A Black Hair Glossary, From A Woman Who's Tired Of People Trying To Pet Her

Growing up, friends would always ask me why my hair was different from theirs. I wish I could've just given them this mini dictionary!
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Christine
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Growing up, friends would always ask me why my hair was different from theirs. I wish I could've just given them this mini dictionary!

Growing up, I was the only black girl in school. Actually, all my siblings and I were the only persons of color in our respective grades, for the most part. That all changed in high school, though. I believe I was one of three black girls in my class of about 150 girls (yes, I went to all girls school). I might be wrong… maybe I was one of two. It was too long ago; I forget.

For me, race was never a factor, though. At all. I had a wonderful experience growing up and have no complaints whatsoever. My childhood was pretty amazing. My parents chose the best private education for all four of us, which lead us to have the lives we have today. I met most of my best friends in grade school, middle school and high school. We're a melting pot of different races, cultures, religions and ethnicities; we can make our own Benetton ad if we wanted to, and there is nothing but love to go around.

But, outside of my family, my home environment and my friends around the way, when it came to hair I didn’t have anyone to relate to. I always felt like the odd one out and was on my own. As a child, my hair pompoms would get petted by everyone I met. (I hated that and I still do. More so because they don’t ask me and assume it is OK to go around touching people.)

My brother Pascal and me. We were the cute little black kids in school. Can you blame us?

My brother Pascal and me. We were the cute little black kids in school. Can you blame us?

As I got older and started to relax my hair, I would get asked by friends of mine why my hair didn’t flow like theirs. UGH! Then I got into weaves and extensions and was asked--no joke--how my hair grew that fast. (Yes, I'm a Barbie and I just have to crank my arm and my hair grows. SMH.)

My brother Pascal and I…26 years later. Short body wave I did this past summer and P-Cal (still) with his fade.

My brother Pascal and I…26 years later. Short body wave I did this past summer and P-Cal (still) with his fade.

Even now, with a lot of my friends getting married, there are talks about us all going to get our hair done together at a salon. I don’t want some random foofoo salon touching my hair because they really wouldn’t know what to do with it, and I would be that person with crazy, ugly, jacked-up prom hair at the wedding. No, thank you. Instead, I will get my hair did beforehand and meet y'all for the manicure/pedicure/champagne-sippin’ portion. It’s the best thing for everyone.

I love my hair. I love the texture. I love the versatility. I love the different styles and techniques I could do. But as much as I would try to explain what was going on up there, it was really no use. So I just did what I did and do what I do and I made whatever works for me (snaps for the kid).

One day my hair was long and brown, next day my short and wavy. A week later I’m all about bangs. A month later my hair was red (LOVED THE RED). Then back to black. A year later it was an Afro!

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Getting my J.Lo on with my signature pose, I’m a hair chameleon on the low.

Getting my J.Lo on with my signature pose, I’m a hair chameleon on the low.

Whether you’re Team Natural, Team Weaves, Team Relaxed or Team IDGAF, here is a glossary I composed of commonly used terms when it comes to black girls and our hair from what I experienced growing up.

A

Apple cider vinegar: Also known as AVC, its benefits include removing product buildup, treating hair loss and dandruff, fighting dry, itchy scalp and balancing hair and scalp.

B

Baggy method: Applying conditioner and then wearing a shower cap (or plastic bag, whatever works for you, booboo) overnight to let the conditioner seep into your hair cuticle to moisturize and seal, using your natural body heat. Typically done overnight and washed out in the morning.

Beauty supply store: I grew up in Brooklyn, where there is a beauty supply store literally within a two-block radius of everywhere. Any of your beauty needs can be found here, from hair extensions to products to maintain hair, skin and nails. I’m like a kid in a candy store.

Big-a$$ Afro: Do I even need to explain this? Whatever you do, just don’t touch her hair. We are not for your amusement. It is not an attraction. We are not pets. It is hair. Deal with it. K. Thanks. Bye.

Autumn: One of my BFF’s with a BAA. It’s real and it’s spectacular!

Autumn: One of my BFF’s with a BAA. It’s real and it’s spectacular!

Big chop (or BC): This made me gulp. Not going to lie… I cried! It is exactly what it says. This is the process of cutting off your chemically relaxed hair to begin the transitioning process from relaxed to natural hair. Some people prefer not to go all Britney and cut off all their hair at once. Instead they cut little by little over time as their natural hair grows.

