirely different debate). 

Once you’ve realized that putting the wax in your hair was a horrible mistake, here’s how you can try to get it out:

How To Get Wax Out Of Dreadlocks

Traditional dreadlock shampoo and a hot shower won’t get wax out of your hair. Wax does not dissolve in water, and shampoo doesn’t rinse it out nicely, especially when dreadlocks are involved. You can attempt these methods instead, but fair warning, none of them are very hair-friendly.

Wax Remover

The brand that you purchased your dreadlock wax from probably also sells some sort of wax remover. It’s a special hair product that’s meant to help dissolve the wax.

You should always read the directions on the bottle – some may be different from ours. But generally speaking, you’ll apply the wax remover to dry hair, work it into each loc, then rinse it out with a hot shower and dreadlock shampoo or soap.

Hot Iron And Paper Towels

For thick wax on the surface of your dreadlocks, you can wrap each lock in a paper towel, and use a blow dryer or a hot iron to heat up the locs, hopefully dissolving the wax.

This method won’t always work because the heat needed to dissolve wax is too much for human scalp. You can do a lot of damage to your hair and skin.

If you do get lucky and the wax melts, the paper towels will soak it up, and you can remove them. Some stylists say it takes a few sessions to complete this method of wax removal.

Give Up And Shave

Lots of guys lose their dreads to wax. If you’ve really coated your locks in product, and there’s just no way of getting it all out, then it might be time to get a buzz cut or shaved head.

What Is Gel For Dreadlocks?

When it comes to wax vs gel for dreadlocks, you actually don’t need gel to form dreadlocks, but it’s still a lot safer than wax. Gel is water-soluble, so it’ll rinse out nicely.

Here’s the problem: the gels that are best at holding your dreadlocks will make your hair look stiff. After all, hair gel is meant to hold your hair-do in place with a lot of strength and shine. It’s not necessarily the vibe that guys want with their dreadlocks.

Lots of gels also contain alcohol, which dries out your scalp and hair. You’ll need a top-notch dreadlock moisturizing routine to try to protect yourself from the dryness and irritation that gels can cause.

In that sense, gels are a lot less work than waxes, but they don’t have the aesthetic vibes that guys usually want for their dreads.

Who Should Use Gel For Dreadlocks?

I don’t recommend using gel to start your journey with dreadlocks, simply because it sets you off on a weird path. The texture and shine will be all wrong, and you won’t get an accurate picture of what your locs will look like in the long-run. There’s a greater chance that your scalp will feel irritated and dry.

And if you want temporary locs, I’d still recommend other methods, like braiding wool dreadlocks into your hair. 

But, hey, if you need dreadlocks in the next 2 hours for an event, gel isn’t the worst option, and it’s a product that lots of guys have on-hand. Just be sure to give your hair a nice scrub with some shampoo afterwards.

How To Use Gel For Dreadlocks

Using gel to create dreadlocks follows the same method as wax – the only difference is that you can use a normal shampoo to wash out the gel later. There’s a higher chance that your locs will unwind when you wash away the gel, which might be a good thing if you only want the locs for a few days.

Starting with WET HAIR, section your hair into locs, then taking each piece one at a time, twist it and coat it in gel as you go. Alternatively, you can use a gel spot-treatment. Twist and tangle the hair with a comb, see if it stays in place, and secure the less stable parts with gel, rather than coating the whole strand.

The locs will feel stiff and shiny when you’re done, depending on how much gel you end up using. The less gel you use, the more natural the locs will look.

Wax vs Gel For Dreadlocks: Which Should You Get?

If you need some one-night dreads for an event or party, definitely choose gel over wax. It will hold every hair in place, and it’ll be easy to wash out when you’re done with it. 

For guys who are ready for a long-term dreadlock journey, you don’t actually need wax or gel. The safest dreadlock rolling methods involve zero hair products. If you’re struggling to roll your dreads yourself at home, I’d recommend seeing a stylist before you turn to wax or gel.

Don’t be fooled by the wax vs gel debate – neither is the best option for strong, healthy dreadlocks.

Frank Edwards is a men's grooming & style expert who is "internet famous" for being able to simplify complicated grooming routines into easy, yet effective rituals any man can do. As a professional analyst, he has spent years researching the biggest brands, products, experts, best practices, and breaking news in the space. He takes this analysis, tests it out on himself, and then documents everything in his writing. As a result, his experience-based articles are considered by some to be the gold standard in men's grooming and men's style.