• Your #1 beauty and hair site

Glossary Of Hair Styling Terms

Professional Styling Terms

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L
M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Z
This glossary was compiled from a wide variety of sources ranging from ordinary dictionaries to beauty guides.
If any of the sources noted a particular ingredient as a potential irritant, an asterisk (*) has been placed by the ingredient to help those with sensitive skin easily identify the chemical or extract.
It has been my observation that many ingredients listed as potential irritants are only irritating to extremely sensitive skin or those with an allergy to the offending ingredient.
If it is a common irritant, two asterisks (**) are placed next to its name.
If an ingredient is known for its gentleness, a carat (^) has been placed next to its name.
ABS Plastic
Artificial nail tip plastic. The “virgin” variety is the least resistant to cracking.

Acetone **
Strong solvent used in nail polish remover. Appropriate only for natural nails. Contained in some astringents/toners/fresheners.

Acid Perm
A permanent wave with a pH from 6.5 to 8.0. A milder perm than an alkaline perm, it produces softer curls.

Skin disorder caused by blocked follicles, leading to inflammation of the sebaceous glands.

Sculptured nail material. Combination of a liquid and powder that is mixed to form the artificial nail.

Professional who works to clean and perfect skin.

Alkaline Perm
A permanent wave with a pH from 7.5 to 9.5. Produces a tight curl.

Allantoin ^
Known for its gentleness. A very healing, soothing, and anti-irritating ingredient. Often used in anti-acne products, after sun products, and clarifying lotions.

Allura Red AC
The common name for uncertified FD&C Red No. 40.

Algisium Complex
A natural marine-derived complex which functions as an anti-inflammatory agent.

Almond, Sweet Oil ^
Emollient used in lotions and creams. Known for its mildness.

Aloe Vera ^
Plant from which aloe gel is extracted. Known for its soothing, gentle properties. Especially good for burns and moisturizing the skin. Promotes healing and cellular renewal.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid *
Any one of several natural acids (glycolic, lactic, citric, malic) obtained from fruit which assist in shedding dead skin cells. They provide the benefit of chemical exfoliation of the skin, making skin appear clearer. Solutions vary from 2% to 15% (with anything higher needing a prescription to acquire.) 8% formulas are generally recognized as being quite effective with minimal irritation. Glycolic acid is thought to be the most effective exfoliant of all the alpha hydroxy acids. (See Special Information Section for how to make a homemade AHA solution.)

Phenol derivatives used in combination with other chemicals in permanent (two-step) hair dyes.

Aminomethyl Propanol
Neutralizer carbomer to form gel.

Ammonia **
Alkaline ingredient used in some permanent hair color. It works with the developer, sending a chemical action which decolorizes the hair.

Ammonium Hydroxide
When used in skin peels and hair waving and straightening, it is used to stabilize and adjust the acids.

Substances that can kill bacteria and treat infections. Also used as preservatives in cosmetics.

Substances that can soothe irritation of the skin. Also can be the property of a substance that prevents irritation causing swelling and ill effects of toxic cosmetic ingredients.

Substances that soothe the localized/superficial inflammation of the skin that is due directly to one or more external substances.

Vitamins or substances which impede oxidation or spoilage promoted by oxygen or peroxide. (See Special Information section for further information about the controversy surrounding the anti-aging effects of antioxidants and its ability to fight free-radicals.)

A product, usually containing aluminum salt, used to prevent perspiration and the odor it causes. May contain an additional deodorant, but not necessarily.

Apple Juice and Pectin
Clarifying agent, emulsifier, and thickener in shampoo.

Apricot Kernel Oil
Similar to almond oil, used as an emollient in lotions, creams, etc. Ground seeds are often used in facial scrubs and masks.

Use of essential oils fragrance for therapeutic benefits.

A cool or green-based color when referring to makeup or hair color.

A solution which removes oil from the skin; usually used after washing the face to remove any remaining traces of cleanser. Designed to dry and shrink superficial tissues by reducing water content and sometimes promotes healing of inflamed skin.

Oil from seed and pulp used in creams, lotions, and hair preparations. Found to signigicantly increase the water soluble collagen content in the dermis.

Brand name of sanitizer used to disinfect salon implements.

