While we know you shouldn’t rely too heavily on heat tools to style your hair, we can’t deny that they can make getting ready much more accessible. However, creating a cluttered bathroom vanity is easy if you switch back and forth between too many different heat-styling tools. Thankfully, if you choose wisely, you can find the perfect straightener that can do double duty of straightening and curling your hair.
Also, note that hair straighteners can be referred to as flat irons. Nonetheless, learning to use a straightener to curl or straighten your hair makes it a bit of a learning curve. However, once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be ready to give up your curling iron and wand. For best results, we recommend following the steps below and paying particular attention to the tips.
How to Straighten Hair with a Flat Iron
Let’s start with the basics – straightening your hair. This is the most obvious thing you can do with a flat iron and is where your learning process should begin. If you’re focused on the sleek look, you’ll want to get all your tools assembled before you start. This includes your flat iron, a comb or brush, heat protectant, and clips to part your hair. Ensure your hair is dehydrated before you start because wet hair and high heat equal damage.
Combing and sectioning hair
It is challenging to flat iron tangled hair effectively. Therefore, your first step is to get it out of the way. If you are using a heat protectant spray, spray your hair first. If you are using a conditioner, apply a small amount to the palm of your hand, emulsify and apply to your hair. Avoid using too much (significantly heavier serums) as this can encourage heat damage.
Apply in sections, slowly detangling hair from ends to roots. Keep in mind, however, that depending on your hair type, you may find it more effective to comb through as you go. This is especially true for those with very curly or coiled hair who choose to use the chasing method on hair that hasn’t been blown out before.
Parting your hair
Now that you’ve combed your hair, it’s time to section it, so it’s easier to manage while working on it. You can use duckbill clips or alligator clips. Typically, you want to create larger overall sections (i.e., four quadrants) and then go through each section, creating smaller areas as you proceed. Remember, if you aim for smooth, straight hair, you should never force too much hair between the flat iron plates. If you do, the heat won’t reach all the strands, and your results will be uneven.
You are setting your flat iron temperature.
Today, most flat irons can be heated in as little as one minute or even less. So, while combing your hair, please turn on your flat iron and set it to the desired temperature. Ideally, your flat iron should be ready to use when you search and create large sections of hair. Remember to match the temperature to your hair type and avoid using too high a temperature unless the hairstyle calls explicitly for it (such as Brazilian keratin straightening or silk pressing).
Your goal should be setting the temperature so you can effectively straighten your hair in just one pass. If you have to treat the same section of hair multiple times to get the desired results, your settings are too low. 300 to 340 degrees Fahrenheit for most hair types is a good starting range.
However, if your hair feels too hot or you smell burning, turn the temperature down. If your hair looks unchanged or the results are inconsistent after being ironed with a flat iron, turn the temperature up slightly.
Create smaller sections
It’s best to start at the nape of your neck and work your way up to the top of your head. Start by creating a smaller section no more than an inch wide. Remember not to make this section too thick – especially if your hair is thick, curly, or coiffed – because the heat won’t effectively penetrate all your strands.
Flat iron smaller sections
Make sure you have a firm grip and place it close to the roots of your hair. Avoid placing it directly on the roots of your hair, as you may accidentally burn your scalp, neck, ears, or forehead, depending on how close the flat iron is to the edge of the flat iron.
Once you have placed the flat iron so that the two plates are around the section, squeeze so that the hair flattens between the plates. However, this is where the learning curve of straightening hair with a flat iron can become a problem. The goal is to create enough pressure with your hands to tense the hair between the two plates – but not so tight that the plates don’t glide smoothly over your hair.
You’re doing it wrong if…
You are using too much pressure if the plates drag through your hair and you notice indentations or sharp bends where you grip it before the leaves. You should be able to glide from the roots to the ends of your hair without resistance. Resistance means you’re either using too much pressure or trying to handle a part that’s too thick. Remember, take your time!
Catch-up method (optional)
This is an optional step, depending on how straight you want your hair to be and your starting hair type. If your hair is naturally straight and you want to get rid of light curls or flyaways, you may not need to use the chasing method.
The catch-up method is a two-handed process of straightening your hair to ensure that it is fully taut throughout the flat ironing process. It is particularly effective for curly textures that do not respond well to the standard balanced ironing process, as simply holding your hair in your hands does not stretch the curl pattern enough to keep the entire length of hair in constant contact with the heat. Similar to the standard method, you’ll want to do this with a small section of hair one inch wide.
Depending on your curly hair, you may need to comb at this point – especially if you plan to use a fine-tooth comb or bristle brush. You’ll want to use one hand to hold the comb or brush far enough away from the roots to easily place the flat iron around this section of hair with your other hand but above the comb/brush.
So, your flat iron should be between your hair shaft and the comb/brush. Once the flat iron is closed, slowly glide down the section of hair, moving the comb/brush up the length. Continue this process throughout your hair.
Finish with a serum or light oil
Once flat ironing your hair, use a light serum or hair oil on the strands. This will help control any flyaways and provide a nice shine and infusion of moisture.
Curling Your Hair with a Flat Iron
Once you’ve mastered the basics of straightening your hair with a flat iron, you can upgrade to the next level of bland iron functionality – curling. Using a tool designed to straighten your hair as a curling iron may seem counterintuitive.
But it’s very effective and means you have one less styling tool in your bathroom cabinet. Curling hair with iron has a slight learning curve, as you must master the turning motion necessary to produce curls.
However, the same basic guidelines apply when using a flat iron, whether you are curling or straightening your hair. This includes.
Don’t work on dirty hair.
