How to Curl Hair with a Straightener

Sure, we all know that curlers and wands can create gorgeous curls. But the reality is that not all of us want a bathroom cabinet stuffed with hot tools. This is where knowing how to turn your classic straightener into a versatile hair tool becomes a skill to master. While not everyone is familiar with this technique, we’re here to teach you how to curl your hair with a flat iron, so you can cut down on bathroom clutter and get out the door faster.

What to Know Before Graduating to Curling with a Flat Iron

Curling your hair with a straightener or flat iron is easy. Once you master this skill, there’s no turning back. But to do it well, you must learn to properly use a flat iron. Some essential basics apply to all heat tools – but especially straighteners – which can give you the ability to make this tool a versatile must-have in your beauty arsenal.

Don’t Forget the Rules

In theory, there are no rules for beauty, and any hairstyle you wish to achieve is possible. However, when using a flat iron, you must follow some basic rules to avoid bad hair.

Work on clean hair
Comb your hair before you start using the straightener
Use a heat protectant
Work in small areas: trying to straighten or curl large hair pieces won’t work.
Choose the right temperature: too cool and the curls won’t hold; too hot and you’ll damage your hair.
Don’t grip too tightly: you want to make sure the flat sheet glides through your hair – not pull it.
Finish with a conditioner or clear oil to add moisture
Choose the correct width of plates
Straighteners are versatile if you choose the correct width of plates. For medium-length hair, a one-inch wide flat iron is ideal. This is the correct width to give you the control you need to create flips, ringlets, and waves. Using a wider flat iron will make it very difficult to curl your hair. However, if you have shorter hair (think dramatic angled bob or pixie cut), a half-inch wide plate will work better for you.

Don’t Pause on a Section

Traditional curling irons are more forgiving if you leave a section of hair on for too long. That’s not the case with straighteners. You get noticeable curls when you spend too much time in one spot. In the best-case scenario, you’ll need another treatment on that part of your hair. But if you do too much, you risk heat damage. The key to nailing effortless curls when using a flat iron is to keep moving – especially if you’re turning the barrel to create the shape.

How to Make Any Curly Style with a Straightener

While relaxed waves have certainly had an extended moment in the last 20 years, the reality is that you can achieve almost any curly style with a straightener. However, unlike curlers, it’s the technique rather than the width of the barrel that determines your results.

For spiral curls
The classic spiral curl can be achieved without needing a curling iron. But for the easiest way to achieve this look, you may want a flat iron circular design with the plates in the middle. This looks closest to a traditional curling iron but offers the versatility of straightening or curling, depending on your goals. Also, the curved design helps to enhance the desired curl.

Use a heat-protectant spray.
For any heat styling technique, apply a heat protectant to your hair and comb it through with a brush or comb. Apply it all over your hair, or apply the protectant when creating a more extensive section. Avoid using too much product, as this can make the hair a little damp and create a “sizzling” sound when you start combing your hair with the straightener.

Turning, spinning, and curling
First, press the top plate of the straightener with your thumb. Starting about an inch from the hair shaft, insert your straightener – holding it vertically. Immediately rotate the iron 180 degrees. However, make sure you are using a smooth motion. After you have turned the iron, move it down the length of your hair. Once done with this part, you can use your fingers to rotate the hair to enhance the curl gently.

Repeat to do
Continue working through your hair, using smaller sections. Try to keep your units consistent so the curls will be the same size. Again, try not to drag your straightener through your hair to avoid loops.

The key to spiral curls
The key to spiral curls is to work vertically. This means that when you create one-inch sections of hair, they should be separated vertically, not horizontally. Also, when you start using a straightener while tensing your hair, you want to insert the flat iron about an inch away from the roots – but vertically.

For bouncy curls
If traditional spiral curls aren’t your thing, consider using bouncy curls instead. It relies on the same technique as spiral curls – but with a twist. While the vertical part is the same as a flat iron, you’ll want to do a double twist to create extra lift.

Like before, ensure your hair is coated with heat protectant and that you’ve brushed/combed your hair to remove any tangles.
As with spiral curls, you will start with a one-inch section. Hold your hair vertically and insert your flat iron about an inch from the root, with the straightener also held vertically.
Start with a 180-degree half-turn away from your face. Go all the way to about half the length of your hair, then turn the flat iron another 180 degrees – again away from your face.

TL; DR to Bouncy Curls

The trick to bouncy curls is to make two 180-degree turns away from the face, first near the roots and then halfway down the length of your hair.

For Sleek Waves

If Old Hollywood S-waves are your latest obsession, you’ll be happy to know that your trusty flat iron can help you achieve them. Technically, this is easier to master than the 180-degree turns required for more traditional curly styles.

