TikTok has blessed us once again. Among the many beauty techniques the app has brought us (soap brows, tip-of-the-nose highlighter, hair slugging), we now have an easy, heat-free way to get big, luscious curls.
While TikTok may be bringing it to a wider audience, heatless curling isn’t anything new, and there certainly isn’t just one way to do it. You have so many tried-and-true options at your disposal: Think leave-in rollers (a 1950s classic), the gym sock technique, or simply sleeping in wet, French-braided hair. But as much as we love having socks in our hair, not all of these techniques are easy to execute and not all create uniform curls.
Heatless hair curling ribbons could be the game-changer we’ve been waiting for. Lately, we've been seeing lots of beauty TikTokers twisting their hair around silk rods or ribbons into Baroque pigtails. When they return several hours later, they gently tug their hair free to unleash bouncy supermodel hair. It truly seems as simple as that.
But is it really that easy? Should you run out and buy heatless hair curling ribbons today? We had experts walk us through the best ways to make this trend work. Keep reading for the pros and cons of this technique, as well as how to achieve the bouncy, dreamy results you want.
Meet the Expert
What Are Heatless Hair Curling Ribbons?
Technically, a heatless hair curling ribbon can be anything you wrap your hair around and leave in place to create curls. The technique itself has seen a bit of an evolution over the last few decades. “At fashion week, hairstylists would wrap hair around paper towels to set hair into waves,” says New York-based hairstylist Devin Toth. From there, salon stylists began using velcro rollers, and people at home would hack it with a long sock or a bathrobe belt. “What started as a fashion week insider hair trick became mainstream via social media, and now there’s a very user-friendly product called a heatless hair curling ribbon,” Toth explains.
Today’s hair curling ribbon is a long, soft (typically satin to protect the hair), and moldable cylindrical cushion—about two to three feet long. The most popular kind—and the one you’ve likely seen on TikTok—is the single large rod, which you can use to wrap all of your hair into one headband. Those with longer or more voluminous hair might prefer using shorter, smaller ribbons on divided sections.
Benefits of Heatless Hair Curling Ribbons
It’s hard to argue against giving this TikTok trend a try, largely because there’s not much to lose. It’s especially exciting for anyone with straight hair that doesn’t easily hold a style, since setting is a surefire way to get at least some texture.
- There’s no heat damage. “The number one benefit is less damage since there is no heat used,” says Chicago-based hairstylist Jenna Spino. And in all likelihood, that’s why you’re reading this to begin with. Hot tools like curling irons, straighteners, and even blow dryers can scorch your hair and damage its moisture barrier, creating dry, brittle strands. Heatless hair curling ribbons just give your hair a shape to dry into, allowing you to achieve a styled effect without the damage.
- They’re super easy to use. Heatless hair curling ribbons are truly a “set it and forget it” product, which is a boon for those of us who aren’t super handy with a curling iron. You also don't need to worry about those infamous, tell-tale dents that come from clamping heat down onto your strands.
- They create long-lasting waves. “Like with any hair set, it creates a style that lasts all day,” says Toth. If you’re smart about your product cocktail, the bouncy waves you create with heatless hair curling ribbons could even last longer than heat styles because the hair dried into the curl.
- Silk hair curling ribbons can smooth out your texture. Like with silk pillowcases and scrunchies, rods covered in silk can help to smooth hair cuticles, which means smoother, silkier curls when you pull the ribbons free.
Drawbacks of Heatless Hair Curling Ribbons
Great news: There really aren’t many drawbacks to using heatless hair curling ribbons, just minor annoyances. But if you can keep your arms in the air for 20 minutes while you heat style, we’re sure you can overcome these small bumps in the heatless curling road.
- It can take a long time. This varies depending on the method, but since you’re avoiding heat here, you’ll need to wait until your hair air dries or has been wound around the ribbon long enough to set. It could take several hours and, if you’re looking for even stronger curls, the style may even need to stay overnight.
- You have less control over the outcome. If perfection is the name of your game, this styling tool is not for you. “The styles created by a heatless hair curling ribbon set are less structured than the styles created by a curling iron set,” Toth says. “That’s because the process is more DIY and imperfect—especially if you sleep on the ribbon set while it's air drying. You pretty much have to wait to see how it turns out and then either accept the outcome or tweak it.” If you’re looking for absolute control over the outcome, stick to a curling iron and a good heat protectant.
- The overnight method can be uncomfortable. It depends on which ribbons you buy, but most are nicely cushioned and shouldn’t be painful to lay on. That said, side-sleepers might find the rod to be a little cumbersome and awkward at bed time.
- You might be homebound while you wait. But also maybe not! It depends on how comfortable you are leaving the house looking like a royal Renaissance portrait.
How to Use Heatless Curling Ribbons
As you might have seen on your For You Page, there’s not just one way to use a heatless hair curling ribbon. It all depends on your hair type, your desired style, and your level of patience. Below, stylists detail a few of their favorite methods for achieving heatless curls.
The Headband Method
This is the method you’ve likely seen on TikTok, and it also happens to be the fastest to put in place. Start with damp hair, either air-dried about 60 to 80 percent of the way or misted lightly with a spray bottle. “Part your hair into two sections down the middle, place the ribbon right on top of your head, and secure it on top with a jaw clip,” Spino says. Start wrapping one side around the ribbon, picking up more and more hair as you go. Keep wrapping away from your face until you get to the ends, then secure with a scrunchie. Repeat this on the other side, then let it set for roughly six hours until dry or sleep with the ribbon overnight.
“You can also modify this method by wrapping tighter or looser—tighter for tighter curls and looser for more of a wave,” Spino adds.
“When buying curling ribbons, definitely look for silk or satin, as they won’t damage the hair while sleeping and are comfortable to sleep on,” Spino advises. She recommends this set by Kitsch, which includes everything you need: a ribbon, clip, and scrunchies.
The Figure Eight
This method starts with the same ingredients: damp hair and a heatless curling ribbon. Instead of shaping the rod into a headband and wrapping all of your hair around it, bend it in half and wrap your hair through in a figure-eight pattern to make an S-wave style. You may need two ribbons for this technique since the length is cut in half—one for each side of your head (think Princess Leia).
“At fashion week, hairstylists would wrap hair throughout a hairpin in that same figure-8 pattern to make S-waves, except they would flat iron the whole pin to do the set,” Toth says. “With a heatless hair curling ribbon, you don’t flat iron it—you just let the semi-damp hair air dry.”
Toth recommends starting this method with a light-hold product like Shu Uemura's Muroto Volume Hydro-Texturizing Hair Mist before wrapping it around the ribbon to help hold the curling set. “You can use a very lightweight smoothing product as well, but keep in mind that if it’s too heavy, it will prolong the drying process,” he adds.
The Multiple-Ribbon Method
Those who have naturally super-long, thick, or voluminous hair (call us, we just want to talk) likely won’t be able to get all of their hair curled around one ribbon. “Smaller heatless curling ribbons can be used on divided sections, so you would use many small hair curling ribbons on one head of hair,” says Toth.
Start with damp hair and divide it into small sections (as many as you need to cover everything). Roll each section upward around a ribbon or away from your face, fold the ribbon, then secure into place with a clip. With each new ribbon, link it into the one that came before—making a chain of ribbons—so that the curlers remain in place.
In addition to the all-in-one kit with a single ribbon, Kitsch makes a handy set of six smaller rollers (in satin, of course) that you can place strategically around your head for all-over curls.