Everything You Need to Know About Your Curling Iron

  • Photography by: Amanda Holstein
  • Copy by: Amanda Holstein

Wavy hair is such a versatile look. You can go feminine with big, voluminous waves or edgy with a more textured ‘do. But before you achieve any of these, you need to be able to master the curling iron. So let’s walk through everything you need to know about this useful hair tool so you can create those hairstyles you’ve been saving to your Pinterest boards for months!

What size curling iron should I use?

Choosing the right size curling iron for your hair depends on two things: hair length and how curly you want your hair to be. The general rule is the shorter the hair, the smaller the curling iron. Smaller curling irons will create more waves than larger ones, since your hair can wrap around a smaller curling iron more times.

Short Hair: Try a 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch curling iron for tighter curls and a 1 inch curling iron for looser curls.

Medium Hair: Try a 1 inch curling iron for tighter curls and a 1 1/4 inch curling iron for looser curls.

Long Hair: Try a 1 1/4 inch curling iron for tighter curls and a 1 1/2 inch curling iron for looser curls.

What’s the best way to use a curling iron?

In order to achieve everyday waves with your curling iron, follow these simple steps:

1. Start with a piece of hair about 1/2 inch thick. Remember, the thinner the piece of hair, the curlier the results. So if you’re going for a sleek look, choose a thicker piece of hair.

2. Hold the curling iron vertically and make sure the clasp is facing forward. Clasp the iron around the section of hair about halfway down.

3. Turn the curling iron away from your face. So if you’re curling the right side of your head, turn it to clockwise and if you’re working on the left side, turn it counter-clockwise.

4. Now hold for 7-15 seconds, depending on the thickness of your hair and how it reacts to heat.

5. Next, press down on the clasp slightly to loosen the iron’s grip on your hair. Gently slide the iron downwards until it’s about 1-2 inches from your ends.

6. Then turn the iron just as you did before to curl the entire strand of hair. (This ensures that the roots get a good, lasting curl.) Hold for 7-15 seconds and release.

What Products Should I Use with my Curling Iron?

1. Heat Protection: The most important product you should always apply before curling your hair is a heat-protectant spray or serum. When your hair is dry, try Tresemmé Keratin Smooth Heat Protection Shine Spray. Spray the product about 8 inches away from your head before using any hot tool. You can also apply a repair serum right when you get out of the shower like Bumble & Bumble Repair Blow Dry. It’s great to use before blow drying your hair, or you can let your hair air dry, then use a curling iron.

2. Texturizing Spray: Hair will take to your curling iron best when it has some texture to it, so I recommend spraying Bumble and Bumble Thickening Dryspun Finish to each layer of hair before curling.

3. Hair Spray: To keep your locks in place, finish the look with a flexible hair spray like Dove Strength & Shine Flexible Hold Hairspray.

Get the Look:

Tousled Waves


Source: Instagram @anhcotran

Alternate the direction of each curl for a more natural tousled look. Be sure to curl the front pieces away from your face and to leave out the ends (you can even straighten the ends for a more bohemian look). I also recommend curling smaller sections of hair about 1/2 inch thick.

To get a curl in the opposite direction, simply hold the curling iron so that the clasp is facing backwards. Then when you’ve clasped down on a piece of hair, turn the iron toward your head (counter-clockwise on the right side of your head and clockwise on the left side).

Retro Waves


Source: Grey Likes Weddings

If you’re going for a retro look, try curling thicker, 1 1/2 inch sections of hair in the direction toward your face. Then gently comb through the curls.

Bombshell Waves


Source: The Sweetest Thing

For soft, voluminous waves, try curling 1-inch sections of hair away from your face. Leave about 1/2 inch of your ends out of the curling iron. Add a texturizing spray to your roots for lift and finish with a smoothing product like Frizz-Ease Secret Weapon Touch-Up Creme.

What other questions do you have about curling irons?

  • Heather Chastain

    How can you figure out the diameter of your curling iron if you can’t remember?

    • cococharbz

      Mesure the girth and divide by pi

    • Use a shoelace or string and wrap it around your curling iron, then measure it with a ruler!

  • Amanda Worthington

    How can you avoid the crease from the clamp?

    • Make sure you are turning the iron in the right direction (see steps above). If you’re still getting a crease, try taking the clamp off and wrapping your hair around the iron like a wand.

  • Why is it that some curling irons work better on my hair than others?? I have long and thick hair but I can only use small curling wands on mine…if i use one with a clip the curl falls out after like 5 seconds!!

    • Hi Mollie! It may actually be the what the curling iron is made of (ceramic, tourmaline, metal, etc.). Typically, tourmaline and ceramic curling irons are the highest quality and may work best on your thick hair!

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  • Jessica Brooks

    This same guide for curling wands would be so helpful too!

    • I have a post on my blog that might help! http://advicefromatwentysomething.com/curling-iron-vs-curling-wand/

  • Leslie

    Hi Amanda! I’m still getting the crease from the clamp even when I have it facing the correct direction. Are you clamping your strand and then constantly moving the iron down the strand? I think I may have to try this. Once you clamp, then you can’t just hold it for 7-15 seconds because that causes the creases like you indicated in step 4. What do you think? Thank you!

  • Jenny M

    The hair straightener by karmin is my favorite, makes my hair look so healthy 🙂

  • Camila Martinez

    Best I have ever used is the Karmin.