If you've ever landed on a curly hair article or forum then you will have quickly realized that this community speaks its own language, some of which was started here in our CurlTalk forum. If you're new to caring for your curls then the terms can feel overwhelming, so we created this comprehensive curly hair glossary as a tool you can use to look up commonly used ingredients, techniques, and abbreviations. You can find part one of the hair glossary here!


The anniversary of the day one decided to "go natural" and to refrain from applying chemical straighteners (relaxers) to the hair.

No-Poo Method

No-poo method includes removing shampoo, products formulated with water-insoluble silicones, and products that require sulfates for proper cleansing from your regimen.

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No-poo products

Oil Rinsing

To rinse your hair with an oil after cleansing and before conditioning. To oil rinse you add your favorite oil to wet strands and leave on for about 5 minutes. This step helps to detangle and seal in extra moisture for the hair.

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Parabens are preservatives commonly used in cosmetic products. They have been associated with cancer, but researched linking them to causing cancer has been inconclusive.

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Paraben-free products


Phthalates are plasticizer (dispersant) ingredients in products that reduce brittleness/cracking/stiffness in hair and skin products like hair spray, soaps, and shampoos, allowing them to form a flexible film. The most common phthalates used are dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP).


To gently gathering the hair atop the crown with a hair tie to preserve curls for second day hair.

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This method includes wrapping wet hair in t-shirt or microfiber towel in order to quickly to gently absorb excessive water that would drip otherwise.

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Polyquaternium polymers are ingredients commonly found in styling products. Polyquats (polyquaternium) are polymers frequently used in hair care products to provide conditioning benefits to the hair.

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Porosity is how easily your hair is able to absorb and hold moisture and chemicals. There are varying degrees of porosity that we commonly use: high porosity, medium porosity, and low porosity.

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This includes applying an oil or conditioner prior to shampooing to help the hair maintain necessary moisture during the drying shampoo process.

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Propylene Glycol

This is a humectant found in many personal care products including shampoos, conditioners, and leave-in conditioners, and styling products. It is known to be a very effective humectant.

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Protective Style

This is a type of style that does not expose the ends of the hair and is typically left un-manipulated for 2-4 weeks. Protective styling is primarily used to retain length.

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Protein Treatment

A protein treatment deposits protein structures on the hair's cuticle in order to replace the protein that was lost through manipulation, chemical processing, and aging. Everyone's protein sensitivity is different, but usually it is advised to incorporate this into your regimen only once a month. Some proteins include hydrolyzed wheat, hydrolyzed keratin, and hydrolyzed quinoa.

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Protein treatment products


PVP is a water-soluble polymer found in most gels. It is an excellent film-former and relatively inexpensive. The water solubility is extremely attractive to companies who wish to sell products to consumers who do not use shampoo or who use very mild shampoos, as it makes the gel easy to rinse.


To scrunch is to gently squeeze the hair upward from ends toward roots to encourage curl definition and remove gel crunch (aka "scrunch the crunch").

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Sealing is applying an oil or cream following a water-based moisturizer or leave-in conditioner. Essentially it is sealing moisture in the hair, with most of the focus being on the ends. The molecules in most butters/oils are too large to pass into the hair, so they stick to the outside of the shaft, trapping in the rich goodness of the moisturizer.

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Shea Butter

Shea butter is derived from the nut of the shea tree and is rich in vitamins A and E. It restores moisture and prevents weather damage on the hair. It prevents dry scalp and does not clog pores. It is also great for sealing the ends of the hair.

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Shoulder Length (SL)

Shoulder length is hair that reaches your shoulders.


A styling technique used for Wash n' Gos whereby a styling curl cream or curl gel is liberally applied section-by section to clean, very wet hair. Each section is smoothed between the thumb and forefinger, in a downward motion from root to tip. Hair is then either air-dried or dried with the use of a hood dryer, then gently fluffed for style.


Shrinkage is when the hair retracts after washing or being exposed to moisture. During this state, the hair's true length is not visible. To avoid this, many curlies will stretch their hair through twisting, braiding, and other styling methods. Hair experiences the most shrinkage in a wash and go style.

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Silicates are water-soluble inorganic minerals that are used as viscosity modifiers, or thickening ingredients in hair products.


Silicones are conditioning agents that have been found to deposit at high rates onto the surface of the hair, especially if combined in the product with a cationic (positively-charged) polymer (referred to on labels as polyquaterniums). They are used in rinse-off conditioners, intensive treatment conditioners, and leave-in conditioners where they reduce combing friction and static charge between hair strands, and provide an emollient effects and gloss.

