Introduction

Throw away your curling iron, girls. We’re going to reveal how to curl hair WITHOUT that pesky curling wand (no more wrist burns!).

You’ve seen your favorite beauty influencers make it seem easy – bouncy curls and beachy waves achieved with just a flick of the wrist.

And what are they using – Dyson’s latest and greatest curling iron? Nope!

These girls are doing the unthinkable: they are curling their hair with a straightener.

No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to learn how to curl hair with a straigthener. You could have SWORN you used the same technique as Brad Mondo, but to no avail.

But hope is not lost! You see, we are EXPERTS in curling hair with all manner of styling tools – flat irons included. And not only are we amazing at turning out a full head of curls in a matter of minutes, we’re also the best in the world at teaching dummies (like you) how to do it themselves.

By the time you finish this article, you’ll be able to give yourself tight curls, looser waves, and everything in between.

NOTE: If you’re going to try this, make sure your hair straightener has rounded edges. This will enable you to “wrap” hair around the outside of the tool, allowing you to create beachy waves, bouncy curls, and everything in between.

Step 1: Make sure your hair is clean

Give your hair the old scrub scrub rinse blowdry
Give your hair the old scrub scrub rinse blowdry

The first step in giving yourself effortless waves is to wash yo dirty head.

We don’t know where this rumor about curls staying longer in dirty hair came from, but we need to squash it right now. It’s simply not true.

When your hair is clean, it is free from product buildup and other impurities. There is nothing in the hair but the hair itself.

Every substance you add to the hair afterwards – intentionally or unintentionally – has to compete with the hair for absorption of heat.

Whether you’re straightening or curling with a flat iron, you’re going to be using heat. And the more stuff you have in your hair, the more dispersed the heat will be. Some of it will go to heating (and shaping) the hair, and some of it will go to heating the rest of the gunk that’s caught in your hair.

The less gunk you have in your hair, the better.

Be sure to clean your hair (a drugstore shampoo is ok) and then condition it. Rinse everything out, blow-dry your hair, and don’t begin styling it until it is completely dry. Don’t try this with damp hair, because it’s less likely to work.

Step 2: Brush all of the knots out of your hair

She doesn't look like she has too many knots to brush
She doesn’t look like she has too many knots to brush

Set aside your wide tooth comb (especially if you’ve got curly hair) – you’re going to need the big guns for this one.

In order to get the best result, you need to make sure that there are no knots in your hair.

Imagine trying to iron a shirt, but instead of laying the shirt flat on the ironing board, you just threw it on there.

Then you grab the iron and press into the crumpled shirt. Do you think it’s going to give you the result you want? Obviously not.

When your hair is brushed out, the heat from the straightener is distributed evenly throughout the hair. Having knots in your hair BEFORE you curl will translate to having knots in your hair AFTER you curl it.

If you’re using a heat protectant product, you can apply it now.

Step 3: Section your hair with hair clips

Note: They do not need to be $16 Drybar hair clips
Note: They do not need to be $16 Drybar hair clips

If you’ve been styling your hair for any length of time, then you are no stranger to hair clips.

The reason for sectioning your hair is that we want to make sure the hair art we are creating on our heads is even and symmetrical. Even if you’re going for a messy look, you don’t want the curls on one side of your head to look too different than the curls on the other side.

We recommend splitting your hair into 4 even sections. These would be upper right, upper left, lower right, and lower left.

This will make your styling session easier to track and more or less ensure that there are the same amount of curls on each side of your head. Plus, you’ll notice whether or not the curls look drastically different on one side and need to be touched up.

Step 4: Grab a 1 inch-wide chunk of hair from the first section

You don't need to actually measure an inch, you can eyeball it
You don’t need to actually measure an inch, you can eyeball it

How the curl comes out depends a lot on the size and shape of the size of the chunks you choose to style.

Grabbing a chunk of hair that is too thick can lead to problems:

  1. Maybe some of the hair slides out of the end of the straightener as you’re passing it through.
  2. Maybe the heat from the plates isn’t distributed evenly through the entire chunk of hair

These aren’t damaging to the hair, but they will be damaging to your ego.

Start with about an inch of hair. One inch sections (give or take) tend to be the sweet spot for doing curls.

We’ll do a piece on the left side of your head first.

Step 5: Hold the flat iron in your right hand with your thumb on the back (flat part) of the tool

THIS STEP IS VERY IMPORTANT.

You may think that how you hold the flat iron is irrelevant. And while you’re welcome to try and reinvent your own innovative method on how to curl your hair with a flat iron, we recommend that you follow our instructions exactly as they are described here.

Anyway, put your thumb on the back of the tool. Try and hold the tool as near to the hot plates as possible, obviously without burning yourself. This will give you more control over the tool, making it easier to open and close.

You also want to make sure your thumb stays on the “top” part of the flat iron. In other words, if there was a fly on the ceiling watching you, he would be able to see your thumbnail.

Step 6: Holding the flat iron, lift your right elbow high above your shoulder

The next thing you’re going to want to do is get the straightener up nice and high. The reason for this is that we will be twisting the flat iron, causing the hair to wrap around the outside of the tool.

Holding our elbow up high allows us to twist the tool simply by turning our wrist back, allowing us to keep the tool in essentially the same position, just with a slight rotation.

Step 7: Put the chunk of hair inside the straightener and clamp it tightly

Making sure your thumbnail is still on the “top” of the tool, close the flat iron around the chunk of hair.

DON’T clamp the flat iron on the hair super close to the scalp – allow for a few inches of hair between your scalp and when you clamp the tool.

Also, make sure that the flat iron is angled down at a 45 degree angle, give or take.

Step 8: Twist your wrist back like you are using the throttle on a motorcycle (vroom vroom!)

