Splitting Hairs is our monthlong exploration of hair based on a survey of women across America. It’s like you brought a photo to the salon — we’re giving you exactly what you want.

By Victoria Moorhouse
Aug 13, 2018 @ 3:15 pm
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If deciphering hieroglyphics feels easier than understanding the directions on the back of a hairstyling cream, you're not alone. Beauty lingo is notoriously confusing (ever tried to spell the word "zhush"?), but understanding it is crucial if you want to get the result the product is promising. 

According to InStyle's nationwide hair survey, 65 percent of the women want to know more about how to use their products to get the hair of their dreams — and that starts with understanding what the product actually is and does. That considered, we created an glossary of eight of the most common, yet super confusing hair terms and provided a clear, hair professional-approved definition for each. Keep scrolling to learn what they are, and never style in confusion again.

Clay

According to Spencer Winn, a colorist at Bumble and Bumble Salon in New York City, products that are classified as "clays" tend to create a matte texture within the hair with a flexible hold — AKA, your hairstyle will stick around, but you'll be able to switch it up later without a wash. Men's hairstyling products are typically described as clays

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Balm

A hair balm is pretty similar to the stuff you apply to your lips for more moisture. "A balm is any type of styling product that is put in the hair for finishing, hold, and hydration," Justine Marjan, a celebrity hairstylist, says. "Balms are usually more moisturizing and are used to provide definition to curly or wavy hair types. Some even add texture like the new TRESemmé Thick & Full Balm that contains glycerol to penetrate and expand the hair fiber."

Damp

It obviously falls somewhere in-between dripping wet and dry, but what exactly is considered "damp" hair? It's important to know because most hairstyling products are designed to be applied to damp hair before heat is applied. Winn defines it as "evenly saturated, towel-dried" hair. Your rule of thumb? It shouldn't have any water droplets dripping off of it. 

Diffuse

This term is referring to the attachment that is placed on the head of your blow-dryer, and it usually shows up on the back of curly hair styling product bottles. "It’s [the diffuser] usually a large round device that has large prongs that reach out that can cradle your hair," Marjan says. "This is a technique used mainly on girls with curly or wavy hair." 

To diffuse, she recommends puting your blow-dryer on the high heat setting and the low pressure setting. Then, tip your head to whatever said you're blow-drying. If you're blow-drying the right side of your hair, tip your head to the right. "Let the hair fall into the diffuser before turning it on, then push the diffuser up so it touches your hair and let it dry. The key is to be patient as it dries and to avoid touching the hair with your hands until it is 100 percent dry to avoid frizz."

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Pomade

In hair care, a pomade is commonly a hairstyling product found in a tiny tub. According to Marjan, it often looks like putty, has a matte texture, and is used in the hair for a medium hold. Think of it as a shaping cream to hold a specific style or define waves. Your shopping example? OUAI's Matte Pomade.

Scrunch

Like diffuse, this is an action word. "To scrunch the hair is to tilt the head so the hair falls with gravity, then use your hands with an open palm to push up the hair and squeeze it in your hands," explains Marjan. "This is usually done to revive curls or to work a mousse into the hair. It can also be done on all hair types to add a messy, lived-in finish to the hair."

Tousle

If you like beachy waves, you'll definitely need to tackle "tousling." Marjan says this is really just a fancy way of "shaking" the hair. "Put your hands underneath the mid lengths and ends and shake it up at the roots," she notes. "Release your hands then pinch hair at the mid lengths, lift and shake it gently as you release." The movement is meant to give the hair a natural movement and a little boost of volume. 

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Work-Through

This phrase is referring to evenly distributing product throughout your hair. You can work-through a product by applying it first to your hands, and then scrunching it through the hair. “Generally, it is best to work product through the hair, roots to ends, in sections (unless told otherwise)," Winn says. "This prevents tangles and ensures an even application. You can think about it similarly to skin care, making sure to work the product into the hair shaft as you would a lotion into your skin."

Now that you're not stumped by the vocab, you'll be better equipped to following the directions listed on the back of the bottle and, hopefully, having your best hair day yet.