Also known as foundation, a skin-colored makeup used to smooth the surface of the skin and even its coloration. Prepares the face for other makeup. Comes in liquid, cream, powder, cake, and stick forms.

Clear, thick polish applied before nail color to create a smooth and adhesive surface for nail color. Used to prevent staining fingernails and to prolong life of nailcolor.

Beeswax *
Wax obtained from honeycombs or resin from bark. Thickener, emulsifier, and stiffing agent in ointments, cold creams, lotions, lipsticks, etc. Sometimes used as a hair removing wax.

Bentonite or Kaolin
These are clays in powders and foundations that may clog pores. Generally, these clays are used in facial masks to absorb excess facial oil. Also known as “china clay”. Can promote dryness of the skin if used too frequently.

Benzoyl Peroxide **
An anti-acne medication that kills acnegenic bacteria and inhibits production of oil by the sebaceous glands. Generally found in 2.5%, 5% and 10% formulas.

Beta Hydroxy Acid *
Used to exfoliate epidermis of skin and prevent clogged pores. Salicylic acid is a BHA (found in many OTC acne medications and Clinique Turnaround Cream/Lotion).


A mixture of dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria exposed to oxygen.

To remove excess oil or moisture from lipstick or any other creamy makeup to “set” it for longer wear.

Boar Bristle
Commonly used in natural bristle brushes. Allows for better distribution of natural scalp oils through the hair.

The volume or springiness of hair.

Refers to a product containing plants or ingredients made from plants.

Refers to unflattering warm tones in hair color created by chemicals or damage.

A makeup which makes the skin appear more tanned. Can be found in powder or cream form, not to be confused with Self Tanners which are not water soluble.

An extremely fine-grit manicure tool used to shine the surface of the nail.

Butyl, Propyl, Ethyl, and Methyl Parabens
Synthetic preservatives used in non-protein based products.

Butylene Glycol and Propylene Glycol
Solvents used to dilute.

C12-15 Alcohols Benzoate
Emollient and provides a dry, silky feel to skin.

Calendula (aka Marigold) *
Used in fresheners, soothing creams, and sensitive skin products. Sometimes used in deodorants. Some adverse skin reactions have been reported in medical literature.

Patch dry, dead, hard skin. Particularly found on feet, which endure lots of friction.

Camphor *
Used as an antiseptic, stimulant, and anti-inflammatory ingredient in toners, aftershaves, lipbalms, and after sun preparations.

Candelilla, Carnauba, and Microcrystalline waxes
Waxes used in stick cosmetics such as lipstick and blush.

Carbomer and Polyethylene thickeners
Thickeners used similar to the waxes above. Gelling agents.

Carrot Oil
Primarily used as a fragrance and coloring agent in cosmetics. Thought to be good for both dry and oily skin.

Castor Oil
Used in lipsticks, concealers, hair pomade, ointments, creams and lotions.

Certified Colors
Colorants approved by the FDA for use in cosmetics, food and drugs.

Cetyl Alcohol (fatty alcohol) ^
A gentle humectant, lather booster, and emulsifier. In hair products, it is used to smooth and soften the hair cuticle.

Chamomile ^
Used in many products for blonde hair to enhance color. Also used in a variety of cosmetics as an emollient. Anti-inflammatory, soothing agent for tender skin; also provides antioxidation.

A deep cleansing process which strips the hair lightly before a chemical service. Also known as clarifying.

Citric Acid
Derived from citrus fruit, it maintains pH balance, preserves, and stabilizes foam when used in cosmetics. Used in many post perm ingredients to neutralize odor.

Clarifying Shampoo
Slightly more alkaline (higher pH) than ordinary shampoo, used to remove excess build-up of products or water chemicals from hair.

Cleansing Creams
Contain little or no soap or detergent, usually with an oily base. Meant to be applied, then removed with wiping rather than rinsing.

Clove Oil
Used in creams and lotions as an anti-irritant.

Coal Tar Colors
Most synthetic colors all called such because the first synthetic colors were made from coal tar products. A misnomer because most today are derived from petrochemicals.

Cocamide DEA
Either made synthetically or derived from the kernel of the coconut, it gives lather and cleans skin and hair.

Cocoa Butter *
Mainly used as a thickening agent in cosmetics. Well absorbed by the skin and imparts a sheen. Used in many lipsticks, soaps, and emollient creams. An acnegenic substance to some.