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Slip refers to how smooth and lubricious the product makes your hair feel. The nickname is derived from the feeling of being "slippery" in your hand. If your fingers, comb, or brush can slip through your strands with ease, then you have found a winner!

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Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate is a sulfate found in most shampoos that creates a great lather for cleansing, but is extremely harsh and drying. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are known to be some of the harshest surfactants due to their potential to be drying to the skin and hair.

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Sulfates are the most commonly used anionic surfactant in the personal-care business. They tend to be extremely harsh on curly hair, so many curlies have decided to forgo products with this ingredient and brands are formulating products without it.

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A surfactant is a detergent molecule that has one distinct portion of the molecule that is polar and hydrophilic (water-loving), and one portion that is non-polar and hydrophobic (water-fearing), which are used in cleansing and conditioning products to remove buildup.

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Tailbone Length (TL)

Tailbone length refers to hair that reaches your tailbone.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is powerhouse oil that has anitbacterial, antioxidant, and antiseptic properties. In the curly world, it is primarily used for scalp conditions such as sebborheic dermatitis, fungal conditions, and dandruff. Learn more

Products with tea tree oil

Teeny Weeny Afro

A teeny weeny afro is when hair is not long enough to create a ponytail.


Transitioning is growing out chemically straightened hair by not cutting the relaxed ends or cutting them slowly over time.

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Twist Out

A twist out is when you intertwine two clusters of hair like a rope, allow it to set or dry, and then release the twists. People wear this style loose and coif it into updos.

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The underlayer is the hair under the top exposed layer.

Wash and Go

A wash and go is when you wash your hair, apply moisturizer and/or styling products, and allow the hair to dry naturally or shrink without stretching.

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Width is the thickness of individual hair strands that range from fine to coarse. Knowing your hair width can help you maintain the length and health of your hair through reducing manipulation and chemical processing like color treating.

Type 2A

Slightly "s" waved hair that sticks close to the head. It won't bounce up, even when it is layered. 2a hair tends to be fine, low density, easy to manipulate, and has a slight sheen. It is best to use lighter products such as mousses, lotions, or gels that enhance the curls, but don't weigh them down.

Type 2B

A wave pattern that has the characteristics to 2a but wavier. This hair type is a little resistant to styling and it has a tendency to frizz. People with this texture should use lighter products such as mousses or gels that enhance the curls, but don't weigh them down.

Type 2C

A curl pattern that is thicker, coarser wavy hair that is composed of a few more actual curls, as opposed to just waves. Type 2c hair tends to be more resistant to styling and will frizz easily. Many with 2c hair have an underlayer of straight hair, while others have an underlayer that's more ringlet-y and curly.

Type 3A

A curl pattern that has a definite loopy "S" pattern and are well-defined and springy. Curls are naturally big, loose and often very shiny. Due to being easily affected by the climate, Type 3 curlies can use a variety of styling products to achieve curl definition.

Type 3B

A curl pattern with have well-defined, springy, copious curls that range from bouncy ringlets to tight corkscrews. Type 3b hair generally isn't particularly shiny and its texture can be quite coarse. Gels and creams work best to reduce frizz and add definition.

Type 3C

>A curl pattern that has voluminous, tight curls in corkscrews, approximately the circumference of a pencil or straw. The curls can be either kinky or very tightly curled, with lots of fine strands that are densely packed together.

Type 4A

Tightly, coiled hair that has a definite "S" pattern and tends to retain more moisture than 4b. The circumference of the spirals is close to that of a crochet needle. The hair can be very fragile and wiry or fine-textured. Type 4 hair has fewer cuticle layers than other hair types, which means it has less natural protection from damage.

Type 4B

A curl pattern "Z" pattern, less of a defined curl pattern. It has a cotton-like feel and is very tightly coiled and fragile; you must take great care when washing and styling. It shrinks to about 75% of its actual length and can range from fine/thin to wiry/coarse with lots of strands that are densely packed together.

Type 4C

A curl pattern that is composed of curl patterns that will almost never clump without doing a specific hairstyle. 4c hair has been described as a more "challenging" version of 4b hair except there is seemingly no definition and lots of densely packed fine/thin/super soft to wiry/coarse strands. 4c hair can shrink more than 75%. If you're unsure which of these terms fits your curls, try taking our quiz. Do be aware that most people have several different curl patterns on their head.

Is there a curly hair term that you still want to know about? Or is there one you use that you want to share? Let us know in the comments!