Always comb your hair first
Use a heat protectant
Work in small areas
Use the correct temperature
Watch your flat pressure
Apply serum or light oil last
Plate Width Matters
Before you can start curling your hair, you need to have the correct plate width for your flat iron to curl your hair effectively. Typically, a one-inch wide flat iron is ideal if you want to switch between straightening and curling irons. Anything wider than an inch may be too large, making it challenging to form curls. However, people with concise hair may be better off using a half-inch wide flat iron.
For Spiral Curls
The classic spiral curl is a great style that can be achieved with a flat iron.
First, hold the flat iron, so your thumbs are on the top plate. About an inch from the root of your hair, slowly slide the flat iron down to about half the length of your hair.
Once you reach the halfway point, slowly rotate the flat iron 360 degrees – making sure the hair still slides smoothly through the flat and at an angle to prevent overlap of the inch being fed into the flat. Once you’ve completed your turn, continue to provide the hair around the flat iron along the length of the hair until you’ve completely covered the section size.
Continue this process throughout the hair, making sure to do it in small sections. Also, take your time, as working too fast may result in inconsistent curls. As with straightening your hair, watch your pressure. If you use too much pressure, you will create severe bends, ruining the look of your curls.
For Relaxed Waves
For relaxed waves, you’ll want to follow the same process as creating spiral curls but with a slightly modified technique. While the 360-degree rotation along the length of the hair is the same when you work on the back half of the hair, you work in the opposite direction (i.e., right to the left).
And when you’re done, you’ll want to flick your hair with a brush, comb, or fingers to break up the individual spiral curls and create soft waves. But, as with straightening or spiral curls, you’ll want to use a serum to keep flyaways at bay, lock in shine, and add moisture. If desired, use hairspray to hold the hair in place.
Pro Tips for Flat Irons
Using a flat iron is one of the more accessible heat-styling tools. Before you head to the mirror to start straightening your hair, you must ensure you’ve picked the right tools for the job.
1. The flat iron you use is important
Not all flat irons are created equal. Depending on the type and texture of your hair and the style you’re trying to achieve, you’ll want to ensure the heat tool you choose is compatible.
For example, many flat irons can reach temperatures of 450 degrees Fahrenheit, but most people, even with very coarse hair, don’t need that much heat to straighten their hair. However, one thing to keep in mind is that if you want to perform at-home keratin treatments or silk pressing, you need consistently high heat to get the desired results.
Consider temperature settings
Some irons are designed to support only one temperature. This may be ideal if you don’t want to adjust the temperature of your straightening tool constantly. However, if your hair needs more or less heat than the flat iron can put out, this will be a problem.
This heating tool is ideal if you already know the perfect temperature needed to style your hair. If you’re still experimenting to determine the correct temperature, we recommend picking a flat iron that offers a range of temperatures. Some models are designed to allow you to precisely adjust the temperature to within five degrees (Fahrenheit). Meanwhile, other models have just a handful of preset temperatures, which may be displayed as numbers or simply “high, medium, or low.”
Consider the plate
It would help if you considered this two-part factor before choosing an iron. You must determine the correct width, length, and material compatible with your styling habits and hair type.
Flat irons are sold primarily based on the width of the board, usually measured in inches. While the most popular option is a flat iron with a one-inch width, you can find broader and narrower options. If you have concise hair (think pixie cut), a one-inch wide flat iron may be too large to shape your hair effectively. In this case, we would recommend a half-inch wide flat iron.
Finally, tourmaline is an excellent option for those worried about frizz, as this material is ideal for producing negative ions that help smooth your hair when you style it. Note that you can also find combination plates that contain ceramic and tourmaline or titanium and tourmaline.
2. Hot tools work best on clean hair
It will surprise no one that using hot tools on dirty hair will not produce consistent results. Running a straightener through hair that has more product can create damage and make your tablet dirty.
As tempting as it is, don’t go through your flat iron quickly on second-day hair (or three- and four-day hair), don’t. Mainly if you use many products regularly, you could damage your hair.
3. always use a heat protectant
While you should always use heat tools on clean hair, you should always use a heat protectant. Whether you choose a spray or a serum, this is the only product you should put in your hair before straightening or curling it.
A good heat protectant will minimize the heat going into the hair shaft. This is important for all hair types, especially those with wavy, curly, or coily hair. For more textured hair types, heat damage manifests by not returning to the original wavy or curly pattern once washed. Avoid this by investing in a quality heat protectant.
4. Don’t straighten wet hair
While some flat irons are advertised as okay to use on wet hair, most hair care experts still recommend avoiding them. They seem convenient because you skip the blow-drying step (or the hair-stretching step if you want to minimize heat exposure).
However, consider that wet and dry irons create a lot of steam as you run the rolling tool through damp hair. These vapors can cause the hair shaft to expand and encourage breakage. If used very carefully, the damage will be minimal. However, this can be a problem if you regularly use a wet or dry iron whenever you want to do your hair directly after a shower.
The same goes for regular irons. They are not designed for wet hair and can encourage breakage even if used only once.
5. Use gloves if necessary
Flat irons are straightforward heat tools, but they are not without a learning curve. Especially the first few times you use it, or if you want to do curly hair in the first place, invest in a heat-protective glove. This will ensure you don’t accidentally touch your fingers on the plate.
6. Take your time
Using a flat iron is like a marathon, not a sprint. When you take your time, you’re more likely to get the results you want the first time. Rushing will almost always ensure that the results are uneven and disappointing.
7. Clean your flat irons regularly
Even if you use a flat iron on clean hair, dirt will build up over time. That’s why you need to clean your flat iron regularly. When it’s off and completely cool, run a damp cloth along the board, making sure to clean any gunk that may be on the edges. Follow with a dry cloth to prevent damage to the board.