How to Curl Your Hair at Any LengthOctober 05, 2023
When it comes to styling your hair, curling irons are an incredibly versatile tool — you can use them to create beachy, undone waves for a low-key day look, voluminous barrel curls for a bombshell effect, glam finger waves for a formal evening affair and countless other styles. But as useful as the curling iron may be, it’s not particularly easy to use, especially if you’re not frequently brushing up on your skills. To help you figure out how to curl your hair, make the curls last and be happy with the finished product, we turned to Sarah Potempa, celebrity hairstylist and founder of The Beachwaver Co. Keep reading for her tips on how to curl short, long and medium-length hair.
How to Curl Short Hair
“When curling short hair, I recommend a smaller barrel like the Beachwaver S.75,” says Potempa. “This barrel size would make tighter-looking curls on long hair, but on short hair, it gives a nice, relaxed-looking wave pattern.” For a loose, beachy look, Potempa recommends leaving about an inch of the ends of your hair out of the curl. “This will also help reduce some of the shrinkage we see when curling any length [of] hair, especially if you aren't wanting to lose too much length,” she adds. Work in small sections, and let the curls cool before tousling them with your fingers. To add to the undone effect, work a texturizing pomade through your curls. We recommend the Barb Soft Clay Pomade, which has a creamy, pliable texture, a fresh scent and medium hold.
Below, find a tutorial of creator @kassiabarbo curling her cropped pixie cut with a half-inch wand.
How to Curl Medium-Length Hair
If your hair is about shoulder-length, Potempa recommends reaching for a curling iron with a one-inch barrel, such as the Beachwaver B1, for a loose, undone type of look. “If you have layers, a technique I love to use is to place the hair in the clamp about halfway up the strand,” she explains. “Curl up to the roots, hold for a second or two, open the clamp slightly and glide the ends in. This will ensure that all of the hair is curling together, including layers, for beautiful, uniform curls.” If you’re after a relaxed, beachy wave, she suggests leaving out the last inch of the ends of your hair, or even straightening them with a flat-iron after you curl the lengths.
Need a visual demonstration? The tutorial below will help you achieve soft, flowing waves on long-bob-length hair.
How to Curl Long Hair
Curling long hair (and getting the curls to stay in place all day) is notoriously difficult, but Potempa has some tips that will help. Her first trick? Start by trying a curling iron with a smaller barrel size. “Even though you may be going for the look of a two-inch barrel wave, the Beachwaver B1 or Beachwaver S1.25 could be a better option to help secure your hair into a wave pattern before it starts to relax throughout the day,” she says.
You also want to make sure to “set” your roots, she says. “Place the hair in the clamp about midway up the strand, curl up to the roots, hold for a few seconds, open the clamp and glide more hair in, little by little, until you reach the ends. This will help lock the curl pattern into the root, which generally tends to flatten first.”
Before you touch or brush through your curls, it’s essential to let them cool down completely, otherwise you risk loosening the curls too much before you’ve even stepped out the door. To avoid weighing down your curls, you’ll also want to opt for lightweight styling products (we have plenty of suggestions below).
Finally, consider increasing the temperature of your curling iron. “For thicker hair, a higher heat setting may help to curl every strand evenly,” says Potempa. Just be sure to coat your hair in a good heat protectant prior to curling in order to prevent damage.
How to Make Curls Last on Any Length of Hair
Prep Your Hair the Right Way
“Good hair prep before styling is the best way to make your style look the best and last throughout the day,” says Potempa. She likes to start by applying a volumizing mousse to damp, freshly washed hair to give the style extra volume and hold. She then recommends applying a heat protectant to damp or dry hair — not only will this step guard against heat damage, it will also add softness and shine. For maximum damage control, separate your hair into small sections and coat each section evenly with the heat protectant. “Make sure to take clean, even sections when curling to ensure consistency,” Potempa adds.
Let Your Curls Cool
“Allowing your curls to completely cool is extremely important when creating waves that will last all day,” says Potempa. “You can either roll them up and secure them with hair pins or leave them as they are off the barrel until they are completely cool to the touch. If you comb through curls that are still warm, you risk flattening the wave.”
In general, your curls should take about 10 to 20 seconds to cool, but again, you can always test their temperature by lightly touching them. “Once the curls are completely cool, you can break them up with your fingers, a comb or brush depending on the look you are going for,” notes Potempa. “This is also the time to apply finishing products as well as hairspray to lock the style in!” Find our favorite products for curled hair, below.
The Best Hair Curling Products
This drugstore spray offers 10 salon-worthy benefits, including 72-hour frizz control and 450-degree heat protection. It also smooths, nourishes and adds shine to your hair without weighing it down or leaving an oily residue behind. At $9.99, it’s a no-brainer styling product to prep your hair with before you curl.
For some extra volume and grip, try applying this volumizing spray while your hair is still damp, then blow-drying or air-drying before you curl. The spray works for all hair types, but is especially great for amping up volume on fine hair. It contains volumizing polymers and ceramides that make hair appear thicker, as well as a fruity-gourmand scent with notes of nectarine, vanilla and freesia.
The best way to lock in your freshly curled hair is with a heavy dose of hairspray. We love this pick because it provides flexible hold, meaning you can still easily brush through and manipulate your curls if you want to change your style throughout the day. It’s non-sticky, non-drying and humidity-resistant, allowing you to maintain your curls and fight frizz for up to eight hours.
“After washing, I love to use a flexible mousse,” says Potempa. “This will help add grip and hold to the hair while also lifting the root for more volume.” To use, shake up the can and rake a generous pump or two through your hair before air-drying or blow-drying. Once you go in with a curling iron, you’ll be shocked by how voluminous your strands look.
For a glossy finishing touch, try running a lightweight oil through just the ends of your curls. We like this one for its vegan formula, soft vanilla scent and the addition of ultra-nourishing argan oil.