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Dreads vs Braids: Installation Methods, Maintenance, Differences, and More

Young African American college student with braided hair that's been left loose with beads

It’s common for people who don’t know about natural hair to confuse braids with dreads. However, the two hairstyles are fundamentally different.

If you’ve been trying to decide between dreads and braids and could use a little assistance, this is the article for you. Keep on reading for an in-depth comparison between dreads vs braids. 

What Are Braids?

A nice lady with a starter locs hairstyle that requires minimal time

Braided hairstyles date back to 3500 BC and originate in Africa. The ever-popular box braids closely resemble the Eembuvi braids of Namibia and the chin-length bob braids of the women of the Nile Valley. 

A braid is a pattern created by weaving two or more sections of hair together. Popular braid types include the French braid, four-strand plait, three-strand braid, twist braid, Dutch braid, and much more.

What Are Dreads?

Young African woman with braided knotted hair preparing to start locs

The history of dreadlocks dates back to 2500 BCE to ancient Egypt, where archaeologists discovered mummified remains with dreadlocks. 

Their origins are complicated, but historians have seen dreadlocks worn in various tribes throughout history, including many different African ethnic groups, Germanic tribes, the New Guineans, and more.

Dreadlocks refer to cylindrical sections of locked hair. You can easily style dread in various ways, including a ponytail, a bun, or even a braid-out. 

Dreads vs Braids: What’s the Difference Between Dreads and Braids?

Beautiful black college girl with box braids, a fast hairstyle that's perfect for a college campus

Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of both dreads and braids (seemingly similar hairstyles), let’s look at the differences between them:


Braids and dreads each have their own characteristics but look pretty similar from afar. Braids have more of a zigzag shape. They also look uniform from root to tips.

On the other hand, dreads have more of a frizzy appearance, especially in the immature stages(baby stage, budding stage, teenage stage, etc.).

Also, depending on how the dreads were formed, dreads could take on a wide variety of shapes (e.g., wick dreads).

For instance, if the locs were cultivated through the freeform method, they may have a flat shape. If they are interlocked, they may maintain a basket-weave pattern, which may be easily visible. 

Installation Methods

As briefly mentioned earlier, braids are created by intertwining two or more hair strands. For more elaborate braided styles, extension hair may be temporarily added to increase the length of the braids.

To start dreads, you may use one of the following methods: 

  • Braids – Braiding your natural hair and then leaving the braids in will eventually result in dreads. 
  • Twists – Like braids, twists left alone will lock up over time. 
  • Interlocking – Interlocking is done with a latch hook that pulls the ends of the hair through the roots, creating the internal structure of the dreads. After interlocking, the locs will mature within several months. 
  • Crocheting – Crocheting allows you to create dreads instantly, though they may not be 100% mature from the start. 
  • Loc extensions – One of the more controversial methods of locking hair, loc extensions entail crocheting extension locs (made of human hair) onto your own hair. These locs are completely mature. 
African American girl with braided hair extensions started by interweaving three strands

Length of Hair Needed

When getting braids, you don’t need a lot of hair. All long as you have enough hair to twist and grip, you’re good to go. But for dreads, you’ll need at least 4-6 inches of hair.

Doing dreadlocks on short hair is expensive and requires frequent maintenance since short hair constantly unravels in the early loc stages. 


Dreads are super versatile – you can wear them in numerous styles, including straight down, buns, braids, and ponytails. If you have enough length, you can try almost any hairstyle.

When it comes to braids, some styles are a bit more versatile than others. Box braids, for example, can be put into virtually any hairstyle, while straight-back cornrows cannot. 


Braids that have been reinforced with extension hair can last up to 8 weeks, while braided natural hair may last a few weeks. Removing your braids is usually very easy – just unravel them from ends to roots. 

On the other hand, dreads are semi-permanent or permanent, meaning you can wear them for months and even years. Removing dreadlocks is a time-consuming and tricky process, so much so that many opt for cutting theirs off. 

Nice lady stopped on a park bench with braided dreadlocks that can be easily undone

Associated Stereotypes 

People often associate dreadlocks with various negative connotations. You often hear that people with dreads stink or that they can’t or don’t wash their hair. Though this is not true in most cases, you should be ready for the judgmental stares.

But it’s not just people with dreads who face discrimination. Many communities consider some braided styles to be ‘unprofessional,’ ‘eccentric,’ and ‘ghetto.’

Even today, many black women are fired or discriminated against at work because their braided hairstyles are considered unkempt. It’s also common for schools to send students home for wearing their natural hair in braids. 

Installation Time 

You can do a full head of braids pretty quickly, within a couple of hours. But the size, your hair type, and your stylist all affect this estimate.

In some cases, it can take more than 12 hours to complete a braided style. However, an experienced hairstylist can install shoulder-length box braids in 3 to 5 hours. 

On the other hand, dreadlocks require a minimum of 2 to 6 hours for installation (natural dreads). But the amount of time varies widely based on how you are starting the dreads.

Interlocked locs and instant locs take the most time, while braid locs and twist locs take the least time. The longer your hair is, the longer it will take to install your dreads. 

Upkeep and Maintenance 

Dread upkeep is as laid-back as you want it to be. You can choose to maintain your locs every month, bimonthly, or never. It depends on the look you want to achieve. Just be sure to keep your locs clean and your scalp oiled. 

Braids require slightly more upkeep, but it’s still pretty laid-back and straightforward. You need to keep your hair clean and periodically oil your scalp.

Cute black girl sitting in the grass outside reading about dreadlocks vs braids on her tablet

Pros and Cons of Braids

If you’re still on the fence about whether braids are for you, learning about the pros and cons associated with them can help tremendously.

Pros of Braids

  • Braids protect your ends from manipulation, the sun, and other outside elements. 
  • You get to choose from an extensive array of fun braided hairstyles. 
  • They are an expression of pro-blackness. 

Cons of Braids

  • They can cause hair breakage and thinning when done too tightly or left in for too long (more than 8 weeks). They can be tough on your edges and can even cause scalp scarring.  
  • Some braided styles with extensions are heavy, making them uncomfortable to wear. 

Pros and Cons of Dreads 

Cute black girl wearing a white dress shirt and a protective hairstyle with a big smile standing near a grocery store

Let’s move on to dreads. Here are the advantages and disadvantages you should know about:


  • You never have to worry about tangles, knots, or painful detangling again. 
  • If you start the locking process from the beginning, you’ll learn to accept yourself even when your hair isn’t looking its best.  
  • Dreads require little to no maintenance, and you don’t have to wash them often. 
  • Through minimal manipulation, dreads allow your hair to grow and thrive. 


  • You may have to deal with unwanted and unwarranted comments due to dreadlock misconceptions and prejudices. 
  • Locs may look frizzy and unkempt throughout some of the loc maturation stages. 
  • Locs are known for trapping lint, dirt, and fur in matted hair. 
  • You might find it uncomfortable and difficult to sleep with your instant locs or loc extensions for the first few nights. 

Dreadlocks and braids are both excellent hairstyling options. Choosing the right one depends on your preferences, hair length, and desired hair routine.

If you’re still unsure which style you want to try, take the plunge and choose one. If you hate it, you can always take it down. We hope this article has been helpful to you!