curl glossary


An A-Z of curly vocabulary.

Designed for those embracing their curly texture. Have you have just begun to wear their hair naturally? We know it is a steep learning curve. No doubt you are overwhelmed by endless video tutorials, products to try and ingredients lists.

hair curls glossary




ACV (APPLE CIDER VINEGAR) Typically used in a diluted form to improve the hairs pH balance as a final rinse after shampooing and before conditioning. ACV seals and tightens the cuticle layer for improved smoothness and shine.

ALOE VERA GEL This mucilaginous substance is extracted from the aloe vera plant. The gel has amazing benefits for hair and scalp including easier detangling, increased moisture, anti-inflammatory, scalp healing, remedies dandruff, restores the hairs’ pH levels, decreased frizz, enhanced cellular regeneration, and stimulation of hair growth.

APL Arm Pit Length (Reference to length of hair)

ARGAN OIL aka Moroccan Oil is rich in vitamin E and essential fatty acids produced from the kernels of the argan tree grown organically in Morocco. Can be used as a fast-absorbing daily moisturiser or to heal and condition cuticles and split ends.

AYURVEDIC REGIMEN - uses cool, soothing Indian herbs such as Bhringraj, amla, henna, brahmi, shikakai, and marshmallow root to calm the scalp and grow healthy, thick, long hair. 


BAA Big _ _ _ Afro! Opposite of a TWA, (Teeny Weeny Afro)

BABY HAIRS Baby hairs are those small, very fine, wispy hairs located around the edges of your hair. These can be sculpted and styled to frame the face.

BAGGY The practice of covering the hair at night with a plastic shower cap for the purpose of enhancing moisture. This method is thought to help reduce breakage, split ends and dryness.

BANDING A styling technique used to inhibit shrinkage, stretching the hair to display more of the it's actual length. Gathering the hair into one ponytail or several smaller ones, covered elastic bands are affixed snugly from the scalp area, one after the other, all the way down to the ends, of the hair. May be done on wet, damp or dry hair. If hair is wet or damp during application, bands should remain for a period of time or until the hair is dry.

BANTU KNOTS A hairstyle created by carefully and precisely parting hair in small-to-medium sections, and then twisting the sections in one direction until they wrap into neat knots. The knots are often secured near the scalp with hair pins.

BANTU KNOT OUT A style, with a highly defined curly or wavy texture, created by releasing Bantu Knots after they are dry.

BIG CHOP A haircut to remove chemically treated or permanently damaged ends inorder to transition to naturally curly hair. A big chop is often a big deal because it results in a dramatically much shorter style –but on a positive note, allows healthy new hair growth. 

BONNET aka sleep cap is an essential tool for protecting and preserving natural hairstyles or curls while you sleep. They are made of satin or silk, the benefits of which are reduced friction, frizz and hair damage.

BKT (Brazilian Keratin Treatment) A chemical blow-out treatment used to temporarily smooth and straighten natural textured hair. Many systems incorporate formaldehyde. Not recommended for those who wish to retain their natural coil/curl pattern because such systems often cause permanent relaxation of the hair.

Braid Out Hairstyle achieved by braiding damp or moist hair in cornrows or single braids and after it dries the hair is gently released to reveal a more defined curly hair.

BSL Bra Strap Length (Reference to length of hair)

BSS Beauty Supply Store

BREAKAGE When hair sheds mid-shaft due to over-manipulation or excessive dryness. The tighter the curl, the more fragile the hair can be. Damage from friction, heat, and colour or chemical processing can all cause breakage in curly hair.

curly hair glossary


CANEROWS/CORNROWS a technique originating in Africa, whereby hair is braided close to the scalp. 

CBL Collar Bone Length (Reference to length of hair).

CLUMPING The act of coaxing curls to stick together to form fuller, thicker, defined sections. Curls that haven’t “clumped” can have a stringy look.

CLARIFYING SHAMPOO Cleansing process to thoroughly remove build-up of oils, styling products, environmental elements and chlorine; can be done using clarifying shampoos.

COCKTAILING is simply mixing two or more products and/or raw ingredients together to meet your specific styling needs. Combining different products that address different issues allows you to achieve the results you want.

