Your Ultimate Guide to Getting Sisterlocks for the First Time

Like many naturals, protective styles are basically my go-to in the summer months, and my updated and elevated look in the colder months. As the name implies, protective styles keep your hair safe from environmental stressors (think: summer heat, humidity, you name it), daily styling products, and damaging hot tools.

And since my hair is prone to frizz, dryness, and split ends, I like that the right protective style can not only prevent damage but also substantially cut down my styling time (I’m talking, like, a full hour less). While there are tons of protective hairstyles to choose from—another reason why I think they’re so great!—there’s one look that’s definitely been on my radar lately: Sisterlocks.

Think of Sisterlocks as a thinner version of dreadlocks. Similar to dreads, the hair is matted and knotted together to create a rope-like appearance. And while Sisterlocks are a gorgeous and trendy style, they aren’t exactly for the faint of heart—they’re pretty time-consuming to install, and they leave you with a permanent style that can last for years. Deciding to loc your hair is a big decision (and one that def requires a bit of maintenance, a lineup of styling products, and some major patience), so you want to go into the process with all the right info.

That’s why I put together this savvy little guide to Sisterlocks, complete with expert info from Kayleena Johnson, lead braid stylist at BeautyBeez, and Kim Kimble, celebrity stylist. Ahead, learn absolutely everything there is to know about Sisterlocks, including how to prep your hair, tips for finding the right hairstylist, and of course, how to maintain your style in-between appointments.

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What are Sisterlocks?

Put simply, “Sisterlocks are a finer, thinner version of traditional locs,” says Kimble. Created and trademarked in 1993 by Dr. JoAnne Cornwell, Sisterlocks are—according to her website—a “lifestyle that invites women who are interested in self-empowerment and cultural self-expression to embrace a natural haircare system that is self-affirming and truly gorgeous.”

The thin locks (which are about half the size of dreadlocks, FYI) are created with a locking technique that doesn’t require hair products, but instead, a patented tool (more on that in a bit). “Sisterlocks are installed with a special tool that builds the lock from your ends to your roots and uses much smaller portions of hair, so no product is actually needed,” says Johnson.

What is the difference between Sisterlocks and traditional locs?

The main difference between traditional locs and Sisterlocks lies in the application method. “Traditional locs are most commonly created through palm rolling or matting medium to large amounts of hair using balm or wax,” says Johnson. Sisterlocks, on the other hand, are created with a latch hook tool and don’t require any styling products. And because Sisterlocks are so thin and intricate, your first appointment can take anywhere from 24 hours or more, versus the standard two to five hours with dreadlocks. Depending on the length and density of your hair, you can expect to finish the process with 100 to 400 Sisterlocks.

One more thing: While it’s totally safe to get traditional locs at your hair salon of choice (though you’ll always want to do a little research before booking an-y-thing), both experts agree that Sisterlocks should always be installed by a certified stylist for the best results. Remember that the technique is super unique, so you’ll want to see a pro who knows exactly what they’re doing.

How do you prep for Sisterlocks?

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Before your appointment even begins, you’ll kick things off with a consultation, during which your stylist will run you through the basics and install a few Sisterlocks to decide which locking pattern is best for your hair type. After about two weeks, you’ll go back in for the installation—and, again, you want to make sure you’re fully on board with the plan, since this style takes a looong time to install.

When it comes time for your installation, make sure you show up with properly cleansed hair. “You should have a minimum of two washes,” Johnson says. For the first wash, she recommends a deep-conditioning treatment like The Doux’s That’s Deep 5-Minute Deep Conditioner, or a pre-conditioner like Naturally Drenched Rebalance (they’ll help cleanse your hair without stripping it dry).

You can then go in with an oil treatment (olive, coconut, or avocado are great options) as your final step to hydrate and strengthen the hair. Arriving with detangled hair and absolutely zero products is also key (and it’s the rule of thumb for all protective style installations, says Kimble).

How much do Sisterlocks cost?

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Although the cost will vary depending on where you’re located and which hairstylist you chose, Sisterlocks are generally a bit of an investment. According to Johnson, Sisterlocks that are four inches or shorter will typically start at $850. And if your hair is longer, an extra $100 is charged per inch. So, yeah, not exactly casual, which is again why it’s so important to run through all your options before you move forward.

How long do Sisterlocks last?

Like most protective styles, how you care for and maintain your style will affect how long it lasts. Generally speaking though, you will likely need to get your Sisterlocks retightened every six weeks as your hair starts to grow. And if heading back to the salon every couple months sounds overwhelming, classes are available on the Sisterlocks official website to learn how to retighten your locks at home (although Johnson recommends waiting at least six months after the initial install to start maintaining your locks on your own).

The nice thing about this style is that it’s fairly low-maintenance once it’s installed. Kimble suggests sleeping with a silk bonnet or pillowcase at night (like the options below) to preserve your Sisterlocks and prevent dryness and unwanted frizz. For daily upkeep, Kimble likes hydrating oils (think: argan, jojoba, or castor) to make sure your hair and scalp are nice and moisturized.

The final word

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The best part about Sisterlocks, IMO? Because they’re so thin and tiny, you can manipulate them in any way you like—that means ponytails, braids, top knots, and updos are all on the table. “They’re much easier to style than traditional locs, giving you way more variety in what you can do with them,” says Kimble. As long as you go into the process knowing that the installation is long and regular upkeep is required, they’re definitely worth considering. And, as always, if you’re on the fence about getting locs of any kind, chat with a professional hairstylist to figure out what’s best for you and your hair.

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