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Here’s Your Glossary of 10 Haircare Terms Everyone Should Know (for Better or Worse)

Whether you’re a haircare buff or you simply use the first products you spot on sale at CVS, it’s crucial that you know what’s being disposed into your scalp or slathered between your strands. While you don’t need to know the name of every leading brand on the market, you should absolutely understand the most important haircare terms.

If you’re feeling a bit lost (because yes, there are so many terms out there), rest assured we’ve got you covered. Keep reading for your glossary of the 10 most crucial haircare terms to know!

1. Sulfates

When it comes to the most important haircare terms, this one appears most frequently. According to Healthline, sulfate is a salt that forms when sulfuric acid reacts with another chemical. It’s a broader term for other synthetic sulfate-based chemicals you may be concerned about, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). These compounds are produced from petroleum and plant sources such as coconut and palm oil. You’ll mostly find them in your cleaning and personal care products. The main use for SLS and SLES in products is to create lather, giving a stronger impression of cleaning power. SLS and SLES can irritate eyes, skin, and lungs, especially with long-term use. 

2. Texturizing

Texturizing is the act of adding texture, volume, and grit to the hair, often in the form of a dry shampoo and salt spray-like consistency.

3. Prewash

A prewash is just how it sounds—a precursor to the main hair cleanse (shampoo). This product can be applied in the form of a mask, which can be left on anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight—or in the form of a shampoo-like rinse. This helps seal in moisture, detangle, reduce frizz, and prevent everyday damage from water, heat, and environmental stressors. It’s primarily beneficial for the scalp and preps it for the main shampoo.

4. Keratin

While keratin is most commonly known as a salon-grade smoothing treatment, it’s also a natural protein that forms a protective shield around the hair shaft and helps your tresses stay elastic and youthful. It can be depleted due to over-styling, heat, chemicals, and other damaging processes. Keratin-infused hair products are perfectly safe for at-home use and are formulated to provide added nourishment.

5. Parabens

According to Elle, parabens are a type of preservative, first introduced in the 1950s. They’re used to prolong shelf life in many health and beauty products by preventing the growth of mold and bacteria within them. Additional terms to look out for include butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben.

Parabens are believed to disrupt hormone function by mimicking estrogen. Too much estrogen can trigger an increase in breast cell division and the growth of tumors, which is why paraben use has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues.

6. Phthalates

According to the FDA, phthalates are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of everyday products, including everything from toys and food packaging, to nail polish and shampoo. It’s not clear what effect if any, phthalates have on human health. An expert panel convened from 1998 to 2000 by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), part of the National Institute for Environmental Safety and Health, concluded that reproductive risks from exposure to phthalates were minimal to negligible in most cases. Yet nevertheless, this term has a negative connotation—but recent surveys have shown the use of this chemical has gone down considerably in the last decade.

7. Sustainable

If you live an eco-friendly lifestyle, “sustainable” is definitely one of the most important haircare terms you should know. It means biodegradable or of zero waste. So, a sustainable shampoo, for example, can refer to an all-natural Superzero cleansing bar (that doesn’t come in a bottle) or a shampoo made of clean ingredients with recyclable packaging.

8. Surfactants

Surfactants are among the most versatile products of the chemical industry. According to Wikipedia, surfactants are molecules that spontaneously bond with each other to form sealed bubbles. They’re compounds that lower the surface tension (or interfacial tension) between two liquids, between a gas and a liquid, or between a liquid and a solid. Surfactants may act as detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, or dispersants. The word “surfactant” is a blend of surface-active agent.

9. Clarifying

Clarifying is the act of removing residue and buildup from the hair. Mainly in the form of shampoos, clarifying formulas deeply cleanse the strands and often are step one of a two-part shampoo process.

10. Tonic

Hair tonics are usually in the form of sprays or serums and are applied directly onto the scalp. They can help ease dandruff while also stimulating blood circulation in the hair follicles for healthy growth.

Looking for an all-encompassing glossary of hair terms? HERE’s your guide!

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