Box braids: A protective style worn where four strands of bulk hair is braided into the shape of a box. Think Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice.

Braid 'n curl: Braiding hair and adding rollers to the ends/tips. After a few hours, or overnight, the hair is then unbraided showcasing a wavy hair pattern with curls at the end.

Braid out: Braiding hair, letting it set in for a few hours, overnight or even days to later releasing them to form a wavy or crimped pattern.

Bulk hair: Loose hair that is used for twists, braids or strand-by-strand application.

Bumpin’: Using a barrel curling iron or flat iron to add volume and flair to your hair, real or fake. Gone with the wind fabulous!

Bundles: Weaving hair that's unprocessed and sold by the ounce. It comes directly from the source, aka the donor. But don’t worry! It has been washed and then is sewn onto a weft. Bundles are usually a fan favorite compared to packaged weaving hair because it is of higher quality and lasts longer. My definite go-to.

C

Clarifying: Cleansing the hair and scalp to remove buildup from the accumulation of products used, as well as sweat, dirt, and anything else that may be weighing your hair down or clogging your scalp.

Clip-ins: These are temporary extensions that are usually clipped onto your hair itself to give the illusion of volume and/or length. I personally don’t use these but found that making my own was a better option than spending $200 for a few pieces.

Closure: A square or rectangular piece that has hair attached to it to give the illusion of natural hair/natural hairline and can be worn with a full weave. It is great for women who want to avoid heat damage (ME!), who have trouble blending their hair, or who are experiencing breakage, thinning hair/edges or have bald spots.

Cornrows: Braids, typically done in rows, that lay flat to the scalp. Usually this is the foundation for a weave.

Did my littlest sisters hair last weekend. Started from the bottom with cornrows…now she’s here. Say Cheese Cassandra!

Did my littlest sisters hair last weekend. Started from the bottom with cornrows…now she’s here. Say Cheese Cassandra!

Cassandra's finished weave. 

Cassandra's finished weave. 

Co-washing: Washing hair with a moisturizing conditioner (not a protein conditioner) instead of shampoo. For those wearing weaves, it will keep your hair underneath healthy and soft. Those with natural tresses will see their hair gets more supple. Those on the "creamy crack" will find it softens the new growth, while transitioners will have less breaking at the line of demarcation.

Creamy crack: Another term for chemical relaxers, which needs to be touched up every 6-8 weeks.

D

Deep conditioning: Leaving a conditioning solution on the hair for an extended period of time, allowing it to set and soak into the hair then rinsing it out afterwards. It can be a store-bought or a homemade remedy and is used to revamp hair by replenishing moisture, balance, body and softness. I personally keep deep-conditioning treatments in for twice amount of time suggested. I will walk my dog, do laundry, clean the house, chat with friends, watch a movie (you get the idea) before I rinse out.

Detangling: Removing all tangles, knots, and kinks from your hair. Word to the wise: Please DO NOT EVER detangle your hair when it is bone dry. Instead you can try applying conditioner from root to tip ensuring the hair is evenly coated to avoid excessive tension that will cause breakage.

Dreadlocks: Hair that has been allowed to matte over time.

Dusting: Twisting the hair and then trimming about a 1/4” off of the ends.

E

Essential oil: A natural botanical essence that is extracted from plants and is used to treat scalp conditions and nourish the hair follicle. A few examples: peppermint for itchy scalp and cedarwood for hair loss.

F

Flat twists: Twists done flat to the scalp typically done in rows.

H

Hair Type Classification System: Or your curl pattern. This system was inspired by Andre Walker (he’s queen bee Oprah’s hair stylist) and is used to identify your hair. Check out Danielle’s article here!

Head tie: A silk or satin scarf that is worn on hair that is relaxed, natural, weaved or in a protective style. Mainly done at night (or days on end if you’re my cousin Naomi), this helps to keep the hair smooth, sleek and tangle-free, preserving the shape and style of the hair as well. Let’s just say you have little to worry about in the morning if you wrap your hair at night and do not have to deal with a messy bed head in the morning. Just unravel and go girl.

Holy grail: Black hair comes in so many different textures, curl patterns, lengths etc. therefore what works for one may not work for the other. This is the regime or product combination that works for your own unique hair.

