It is important to adopt good hair regimens early on, to avoid problems years down the track. You need to know the ingredients in your hair products, learn if they leave residue on your hair and avoid the products that do.
Following is some great advice from a NP member who is a longtime loc wearer.
An experience that needed to be shared
I’ve been meaning to post this for a while to possibly help someone who may dealing with it, for newbies who can avoid this further down the line and feel like I wouldn't be doing my duty on this one if I didn't share.
First my routine - I’ve always washed my locs at least once a week, am an avid clarifier and really light on the product (primarily water-based spritzes as moisturizer, castor oil heaviest product EVER used and rarely use this altogether as a moisturizer). Even with all of this, I battled mildew-smelling locs for a good 6 weeks or so. It was gradual (so look out and monitor this) as my locs started taking longer and longer to dry and just really holding on to water more. At first I attributed it to more length but after a while when I started getting this slight mildewy smell like maybe an hour after air drying, I knew that it had to be something else.
The culprits were the moisturizing shampoos that I started using maybe around my second year into locs (into my fourth now or would it be third – Jan 2010 made 3 yrs). I was adamant in the beginning about using translucent shampoos (and should have stuck to this) but for me they are not the most moisturizing. They don’t necessarily strip my hair but they don’t put that moisture into them like my castile-based shampoo (CD Khoret Amen) and Oyin’s Grand Poo bar and I LOVED that level of moisture. There’s truly something to be said for sticking to translucent shampoos with locs. I realize that a lot of people use Dr. Bronners or other castile-based shampoos but they do leave something behind and/or coat and even with clarifying, after a while this built up on my locs and wasn’t lifting, if you will.
There are exceptions to every rule of course and I think that hair density and thickness and as well as loc thickness are factors as well. My hair is very dense and thick and my locs are medium-sized. I’ve found for myself that it’s just a simple no no. Sucks! But 'tis life. If you have this issue even from time to time, a LOT of times the shampoo is the issue, if you are using a moisturizing or castile-based shampoo. This will NOT show up for some until yrs down the line (probably took two years for me).
At first I really freaked out and thought that they might be mildewing from the inside and that I might have to eventually cut them – (creative writer very vivid imagination so yeah...). Although the scent was not strong, it was unpleasant to say the least and still my imagination ran and I feared that they may be mildewing (which can lead to dry rotting if it gets severe enough and then you’d have to cut) from the inside. I did extensive research on this issue outside of NP and found info that spoke directly to using castile-based shampoos on locs and it confirmed what I’d discovered from my own experience, of course everyone will do as they please (and this is only meant to inform) but it advised against using them altogether although a lot of loc heads do ONLY because they just don't completely rinse out.
I did a series of clarifying treatments over the weeks, each and every week, from baking soda treatments to acv to clarifying shampoo to dishwashing liquid combined with hot water treatments. Gradually the mildew scent left but it took WEEKS to fully remove it (partly because I didn't want to do more than one treatment with each wash and no more than once a week because that would have been so stripping and traumatizing to my hair due to the excessive dryness - so I just had to be patient).
I went from having to blow my locs out for about 15 minutes AND dry with sham wow towels (the big ones) AND my locs still taking hours upon hours to dry to NOT having to blow them out at all and my locs drying time being practically cut in half and the smaller sham wow towels being sufficient enough for drying and removing the water now that the issue is resolved and I’m back to using a translucent shampoo. I never jumped on the creamy conditioner bandwagon because I believe that they leave something behind and/or coat as well.
If your drying time has gotten out of control, even without a mildewy smell, it can still possibly be attributed to the shampoo or conditioner that you are using or the products OR lack of clarifying – without this there is simply gunk that’s not being removed (this can simply be shampoo that leaves residue). It really kind of creeps up on you and is hard to gauge/identify because your locs are getting longer and/or thicker and the issue is not immediate – ESPECIALLY if you wash and clarify frequently.
Having said all of this, I’ve never clarified and had any issues of my locs purging build up or build up surfacing, yet and STILL, I’ve just explained what happened. Locs are no joke and hold on to more than we realize. I’ll miss my CD Khoret Amen and Oyin Grand Poo bar as they are excellent, moisturizing, gentle cleansers but it’s a wrap! Now I pre-condition with Jamaican black castor oil as a buffer before shampooing. I would say overall to be particularly careful with this if your hair is really dense and/or thick and of not falling into the trap of thinking that it's not applicable to you because you are only 5 mos in - remember, this took a couple years to manifest AND if your locs are taking 12 hrs+ to air dry w/o being waist length or longer (mine take no longer than six hours now and this is INSIDE so of course they dry faster if I go out into the fresh air) - it's also hard to know if this is truly an issue for you if you dry under the dryer - that doesn't mean that you don't have build up from say residue, just that you never got the chance to even begin to "discover" it w/o an indicator like a mildewy scent.
Also if you've never used a really GOOD clarifying shampoo that really penetrates the locs (let it sit for a good 20-30 minutes) and combined it with a hot water treatment (regardless of mildew smell or not), you'd probably be shocked when you start to rinse with the hot water and squeeze. I have yet to find a clarifying shampoo that penetrates to the core and does what Paul Mitchell Three does w/o stripping the hair something serious so it's a good one to invest in. Please remember that this has happened to and is coming from someone who's never even thought twice about a product like Jamaican Mango & Lime or Lottabody Setting Lotion usage.
Also please note that if the only products that you EVER use to moisturize is water and eo's, things like lint, elements from the environment, your own sebum and residue from the shampoo that you use can get trapped and build up VERY easily in locs and will cause PROBLEMS years into locking. I don't know that I would have recovered from this if I didn't both use light products and clarify regularly over the years. I'm happy to say today that my locs are in great shape, mildew-scent free, much more sheeny (when they were never really dull - you'd be surprised) and overall just lighter (were never heavy but again you'd be surprised). I’m hoping that this is informative and/or helpful to all as a preventative measure.
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