What are residues? - Dreadlocks FAQ's
Soap residues are what your soap or shampoo leaves behind (or doesn't leave behind) after cleaning and rinsing.
There are two main types of residues left by soaps and shampoos. Some residues are intentionally added to to products (conditioners, moisturizers, extracts, additional oils) or they can be a byproduct of the cleaning process as they are in most homemade/traditional soap formulas.
For dreadlocks, the most problematic residues are those left behind by traditional soaps, made with saponified oils from animal fats or vegetable sources like olive or coconut oils, (these include Castile soaps like Bronners and many other homemade liquid and bar soaps). These residues are a byproduct of the cleaning process that these soaps use - they are not added intentionally like fragrances or moisturizers. In simple terms, soaps work by attaching to and surrounding dirt and oil so they can be removed by water. While much of the soap is rinsed away along with the dirt, part of these homemade soaps remain and are converted into free fatty acids by metal ions in your water. Ever seen soap rings in a sink or bathtub? That's soap residue. Imagine it building up inside the core of your dreads. GROSS! The residues left behind are not easily soluble in water and they are not removed by the soaps that leave them in future washings so they build up over time.
Our residue free dread soap cleans in the same way, it attaches to the dirt & oil molecules which normally repel water (hydrophobic), and by surrounding them on all sides they can be carried away. The difference is that with a truly residue-free soap there are no unattached fats or oils left over to react with minerals in your water. The cleansing process is more efficient, more dirt is removed, less water is required and all of the soap rinses away with the dirt - no residue remains.
In addition to the residue that must be left due to the nature of they way traditional soap formulas work, there is another factor that very often causes additional lubricating oils and residues to be left. Traditional/Natural soaps are made by combining a strong alkali chemical (often Lye) with vegetable or animal based fats. Having too much oil or fat results in a soap that makes skin feel softer and more moist. Since it's difficult to get the ration of fat to lye exact and it's preferable to leave skin feeling softer, soap makers opt for including extra oil. Many soap makers, including Bronners, add still more oil during the soap making process so that it will be left behind to soften skin further. This process is called "superfatting" the soap.
Please understand that these homemade or traditional soaps are great for cleaning skin and leaving it soft, that's why they've been making soap this way for thousands of years. While it's true that recent research links hair loss to follicles on our scalp becoming impacted by a combination of residues and the sebum that our scalps produce, this takes many years to become a problem and most people already expect their hair to thin with age. We'll get back to that in a minute...
In addition to residues left by the cleaning action of certain soap types and those added on purpose to soften skin, etc, manufactures and soap makers add a limitless variety of ingredients that end up stuck in your dreads. Beer, oatmeal, tea tree oil, peppermint, rosemary, sage, etc.
While some of these natural residues can benefit your hair or scalp (or maybe give it a nice buzz) they do not need to be left every time you wash.
If they are, they can become part of the build up, causing irritation and even impeding hair growth. Instead of including them in a shampoo, these ingredients should be applied when needed and then washed away by a soap or shampoo that rinses completely, leaving nothing behind but clean hair and a clean scalp.
In dreads, because the hair is packed so tightly, it traps these residues within the dreads. Over time, things can get pretty sour. Residues sit inside the dreads filling the tiny gaps between the tightly packed hair. Soap residue absorbs and holds water, cutting off air circulation and preventing the dreads from drying properly. The University of Florida also cites soap residue in showers as a popular breeding ground for mildew because it traps dirt and acts as a food source for the mildew. When mildew begins to grow in your dreads it's known as "Dread Rot". If shampoos that leave residue are used over time, the sour smell of dread rot often begins shortly after the dreads mature and gets worse over time, often leading people to cut their dreads.
Many people have cut their stinky dreads to find a crusty white substance in the center. Those that had used wax when starting their dreads naturally assumed it was wax that had never washed away. After all, that was the only white looking product they had added to their dreads. This seems pretty conclusive at first but there is one major problem. People who have started their dreads with neglect, and used no wax, find the same whiteness when their dreads begin to smell and they cut them. So what IS the white stuff really? While a small portion may be dead skin cells, the majority is soap residue. Bath tub rings in the center of their dreads. This also explains why Dread Head customers who have used our wax as instructed and only washed with our dread soap, DO NOT find any whiteness in their dreads if they are cut or trimmed. Ironically the white soap residue and dead skin cells found by those washing with non-residue-free soaps continues to be the cornerstone of the anti-wax arguments made by the Lock-Blockers.
Residues also effect how quickly your hair forms knots and locks up. As you know, friction helps knots form while lubricants reduce friction and allow things to slide over each other more easily. Just as soap residues leave an ultra thin film on your skin, which locks in moisture and makes it feel slippery and soft, the film left on each hair helps is slip past other hairs and work it's way out of knots in the shower. That's the main reason that washing with our residue free soap helps dreads tighten, while washing with other soaps loosens dreads and makes forming knots (with clockwise rubbing and dread balling) noticeably more difficult.
