There’s something incredibly intimidating about curling hair. If you compare straightening hair and curling hair, it’s like the difference between drawing a hexagon that’s nice and drawing a circle that isn’t garbage.
Sure, the hexagon might take a little practice, but the circle is just plain challenging. You can practice, but it might still turn out a little differently every time. That’s curls for you — but fear not! Curling hair is, in fact, simpler than drawing a perfect circle.
We’ve packed in everything you need to know about how to curl your hair just the way you like it every time.
How to Curl Hair Step 1: Before You Curl
Half the battle is readiness. You need items, and you need knowledge, and you need a plan. So, let’s break it down.
What You Should Have on Hand
- Heat Protectant: These sprays, serums, and conditioners save your strands from lasting heat damage — some of them offer extra hold, too, which will help your curls set!
- Hair Spray: If you opt for a traditional protectant without hold, consider a light dusting of flexible hold hair spray — try applying it oh-so-slightly before curling to better hold your fresh curls and prevent them from going limp
- Brush and Comb: Helps you get out all the snags and part your hair.
- Clips or Pins: Hold back sections of hair while curling — follow a middle part to make a left and right sections, then split each of those to create front and back sections — and pin up hot curls as you let them set and cool.
- Your Curling Instrument: Curling wand, curling iron, or even a straightening flat iron — we’ll take a look at each of these below.
What You Should Know Before Curling
1) Only curl clean, dry hair. Your hair doesn’t have to be freshly washed per se, but you don’t want any product buildup. And if you have just shampooed and conditioned, wait out any dampness or start with a blow-dry.
2) You don’t want to use temperatures higher than 400° F, even for thick, coarse, healthy hair — and if your hair is fine, damaged, or colored, you want to keep temperatures below 300° F or 350° F. Within those guidelines, try to use the lowest effective heat setting.
3) How to curl long hair properly is a little different than shorter hair. You should use a tool that’s longer, with a wider diameter, for the best results. Likewise, use a smaller device for shorter hair — but admittedly, a small tool will still work with longer locks.
4) The ends of your hair are delicate. Either leave the ends uncurled for a more natural look or make sure you hold the very ends of your hair between your fingers and don’t heat them.
5) You can use curling wands/rods and clamping curling irons in a number of ways to create different looks. But with wands, it’s easier to get casual, beachy spirals, while a clamping iron makes tight, elegant ringlets easier. Even if you only have a flat iron, you can learn techniques for how to curl your hair with a straightener, too!
Lastly, You Should Consider:
- What kind of curls or waves would you like? We offer a few simple styles below, but consult other style guides, too — then find a step-by-step tutorial that speaks your language. If at the end you want to change the look a bit, you can fluff with your hands or rake your fingers through.
- How much should you section your hair? Consider both the style and the styling tool. You may need to use just large sections or split them into medium or small ones.
- Practice! One of the best ways to perfect how to use a curling iron or wand is to go through the motions — without the heat works just as well. You won’t be able to see the results and make adjustments, but you also won’t have to figure out proper hand positioning and hair portions as you go while holding 400° of heat in one hand.
How to Curl Hair Step 2: Getting Your Curl On
There are really only two steps when it comes to curling your hair. You need to prep, and then you need to dive in.
As we mentioned, there are quite a few styles to try out. But before all of that, you should know the basics of how to use a curling wand and iron, plus it doesn’t hurt to know how to curl your hair without a curling iron if necessary.
How to Curl Hair With a Wand
Curling wands have one piece — a heated rod — and they’re relatively easy to use.
- The handle of the barrel goes near the top of your head. Point the rest of the barrel downward.
- It’ll be easy to hold the wand like this if you use your opposite hand. Hold it with your right hand to curl the left side of your head, and use your left hand to curl the right side.
- Take a section of hair and wrap it around the barrel, working your way down. The ends of your hair should approach the tip.
- For a little more volume — or to create spirals that are heavier on the bottom — you can hold the barrel out horizontally, perpendicular to your head. Pull the section of hair out toward it and then wrap
How to Curl Your Hair With a Curling Iron
It’s a little trickier learning how to use curling irons but by no means difficult.
- You hold it the same way as a wand — with the opposite hand, either pointing down or held out horizontally.
- You want to clamp down near the root and make sure your hair lays flat as you wrap it around the rest of the barrel. Alternatively, you can twist together a section of hair and then clamp and wrap the twist for a tighter curl.
- Once you get to the end of your hair and let the heat seep through for a few seconds, you release the clamp and slide the iron out from the curl.
- A curling iron allows for a bit more versatility. The clamping action holds hair in place, so you can change the angle of the barrel midway to create different curl patterns.
- You can even curl the top half of a section in one direction (overhand, for example), then clamp in the middle and curl in the opposite direction (in this case, underhand). This will give you a very loose, natural-looking wave.
How to Curl Your Hair With a Flat Iron
You can use a flat iron to create distinct waves or curls.
- As with the other tools, you’ll hold with the opposite hand, but there’s no barrel to point, of course.
- For waves, you’re going to clamp down near the root, twist your wrist downward, and hold at that angle for a few seconds. Release, then clamp underneath the first crimp and twist your wrist upwards. Continue down the section in an alternating pattern — at the end, you’ll have a well-defined flowing wave.
- To truly curl with the flat iron, you do something that’s a little like curling ribbon with scissors. Hold a section of hair out from your head and clamp onto it at a downward angle, pretty much diagonally — but don’t let go yet! Rotate the iron inward (towards your skull) and use your hand to bring the rest of the hair over the top of the iron.
- Then slowly but firmly pull the clamped iron down, pulling the hair away from your head at an angle. Release right as you reach the ends. The section should spring into an attractive curly ribbon shape.
Now you’ve got the know-how, but you still need to build the muscle memory. Practice, practice, practice makes a perfect curl — or as perfect as unpredictable, flouncy bouncy curls can be.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, don’t be afraid to experiment. As long as you’re using a thermal protection product and keeping the heat settings moderate, the worst that could happen is you wasted a little time. Just brush those curls out and try again next time!