One of the biggest fundamental lessons a hairstylist learns early on in their education is how to do a roller set. I remember learning it myself and thinking, ugh, I’m never going to use this. But I was so wrong. It may seem like an outdated task because it’s not a frequent demand for salon clientele, but over a decade into my career, I can confidently say that hot rollers are still very relevant. In fact, behind many of our favorite red carpet hairstyles is a good roller set.
Some stylists use velcro rollers, flexi rods, or magnetic rollers, but hot rollers, specifically, can produce some pretty stunning long, cascading curls—sans effort. Once you switch over to hot rollers, gone are the days of a tiring arm workout from trying to do a major blowout at home. Compared to your barrel iron curls, they also give you a more full-body curl with far more longevity, celebrity stylist Kim Kimble tells us. To achieve dreamy, voluminous waves using hot rollers, we tapped Kimble and hairstylist Gregga Prothero for their pro tips and industry expertise.
Meet the Expert
Ahead, check out our how-to guide for using hot rollers on long hair.
How to Prep Hair
Unlike the wet sets of yore, you're going to want to start out with dry hair before using your hot rollers (after washing and detangling your hair, that is). Any moisture in your strands or oil at the scalp may sizzle and fry your hair once the heat of the rollers is applied and is, therefore, best avoided. "If the hair is dripping wet, the hot rollers will take a really long time to work," adds Prothero. Also, be sure to use a heat protectant for extra security, says Kimble. Although hot rollers are less damaging to hair than curling irons, they're still a method of heat styling. We suggest spraying Kimble's Blockbuster Heat Protectant ($11) or Davines Love Smoothing Perfector Serum ($29) onto hair before blow-drying on a low heat setting.
How to Use Rollers on Long Hair
Hot rollers will add volume to your roots, keep your strands shiny and smooth, and give you curls that can last for the rest of the week (depending on your hair type, of course). The best part? "Pretty much any hair type can use hot rollers," says Prothero. "The best candidates for hot rollers would be people who want full-bodied curls, whether they have straight or curly hair. If you have curly hair, round brush or blow-dry your hair," comments Kimble. However, she urges caution if your strands are damaged since the heat from the roller set might further exacerbate hair's fragility. Prothero agrees: "If your hair is brittle or very damaged from too much heat or chemical services, it’s best to not use hot rollers or any sort of heat styling." For healthy waves with a heaping side of gloss and bounce, follow these steps:
- Section hair: Begin by sectioning your hair according to your desired parting to make it easier to style. You can section in quadrants or you can do this around a mohawk section—whatever makes the most sense for you and your growth pattern, length, and desired result. The main goal is to stay organized and help you manage your hair neatly as you go.
Make sure that each subsection of hair you grab for a roller is the same thickness as the width of your roller. As with a curling iron, if you take too large a section, your curl will fall flat in the end.
- Be strategic with direction: The key to getting major volume from using hot rollers is the same when using any heat application or tool: direction. When you over-direct your hair one way and then lay it in the opposite direction, you’re creating lift in the hair. So when you place your rollers in, the angle at which you’re holding your hair out when rolling it down to the scalp is going to dictate how much volume you get once the roller is removed.
- Place rollers according to size: For long, cascading waves, you’ll want to place your medium rollers around the face, and your larger rollers down the mohawk center section towards the crown of the head where you want the most volume. Rolling away from your face will create that wind-blown look you're probably after. As you roll up each section of hair, be sure to fasten securely—your roller set should come with crease-free pins or clips. And remember: "If you don’t want the curl too tight, make sure you use the right size for the right curl," notes Kimble.
Using the same size rollers around the head (and using them in the same direction) will give you soft glamorous curls. But if you want some variation, switch up the size of your rollers and the direction you place them in.
How to Set Curls
One of the best parts about using hot rollers is the nearly instantaneous results. Once hair is prepped and pinned, 15 to 20 minutes is all it takes for your set to work its curling magic. During this time, get dressed, enjoy a snack, meditate—whatever. "The main advantage of using hot rollers is you get to multitask as you get ready," says Prothero. Also, it won't hurt to spritz on some hairspray, texturizing spray, or a dry-oil mist (depending on your hair's specific needs) while you wait. "Setting sprays work to lock in the curl," adds Kimble.
Once your 15-20 minutes of wearing the rollers are up, check to see that they've cooled. "Wait until the hot rollers are completely cooled down before taking them out," emphasizes Prothero. "This ensures the curls keep their shape throughout the day. You can use the cool button on your blow dryer on low to speed up the cooling time." If your hair is still looking too straight, Kimble suggests giving a little bump to the ends of hair while blow-drying—her Pro Hair Dryer ($42) is where it's at.
Shop Our Favorite Hot Rollers
Why choose between a ceramic or titanium heat styling tool when you can have both? With a mix of small (3/4"), medium (1"), and large (1 1/4") nano-titanium ceramic rollers, this set of 20—recommended by Prothero—will bring you natural-looking waves in a variation of sizes.
There's no question that this luxe set will roll out luxurious curls. These T3 rollers are a favorite of Prothero's and come in large and extra-large sizes—with the option to add any additional rollers as needed—and are especially great for long, thick hair. You'll be rolled up in no more than five minutes max.
Ceramic rollers will help to keep your hair frizz-free, and these are also flocked; meaning, they're going to grab the hair well and keep the rollers in place. If that's not enough, they come with 12 temperature settings and heat in no time (read: two minutes flat).
Looking for a tighter, albeit, lasting curl? These hot rollers are smaller in size, making it easier to wrap your strands around them. Once removed, gently comb your fingers through your ringlets for more natural-looking curls.
If you could use more bounce to your curls, then consider this ionic set. 20 small-, medium-, and large-sized rollers will give you a totally customized look. Bonus: Cool-touch ends will keep you from burning yourself as you adjust to your new hair routine.
Always on the go? Then consider trying this compact travel roller set. The 1 1/2" jumbo rollers are ideal for landing visually effortless curls. Not to mention, the set's dual voltage will satisfy all your curling needs—regardless of your destination.
Another travel pack option—albeit for smaller curls—is this Remington 14-piece set that comes with 1" and 1 1/4" rollers. The ceramic material ensures bouncy curls (hold the frizz) while J clips keep rollers secure and with less creasing, we might add.
These Prothero-approved titanium ceramic jumbo rollers are a dream for limp tresses. "Hot rollers are really helpful for people who have thinner, flatter, finer hair, as hot rolling helps get that type of hair some volume," explains Prothero. "For frizzier, curly, or coarse hair, it’s best that you smooth the hair out before using hot rollers."
This nine-piece set of ceramic rollers promises shiny voluminous curls. The high-tech platform base stays cool to the touch while it heats the rollers in mere seconds. Sign us up.