Curling your hair is an easy and glamorous way to update your everyday hairstyle—if you do it properly. Here, we’ve outlined some of the most common mistakes made with a curling iron and how to fix them. But, don’t just take our word for it, we’ve asked celebrity hair stylist Sarah Potempa (the VS Angels trust her with their locks) for her expert advice and final say on this styling protocol.
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Not prepping your hair
The first step to getting a great, safe curl is by prepping your hair. “It’s incredibly important to prep your hair with a heat protectant before you blow-dry and curl,” says Potempa. The best way to do this is to apply a heat protectant product, then blow-dry your hair completely. “This creates a barrier between the cuticle and the heat to prevent damage.” Styling glazes or pomades are also popular, as they deliver more control and texture when curling. If you know your hair has a tough time holding a curl, mist each section lightly before styling for a stronger hold.
Not sectioning your hair
Sectioning your hair prior to curling makes a world of a difference. “By using a large clip to section off your hair (Potempa recommends her Beachwaver Co. Darby Clip), you can create clean sections before curling, which will actually save time and get the curl closer to the root for volume.” Without sectioning, curling the bottom layer of hair proves difficult and the curls tend to come out much more droopy, since it’s harder to see hidden sections.
Curling in the wrong direction
Be sure to part your hair first so you know which direction it needs to be curled in. Potempa suggests curling hair away from your face. “This will give you a gorgeous, modern wave instead of a banana curl.” Curling away from your face means winding your hair down the curling iron in a clockwise direction on the right side of your face, and in a counterclockwise direction on the left.
Not using the clamp properly
For some, a clamp acts as a burden that should be avoided. But, if used properly, it can be a big help by keeping your hair in place on the barrel. “If your iron has a clamp, you want to make sure you place the hair in it while holding the iron in the direction you will curl,” Potempa explains. “This will prep the hair to curl (or rotate) in the proper direction.”
Curling too much hair at a time
If you take too much hair at a time (or make too big of a section), the curling iron won’t be able to curl the entire section properly. Instead, the heat will only hit the layer of hair that is closest to the barrel, and will leave the outside layers untouched and uncurled. The general rule of thumb is to use 3-centimeter-wide sections of hair, but for a more natural look, use varying widths of sections to create a natural-looking curl (just make sure there aren’t pieces falling off the sides of the iron—this means there’s too much hair involved).
Using too much heat
You should only use as much heat needed to create a curl in order to prevent long-term damage to your hair. Avoid curling irons with only an ON/OFF switch, and instead, find one with multiple heat settings so you can tailor the setting to your hair. Fine, damaged and thin hair should be curled on the lowest heat setting available, and hair should not be on the barrel for more than 10 seconds.
Touching your hair right away
Always allow your hair to cool down after curling. “Don’t run your fingers through your hair immediately after curling it,” says Potempa, adding that you should allow the hair to fully cool before brushing or separating. Failure to wait for the cooling period can result in frizzy hair and lifeless curls.
Choosing the wrong tool
Nowadays, there are a variety of different tools that will help you achieve your perfect curl—it’s all about finding which one is best for you. If you have trouble styling your hair, Potempa suggests finding a tool that works with you instead of fighting with wrapping your hair. The final curl you’re looking for is also a huge factor in determining which tool to use. For a loose, beachy curl, try a wand such as the Beachwaver (a rotating iron that does the work for you), or a traditional curling iron with a 1.5 or 2 inch barrel, and go down in inches based on the desired width of the curl you’re going for. Basically, the tighter (or smaller) you want your curl, the smaller the barrel should be on the curling iron.