In recent years a variety of traditional soaps (bar and liquid) have been introduced and marketed specifically for dreadlocks. When you realize these are all traditional soap formulas it's not surprising that all of these products leave residue in your dreads. (Some of them are actually super fatted thus increasing the residue they leave) What's surprising is that most of them make the claim that they are residue free. When asked about residues they talk about the fragrances they add to their soap formulas and avoid the matter of the soap formula itself. For those who are planning on keeping their dreads, this "oversight" is an inexcusable travesty. We can assume the manufacturer didn't know what the claim meant, but the fact remains that they are misleading their customers. In addition, several of these traditional soap peddlers take stabs at products that are actually residue free by insinuating they have unsafe ingredients, even though they've been confirmed to be safe and effective. It's true, engineered soaps that clean better and rinse fully are made with ingredients that have long, funny names. While these ingredients are still derived from natural sources, like coconuts for example, they've been refined to achieve better cleaning, full rinsability and even surpass hypo-allergentic standards. Anyone seriously doubting their safety would look no further than the US and EU safety assessment data certifying the safety of these ingredients.
Of course this is ignored by those selling traditional soaps (many of which have not been assessed for safety to be sold as cosmetics) as they attempt to convince everyone that their soaps are safer because their ingredients have less syllables and are easier to read. Simple sounding ingredients must be safer right? Let's test that theory. What sounds safer: soda-ash or sodium carbonate? Turns out it's the same thing. How about lye? It's just one syllable,only three letters; How could it get more safe and simple right? But if you watched Fight Club you know lye is base with a ph high enough to burn your skin. Now I know that lye should not be present if a traditional soap is properly made but since these soap makers call our ingredients into question let's consider two scenarios:
Scenario one. I make a cream pie and I put it on your head. A minute later I wash it off and there is absolutely no cream left. We'll call this the residue-free cream pie.
Scenario two. Someone else makes a cream pie and puts it on your head. After a minute they wash some of it off and leave the rest. Well call this the traditional soap cream pie.
Now let's assume your scalp is very sensitive and there is a potential irritant in both cream pies. Which scenario would you choose? I think most would choose Scenario 1 since no possible irritants would remain in contact with your skin. Dermatologists would agree. They know that anything left behind is a potential irritant and leaving the skin perfectly clean is the best way to avoid irritation. That's why formulas similar to our Dread Soap are sold for people with chemical sensitivities and eczema.
So not only does using a truly residue-free soap or shampoo protect your dreads, it also eliminates irritants to keep your scalp and hair follicles healthy.
A major cause of hair loss is the mixture of micro-pollutants, hair care product residues, and Sebum clogging your hair follicle entrance. Sebum is an oily substance produced by your skin. Sebum actually plays an important role in the health of your scalp, but overproduction of Sebum caused by stress (this is a major cause of hair loss in women) and a diet high in animal fat creates excess Sebum secretion. When the sebum leaves your underlying scalp layer, it reaches the surface of your scalp, and mixes with the dirt and hair care product residues.
Because the sebum is now on your scalp and exposed to air, it hardens (oxidation) and creates a thick, black, tar like substance. This hardened substance is now clogging your hair follicle entrance. The bacteria in this substance damages the follicle and is one of the major causes of hair loss. (For those of you who do not know, the hair follicles are the millions of little canals in your scalp in which your hair grows from.) After years of this occurring (your whole life), the tar like material makes its way back down into the follicle and becomes impacted. The result is blockage of nutrient absorption of the follicle, thus impeding hair growth.
It doesn't stop there either. Your body naturally produces testosterone (both men and women) and when the testosterone mixes with the sebum/residue that is impacted in your hair follicle, it creates a powerful substance called DHT. DHT is the real enemy of hair growth and retention. When formed, DHT causes the follicle to begin shutting down, and basically, the follicle dies a slow death. What makes this worse is that your bodies immune system senses the follicle is dying, and as part of its defense system tries further to shut it down and get rid of it (as it would a cold or flu).
You want to leave the hair and scalp as clean as possible. Nothing to build up, nothing to clog and impact follicles, and nothing to lubricate your hairs, preventing your dreads from tightening. Residue free soaps are designed to do exactly that. They rinse away completely and leave nothing behind. They were created for those that have eczema and other chemical sensitivity conditions.
Long term use of our dread soap will help your hair stay thick and healthy. After using a residue free shampoo such as ours for only 4 or 5 months you will notice your dreads growing thicker and fuller.
Now you can sport the phat dread and have a healthy scalp! Residue Free baby!!
If you're in a fix and you need to test an available shampoo for residues, there is an article in our FAQ that explains how you can test to get an idea how much residue a shampoo is leaving.