Hair and Makeup Glossary: N-Z

Terminology, techniques and products used in the world of hair and makeup. This part of our makeup glossary covers N to Z.


The manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular level. For cosmetics, this means manufacturing and/or processing ingredients to create incredibly small particles (nanoparticles).


This term is often used on a cosmetic product’s label, and means the product does not cause blackheads. Comes from the medical term for a blackhead which is comedo.


A class of chemicals widely used as a preservative in all types of cosmetics. Parabens used in cosmetics are generally synthesised and the common ones used include methylparaben (may be listed as ingredient E218), ethylparaben (E214), propylparaben (E216) and butylparaben.

Permanent hair colour

A hair colouring product that does not wash out and colours the hair permanently. The colour molecules (in conjunction with the hydrogen peroxide) penetrate deep into the hair’s cortex, changing the hair’s colour. Covers 100% grey hair.

Pin curl

Pin curling hair

Pin curl

A traditional technique used to set hair in order to create a wave or soft curl. A small section of damp hair is wound into a spiral and pinned into place. Once dry, it is combed out to produce a soft curl or wave.

Porosity test

Carried out by a hairdresser prior to applying a hair colour to check how porous the hair is i.e. how the hair’s ability to absorb moisture or liquids. Porosity is a measure of the compactness of the cuticles of the hair. When the cuticle is raised or torn (often a sign of hair damage) moisture passes easily in and out of the hair shaft, with the end result being that the hair feels dry and rough, and looks frizzy. Porous hair tends to process chemical reactions quickly and, therefore, can over-process easily (e.g. absorb hair colour). By running fingertips through the hair from points to roots, you can assess the degree of roughness.


Postiche refers to any item of fake hair, from wigs and hair pieces to beards, moustaches, side boards and eye brows. Can be made from real hair (e.g. human, yak, wool) or synthetics (e.g. acrylic).

Powder (face)

A finishing makeup product used to set makeup products (e.g. foundation, concealer,  camouflage), matte down excess shine on skin or tone down special effects makeup like tattoos. Can be either a loose powder or pressed powder formulation. Use a powder puff to press the powder into foundation and dust off the excess with a powder brush.


A makeup product (can be a cream, gel or liquid) that is used after cleaning the face and before applying a makeup foundation. It preps the skin by smoothing out pores and fine lines, as well as mattifying the skin and helping a makeup application to last longer.


The brand name of a water-based adhesive used to stick medical and special effects makeup prosthetics to skin. Forms a waterproof bond to the skin.


A hairstyle element consisting of a long continuous tube of curled hair. Can be created by wrapping a section of hair around a hot tong, or can occur naturally if someone has long curly hair. Popular during various periods in history including the Victorian era.


A transparent makeup product (normally a spray or liquid) that goes over makeup (including everyday makeup, temporary tattoos, camouflage) to help it last longer and resist sweat, water, heat, humidity and rubbing.


Is the odourless oily substance secreted from the sebaceous glands in our skin, which lubricates and waterproofs our skin and hair.

Semi-permanent hair colour

A hair dye product that is not permanent and lasts 6-8 shampoos.

Skin test

A test used to establish how skin reacts to ingredients or chemical products. A tiny amount of the product is put onto clean skin (like the wrist or behind the ear) and left for 24 hours. Should always be used before hair tinting, and before using things like latex.


Stands for “special effects”, which in the world of makeup refers to the use of various techniques, specialist products and application of prosthetic pieces to an actor’s skin in order to create injuries, face/body transformations (e.g. ageing), characters, creatures and aliens. Special makeup effects can also be referred to as “FX makeup”.


A technique used as part of contouring to define, change the shape of features or reduce attention to an area of the face using a darker colour e.g. darker colour under the cheeks to define and create contour; the crease of the eye lid to create depth. Works in conjunction with highlighting.


This term describes the level of shine that a product has. Sheen ranges from a soft, natural sheen (which can also be called dewy) to a high-sheen or gloss finish. A product with no sheen at all is called matte.


A term used to describe how fine or translucent a product is, in particular foundation. A sheer foundation would be one that has less pigmentation in its formulation (e.g. a tinted moisturiser) and provides a little coverage while allowing the skin to show through, creating a natural-looking base.


A a short women’s haircut from the 1920s where the hair at the nape was shaved, or very closely cut, under a bobbed hairstyle.


Stands for sun protection factor and is a laboratory-measured level of protection against sun damage (UVB radiation). Found in sunscreens and some makeup products, the higher the SPF, the greater the protection offered against UVB, the main cause of sunburn.

Spirit gum

Also, called mastix. A liquid adhesive used to stick hair lace to skin e.g. wigs and facial hair.

A hair switch



A thick strand of real or synthetic hair that is used to add bulk, detail or colour to a hairstyle. The end of the switch can have a small elastic loop, making it easier to attach the switch to the wearer’s head.

Temporary hair colour

A hair colouring product that only lasts until the hair is washed. The colour molecules are too big to penetrate the hair and simply coat the outside of the hair shaft, hence it is shampooed off easily.

UV radiation

Ultraviolet (UV) light is found in sunlight, and consists of UVA, UVB and UVC radiation. UV radiation is invisible to the human eye, though most people are aware of the effects of UV on the skin in the form of suntan and sunburn. Cosmetic products can have a SPF element, which helps protect the skin against UVB.

A length of weft

A length of weft


A long fringe of hair that can be added to someone’s own hair to create length, add fullness or coloured sections. The weft is made by weaving loose hair into a thin thread to create a solid seam that can be attached to the wearer’s own hair with pins, clips, glue or stitched in.



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