How to Curl Your Hair With a Curling Iron and a Straightener


My hair and I have had a rather tumultuous relationship throughout the years. In its natural state, my hair is blonde, thin, puffy, and very wavy — and while I’ve never strayed from my color except to embrace slightly lighter or darker variations, I’ve spent a LOT of time and effort on the texture.

I’ve had perms (two!!), and I’ve tried everything in the book from salty texture spray to a variety of straighteners (Does anyone remember the Wet2Straight? That was my shit.). I go back and forth a lot on whether I prefer to add wave, straighten to sticks, or let the wild things fall where they may. In all this experimentation (about 14 years of it!), I’ve perfected some pretty effective hairstyling methods over the years. Here, I’m sharing my best tips and tricks for curling your hair for an everyday look — two different ways, with two different tools.



Curling With a Curling Iron

I know, I know — you THINK you know how to curl your hair with your curling iron (But if you did, would you really be reading this? Something to think about.). In reality, a lot of people are making one simple mistake when curling their hair with a curling iron — not letting it cool before touching, moving, or tousling.

  1. Separate hair into at least two layers (maybe more if your hair is really thick).
  2. Take a one-inch(ish) section of the bottom of hair. Attach the clamp to the hair at the top of the section, then slide it down to about a centimeter up from the very end of the hair.
  3. While hair is clamped, wrap the barrel away from your face, trying to keep the strands flat against the barrel (for even heat distribution). Once you get to the top of the hair section, hold for 5-8 seconds.
  4. Instead of unclamping, simply pull the barrel out from the bottom, letting the hair slide through the clamp as the barrel moves.
  5. This is the most important part — DON’T TOUCH THE NEWLY CURLED SECTION!
  6. Repeat the process on one-inch sections of hair for the entire layer. Once the entire layer is curled and cooled, spray with strong-hold hairspray.
  7. Once the bottommost layer is complete, we switch up the routine. Take down the next section — this time, you’re going to use your iron as a wand.
  8. Take a one-inch section of hair. Place the barrel (facing down) up close to the root fo the section (but not so close that it touches your skin). Wrap the hair around the barrel from top to bottom, with the hair wrapping around the barrel away from your face.
  9. Once you’ve wrapped the full section, hold the tip of hair at the bottom still for about 5-8 seconds, as the hair heats up.
  10. Release your hold on the hair, then pull the iron down and out.
  11. Don’t touch the newly curled section!
  12. Once an entire layer is complete, adjust the sections so they are all falling into place — then spray with either a strong-hold hairspray or a texture spray.
  13. Comb through with fingers, comb, or brush (depending on how piecey you want the final result to look). A brush will bring the curls together to form a subtle wave, but a comb or fingers will result in a more textured situation.
Kristin Ess
Beach Wave Curling Iron 1"

The exact iron I use — lets you control heat settings, can be used with or without clamp, and features an automatic shut-off (for those mornings when you forget to turn it off). I'll use this til the day I die!

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Curling With a Flat Iron/Straightener

It may seem counterintuitive to curl your hair with a tool designed to make your hair straight, but the rounded edges of pretty much every straightener out there offer just the right amount of bend for a beachy wave. Once you get the hang, you can do your whole head in about 5-20 minutes (depending on your hair) — making flat iron curls the option of choice for weekday mornings or spontaneous nights out.

  1. Separate hair into at least two layers (maybe more if your hair is really thick).
  2. Take a one-inch(ish) section of the bottom layer of hair. Clamp the flat iron around the hair, about 3/4 of the way to the root.
  3. As you slowly rotate the clamp and barrel away from your face, simultaneously pull the clamp lower down the section of hair. You should be slowly turning and pulling down at the same time.
  4. Once you get almost to the bottom of the section of hair, unclamp the iron.
  5. Flip the piece of hair away from face, correcting the curl.
  6. Repeat on one-inch sections all the way around your head, then repeat on the remaining layers.
  7. Let whole head cool for about two minutes.
  8. Spray hair with texture spray, then comb through with fingers, comb, or brush (depending on how piecey you want the final result to look). A brush will bring the curls together to form a subtle wave, but a comb or fingers will result in a more textured situation.
Hairstyling Iron

This is not technically the EXACT flat iron I use (as you can see, mine is a limited edition sparkly gold, lol) — but it is the same brand and model, which is the straightener I have been using for years and years. The barrel has a good amount of bend!

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1" Styler

I used this flat iron ONE TIME at a friend's house and I've thought about it just about every day since. If I were to make one hair investment, it would be this — it's a big purchase, but it was absolutely the best "curl-with-a-straightener" straightener I've ever used.

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Styling Essentials

No matter what tools you’re using, the right styling products can make all the difference in maintaining your style all day long. A few of my personal favorites:

Texturizing Hair Spray

This adds SO much texture and grit, which is great for hair that's freshly clean. Helps create style, not HOLD style.

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Kristin Ess
Soft Shine Beach Wave Spray

This is the beach wave spray of your dreams — no crunchiness in sight! I use this when I want my waves to fall naturally.

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Sexy Hair
Big Sexy Hair Volumizing Hairspray

This is the OG hairspray I've been using for years — adds just the right amount of volume and hold without looking too crispy or tight.

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Living Proof
Full Dry Volume Blast

Similar to the Ouai styling spray, this adds volume and texture — and smells AMAZING.

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Kristin Ess
Signature Finishing Spray

The strongest hairspray I've ever used — will work on even the most "my hair doesn't hold a curl!" hair.

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Kristin Ess
Sectioning Clips

Use these to keep layers apart — without the crease of a ponytail holder.

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Wet Brush
Shine Brush

Wet Brushes are the best!! Anyone who showers in the morning and goes straight to styling for the day knows that time is of the essence — and the Wet Brush cuts down on both detangling time AND styling time. This bad boy adds shine as it detangles — yes please!

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Kristin Ess
Large Detangling Brush

The basis of any great hairstyle is a fully prepped head of hair — and I love the efficiency that comes with a detangling brush large enough to tackle lots of hair at once.

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