COILS A hairstyle achieved by taking small sections of wet or very damp hair and smoothing, while rotating the sections, one-by-one, from root to tip. Tiny styling combs have been used for coils, as well as a finger. Typically, a gel is applied prior to coiling for longer-lasting hold and shine.

COILY A term used to reference the texture characteristic of natural Type 4 hair, whereby the configuration of the strand resembles a small-diameter ink pen spring. The coil is most evident when the hair is wet and/or defined with a curling creme/ gel. It usually remains evident when the hair is allowed to dry undisturbed from a soaking wet stage.

CONDISH Conditioner

CO-WASH To use conditioner to cleanse the hair, instead of a shampoo that lathers. For curl types that are more prone to dryness, such as kinky curls, co-washing with a cleansing conditioner helps hair to better retain moisture and prevents the stripping of natural scalp oils.

CREAMY CRACK A reference to chemical relaxers. The term was coined with the thought that the use of relaxers is addictive for those women who strive for a permanently straight hair texture.

CROWN The crown is the centre region of the scalp at the top of the head. It tends to be sensitive, especially for those who are tender headed. The crown is also a term used to reference a women’s hair.

CRUNCH The hard, crunchy feeling left by some gels when they dry, which can sometimes be scrunched out. Also know as cast.

CURLY GIRL (CG) CG is an abbreviation for "Curly Girl," a book written by Lorraine Massey and Michele Bender.

CURLY GIRL METHOD / CGM The Curly Girl Method, created by curly hair expert Lorraine Massey, does not advocate the use of shampoo, products with silicones, brushes, combs, and towels. t’s a process that requires patience and an investment in the health of your hair; everybody’s hair is different so CGM doesn’t work for everyone, and some people like it in theory but need to adjust parts of it to suit their hair or lifestyle.

CURL TYPE A curls classification system was the brainchild of Andre Walker hair stylist to Oprah Winfrey. The typing has a numerical order of 1-2-3-4, followed by an A-B-C suffix. If you have straight hair, you’re a type 1 (ABC). If you have loose wavy hair, you’re a type 2 (ABC). Type 3 (ABC) is curly and type 4 (ABC) is kinky/coily. Hair typing is a system that classifies hair texture based on curl pattern, density, width, and porosity, which helps to determine how women will care and style their hair. Although popular, some people dislike this classification.  The majority of us have more than one curl pattern or curl type e.g. 3c, 4a and 4c. SMC classifies curls into five types: Wavy, Curly, Very Curly, (Afro) Kinky, Coily. Find out your curl type here.

CUTICLE The outermost protective layer of the hair, the cuticle resembles overlapping shingles on a roof and helps to seal moisture inside of the hair shaft. In curly hair, the scales of the cuticle are naturally lifted, which is why curls can experience dryness and frizz. Deep condition or use a treatment to restore moisture and nutrients to the hair. Deep conditioners are richer than daily conditioners and meant to be left on the hair longer.

hair curling glossary


DEEP CONDITION or deep treatment. A moisturizing, strengthening and/or damage-repair product formulated to penetrate the hair shaft and provide nutrients to the cuticle. These thick, rich formulations are applied right after cleansing, and left to sit on the hair, some choose to cover in a shower cap for more intensity and allow the deep conditioner to penetrate for 15 – 30 minutes. Many use a mild heat source (hooded hair-dryer, blow drier, thermal heat cap), to encourage the cuticles to open even further. These products also enhance shine and manageability.

DENSITY- The measure of how closely individual strands of hair are packed together on your scalp; ranges from low to high. Low-density hair appears thin and the scalp can be visible; high-density hair is often tricky to part.

DIFFUSER An attachment that spreads the airflow from a blow dryer over a wider area so as not to disturb the curl pattern.


EDGES Refers to the delicate hairs found around the hairline, including “baby hairs”. These can be styled elaborately. Extra care is taken with this area as it is prone to hair loss and breakage as a result of over-manipulation.

