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Curl Terminology

Unlike many of my posts, this one is entirely un-self-serving. Selfless? Unselfish? Whatever it is, you’re welcome.

Alright my pretties, when I first started trying to research the shit out of what curly hair was all about, I was confronted with a lot of unknown terms. I’d check various websites and see terminology that was thrown about quite often, but found it difficult to discover the actual meaning of many of these terms.

My reading my oh-so-fancy Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary

Me reading my oh-so-fancy Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary

This left me with a lot of head scratching and confusion, and although I caught on, I thought it would be incredibly helpful to those of you beginning on a curly journey to know some of these things ahead of time. It makes you that much harder, better, faster, stronger, etc. Here goes (in alphabetical order, because I’m fancy/obsessive about these things)!

WHAT DID I JUST READ?! No one will ever know.

WHAT DID I JUST READ?! No one will ever know.

  • Botanical: an all-natural product that does not contain harsh chemicals. I search for Botanical conditioners that are silicone-free when considering my hair care routine.
  • Canopy: the outer layer of your hair, that surrounds the top part of your head. The canopy layer is typically the most dry, as it’s constantly exposed to the elements. I highly recommend extra moisture and care to this section of your curls.
  • CG: the abbreviation for Curly Girl, referring to the Curly Girl Method.
  • Co-wash: to wash your hair with conditioner only, as is dictated by the Curly Girl Method.
  • Hair Type: a system of classifying your hair based on how loose or tight your curls are. A comprehensive chart and explanation can be found here. You can find everything from Type 1 (straight hair) to 4c (coily ziggly hair). I’m somewhere in the 3b/3c range. This information can be helpful for determining your hair care routine, and providing the best care for your curls.
  • Humectant: a fancier word for ‘moisturizer’, or something that adds moisture to the hair.
  • Low-poo: using a sulphate-free, low foaming shampoo.
  • Natural: or, ‘Go Natural’ – is currently a pretty powerful hair movement, specifically in the black hair community. Essentially, growing your hair out naturally and embracing its natural texture and shape.
  • No-poo: using no shampoo/using a shampoo that has the consistency of a conditioner.
  • Pineapple-ing: a protective style for sleeping in that requires you to pile your hair as high on top of your head as possible and to secure with a hair elastic. Some people also use silk scarves tied around the rest of their hair in order to avoid further friction on their curls.
  • Plopping: the act of squishing your curls from the ends up to the roots, while you are bent over or standing straight. This helps with defining and aiding the natural curl formation, which is a fancy way of saying that it helps make your curls look their best!
  • Porosity: the amount of moisture your hair absorbs. For example, if I have low porosity curls, my hair tends to not suck up moisture easily. High porosity means it will easily drink moisturizer (or whatever else you choose to put on it).
  • Protective Hairstyle: refers to a hairstyle that keeps curls from being played with; for example, twists, or ‘pineapple-ing’ your hair. Anything that prevents manipulation, and therefore is better for your curls.
  • Sealant: something that seals in moisture. Ideally, you’d like a sealant that also lets additional moisture into the hair shaft. Some sealant examples are different types of oil, and certain alcohol-free, silicone-free gels.
  • Shrinkage: the concept that curly hair shrinks up in length, making it difficult to tell the true length of hair without stretching it out.
  • Silicone: a synthetic compound that is found in many conditioners, and gels. It acts as a sealant for hair, but does not allow more moisture to get into the hair shaft, and can create product buildup. Products with silicone can usually only be removed by using sulphates/sulfates, found in many drying shampoos. Products with silicone in them are not used in the Curly Girl Method.
  • Slip: the term referring to how easy it is to detangle. For example, if a conditioner provides a good amount of slip, it makes it easier to separate your curls, specifically while it’s wet.
  • Sulphates/Sulfates*: what cause many shampoos to create that bubbly lather. These tricky little guys are also found in many household cleaning products. They strip your hair of its natural oils and cause curls in particular to become dry and frizzy. Products with sulphates in them are not used in the Curly Girl Method.
  • Transitioning: a term that’s used frequently in the black hair community, transitioning refers to growing out chemically straightened hair and embracing your natural curls.
  • Twists: literally dividing your hair into little sections, and then twisting two pieces of hair from each section together, and leaving them twisted. This usually only works with very curly – kinky/coily type hair. It is a protective hairstyle.

Well, I feel like that covers the basics — if you have any questions/comments on what I can add, please do not hesitate to leave a comment. Hope you all find this helpful!

When all else fails, look confused and play with your hair (actually, don't play with your hair - it causes breakage, and it's a nasty habit I need to break)!

When all else fails, look confused and play with your hair (actually, don’t play with your hair – it causes breakage, and it’s a nasty habit I need to break)!

*Sulphate is commonly used in British English (what Canadians tend to follow), whereas Sulfate is the common American spelling. Either one is correct — but, I included this just so you guys don’t think I’m a poor speller!



  1. Janelle H

    Loving your blog Hun. I feel like growing and moisturizing your hair is an experiment until you find out what works in your hair. I love how easy my hair is to handle when it’s natural and it’s in twists.

    • Jess A

      Hey Janelle! Thanks for checking it out! Honestly it’s so much information at the start, but so worth it once you’ve figured it all out. And your twists look gorgeous! I was actually going to ask if I could include that photo I took of you on Friday on here, you look so lovely!

      • Janelle H

        No problem. Sorry, I haven’t checked it out earlier. Thanks. Can you send me the picture first please?

  2. I absolutely love this blog post. Low poo just had me crackin up lol
    And I agree – it’s hard not to play with your curls but it’s one thing we should NOT be doing 😦 or how about when others feel like running their dirty paws through it lol
    Ahhhh thank you for this I learned a few new things 🙂

    • Jess A

      Ha! Some of the terms do sound funny…and I’m so glad you liked it! I was seriously blown away when I first entered into the curly world of blogs and books. If I can ease anyone else’s way, I’m quite pleased! Thanks for checking it out, Nina!

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