This is where the magic happens.

Even if you’ve never ridden a motorcycle before (and no, we’re not talking about riding on the BACK of one), you should be familiar with how they accelerate.

You are going to mimic the same motion with your right hand, twisting your wrist back until your thumbnail is now pointed more or less towards the GROUND (not the ceiling).

If you want to get technical, it is going to be a 180 degree rotation. You will be flipping the flat iron upside down, but keeping it at the same 45 degree angle.

Step 9: Draw the flat iron slowly away from your head

Now that you have the hair wrapped around the edge of the straightener, it’s time to make the curl happen.

Keeping the tool at the same angle, pull the iron away from your head slowly. The key word here is SLOWLY. For bouncy curls, go very slow.

A lot of people are scared to use a flat iron slowly on their hair because they’re worried about the heat damage to their hair shaft.

And sure, if you keep the tool on your hair for 30 seconds in the same place, you might not be too pleased with the results. But in our experience, most people overcompensate and either move the tool WAY too quickly or they freak out and open the straightener, releasing the hair.

Instead, just imagine yourself a hairstyling robot. Twist your wrist back, draw the tool away from your head, and keep going until you’ve reached the end of the hair shafts.

Pro tip: For tighter curls, go slower. For looser curls, go faster.

Troubleshooting and common mistakes when curling hair with a flat iron

“Why won’t my hair curl with a flat iron?” you ask?

The steps we’ve outlined here are 100% foolproof and work every time.

However, we under no illusions that just because we explained it (with pictures!), that everybody is going to get it right the first time.

But hey, if you did, congratulations!

If not, the following sections will go over some common pitfalls that people usually make when trying to curl their hair with a flat iron.

Mistake #1 – Holding the tool the wrong way

Remember how we told you that you need to put your thumb on the BACK of the tool?

Yes, it is that important.

When you keep your thumb on the back of the tool, you can easily twist your wrist back far enough to get the hair to wrap around it.

Most people don’t hold their hot tools this way. They just grab it like a barbarian and start going to town on their hair.

But remember that these are TOOLS, meaning that there are levels to their usefulness. You can either use them like a barbarian (and have barbarian hair), or you can use them like a hair stylist and get a professional result.

Mistake #2 – Not starting the curl with their thumbnail pointed towards the ceiling

In all our years of teaching people to curl with a flat iron, we see the same mistakes over and over. This is one of the main ones.

It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it just means it’s a common mistake.

When we raise the tool up to the hair, we instinctively feel that it’s “normal” to hold the tool with our thumb on the bottom. It just “feels right.”

Well this is the world of hairstyling. And in this world, nobody cares how you feel. It’s all about how you look.

More seriously, when you put your thumb on the bottom of the tool, it’s virtually impossible to twist your wrist back far enough to get the hair to wrap around the outside of the straightener.

Mistake #3 – Starting and stopping over and over

This mistake relates back again to being nervous while trying to curl your hair.

Look, we get it. Heat is scary. It can burn you or your hair, neither of which is very fun.

But if you are going to join the elite ranks of ladies who can curl with a flat iron, then you need to get over your fear.

One easy way to do it would be to just try to curl the ends of your hair.

Instead of starting the curl so high up around your face, grab the end of your hair and just try to curl the last 3-4 inches.

This will allow you to experiment in a much safer way without having to worry about frying hair that’s so close to your face (and therefore much more noticeable).

Mistake #4 – Quitting too early and giving up on yourself

So you tried to curl your hair a few times and it didn’t work. Big deal.

  • Does this mean you’re a bad person?
  • Does it mean you will never be able to curl your hair, ever?
  • Does it imply that you just aren’t good at fixing your hair?

No to all 3.

And I know this may come as a shock to many of you, but believe it or not NOBODY was born knowing how to create waves in their hair.

That’s right – nobody on this planet was born with instinctual knowledge on how to use any kind of styling tools, either.

These are all learned skills. And if someone else can do it, then you can too.

Don’t beat yourself up that you haven’t been able to do it this whole time. Chances are it’s not your fault.

There are a lot of trash tutorials out there created by people who may be excellent hairstylists, but have no idea how to pass that knowledge onto someone who isn’t an expert.

Mistake #5 – Thinking it’s a curling iron

Many times I’ll watch clients practice in front of me and I see them try to wrap their hair around the outside of the straightener, as if it was a curling iron.

Unfortunately, the outside of the tool doesn’t apply enough heat to the hair shaft to get it to curl hair.

How do I get my curls to stay longer?

Some people’s hair just doesn’t curl as well as others’. It’s a fact of life, regardless of the technique or iron you use.

If you’re one of these lucky people, just pick up a can of hair spray, buy yourself a curling iron, and pick a different hairstyle (beach waves, anyone?).

For the rest of you, here are some effective tips:

  1. Looser curls generally occur when not enough heat is applied to the hair. Try using more heat.
  2. When you use the tool, make sure you use heat evenly at the same pace throughout the pass.
  3. Switch to a different heat protectant – some of them can weigh the hair down.
  4. Leave your hair after you curl it (stop touching it!)

Final thoughts

When I talk to clients about how to curl hair, one of my favorite questions to ask them is whether or not they use a curling wand. If they tell me they do, I immediately check their hands and arms for burn scars. Even as a highly coordinated professional stylist, even I still burn myself sometimes.

This is why for the past 12 years, using a hair straightener has been my go to method. A flat iron can’t do everything – for example I prefer a curling wand when I want to make beach waves.

When you curl hair, it’s tough to beat a straightener. The important things to remember are that you need to grab a small chunk of hair, twist your wrist back, and go slow!

And remember, as a last ditch resort you can always just spray the heck out of it with hair spray.

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