Coconut Oil
Used as an emollient in soaps and as a shine enhancer in some hair products.

Collagen and Elastin
These are animal by products used in many products. As human skin ages, our own soluble collagen becomes inflexible and the skin’s connective tissue becomes less moisturized naturally. The use of animal collagen and elastin to replace our own is not possible, although these ingredients have moisturizing properties. Effective in smoothing the hair’s cuticle.

A toilet water containing alcohol and fragrant oils. Not as concentrated as perfume.

A cosmetic preparation known to promote acne. Pore clogging.

Comfrey ^
Root from which allantoin is extracted. Anti-inflammatory, astringent, and emollient. Contains mucopolysaccharides.

Creamy hair product meant to be used after shampoo. Moisturizes and detangles hair.

Refers to blue or violet based undertones in hair, skin, or makeup.

An opaque makeup used to cover darkness under eyes, redness of the skin, or anything irregular in the skin’s color or texture. Comes in a waxy stick, cream, or opaque liquid formula.

Cornflower *
Used in toners, astringents, and healing creams. Can cause photosensitivity in some people.

Middle layer of an individual hair shaft in which the pigment of the hair is contained.

While the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act does not recognize the term “cosmeceutical”, the cosmetic industry has begun to use this word to refer to cosmetic products that have drug-like benefits. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act defines drugs as those products that cure, treat, mitigate or prevent disease or that affect the structure or function of the human body. While drugs are subject to an intensive review and approval process by FDA, cosmetics are not approved by FDA prior to sale. If a product has drug properties, it must be approved as a drug.

“Articles intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or alternating the appearance without affecting the body structure or function.” Many cosmetics alter their advertising to meet these guidelines, such as antiwrinkle creams, since they would otherwise be considered a drug. For example, “to reduce the appearance of fine lines”, whereas a drug such as Retin-A actually does reduce fine lines, and thus is actually affecting the structure of the skin–not just changing its appearance.

A preparation for the skin used to impart moisture. Usually thicker and more emollient than a lotion.

Cream Rinse
A mixture of wax, thickeners, and a group of chemicals used to coat the hair shaft and detangle after shampooing.

Cucumber ^
Used in facial creams, lotions, and cleansers. Known for its astringent and soothing properties. Also an anti-inflammatory agent (slices placed over puffy eyes can reduce swelling).

Outermost layer of skin (aka epidermis) or the fold of skin at the base of the fingernail. Hair cuticles are the outermost layer of the hair shaft which overlap like shingles. When healthy and lying flat, these cuticles impart sheen to the hair.

Cyclomethicone (volatile silicone)
Solvent used to dilute.

A condition of shedding dead cells of the scalp. Usually caused by sebhorric dermatitis.



A prefix designating that a certifiable color has been approved for use in drugs and cosmetics.

D&C Red No. 7 Calcium Lake
Synthetic organic colors derived from coal and petroleum sources (not permitted for use around the eye).

Deep Penetrating Treatment
A conditioner for hair meant for occasional use. Of greater intensity than ordinary conditioners. Formulas usually contain protein, vitamins, and moisture to help dry, damaged hair.

A product used to counteract odors caused by the decomposition of sweat on the body. Contain antiseptic substances to kill bacteria and strong fragrances to mask offensive smell. (Not to be confused with antiperspirants which actually inhibit production of sweat.)

Product used to remove hair from the follicle.


Moisturizing silicone skin and hair conditioner and anti-foam ingredient.

Dimethicone Copolyol
Complex of natural silica, acts as a spreading agent for easy application of product; also functions as a moisturizer.

DMDM hydantoin
Preservative, antimicrobial to fight bacteria.

Double Process
A color service which requires two steps to complete. First the hair is lightened and second the new color is added.

Draize test
An animal test used to determine the effects of different substances on the eye.

Assists immune function, anti-inflammatory.

The hair’s ability to stretch without breaking and then return to its original shape. Determines how well the hair will “hold” a curl.

Elder Flower
Used in eye and skin creams for its astringent properties.

Destroys the hair’s roots with an electric current. This is a permanent means of ridding unwanted hair.

An agent used to make an emulsion, which is a mixture of liquids, minute globules of one being suspended in a second that doesn’t dissolve the first.

