How to Curl Short Hair

When I first moved to New York, I decided to mark the occasion with a fresh new look: goodbye long locks, hello chic city-ready bob. Sadly, the novelty of this transformation was quick to wear off once I realized that trying to even out my natural hair texture with heat styling left me with ringlets that most American Girl dolls would be envious of. But as it turns out, a simple bit of research on how to curl short hair could have saved me a lot of very bad hair days. 

Whether you have pin-straight locks and want to switch up your look, or fine hair that could benefit from a little boost of bouncy volume, try these essential tips and tricks to successfully curl your short hair.

How to curl short hair

Here are some of our favorite tutorials that can help you curl your short hair, depending on the tools you have at your disposal and your preferred styling routine. Perfectly curly hair is straight ahead.

No-heat technique

Yes, it is possible to get the waves of your dreams without heat! Tara Marzuki has perfected the art of heatless waves, and even though she has longer hair, her hair tutorial techniques can be easily replicated to curl short hair:

  1. Start by washing your hair with a smoothing shampoo and smoothing conditioner to minimize frizz and give you a smooth foundation to work with.
  2. After rinsing, towel drying, and combing through your hair, apply a texturizing serum from your mid-lengths to the ends and comb through to evenly distribute. This serum will help lock in your wave and curl pattern after the final step.
  3. An optional step is to quickly blow dry your hair for a minute or so; Tara uses it to remove excess moisture, but it’s not necessary for the tutorial.
  4. Next, part your hair and divide it into two even sections. Then twist it into two rope braids — definitely check out Tara’s video tutorial to replicate her wavy hair technique!
  5. Now, the best step: go to sleep. When you wake up in the morning, remove the twist braids, and gently tousle them with your fingertips. You should be ready to start the day with silky, frizz-free waves — and be sure to check out our blog post on other easy overnight hairstyles to try some different looks.

Davines Melu Hair Shield heat protectant

Curling iron

Why mess with the classics? This styling tool is one of the most foolproof ways to style and curl short hair, and the best choice for someone who’s hair texture is naturally straight, or fine and thin.

  1. Spray your clean, dry hair with a heat shield for hair. You should use a heat protectant spray any time you heat style your hair since this will help form a protective barrier against any potential damage.
  2. Divide your hair into two sections, pulling the top half up and out of the way (try a silk or satin scrunchie to minimize the potential for damage from friction, or creases in your hair).
  3. Starting with the bottom section, slip a manageable amount of hair through the barrel, and roll upwards toward your scalp. Hold it there for a few seconds to help set the style, and release.
  4. If your hair is notorious for going limp after styling, spritz each section with a brushable hairspray to help keep the curls secure. And check out our post “4 Looks That Add Volume to Your Hair” for other ideas on how to pump up the body.
  5. Repeat this section by section until you’ve curled all of your hair.
  6. Spray all over with a strong hairspray to finish and set the style.

Curling wand

If you’re a fan of looser curls or beachy waves, you might want to try using a curling wand to curl your hair for easy hair styling.

  1. Apply a heat protectant spray, and section your hair the same way you would in the curling iron tutorial.
  2. Holding the wand at a slight angle, take about a one-inch section of hair and wrap it around the wand away from you, starting at the base of your hair and working down toward the ends. Hold for a few seconds, then release.
  3. Repeat for the rest of your hair, alternating the direction you wrap if desired (for a more natural-looking wave). 
  4. Finish with hairspray or texturizing spray.

Flat iron

As a minimalist with a tiny bathroom, I try to keep my tools to the bare minimum. That’s why I only have a blow dryer and straightener — and when I want to curl my hair, I follow this simple flat iron technique.

  1. Apply a heat protectant spray and section your hair as we did in the other tutorials.
  2. Starting with a one-inch section of hair (or bigger for looser looking waves), secure it in the flat iron and gently rotate it outwards while pulling down. Another way I’ve done it in the past is to start at the ends and roll my hair upward, holding for a few seconds and releasing.
  3. Repeat for the rest of your hair until finished.
  4. Finish with hairspray or texturizing spray.

Kenna Kunijo Davines salon

photo by @kennakunijo

Tools and products to extend the life of your curls

  • Flat iron or curling wand: These are both smart choices if you want to control the intensity of your curls, and lean more toward the beach waves aesthetic. There are a ton of different varieties out there, so I like to compare reviews on Amazon.
  • Curling iron: When choosing the right curling iron for your hair needs, keep in mind that the size of the curling iron will determine the size of your curls — the smaller the circumference of your curling iron, the tighter and collier your final curls will be. And they’re a great tool to have on hand when you need to touch up your curls on day two or three.
  • Shampoo and conditioner: The products you use in the shower set the course for your styling journey, and curling your hair when it’s dirty can mean limp locks if there’s too much residue or product buildup. If your hair is on the frizzier size, try a smoothing shampoo, and don’t forget to apply hair moisturizing products to make sure your hair is happy and hydrated enough to hold onto curls.
  • Heat protectant spray: A must-have for any time you plan on heat styling your hair.
  • Texturizing spray: If your hair is on the thin or limp side, (or your thick hair is in need of a boost) try adding a texturizing spray for fine hair into your curling routine. Spray all over your hair after applying the heat protectant spray, and you’ll be left with hair that’s more voluminous with longer-lasting curls.
  • Curling mousse: When you curl short hair, sometimes you need a little boost. Apply a curling mousse to your towel-dried hair (or as a finishing touch after styling) to help your curls retain moisture, definition and bounce. And bobby pins can help keep curls and waves set in a specific shape after you apply mousse.
  • Hairspray: You can’t forget hairspray when it comes to ensuring your curls stay put! Choose the right hold depending on your hair type — and maybe even finish your routine with hair shine products like a shine-boosting finishing spray.

Other tips for long-lasting curls

  • Swap out your pillowcase: Nothing crushes a beautiful hairstyle like the wrong bedtime routine, and traditional cotton pillowcases are often responsible for many ruined looks. Use a silk or satin pillowcase to help preserve your style, and reduce the chance of friction causing breakage or damage to your curls.
  • Try a hair oil: If your curls look like they could use a little boost, use an anti-frizz oil — apply one or two pumps of the oil into your palms, and lightly distribute through your curls. This should help fix any issues with frizz, while also boosting shine.
  • Plan a salon visit: Make sure you’re making salon appointments to ensure your hair is healthy — short hair needs regular haircuts to remove any dead ends and keep the style looking fresh, and your stylist will be able to give you a custom cut (like layers) that can help boost the look of curls.

by Lauren Hannel, staff contributor

cover photo by @kennakunijo

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