10 tips for perfect beach hair waves every time

Get gorgeous, tousled beach hair waves—even far from the sea—with these easy expert styling tips and buys

Close up of woman with auburn beach hair waves in her hair against a blurry background
(Image credit: Getty images)

Beach hair waves are one of those styles that most of us have tried to create at some stage, with varying degrees of success. If you've ever spritzed on a salt spray promising 'tousled texture', but ended up with hair that's crunchier than Pringles, you are not alone. 

This is because in the grand tradition of supposedly low-maintenance beauty—such as creating 'French girl' bends with the best hair straighteners, or a natural makeup look—beach hair waves can actually be quite tricky if you don't know the ideal method or product to use to achieve them. 

If you've got a naturally wavy hairstyle, lucky you—a quick scrunch with a texturizing product and an air-dry will achieve that tousled texture you desire. As for the rest of us, creating a relaxed wave that's undone but not messy, looks ostensibly natural, and sticks around for the day is a challenge. If you've ever tonged in girly ringlets or scrunched in strange dents, you know what I mean.

But persist we must, because beach hair waves are the ultimate summer style. It's laid-back but pretty, can disguise dodgy roots, and works on any length from short hairstyles to bob hairstyles and tumbling Rapunzel-length locks. It makes fine hair look bigger, dry hair look healthier, and works just as well for a fancy wedding as it does lunch with the girls, or (unsurprisingly) on an actual beach.

So put any failed endeavors behind you, and follow these ten ways to fake your very own beachy waves. Once you've got the knack, it's foolproof.

10 ways to create perfect beach hair waves

1. Skip a wash

As with so many styles, beach hair waves work best on hair that's not 100% clean. Your natural oils will help give those waves a bit of grip and guts to stick around. If you're happy to skip a wash entirely, perfect. If not the best shampoo and conditioner for this look would be a gentle sulphate-free wash that doesn't strip the hair, along with a light conditioning partner (if you are a fan of sulphate-free hair products generally you should read up on the curly girl method).

2. Use prep products

If there's one thing I've learned from top hairdressers, it's don't be shy with products, particularly in the pre-blowout stage of styling. None of us use anywhere near the amount of styling products that the pros do, and the right one will make it eminently easier for your hair to hold on to a beachy wave. 

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3. Air it out

To blow out or not to blow out? The words "beach hair waves" may suggest naturally-achieved texture, but fine or short hair will almost always benefit from proper heat styling with the best hair dryer you can afford (you might want to read how to blow dry hair according to professionals too though). 

However, longer, naturally wavy, or thick hair can look brilliant air-dried, as long as you have the time and ideally, the weather for it. "Work a leave-in conditioner through in the morning then do a loose plait, starting around the ear or below and leave to dry in the sun," suggests celebrity hairdresser Ben Cooke. "Take it out before dinner and you'll have gorgeous waves. When you take it out, don't brush it out—tease it out with your fingers, so it’s a little disheveled. Then use a shine spray to add gloss." 

4. Try rag waving

Another way to create beach hair, that works well on longer lengths, is an overnight wave using rags. "It’s always good to give your hair a day or more away from heat and there’s no reason why you can’t create waves overnight without it," explains Redken’s Global Consultant, Celebrity Stylist and Educator, Vernon François. "First, prepare straight or wavy hair with Redken’s One United spray. Next, take a long silk scarf, or an old soft cotton t-shirt cut into strips, then twist or braid this through the hair. Wake up to a fabulous wavy look with body and movement. You can brush it out if desired."

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5. Rough dry it right

If air drying isn't a good option for your hair type, the good news is you can get away with a fairly rough blow dry when creating beach hair waves. The aim of the game is a bit of volume and ruggedness, so flip your hair upside down and blast until it's 90% dry. When it's close to being finished, tip your head back over, pick your parting and aim the nozzle downwards to kill off hairline frizz while maintaining volume. 

6. Tong it in

For naturally straight hair, no product can offer a beach hair wave that sticks around the way the best curling irons can. Thicker barrel shapes are better for this as they guide the hair into natural-looking waves, rather than uniform ringlets. “The size of the tong is super important: too big and you won’t see enough movement, too small and you’ll end up with the dreaded prom curls," advises Hershesons CEO, Luke Hersheson. 

Start with the tong facing downwards. Clip your top layers out of the way, then grab chunky sections (as a general guide, a head of hair will divide into about 8-10) and wrap the hair around the barrel. Working away from your face creates a nice eye-opening effect. Leave the ends and roots out, hold for each piece for 10-15 seconds, release then repeat all round.

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7. Try a deep waver

If you really struggle using tongs, another option is the deep waver tool. These look and behave a bit like crimpers, except the chunky spherical plates create oversized curved texture rather than the jagged zigzags of their 1980s predecessors. 

The benefit of this type of tool is obvious: it's fast and requires absolutely no skill. the drawback is that the beachy wave created is still a touch uniform compared to what you could create with a tong. Use it cleverly by taking larger, irregular sections of hair and leaving to roots and ends out. You'll be rewarded with beach-hair texture in no more than five minutes. 

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8. Let it cool

Don't underestimate the importance of this step. Heated tools work by moulding the bonds within your hair into your chosen shape, but it's the cooling back down that actually sets the hair into its new style for the day. Once you finish heat styling wait five minutes for it to completely cool before doing anything else. 

9. Brush it out

Always brush through waves once they have cooled. Use your fingers or grab a detangling brush and gently run it through the hair once or twice. This stops the look being too prissy or curl-like. Don't worry if it looks as if your waves have dropped when you brush, they'll bounce back up.

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10. Give it a zhoosh

“Everyone has their own little zhoosh to get their hair how they like it. So, once you’ve finished tonging, make your waves your own,” says Luke. Get your fingers involved, give it a shake, or gently twirl and place your waves. Don't be afraid to get a little messy, beach hair waves should not be too perfect. 

Using one final styling product is a good idea too. Go lightly on dry hair, as you don't want to weigh down those waves. For normal-to-thick hair try a salt spray with moisturising ingredients. For very fine hair that has the tendency to go lank, try a dry texturising mist that bulks it out with oil-control properties and an airy texture. 

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Fiona McKim

As woman&home's Senior Beauty Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more beauty products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about a brilliant beauty find on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair dye experiments and cute shih-tzus)

Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013, working under legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know about the industry (clue: learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). 

In a previous life, Fiona studied journalism back home in bonnie Scotland and honed her skills as a features writer at publications including Junior and Prima Baby, with a brief and terrifying stint on the showbiz gossip pages of a tabloid newspaper in between. She's a skincare fanatic who can’t resist adding an extra step to her routine if it’s all the rage in Japan, loves fragrance, has fun with makeup and never turns down the chance to test a new hair tool. Basically, she loves it all.

When not slathering herself in self tan or squinting at a tiny ingredients list on a moisturiser, you’ll probably find Fiona enjoying something to do with food - cooking it, eating it, cajoling her friends into trekking across London to try a hyped pop-up in a dirty car park. Come to think of it, the hot dinners and beauty products are probably about even.