Experts also share how to keep your hair healthy under higher temperatures.

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Hair types and textures may vary, but quality care is critical. And if you curl your hair—regardless of whether you have straight, wavy, curly, or coily textures—protection is always important. Ahead, our industry experts share some of the most common hot and heatless curling techniques, and they share how to keep your hair healthy along the way.

woman curling hair with curling iron
Credit: Getty / RichLegg

The Basics

When it comes to curling your hair, not all creams, serums, or sprays are helpful in the styling process. According to Takisha Sturdivant-Drew, celebrity hairstylist and Carol's Daughter partner, the products you use to hold the curl make all the difference for a defined look. "Products are the key to creating any hairstyle," she says. The right formulas—Carol's Daughter Monoi Repair + Protect Multi-Styling Milk ($22, ultabeauty.com) is one of her favorites—can "protect, revive, and strengthen your hair and, most of all, can be used on any hair type and texture."

Before using any curling technique, it's important to safeguard your hair—namely by using a heat protectant. But make sure you follow the right steps before you begin curling. "Please do try to apply this while the hair is wet [and] before you blow dry," says Allyn Antoine, master stylist at the Stylebox Salon, adding that it's important to choose a product with a flexible hold (a formula with a stronger hold can adhere to the iron and burn the hair).

Hot Techniques

Common heat-based curling techniques—either with a wand, flat iron, or curling iron—are most recommended for straight hair, our experts note. "Most straight hair requires using a curling iron or a round-edge flat iron to achieve a curly look," Antoine says. Sturdivant-Drew adds, "The [benefit] of a curling iron and wand are that [they create] an instant look that you don't have to wait for overnight. You can get the hairstyle you want within 30 minutes—wavy or curly." Just make sure not to go overboard with heat, which can create long-term damage or cause excessive dryness. While Sturdivant-Drew recommends not going over 400 to 450 degrees, she says that the tool could impact the total temperature. "Some tools can be on 400 to 450 and it's really not that hot or won't smooth the hair out at all. Now if the quality is good, you will only need it on maybe 350 degrees for fine hair," she shares. "Again, it depends on your hair type and texture."

As for the warning signs of too much heat? If you see smoke or strands in your hand after curling, the tool you are using is too hot and is actually burning your hair. Turning the temperature all the way down, however, isn't necessarily the answer. "Using low heat is a myth. When you use low heat, you may have to go over that section of hair a few times and, mathematically, that is harming to the hair," Antoine says. "Let's say you set the iron at 350 degrees; you go over the hair twice, now you just used 700 degrees of heat as opposed to using 450 degrees once to get the desired look." 

To create curls using a hot tool, Sturdivant-Drew begins with clean, damp hair and then sprays a heat protectant before drying to keep strands from becoming brittle. She then sections hair down the middle of the head in two parts and secures them in place with pins. Next, she takes a small section of hair and wraps it away from the face, around, and down a wand or curling iron—always leaving ends free or wrapping around lightly. Then, she holds for about 10 seconds before releasing. Her finishing touch? She uses large hair pins to set and hold curls in place to maintain the style.

Heatless Techniques

There are two main heatless curling techniques that are known to work best for wavy, curly, and coily textures: flexi rods and braiding, which double as protective styles, too. The best course of action is to use flexi rods or curlers after a wash. "Flexi rods [are] best after a great shampoo and conditioning, [then] you blow the hair out using either a paddle brush or a comb attachment," Antoine says. "After that, you would use either a mouse- or a gel-based product—taking sections based on your desired end result." To complete the look, all you need to do is sit under a dryer until the hair is completely dry, untwist the rods, and style to your liking.

Braids are just as simple, as they create a curly result and can deeply nourish hair if you use this technique at night. Sturdivant-Drew turns to this method regularly: "On my clean, damp hair, I massage in the Carol's Daughter Monoi Intense Repair Inner Strength System ($28, ultabeauty.com) throughout my hair evenly," she says. "I leave it in and start to braid certain sections. I let the braids sit, settle, and dry overnight. When I take my hair out the next day, my hair feels so strong, healthy, and very much moisturized inside and out." These heatless methods also work wonders for those with chemically treated hair, since it can also add volume and movement back in. "Chemically treated or relaxed hair is very limp, dry, and sometimes fine, so you want to protect it at all times when it comes to styling. Products will be your number one key to a healthy road. I love the Carol's Daughter Monoi Repair + Moisture Star Strength Leave In Cream ($22, amazon.com)," Sturdivant-Drew adds.

Everyday Care

Regardless of your hair's texture or type, maintaining a healthy routine is necessary to avoid breakage. Antoine suggests getting frequent trims, conditioning regularly, and seeing a dermatologist twice each year to have your scalp checked.

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