Hairdressing vocabulary can be confusing for non-native speakers. From different cuts and styles to the equipment used and finishing products, getting the right haircut can be a confusing business.
We have collected some of the most common hairdressing vocabulary and phrases to help you when you visit the hairdressing salon or barbershop in an English-speaking country.
Also, check out our guide to beauty salon vocabulary for useful words and phrases related to beauty treatments, tanning, nails and make up.
Vocabulary for hairdressing
Hairdresser, stylist, barber (the professionals that cut your hair)
Hairdressing salon, the barber’s / barbershop (the barber’s is traditionally for men)
Haircut, cut, trim, blowdry, wash, towel dry, dry trim, wet trim, highlights, lowlights, relaxed, straightened, razor cut
Shampoo (to clean your hair)
Conditioner (applied after shampoo, conditioner softens hair and makes it more manageable)
Deep heat/conditioning treatment
Hair dye (to change the colour of your hair)
Hairdryer, scissors, clippers, trimmers, razor, straighteners, curling tongs, curling irons
Gel, mousse, wax, cream, hair lacquer, hair spray, hair clips, hair slides
Men’s hairdressing vocabulary
A salon for specifically men is called a barber’s. For very short hair cut using an electric razor, a grading system is used to determine the length of the hair:
Grade 1 (3mm)
Grade 2 (6mm)
Grade 3 (9mm)
Grade 4 (12mm)
Buzz cut – hair that is cut short all over using electric clippers, usually very short like in the army, usually a ‘grade 1’
Undercut – the top hair section is left much longer than the hair underneath, creating an overhang effect
Tapered – hair that fades gradually from one length to another, longer on top and tapered down the sides and back
Crew cut – similar to a short back and sides, where the top is cut with scissors to give it more texture and length, while the sides and back are tapered with an electric razor
Short back and sides – a traditional man’s haircut, a ‘sensible’ haircut with short back and sides and slightly longer on top
Taper – hair is tapered from longer to shorter as it reaches your neck line
Fade – similar to a taper but a fade goes down to the skin
Hairdressing vocabulary and meanings:
Wash, cut and blowdry – this is when hair is washed, cut, dried and styled at the salon
Trim – a small amount of hair cut off the ends of the hair to neaten your existing style
Blowdry – hair is dried with a hairdryer
Towel dry – hair is dried with a towel
Dry trim – hair is cut while dry, without washing first (some salons do not offer a dry trim)
Layers – hair cut in different lengths, shorter on the top layers and longer underneath
Razor cut – hair cut with an angled razor to achieve a smooth, soft finish instead of a sharp finish
Thinning (thick hair is thinned down with scissors to make it more manageable)
Highlights – hair is lightened in thin streaks all over the head (highlights can be done for the ‘whole head’ or ‘half head’, which lightens just the top layers of hair)
Foils – foils are used for highlights in order to separate the highlighted parts from the rest of the hair
Highlighting cap – highlights can also be applied using a cap (where the hair is pulled through holes in the cap) but this is less common than foils in modern salons
Balayage – a highlighting technique where dye is painted on directly, without using foils or a cap, to create a graduating colour effect
Perm – a chemical treatment that makes hair curly permanently
Parting – the place on top of your head where the hair parts to the left and right
Relaxed hair – a treatment for very tightly curled hair that ‘relaxes’ the hair and straightens it.
Long, short, medium length
Straight, curly, wavy, ringlets (ringlets are tight spirals of hair)
Fringe (American: bangs) – hair at the front that comes down over the forehead
Bob (cut around shoulder length or shorter all the way around)
Coloured, dyed, bleached
Layered (the top layers of hair shorter than the bottom layers)
Choppy – cut in chunks so you can see the layers, not smoothly
Side parting / centre parting – parting at the side of the head / parting at the centre of the head
Pixie cut – very short, usually describes a woman’s short hairstyle
Bun – a hair style that is a pulled into round knot behind your head
Cornrows – multiple plaits (American: braids) tied close to the head
To wear (put / tie) your hair up
An ‘up do’ (any hair style that is pulled up and back off your face – common for formal events, such as weddings)
To wear (let) your hair down (any style that is worn loose and not ‘up’ – ‘to let your hair down‘ is also an idiom that means to relax and have fun)
Plait (American: braid), French plait, ponytail (also simply called a ‘pony’), bunches (two ponytails, one on each side of the head), pigtails (two plaits, one on each side of the head)
Phrases you may want to use at the hairdresser’s
Can I get a haircut, please?
I’d like a haircut, please
How much do you charge for a wash, cut and blowdry?
Do you offer a dry trim?
Do I need to make an appointment?
Can you see me now?
I would like a new style / fringe / dry trim / perm /
I’d like it coloured
I’d like some highlights
I’d like it straightened
Just a trim, please
Just an inch off the ends, please
Some hair spray, please
Just a bit of gel
A little wax
How much is that?
Will that cost extra?
Phrase for the barber’s
Could you trim my beard / moustache, please?
I’d like it short at the sides, please
A grade 2, please
Tapered at the back, please
Not too short / quite short / very short / completely shaven
Phrases you may hear at the hairdresser’s
Would you like to make an appointment?
We can see you next Wednesday at 2pm
When did you last have your hair cut?
What do you want doing today?
What are you looking for today?
How do you want it cut?
Do you want a wash/shampoo?
Do you want any layers / layering?
Do you want a particular style?
How much do you want off (the ends)?
How much do you want taken off?
How short would you like it?
Where do you part your hair?
Do you have a centre/side parting?
Would you like it blow-dried?
Do you want it styled straight or wavy?
You have some split ends (split ends are hairs that are damaged at the ends)
Would you like anything on it? (asking if you want gel, mousse, hair spray or another finishing product)
General vocabulary and phrases to talk about hair
to be growing your hair – waiting for hair to grow longer
e.g. ‘I’m trying to grow my hair at the moment, so I don’t want to get it cut’
to be losing your hair – going bald (hairless)
e.g. ‘I think I’m losing my hair’ / ‘I don’t want to lose my hair!’ / ‘I don’t care if I lose my hair’
Locks – hair
E.g. S/he has long, lustrous locks – S/he has long, shiny hair
Bed head – messy hair (referring to hair after someone has just woken up and climbed out of bed), sometimes a deliberate, fashionable look
Common positive words to describe hair: shiny, thick, good condition, strong, lustrous, soft, manageable, smooth
Common negative words to describe hair: dry, poor condition, split ends, rough, weak, fragile, unmanageable, tangled, matted
Going to the hairdresser is a common activity and this hairdressing vocabulary will hopefully come in useful when you need to tidy up your hair in an English-speaking country.
There are many other activities where you will need specialist vocabulary, so we are working on producing more ‘essentials‘ guides to help you navigate you way around daily life in English!
You can also read more about using English vocabulary when eating in restaurants, travelling on public transport, visiting the doctor’s, going shopping and other regular activities in our essential English section.
What do you think about hairdressing vocabulary?
Do you feel confident communicating in English at the hairdresser’s or barber’s?
What other hairdressing vocabulary can you think of that would be useful to other readers?
Are you unsure about any hairdressing words or phrases?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!