ELASTICITY The hair's elasticity is the measure of how much the hair will stretch (and return to a normal state) without breaking. It is one of the primary indicators of the health of your hair. Healthy hair has a high level of elasticity, which gives it body, bounce and curl formation. Elasticity makes it possible to style hair and is also responsible for curl retention.

ELONGATE To use specific products and styling methods to stretch curls that are prone to shrinkage.

ESSENTIAL OILS Aromatic oils are extracted from flowers, grasses, fruits, leaves, roots, or trees, and maintain the odours and tastes, and thus the essence, of the plants from which they are extracted, used to nourish the hair and scalp.

EVCO EXTRA VIRGIN COCONUT OIL Used as a natural hair care product for shine and to seal in moisture. It is one of the few oils with a proven ability to penetrate the skin and hair. Loved for its emollient and sheen-producing properties.


FAIRY KNOT Knots that appear on single strands close to the ends of natural hair. 

FINGER COILING A method of training your curl pattern by wrapping it around your finger, pushing the coil towards your scalp, before releasing it back down. This is great for people transitioning who want a way to fix stubborn curls and to enhance definition.

FLAT TWISTS Describes the technique by which hair is two-strand twisted flat to the scalp.

FLUFF The use of fingers or a pick to add volume and shape to natural hair.

FROHAWK A hairstyle where the sides of an afro are flattened to the scalp, either by smoothing & pinning or by shaving. The centre hair is left high and free, in the shape of the distinctive Mohawk. 


FRIZZ The state of curls looking undefined and dull, due to humidity, damage, and other factors. Learn more about Frizz Control.

GEL CAST AKA CAST The stiff outer layer that styling gel creates as it dries. With high-quality gels, this cast can be broken by smoothing closed palms over the hair to leave soft, flake-free curls.

HAIR GOALS A term used when one sees another with absolutely, amazing hair. 


HIGH POROSITY The more porous a strand is, the more damaged it has undertaken. Also, water will be quickly absorbed and quickly loss by the hair strand; rendering a dry brittle strand. Typically, the ends of the hair are more porous because they are the oldest part of the hair.

HOLY GRAIL Products that one has tried, achieved good results with and remains loyal to.

HUMECTANT Another word used for moisturizer; product that adds moisture to the hair; humectants in hair products help draw moisture from air into hair shaft This is an ingredient used in moisturising products to draw moisture from the air to retain it for your hair. Commonly used humectants include honey, aloe vera, and glycerin.

hair curl glossary


J.B.C.O. Jamaican Black Castor Oil. This thick oil is great for sealing or trapping in moisture. It is best applied to the ends of the hair to avoid causing build up on the upper hair strands.


KINKY CURLY ALSO KNOWN AS 4C An angular, “Z” type zig-zag from roots to end. The Z pattern is so tightly coiled that it can cause kinky curls to shrink up to 75% of the hair’s actual length. 


LEAVE-IN CONDITIONER a product, whose primary and main ingredient should be water, adds moisture and some protection to the hair without weighing it down in product build up. Applied after shampooing, it should not be rinsed out, hence the name.

L.O.C. METHOD Method for product application in a specific order: leave-in conditioner, oil, and cream. You’ll see other methods (L.C.O or L.O.C.S. with the “S” standing for “sealant”). The LOC method stands for applying product in the following order: liquid or leave-in conditioner, oil, and cream. Most naturals will either use water or a moisturizer, an oil, and a cream or butter. This ensures long-lasting, moisturized hair in between wash days. The technique was introduced by Founder of Alikay Naturals Rochelle Graham. L.C.O. METHOD- is a similar method used by applying the liquid first, cream product second, then the oil-based product as the third step. Several women prefer this method since most creams are water-based products. By using the oil-based product last, some believe this will ensure all of the moisture is sealed into the hair. Both the LOC and the LCO method work well. This is more of a personal preference than golden rule.

LOW POROSITY If you have low porosity hair, it means that your hair cuticles are tight and are less likely to let in water. As such, substances such as oil won’t do much good and you’re better off using light products. Your hair strands will feel smooth and it may be difficult to add moisture. A weekly deep condition routine is recommended to combat signs of dryness.


MANIPULATION The manner to which you handle your hair (brushing, combing, blow-drying); the more you manipulate your hair, the more likelihood of breakage.

