Experts explain the best ways to get that perfectly tousled look.

By Emily Goldman
April 08, 2020
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woman getting her hair curled
Credit: Getty / Nancy Honey

Bouncy, shiny curls are a gorgeous way to add a little glamour to your everyday look, but how do you create your own voluminous hairstyle without enlisting professional help? With a number of methods to choose from, perfectly curling your own hair is easier than you might think. "There are a few steps you must take [before curling your hair] for the best results," says Bridget Brager, celebrity hairstylist for Herbal Essences. The key to the best curl lies in a clean head of hair. "First, always begin your style on hair that has been washed and dried completely…and find a shampoo and conditioner that leaves your hair feeling nourished and hydrated."

Brager also recommends using a product that acts as a barrier between your hair and the heat before you begin. "An oil, serum, or heat protector helps your hair stay protected and adds shine," she says. One of her favorites is Herbal Essences Hemp Seed Oil and Aloe Hair Oil Mist ($5.99, target.com). Ahead, find stylist-approved advice on curling your hair with a curling iron, a round brush and hair dryer, or without any heat all.

How to Curl Your Hair Using a Curling Iron

"To curl the hair, the first step is to determine the desired style," says Alicia Bailey, hairstylist and director of education at Design Essentials. After you decide on the type of curl you're looking for—beach waves, tight curls, slightly wavy—Bailey says to clip the hair away from your face in manageable sections for easy control. "Be sure to capture the ends around the barrel to avoid 'fish hooks' or straight ends at the end of the curls."

Trying to figure out what size curling iron to use? Bailey says this depends on the type of hair and hair length you're working with. For medium length to long hair, a 1-inch to 1 ½-inch barrel or bigger is a great choice to create loose spiral curls or waves. For tighter curls, use a smaller barrel, like a ¾-inch. "It's best to use irons that have a temperature dial on them to ensure the proper temperature is being used for [your] hair type," she says. If your hair is fine, medium, or color-treated, it's best to use lower heat settings to avoid any damage. As for the type of curling iron to look for, she recommends tourmaline ceramic irons, as they're great to use for all hair types due to the combination of the metals, which helps prevents damage to the hair and aid in moisture retention.

"A lot of times people curl from [the] bottom up, starting at the ends and rolling the iron up—this puts the most compromised hair in the heat for the longest amount of time," says Jon Reyman, celebrity hairstylist and Dyson global styling ambassador. "I like to do a twisted barrel curl or a flat barrel curl, curling from the root down. Then, I either twist hair a little bit so it creates a less 'classic' curl [or] if I do want a classic curl, I wrap the hair around the barrel of the iron."

How to Curl Your Hair Using a Round Brush

Start with air-dried or damp hair, a thermal protectant, and a blow dryer with a concentrator nozzle. The size of the barrel of the brush you use will determine the types of curls you'll get. Next, section off the hair to the width of the round brush. "You never want the section to be larger than the brush because you will lose control of the hair," says Bailey. Next, part the sections and place the brush underneath the section starting at the root, and bring the brush up along the hair shaft moving from roots to ends. "Naturally, the hair will start to curl," says Brager. "Once each section is 90 percent dry, begin to wrap the section (like you would around a curling iron) and rock the brush in and out [until dry]." To ensure your curls maintain while blow-drying the hair, simply pin each curl with a clip to keep the hair in place until it cools.

Heat-Free Techniques for Curling Hair

If you're wary of using heat on your locks but still want curly hair, you're not alone. One of Brager's favorite methods doesn't use any heat at all. On mostly damp hair (a little air-dried), use a dollop of mousse and rake it through roots to ends. "You can also use a texturizing spray or salt spray, which works especially well on fine hair," she says. "Next, take vertical sections of hair from the part, use two fingers to hold vertically against the scalp and begin to wrap the section of hair back around fingers, root to end, alternating wrapping strands forwards and backward. Wiggle your finger loose and use a clip to secure to the base of the head. Continue all the way around and then spray with a light hold hairspray, letting hair sit until it's dry."

Your Products Matter, Too

"Using too many products can weigh your hair down," says Brager. Instead, she suggests sticking with your heat protector or [primer] like a mousse or salt spray. But if you love product, there are options that can aid in the finishing process. "Lightweight, oil-free products are best suited for fine to normal hair. Medium to coarse [hair types] and textures tend to lack moisture in most cases. Therefore, moisturizers and cream-based products work well on these hair types," says Bailey.

For fine hair, she suggests using a light mousse or gel to avoid limp hair that lacks volume and movement. For medium to coarse texture, the Almond & Avocado Curling Crème ($12.99, ulta.com), [is a] great option because the hair will receive the moisture it needs and have beautiful, defined curls. Similarly, Reyman recommends using light to medium hold product, and no oils for fine or limp hair. "If your hair is fine, limp, and soft, whenever you try to put that curl in the oils will make it fall right out. If your hair is coarse to medium, use a combination of creams and emollients to soften the hair and then some hold products to help set and support it."

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