How to curl hair with straighteners: 4 easy steps for a foolproof look

Thought you needed a wand for waves? An expert explains how to curl hair with straighteners for glossy swirls

curling hair with straighteners
(Image credit: Getty)

Chances are that if you’ve spent both quite a bit of time and money investing in the best hair straighteners for your hair type - whether curly hair or straight - you’ll want to know how to get the most out of them. Eliminating frizz is one thing, but what about using them to create curls? Turns out that despite what their name suggests, they’re far from a one-trick pony.

As you’ll know from ever having seen someone do it, it’s mesmerising to watch – a seemingly simple glide, turn and flip of the hair and within seconds a straight strand has transformed into a glossy, pristine swirl. 

Trying to emulate it is another story, though. Arm ache, rotation confusion and ending up with a bunch of crimps are common complaints, resulting in many of us preferring to keep the curling to our tongs. However, by keeping our straighteners strictly in their styling lane, we may be missing out on the shinier and smoother results they afford when compared with a wand, in addition to the wider variety of shapes they can be used to create – they’re incredibly versatile. 

It all comes down to nailing the technique. We asked Craig Taylor, Hari’s creative director, for his foolproof tips for achieving professional-looking results at home. 

What you'll need to curl hair with straighteners

Sectioning clips are handy, as well as a wide-toothed comb, if you’re looking for looser, more natural-looking curls. As for products, heat protection spray and hairspray are essentials.

Choose your straightener according to the style that you’re looking to create. As a general rule of thumb, the narrower the plate, the tighter the curl. Hair length is also a factor to consider. For short hair, Craig recommends a straightener with a small narrow profile with narrow plates. “Too big and you won't get enough movement into the hair,” he says. 

Having said that, tweaking your rotation technique (more on that below) and/or the section size of the hair that’s fed through the plates can provide a greater range of options with your existing straighteners.

How to curl hair with straighteners

1. Prep hair

“The main thing is to make sure your hair is completely dry before starting the styling process,” says Craig. “Using straighteners on wet hair can cause hair damage.”

A good heat protection spray or balm is also key. For added volume, try a root lift spray, and to give your efforts extra longevity, a curl hold spray. Ghd does great ones. 

If you have naturally curly or coily hair, blow dry hair first for as even a finish as possible. ”Not doing so would result in irregular texture and movement,” explains Craig.

After applying your products, use sectioning clips to divide your hair into two sections horizontally, from ear to ear.

2. Experiment with section size

The wider the section of hair fed into straighteners, the looser the curl (and vice-versa). Aim for between one to two inches, but don’t be afraid to experiment a little to find the most effective size for your desired style. 

For longer hair, Craig recommends keeping sections a bit bigger underneath, so that curls don’t look too tight.

3. Rotate straighteners in a fluid motion

The secret to the perfect straightener curl is a continuous motion, says Craig. 

“When the hair is in the straighteners, straighten the roots, then, as you move through to the mid-lengths, give the straighteners a turn and continue through (keeping the straighteners moving to avoid marking the hair) until it has reached the tip and out.”

For short hair, aim for half a turn. For long hair, try one complete turn. The greater the rotation, the tighter the curl.

To keep things as snag-free as possible, hold the straighteners with your fingers and not grasped in the palm of your hand. “Using your fingers means that you can turn the straightener between your hands more carefully – one holding the bottom of the straightener and one at the top near the hot plates,” explains Craig. “If held in the palm of the hand when you turn the straighteners, your hand will get stuck in the turn and won’t be able to complete the action down the hair.” 

As for the direction of rotation, turning straighteners away for sections closest to the face can be helpful for keeping hair out of your eyes. Try alternating directions for a more textured, natural finish and avoid clamping hard to prevent marks.

4. Fix and finish

For a more natural finish, shake out curls and and break them up with a wide-toothed detangling comb. Finally, spritz with hairspray to give your handiwork extra staying power.