Whether you’ve just recently decided to go natural or if you’ve long been wearing your hair in its unprocessed form, there’s always so much to learn about having natural hair. Before you attempt to absorb all there is to know about caring for your curls, we’re here to provide you with a few useful terms that’ll likely be of service to you in the long run. This, of course, is in no way a guide to everything you’ve ever wanted to know about natural hair, but we’d say it’s a great start.
Ahead, you’ll find a glossary of sorts, featuring 20 haircare terms that should be in every natural’s vocabulary.
Curl pattern is a term used to describe the shape of your hair strands when they’re in their natural state. It’s usually broken down into four types: type 1 hair is typically bone straight; type 2 hair is wavy; type 3 hair is curly; and type 4 is coily. From there, the types are broken down into three subcategories each (a, b, and c) that are determined based on the width of your waves or curls.
This refers to your hair’s ability to return to its natural shape after being pulled, stretched, or heated in any way. Hair with low elasticity normally won’t return to its natural shape, while hair with high elasticity will.
Porosity refers to your hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. It’s looked at in three different categories — low, medium, and high porosity — and it’s normally determined by the way your hair’s cuticles lay. Head over here for a more in-depth breakdown on what that means.
Think of sulfates as the reason why your shampoo lathers up and thickens the way it does when you work it into your hair. They are chemicals that are often found in cleaning products, and they’re widely debated in the hair community, since many people think they’re harmful and have the power to strip the hair of its natural oils and nutrients. On the other hand, there are also those who believe sulfates aren’t as bad for your hair as they’re made out to be.
Humectants are chemicals found in hair products that promote moisture retention.
Not to be confused with a moisturizer, a sealant is any product that sits on top of the cuticle to hold the moisture in your hair. These typically come in the form of oils and butters, and are to be applied after a moisturizer, since some of the oil molecules aren’t small enough to actually penetrate your hair shaft. Some popular sealants include jojoba oil, Jamaican black castor oil, and shea butter.
On the flip side, a moisturizer is any product that — you guessed it — moisturizes your hair. When attempting to determine if a product will work as a good moisturizer, consider the amount of water that’s in the product; if water is the first ingredient listed on the label, you should be okay. Leave-in conditioners and light oils (coconut, avocado) often fall into this category.
Transitioning refers to the process of . . . well . . . “transitioning” from processed or relaxed hair to natural hair. A person who’s in the transitioning phase is someone who’s cut the use of harsh chemicals and heat from their haircare regimen and has opted to grow their hair out in its natural state while slowly trimming off their processed ends. They do this until their natural hair has grown to a length they’re comfortable with and their damaged ends are gone completely.
This process is often looked at as an alternative to transitioning, since big chopping your hair means cutting off all of your relaxed or processed hair at once. That said, you can also transition your hair before performing a big chop, growing it out slowly until you can clearly see where your natural hair and what’s left of your processed strands meet.
Shrinkage refers to curly or coily hair’s ability to shrink up and look a few inches shorter than it actually is. When your hair is stretched — via twist outs, braid outs, blowouts, etc. (more on that later) — it should be able to shrink back to its normal state, as shrinkage is normally a sign that your hair is healthy and properly moisturized.
LOC is an acronym of “liquid, oil, cream,” and it’s basically a mnemonic device (think PEMDAS or ROYGBIV) that can be used to help you remember how to order certain products when you apply them to your hair. In this case, you’d use a liquid-based product or leave-in conditioner, followed by a sealing oil and a moisturizer.
This one’s a popular styling method achieved by installing several twists throughout a head of wet or damp hair before allowing them to set or dry for several hours. Some people also like to manipulate their twist outs by wrapping flexi rods at the end of each twist to give their ends a little more support in the curl department. Depending on how fast your hair dries, twists are typically taken out within a day or two of being installed, with the end result being a head of superdefined curls that can be worn for days at a time.
A braid out is essentially the same as a twist out, except it’s done with braids. Braid outs often stretch the hair more than twist outs do, which is good for anyone hoping to sport a style that shows off a little more length, but they often take a bit longer to dry as well.
Wash and Go
A wash and go is exactly what it sounds like, though there’s just a little more to it than literally just washing and going. It’s basically when a person washes their hair and wears it out in its natural state without twisting, braiding, or using tools to curl it. Typically leave-in conditioners and other products like curl creams or styling gels are added to keep frizz at bay for these styles.
A protective style is basically any hairstyle that tucks away the ends of your hair and protects them against possible damage from factors like weather, chemicals, and over-manipulation. Ideally, they require only a small amount of maintenance and are often a go-to for those looking to experiment with various colors and hair lengths without the risk of putting extra stress on their strands.
An abbreviation of “teeny weeny afro, a TWA is a natural hairstyle formed on hair that’s typically about 1-2 inches in length.
“Co-wash” is an abbreviation for “conditioner-only washing,” which is pretty self-explanatory. People who use conditioner to cleanse their hair and scalp normally do so as a way to avoid the use of harsh, sulfate-filled shampoos that can often strip the hair of natural oils. Conditioners don’t technically cleanse the hair, though, these days, you can purchase conditioners that have special cleansing benefits.
A pre-poo (or pre-shampoo) is an oil or conditioning treatment that’s applied to the hair before shampoo. It’s normally necessary if you’re looking to detangle or add a little extra moisture to your hair ahead of a wash.
Protein treatments are reparative products that are used to help strengthen damaged and porous hair by attaching a variety of proteins and nutrients directly to the follicle. Because of how intensive they are, it’s best to limit yourself to using protein-rich products every four to six weeks.
Deep Conditioning Treatment
Not to be confused with protein treatments, deep conditioners are intensive conditioners that provide the hair with an extra boost of moisture after shampooing. They’re usually applied to the hair and allowed to sit for at least 30 mins before being rinsed out. Depending on how dry your hair is, they can normally be used one to two times a week.