Again, start with clean hair prepped with a heat protectant and free of tangles.
Start with a horizontal section of hair about an inch wide. Hold your hair about two inches from the root and push it towards your face, forming the first half of an S-shape.
You don’t want to glide through your hair, but gently clip the flat from the roots to the top of your hands. This helps lock in the shape of the S-shape.
Once you’ve reached the first bend, you’ll move your hand, gripping your hair down another two inches, moving the hair away from your face to form the other half of the S-shape. Once again, using your flat iron, gently clip in to lock the shape in place.
Repeat this process for your entire length and the rest of your hair. Unlike curly hair, you want to avoid touching recently ironed sections because you want the style to set, and too much manipulation can cause the waves to fall.
Glossy Waves for TL; DR
This is one of the few styles of hair straighteners that encourage clip-in hair. However, when you brush your hair, move gently and make sure you keep the same S-shape while combing.

Loose Waves
Making loose or beachy waves is similar to making spiral curls, but the technique is slightly different. The 180-degree rotation is the same, but you can start more profoundly in the hair. Depending on your hair length, you can begin two inches from the root or even halfway through the hair.

Typically, you’ll want to rotate the flat iron away from your face as you work. Therefore, once you move to the other side of your hair, your rotating motion will be in the opposite direction (i.e., suitable vs. left). Use a wide-tooth comb to create more even waves for a more layered look. For a casual effect, once you’re done making waves, use your fingers to pluck your hair to remove the spiraling curls and create spirals.

TL for relaxed waves; DR
Relaxed waves can be created using the same rotation method as spiral curls. But you can start spinning deeper in the hairline – two inches below the roots if you have long hair or halfway down the length of your hair.

Curling short hair with a straightener
You may need to modify your tools or technique to achieve the desired effect when you have short hair.

Adjusting flat irons
Depending on the length of your hair, the first thing you may need to swap is your flat iron. While a one-inch flat iron is ideal for most hair lengths – including neck-to-shoulder size – concise hair may be better served with a half-inch plate straightener. This way, you can make more pronounced curls and have more control.

Start high in the hair.
Again, depending on how long your hair is, you may find that waiting to rotate your straightener until your hair is halfway down the length may not leave enough room to create the required half-turns. If necessary, you may need to work higher up the hairline. For example, you can start an inch from the root of your hair for beachy waves.

TL; DR for Curling Short Hair

Curling short hair isn’t that different from medium to long lengths. But you may need to pick a narrower plate width or begin the straightener rotation higher along your hair’s length to achieve the desired results.

Get the Most Out of Your Straightener with These Tips

The pan is so effortless as a curling iron that once you get the hang of it, you’ll never want to return to a curling iron or wand. But to get the most out of this versatile tool, consider these expert tips.

1. Pick the suitable flat iron
A flat iron is not a one-size-fits-all product. Your hair type and texture often determine which model is suitable for you.

Pick a model with the right flat size for your hair and the suitable flat material and temperature control so you don’t damage your hair. Not all flat irons have adjustable temperature controls or an excellent range that can accommodate most hair types or textures.

A compatible temperature setting
Especially if you are doing heat styling at home for the first time, knowing what temperature range works best for your hair is essential. Therefore, looking for a model with a broader temperature range and more flexible adjustments (i.e., actual temperature readings rather than simple digital settings) can help you determine the right temperature. Ideally, you want to choose a location with a temperature that is just right to help you create a style without exposing your hair to heat damage.

Which plate material is best?
While ceramic plates are standard, they are not always the best choice for every hair type. Ceramics are known to be effective at keeping the heat stable and have a smooth texture that won’t pull on your hair. Ceramics are generally considered safe for most hair types – but are better suited for those with fine hair.

Those with thick or textured hair may find that titanium is better. It heats up faster, so you can spend less time working on your hair.
But there’s another option – Tourmaline. This is ideal if you want to prevent frizz or flyaways. Of course, there are also options for combination plates that will use multiple materials and solve several problems simultaneously.

2. Heat protectant is your friend
We all know that you shouldn’t use hot tools for everyday styling. However, even if you only use them occasionally, you want to protect your hair from unnecessary heat exposure. In addition to setting your tools to a temperature that provides enough heat to get the job done, you’ll want to prepare your hair with a heat protectant.

This product will reduce the amount of heat that enters your hair shaft. Regardless of your hair type, heat damage is real and can show up as dry, brittle hair, split ends for straighter hair, and curly patterns that never recover for more textured hair.

3. Take your time
Rushing is the same as making a mistake. So, if you’re going to use a flat iron to create curls or waves, take your time. This also means not pulling the straightener through your hair or trying to force a lot of hair through the flat iron.

4. Clean flat irons make your hair happier
Dirt can and does happen when using heat protectants or occasionally when dirty styling hair. Make sure you clean your flat iron regularly. Please wait until you turn it off and it cools down to a certain level before cleaning it. Use a damp cloth or rag to clean the flat iron gently, and also clean the areas below the edges where dirt may be hiding. Then dry the ironing board with a towel to prevent damage.



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