Sign up to our free daily email for the latest royal and entertainment news, interesting opinion, expert advice on styling and beauty trends, and no-nonsense guides to the health and wellness questions you want answered.
Thank you for signing up to . You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.
Hair stylists swear by them, but learning how to curl your hair with a curling iron can take some practice for us amateurs. For years, I turned to my trusted ghd styler to bend and wave my hair. And while straighteners do work (especially in the right hands), I found that my hair lacked the body and volume of the bouncy curls that are all over Instagram.
That was until I tried a curling iron. A total mane-changer, the best curling irons can create every type of curl and wave on all hair types and lengths. Granted, they can take some time to master – but once you do, you won’t be able to put your beloved curling iron down. “From the moment I started hairdressing, I have loved how curls can totally transform a look,” says Adam Reed (opens in new tab), legendary hair stylist, and ambassador for ghd and L’Oréal Professionnel. “And today’s tools can be used to achieve endless styling possibilities with exceptional staying power.”
While I'm by no means an expert at curling hair, I have picked up a few tips and tricks from professionals over the years. Plus, I’ve also tried several different curling irons (a hazard of the job) and have found a technique that works. So, if you’re keen to learn and would love some advice from the pros, scroll on down.
How to curl your hair with a curling iron, a step-by-step guide
1. Choose your curling iron
First things first, choose your device. With so many hot tools on the market, this is easier said than done, so to make the decision easier, consider the below factors:
- Barrel size: The size of the barrel will determine the size of the curl. “If you want a tighter curl, you’ll need a thinner wand, whereas if you want a softer curl, you’d use a classic curl tong,” says Reed. For big bouncy curls, try the GHD Curve Soft Curl Tong and for tight ringlets, go for the BaByliss Tight Curls Wand.
- Settings: Adjustable temperature settings are key, especially for fine hair that’s prone to heat damage. As a general rule, stick to between 120°C-185°C for fine hair, 185°C for medium hair, and up to 210°C for thick hair. If hair is really fragile and damaged, consider a tool that uses low heat and airflow to curl hair (our Dyson Airwrap review can help with that.)
- Material: Curling irons are coated with various materials. Ceramic is popular because it heats evenly and consistently for uniform results (good for fine hair). Titanium conducts heat efficiently and heats up in record time (good for medium to thick hair types). And tourmaline emits negative ions to smooth frizz and soften strands (good for curly hairstyles).
For this article, I chose to use the BaByliss 9000 Cordless Curling Tong. As someone who prioritizes convenience, this curling iron spoke to me. I can use it in my bathroom (where my best lighting is), on holiday, and out and about, if desired. It’s also ceramic coated which is good news for my fine hair and has three temperature settings.
2. Use prep + styling products
Heat protection is a non-negotiable when learning how to curl your hair with a curling iron. So, before you even think about picking up that wand, generously mist your hair with one. “Heat protect spray will protect your hair from any dryer or styler, leaving your hair with a no-product healthy feel,” says Zoe Irwin (opens in new tab), hair stylist, and ghd brand ambassador. It works by “creating an invisible barrier against everyday damage,” she continues. I spritz it all over damp hair before using my best hair dryer to blow dry hair."
I'd also recommend using a volumizing spray (specifically on the roots) to add body and fullness to fine hair. I love Hair by Sam McKnight’s Cool Girl Superlift Volumising Spray for this. And if your ends are dry like mine, apply a hair oil sparingly.
3. Blow dry hair
To avoid sizzling damp strands, make sure your hair is completely dry before reaching for your curling iron. I like to let my hair dry naturally until it’s 70-80% dry and then use my hair dryer to finish. “For root lift, dry your hair upside down brushing the roots away from the scalp,” suggests Sam McKnight (opens in new tab) legendary hairstylist and founder of his eponymous haircare line. “Once your roots are dry throw your head back.”
“For naturally curly hair, you should wash (using your best shampoo for curly hair), condition, and treat before combing through the hair – allowing the curls to form,” says Reed. “For defined curls, twist hair and then use one of the best diffusers for curly hair – moving it around and pushing it into hair to slowly dry and embrace your natural curl,” he continues.
4. Start styling
Now for the main event. There are several different ways to nail how to curl your hair with a curling iron, and each will give you a different look. Personally, I love undone beach hair waves that add body and movement without looking too polished. But if you prefer a glam look that is polished, “curl all sections of hair in the same direction,” says Hayes.