J

Jamaican Black Castor Oil: The organic version of castor oil, this baby is loaded with omega fatty acids and has countless healing properties to help regenerate and rejuvenate scalp health. It is an anti-fungal and an anti-bacterial that strengthens, thickens, and moisturizes hair. It also increases blood flow to the scalp; supplies hair with much-needed nutrients and helps prevent dandruff, breakage and dry, itchy scalp. It can be very beneficial for those with thinning hair and thinning edges/or temples. Try Tropical Living Jamaican Castor Oil.

L

Lace front unit: Don’t have time to sit down for a full weave but don’t want to wear a cheap wig? Suffering from alopecia or undergoing chemotherapy? Follow in the steps of celebs and wear a lace front unit. This is a wig made of a fine mesh material and gives the illusion of a full head of hair with a natural hair line (it even has baby hairs!) It can be secured with straps, and/or adhesives.

Leave-In conditioner: A conditioning product that is to be left on the hair and is not to be rinsed out. It is used to provide hair with added moisture for stronger strands. I love SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner.

Leave out: The hair that you “leave out” when getting a weave and then blend in with the weaving hair.

Line of demarcation: For transitioners, this is the point between the two textures of your hair, natural vs. relaxed. You will know your line of demarcation especially when you wash your hair. The ends of your hair will be stringy while the rest of your hair is in its natural textured state.

M

Maintenance: The care of the natural hair while wearing hair extensions, but can also be the caring, tightening and conditioning of the commercial hair worn. You didn’t pay all that money for nothin’, girl!

N

Nappiversary: Pop some champagne or break out the measuring tape. This is the day where you celebrate your natural anniversary, when you stopped using relaxers. Whether you choose to go all natural or go for protective styles, it’s a celebration

Needle and thread: The U-shaped needle and cotton thread used to secure weaves and extensions. I really carry this everywhere I go. Hey, you never know!

Net weave: This is the same as a full weave but instead a mesh net is placed over the cornrows in order to relieve tension.

P

Pre-poo: Otherwise known as pre-shampoo. This treatment is conditioning the hair with a mixture of oils before washing hair with shampoo. Leave in for at least 30 minutes to avoid shampoo from “stripping” natural oils from hair among other benefits.

Protective styling: Hairstyles that require low manipulation of the hair that are done to protect the hair or give it a break from daily styling and/or wear and tear. This can include weaves, braids, wigs, and twists.

Like mine! Photo shot with the Canon SL1.

Like mine! Photo shot with the Canon SL1.

R

Remy hair: Considered to be the highest-grade and finest quality of real/human hair. Unlike non-Remy hair, the cuticles are kept in tact and are not stripped.

Rinse: A temporary color that tints the hair. Benefits can include color, shine, luster and livening up existing color. Unlike permanent hair dye, it does not contain any peroxide and can last for up to six shampoo sessions. Some girls opt for rinses rather than dyes if they are relaxing their hair to avoid excessive chemical damage.

Roller set: As a child/teen I LOATHED roller sets. Sitting under the dryer at the hair salon for an hour was the worst. I would always find an excuse to get up. I had to pee. I dropped something. I had to run a lap. I wanted to go meet President Clinton at that very moment in time and I was going to walk to the White House and I was going to be right back. Anything! But little did I know this is actually one of the healthiest ways to “set” hair because it doesn’t require direct heat. Instead, you sit under a hooded dyer never having your hair come into contact with the direct heat of an appliance and I saw a lot of growth this way. Hair is shampooed and conditioned and then rollers are put in place on damp hair. Sit under a dryer for 20 minutes to an hour, depending on hair length, density and texture. Once dry, the rollers are then taken out. You can either choose to leave the curls as is, brush them out with a round brush, blow out hair, wrap hair and secure with large bobby pins or style hair as preferred. (Rollers coordinated with hair length. It was like a thing. While girls with shorter hair used pink or red rollers, the girls with longer and thicker hair used the ginormous black or grey rollers. You wanted to be that girl in the salon with the black/grey rollers.)