Ingredients that soften or smooth.

Enamel (nail)
Another name for nail polish.

The common name of FD&C Red No. 3

Ethanol (alcohol) *
Solvent used to dilute.

Exempt Color Additives
Colors derived primarily from plant, animal and mineral (other than coal and petroleum) sources that are exempt from FDA certification.

A process of removing the top dead skin layers to reveal healthier, newer skin underneath. This can be done chemically with such acids as AHAs or BHAs. Physically with scrubbing grains such as apricot kernels or baking soda.

Ext. D&C
A prefix designating that a certifiable color may be used only in externally applied drugs and cosmetics.

Hair extensions are pieces of real or synthetic weaved close to the scalp in order to achieve greater length and/or fullness. Nail extensions are synthetic additions which add length to the natural nail, such as nail tips, wraps, gels, and sculptured acrylic nails.

Finishing Spray
A hairspray with medium hold used on a finished style to maintain its shape and hold.

A pore in the skin from which a hair grows.

Any natural or synthetic substance or substances use solely to impart an odor to a cosmetic product.

Products so labeled may still contain small amounts of fragrances to mask the fatty odor of soap or other unpleasant odors. (There is no official governmental definition for this term.)

Freezing Spray
A hairspray with the firmest hold used to maintain style of hard to hold hair.

Ginkgo Biloba
Anti-inflammatory agent.

Glyceryl Monostearate
Emulsifier; also pearlescent agent.

A humectant which absorbs moisture from the air to keep hair and skin moist. It is also used as an emollient, lubricant, emulsifier and diluting agent in cosmetics.

Grapefruit Seed Extract
Natural oil used as a cosmetic preservative.

The texture of a nail file ranging from coarse, medium, to fine.

Derived from the henna plant, a vegetable dye made from its leaves and stems into a powder. Traditionally, it imparts a reddish cast to the hair by coating it. Clear henna enhances shine. Henna cannot be dyed over since it coats the outer hair shaft, affecting the penetration of the chemical colorant.

The subtle lifting of color in specific sections of hair. See also

Humectant for skin and hair.

An ingredient in skin or hair products that draws moisture from the air to moisturize.

Hydrolyzed Keratin
Protein for the hair derived from non-animal sources.

Cosmetics that are less likely to cause allergic reactions. (There is no official governmental definition for this term.)

The common name for uncertified FD&C Blue No. 2

In Vitro
From the Latin meaning “in glass”. In vitro tests do not involve the use of living vertebrate animals.

Iron Oxides
Inorganic pigments approved for cosmetic use, including the eye area.

Isopropyl Lanolate, Myristate, and Palmitate
Synthetic moisturizers.

Jojoba Oil
Contains superior properties to keep skin soft. It is beneficial to acne prone skin and dry hair.

A white clay used for absorbing impurities from the skin.

Lake Colors
Dyes that don’t dissolve in water. These water-insoluble forms of certifiable colors are more stable than straight dyes and ideal for product in which leaching of the color is undesirable (coated tablets and hard candies, for example).

Lanolin **
A natural extract of sheep wool used as a moisturizer which is a common cause of allergic reactions, but is rarely used in pure form.

Lauramide DEA
Emulsifier and foam booster.

Lavender Extract ^
Anti-inflammatory, soothing agent.

Microscopic sacs manufactured from natural or synthetic fatty substances which include phospholipids (components of cell membranes). When properly mixed with water, phospholipids can “trap” any substance that will dissolve in water or oil. Manufacturers say that liposomes act like a delivery system, depositing product ingredients into the skin. When the liposomes “melt” the ingredients, such as moisturizers, are released.

Magnesium Aluminum Silicate Absorbent
Anti-caking agent

Spot under the skin of the fingernail mantle where the nail plate begins to grow.

The pigment which naturally colors the hair and skin.

Antimicrobial, a preservative.


Mica (iridescent)
Approved for use in cosmetics, including the eye area.

Ingredients extracted directly from plants, earth minerals, or animal products as opposed to being produced synthetically. When used in a cosmetic context there is no regulation for the use of this word.

A botanical additive used in hair and skin products, particularly eye creams and treatments for the scalp.

Substances that are less likely to clog pores or promote acne. (There is no official government definition for this term.)