MEDIUM POROSITY If you have medium porosity hair, you have a fairly balanced hair type and most products should work on you. Your hair will respond well to treatments but be careful as it will also easily absorb bad chemicals.

MICROFIBER TOWEL A microfiber towel is a much faster drying towel which won’t cause friction or damage your hair. This type of towel is recommended on the CGM. You can also use a t-shirt but you cannot use a regular towel.

MOISTURISER Product that includes humectants to attract and hold water molecules from the environment.


NATURALISTA someone who proudly wears their hair the way that it naturally grows out of their scalp.


PINEAPPLE This method helps preserve curl definition overnight, and also provides some stretch to the hair. It’s super simple, all you do is gather your hair on top of your head and secure lightly with a scrunchie or clip in order to preserve curls for second-day hair. When using this technique, it's best to sleep on a satin pillowcase or cover in with large cap-size satin/silk bonnet. In the morning, release the hair and gently shake or fluff to style.

POO Shampoo

POROSITY Refers to hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture; determined by the condition of the hair's cuticle layer (the overlapping scales of the hair shaft), and is rated as low, medium, and high.   

PRE-POO The act of applying oils, conditioners and other treatments to the hair prior to shampooing to enable detangling, impart moisture and nourishment during the cleansing process.

PRODUCT JUNKY A person who buys a lot of different products/brands in the quest of finding the "perfect" ones for her hair.

PROTEIN The “building block” material that hair is primarily made of (e.g. keratin), or a class of ingredients used to strengthen hair. Curly hair is constantly losing moisture and nutrients thanks to its open cuticle, which is why regular protein treatments are essential.

PROTEIN TREATMENT Deposits protein structures on the hair’s cuticles in order to replace the protein that was lost through manipulation, chemical processing and aging; advised to incorporate into regimen only once a month

PROTECTIVE STYLING A hairstyle that keeps your ends safely tucked away and shielded from dehydration and damage, by eliminating the need for manipulation (combing/ brushing), and acting as a barrier against harsh environmental elements like the sun, heat, cold and wind. Protective styles include but are not limited to braids, twists, ponytails, wigs and weaves.

A-Z hair curling


RAKING Creates perfectly defined curls by applying liberal amount of product to wet, sectioned hair and then using fingers in a raking motion from root to tip, to detangle and smooth; when fingers reach hair’s end, shake at the wrist to encourage curl formation.

REGIMEN Your day to day or weekly hair care routine and styling guide.

REVERSION When your straight hair reverts back to its naturally curly state.


SCRUNCHING AKA THE ACCORDION TECHNIQUE This Wash n' Go styling technique produces highly-defined coils and curls. Apply your desired styling cream or gel to soaking wet hair, that has been cleansed and conditioned. Tilt head at different angles, using a cupped palm to repeatedly press hair towards scalp so as to emphasise the natural curl pattern. Hair is left to air-dry.

SEALANT A product that seals moisture into the hair shaft; can be different types of oil, and certain alcohol free/silicone free gels

SEALING Applying an oil or cream following a water-based moisturiser 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.  

SEBUM The oily, waxy substance secreted naturally by the scalp. In straight hair, sebum can easily travel from the roots downward to moisturise hair through to the tips. Curly hair’s shape prevents natural oils from traveling down the hair shaft, which is why moisturising products are vitally important for curls.

SECOND DAY HAIR/TWO DAY HAIR It refers to the day after wash day. Some have great success in maintaining their curls for two, three or even four days after washing their hair, but a good curl routine is needed. Sleep with a silk/satin bonnet or pillowcase to avoid friction and retain your curls for longer.

SHEDDING Very normal, when hair fills your brush or comb with long strands; one can she up to 200 strands a day, more depending on stress level and health; when hair is not manipulated for a period of time you may experience shedding at a higher number.

SHINGLING A Wash n' Go styling technique, whereby a curl cream or curl gel is generously applied section-by section to clean, very wet hair. Individual small sections are smoothed between the thumb and forefinger, in a downward motion from root to tip. This smoothing action, in combination with the styling product immediately reveals the curl pattern. The hair is then either air-dried or dried with the use of a hood dryer. Once dry, the hair can be gently fluffed into style.