S

Sealing: Using products to lock moisture in place in natural hair, usually done by using oils such as Jamaican Castor Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Sewn-in weave: Most common and popular weaving method. The hair is cornrowed, then commercial hair is sewn onto the cornrows. Some people opt for a full weave or a net weave with little or no leave-out, your preference. Just make sure it is done properly and your hair is not braided too tight to avoid tension, breakage and traction alopecia.

My sister Sarah: Full sew-in/blonde bombshell.

My sister Sarah: Full sew-in/blonde bombshell.

Shea butter: My personal favorite due to the fact that it has so many uses. A natural source of vitamin A, shea butter revitalizes hair by adding moisture. Best in it’s pure form, it also can be used as a conditioning agent as well as a pomade for styling. Not only is it great for dry, coarse hair, it does wonders for skin with healing properties for scars, burns and bruises and can also help treat stretch marks and eczema. With the right recipe, you can make dressings for hair or even your own body butter.

Shrinkage: The difference between what your hair looks like when it is wet and gently stretched out to its maximum length to what it looks like when it is dry. African American textured hair can shrink up to 75%-80% of its actual length and some girls who go natural find this to be bothersome because shrinkage does not showcase the actual progress of the individual’s hair. There are many different ways to combat shrinkage such as braids, flexi-rod sets or roller sets.

Synthetic hair: The lowest in price and cheapest quality hair. It typically can’t be re-styled or manipulated and is unsafe for appliances, especially heat. I have a few tricks to maintain synthetic hair that I can share in depth later on.

T

Tender-headed: When a person has a sensitive scalp and it hurts when hair is combed or braided. This was me as a kid and it is still me now. I do not like other people doing my hair because that ish hurts. I know what is best for my hair and how much my hair can take, so I prefer to do it myself. If you can’t do it on your own, for the sake of your hair and your edges, enlist and invest in a stylist you can trust. Please and thank you.

Tracks: A parting or a cornrow that establishes the placement pattern of wefts. Side note: You know you have a bad weave when your tracks are showing. Just sayin’.

Traction alopecia: Gradual hair loss as a result of hair being pulled by hairstyles that are too tight.

Transitioning: Growing out the relaxed hair to expose the natural texture.

Touch up: For the girls wearing their hair in a relaxed state, this is the process of applying relaxer to the new growth, usually about ½ to 1 inch every 6-8 weeks.

Twist out: Two-strand twisting natural or relaxed hair using products of your choice: Shea butter, leave-in conditioner, and castor oil to name a few. Usually done before bed, this style is heat free, giving hair defined curls and versatility. A few tips: the longer they twists in, the better, so most girls choose do this right before bed. The smaller they are, the more defined they come out. The way you sleep is also key because you want to preserve the style, not flatten the curls. Use a satin/silk pillowcase or a large satin/silk scarf or bonnet. In the morning, unravel the twists (do not separate them), finger style and go.

V

Virgin hair: Hair that has not been chemically processed, colored, bleached, permed, dyed or altered in any way and the cuticles are intact.

W

Wash and go: This is meant to be a carefree technique. You can either wash your hair with shampoo or co-wash but always use a heavy conditioner when doing so. Once hair is cleaned and conditioned, add a cream or gel and then leave it to air dry or use a diffuser. Before this process you can add oil such as coconut, avocado or olive oil as a pre-poo/pre-wash treatment.

Wash and set: Also known as a roller set. Don’t want to use rollers? Instead, wrap hair and sit under the dryer for 20 minutes to an hour depending on the length, texture and density of your hair.

Wrapping hair: This is the necessary act of tying hair up, usually at night, with a silk or satin scarf to maintain style and healthy hair. Doing this helps prevent split ends while sleeping and also extends the lifespan of your hairstyle. To do so, take a brush and wrap your hair either clockwise or counterclockwise. Once done, you can secure with long bobby pins if you want. Then take a silk or satin scarf and tie it around your wrapped hair along the perimeter of your head. This will take a lot of practice to shape your hair to your scalp. But let me tell you honey, once you have it down pat, life will be so much easier.

Y

Yaki hair: Weaving or braiding hair that resembles and is similar to the texture of most Black Hair that ranges from Silky Yaki, Relaxed Yaki, Kinky Yaki and Course Yaki.

I might have missed a few terms, but this generally what I know and have experienced growing up in Brooklyn, the way I did. Not all black hair is the same, but no matter how you choose to wear it: live it, love it, own it.