Oat Derived Polysaccharide
Natural complex derived from oats that functions to assist the body’s immune system, to maintain healthy skin.

Oat Oil
Powerful antioxidant and emollient; provides deep antioxidant activity.

Anti-inflammatory agent.

Oleic Acid (Olive Oil) **
Oil with acneigenic tendencies.

OTC (Over-the-Counter) Drugs
Products that intend to treat or prevent disease, or otherwise affect the structure or functions of the human body, are considered drugs. Over-the-counter drugs are drugs that can be purchased without a doctor’s prescription. Examples of products that are over-the-counter drugs are fluoride toothpastes, hormone creams, sunscreen preparations, antiperspirants, and antidandruff shampoos.

PABA (Para-Aminobenzoic Acid) **
A substance which absorbs UV light, acting as a sunblock.

Vitamin B-5, good for human tissue. Plumps and moisturizes hair shaft to make it appear thicker.

Paraguay Tea
Augments action of theophylline, also contains antioxidant to help maintain healthy skin.

Patch Test
A test performed (usually with a hair dye or other potential allergen) on the skin 24 hours before its use to determine sensitivity.

PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate
Emollient and co-emulsifier.

Permanent Listing
A list of allowable colors determined by FD&C tests to be safe for human consumption under regulatory provisions.

Mixture of hydrocarbons with similar properties as mineral oil. Industrially it is used as a grease component. (Example: Vaseline is a petroleum jelly.)

Phenyl Trimethicone
Emollient, moisturizer.



Polysorbate 80
Surface active agent that provides smooth and complete spreading of the cleanser.


Propylene Glycol
Combination of glycerin and water, a humectant in cosmetics. The most common moisture-carrying vehicle in cosmetics other than water. (Actually, this is the major ingredient in brake and hydraulic fluid.)


Protein Treatment
A treatment used on the hair. Designed to add strength and elasticity to the hair by adding protein to the cortex.

Provisional Listing
A list of colors, originally numbering about 200, that FDA allows to continue to be used pending acceptable safety data.

Quaternium-15 *
Preservative used in cosmetics. Fights bacteria.

Retin-A *
Vitamin A derivative that acts as a topical anti-acne treatment. Additionally found to be beneficial in removing fine lines from facial skin. Creates photosensitivity. Available by prescription only. See also Renova.

Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A)
Essential skin nutrient necessary for healthy skin maintenance and repair.

Rosemary Extract
Natural antioxidant.

Seasonal Coloring
A principal of coordinating certain groups of colors that are flattering to particular kinds of coloring. Broken into four categories: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

Natural oils in the skin and scalp that lubricate and protect.

Silica (silicon dioxide)
Absorbent, anti-caking, abrasive.

A compound of silicon used in shine-enhancing hair products to seal the cuticle of hair and in many oil-free cosmetics.

Sodium Chloride
Common table salt used as an astringent/antiseptic.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
A white powder used as a detergent, emulsifier, and surfectant in cosmetics. A very strong degreaser. Also used as a water “softener”.

An acronym for “Sun Protection Factor” ranging from 2 to 45 with 2 being the least protection and 45 the most. See also SUNSCREENS/SUN INDUCED DAMAGE.

Shark-liver oil.

Stearic Acid and Stearyl Alcohol
Used for its emollient properties and as a moisturizing ingredient.

A soft mineral, magnesium silicate, used as a powder to absorb excess moisture. Scrutinized as a possible carcinogen because of its close relation to asbestos.

A common name for uncertified FD&C Yellow No. 5.

Tocopherol (Vitamin E)
Antioxidant vitamin, emollient and moisturizer.

Transparent Soap
Superfatted soap with a high glycerin content. Usually used for sensitive and normal-to-oily skin. (Example: Neutrogena, Pears.)


pH adjuster used mostly in transparent soap.


Vitamin E Acetate

Foods containing vitamins A, D, E, K, and some of the B complex group are necessary in diets to maintain healthy skin and hair but, according to Dr. Leshin, “There is no evidence that vitamins or other additives are advantageous when applied to the skin.”

Refers to yellow, red or orange based undertones in hair, skin, or makeup.

Zinc Oxide
An oxide of zinc, an astringent.

Zinc Stearate
Used in powder to improve texture and to lubricate.
Back to the TOP of the Glossary of Terms.