SHRINKAGE describes the reduction of the visual length of hair. It is a process that occurs as when hair is exposed to moisture or when wet hair dries and re-coils into its natural texture pattern.

SILICONES Typically found in rinse-off conditioners, intensive treatment conditioners, and leave-in conditioners these conditioning agents are incorporated into many hair care product formulations because of their ability to create shine, detangle, reduce frizz, protect hair from heat, form a water-resistant barrier around the hair shaft, seal the cuticle and give the hair a silky feel. Many women with natural-textured hair choose to forgo products containing silicones believing that they are difficult to remove and prevent the hair from receiving moisture. Look for lightweight or water-soluble silicones that can easily be washed out to prevent build up.

SLIP References a product’s ability to glide through hair and detangle. It is desirable for shampoos, leave-in conditioners and deep conditioners to provide this attribute. A product that makes hair feel slippery is said to have good slip.

SLS (SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE) A synthetic detergent associated with hair dehydration, and semi-permanent and permanent hair colour fading. Commonly found in conventional shampoos. 

STRETCH Refers to the inhibition of hair shrinkage which is characteristic of tightly coily/curly hair. Via specific stretching techniques, more of the hair's actual length is revealed in the finished style. Some products are also thought to minimize shrinkage, thereby helping to stretch the hair. 

SURFACTANT 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 build up.

SULPHATES Sodium lauryl sulphate, the key ingredient in most traditional shampoos, makes for an effective cleanser, removing product build up from the hair. However, many curlies reject products with this ingredient claiming it is harsh, causes excess of dryness and frizz. Note: sulphate-free shampoos do not produce the bubbly lather that we are all used to from shampoos. Instead, they replace the harsh cleansing ingredients with water and natural oils, so you’re left with shinier bouncier curls.

TEXTURIZER A chemical treatment used to partially relax or loosen the natural curl pattern of highly textured hair. Provides greater stretch/elongation/length, and helps the hair to trail in a downward direction, (as opposed to an "up on out" direction, like an afro.) Texturizers are usually a form of relaxers, just milder in formulation or allowed to process using a different technique or timeframe. Texturizers alter the natural coil/curl pattern permanently and hair processed with them must be cut off in order to return one's hair to its natural state.

THE KITCHEN A term used to describe tangled or knotted hair to the nape of the neck.

TRANSITIONING aka "the journey" or "going natural". A process by which one's natural-textured hair is allowed to grow in, while the previously chemically treated hair is trimmed off in stages. The aim is to achieve a full head of all-natural hair, but to do so without a dramatic ‘Big Chop’ i.e. cutting off all the processed hair. A degree of length is maintained by only gradually removing the relaxed or colour-treated portions. Transitioning also involves managing the coily/kinky new growth as it increasingly co-exists with the remaining hair. Taking months even years, the strategy for some is to conceal the hair using weaves and wigs or wear textured hairstyles like braids, bantu knots or rod sets as the new hair grows in to minimise the texture differences for a period of time.

TWA Teeny Weeny Afro, short natural hair.

TWIST OUT refers to hairstyle created by first two-strand twisting the hair while wet or damp. Once the hair is fully dry, the twists are carefully released and styled.

TWO-STRAND TWISTS A hairstyle technique whereby sections of hair are divided into two smaller sections and then wound around each other. The last half-inch or so of each twist is left loose and twirled around the index finger into a coil. Two-Strand Twists can be worn as a hairstyle or the twists can be carefully released when dry (Twist-Out) for a look that's fuller, with a well-defined coily/wavy texture.


WASH DAY describes the ritual of naturally curly girl taking the day out to cleanse her hair, this process includes shampooing, conditioning, detangling and styling using products to infuse hydration and shine.

WASH N' GO Describes a quick and easy styling technique whereby a defined finished style is achieved without twisting, braiding, stretching, rod setting etc. Hair is first cleansed and conditioned. Natural Curl pattern is defined with gel or a styling cream and allowed to dry naturally.

curling hair