Here, the experts break down how to achieve beachy, bouncy curls:
- Wear gloves: “If you have a heatproof glove, definitely use this as it means you can get the end onto the tong,” says Paul Percival (opens in new tab), celebrity hairstylist and founder of Percy & Reed. Many curling tongs have a cool tip too.
- Section hair: Start by sectioning hair, leaving the first section loose and clipping the rest of your hair up.
- Start curling: “For a volumized look, alternate wrapping sections of hair under and over the barrel to create curls that bounce off each other,” says Hayes. To do this, hold the barrel at an angle, facing downwards, before wrapping hair around it. Hold for 10-15 seconds before releasing.
- Create an ‘S’ shape: The more you wrap your hair around the wand, the tighter the curl will be. “If you’re after a wave, make sure you’re wrapping it around the barrel to create an ‘S’ shape rather than a spring,” says Percival. I find that two full twists around the barrel are enough for my long hair.
- Curl away at the front: Always curl the front section of hair away from the face for a softer, more natural finish.
- Leave the ends: “If you do want something beachier, leave the last couple of centimeters of hair off the tong so it’s a little bit straighter at the ends,” says Percival. This gives hair an undone, relaxed feel.
If you have naturally curly hair but would like more definition, or some sections are straighter than others, “My tip is to match the curling iron or wand to the size of curl you have,” says Hayes, “then use your chosen tong and curl either the full head of hair or take random sections and tong bits you think need a little more definition.”
5. Use finishing products
If like me, your hair is fine and doesn’t hold a curl for long, styling spray is key. “Finish with a hairspray like Hair By Sam McKnight Modern Hairspray to lock those curls in place,” says Hayes. It’s also a good idea to mist each section of hair after tonging, before applying another layer of hairspray at the end. To avoid a crunchy feel, look out for lightweight formulas with shine-boosting benefits.
Emma Stoddart is a freelance beauty journalist and self-confessed skincare aficionado with over five years’ industry experience. Emma has worked for some of the UK’s top women’s titles including Net-A-Porter, Stylist and Grazia. Her experience spans online and print as well as producing editorial shoots with some of the industry’s biggest artists, including Val Garland. Asides from working with them behind the scenes, she’s also had the chance to interview the likes of Patrick Ta, Pat McGrath, and Sam McKnight for all their insider tips and tricks.
Here's how Martha Stewart and her friends keep each other young at heart
Martha Stewart and her friends have an agreement that all but assures they will stay young forever
By Anna Rahmanan • Published
Pamela Anderson on why she gained 25 pounds while writing her much anticipated memoir
The star of a new Netflix documentary, Pamela Anderson noted she "had a physical reaction to telling my story" while writing her recent memoir
By Anna Rahmanan • Published
Maybelline Great Lash Mascara review: I tested the iconic drugstore mascara and these are my thoughts
Our honest Maybelline Great Lash Mascara review – does this buy live up to its legendary status?
By Kenedee Fowler • Published
The beauty item Meghan Markle uses for flawless foundation has a massive discount!
Meghan Markle uses this tool religiously when applying her make-up, and it's credited with helping her achieve her stunning glow
By Amy Hunt • Published
Kate Middleton's favorite pink lip gloss is finally on sale! But get in there quick as it's set to sell out fast
The royal gave us a peek into her make up bag a few years ago
By Sarah Finley • Published
I’m a shopping writer and these are the deals I’m most excited about in the Amazon Beauty Sale this week
I've scoured all the deals in the Amazon Beauty Sale this week and these are the items I'm adding to my cart
By Kenedee Fowler • Last updated
Zuvi Halo hair dryer review: our beauty ed tests the innovative infrared dryer
Does the 'Tesla of hairdryers' – the Zuvi Halo hair dryer – live up to its damage-reducing claims?
By Fiona McKim • Last updated
Fresh blonde hair ideas to suit everyone, from icy platinum to rich caramel
In search of blonde hair ideas? Browse our beauty team's edit of inspirational hues
By Charley Williams-Howitt • Last updated
This radiance-boosting serum rivals Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop Glow but is 16 times cheaper!
Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop Glow dupe can help make your complexion dewy, glowy, and bright but at a fraction of the hefty price tag
By Aoife Hanna • Last updated
11 celebrities' skincare routines that'll help you achieve a radiant A-list glow
We know these celebrities' skin secrets – and they're more achievable than you think
By Emma Stoddart • Last updated