How to Curl Hair with a Straightener, According to a Stylist

woman / Design by Julie Bang

When most of us want curls, we turn to a curling iron. But curling hair with a straightener can yield curls that are just as bouncy (or just as beachy, depending on the look you're going for). Of course, there is a technique. In fact, there are several techniques for curling hair with a straightener, depending on how tight you want the curls to be,

To get things straightened out (pun absolutely intended), we consulted Redknen Global Artistic Ambassador Sam Villa and hairstylist Sky Kim. They offered us step-by-step guides to creating beach waves, bouncy curls, and everything in between—using just a straightener as a tool.

Meet the Expert

Ahead, learn all the tried-and-true methods for curling your hair with a straightener.

From This Video: How to Curl Hair With a Straightener

  1. Starting with a small section of hair, clamp down your straightener (gently) towards the top of the hair section.
  2. Pull the straightener down the hair shaft as if you were going to straighten your hair as usual. But when you get to the part of your hair where you'd like the curl to begin (middle-to-end of the section for a natural, beachy look), stop and proceed to step three. You want to move seamlessly from step two to step three while moving your straightener continuously, which might take a little practice.
  3. Pivot the straightener 180 degrees (a half-turn) away from your face and gently pull down straight through the rest of your hair. Repeat for each section of hair. Once you've curled your entire hair, use your fingers to massage the roots, which will help break up the curls and give you that beachy, undone look.

Practice new techniques with the iron turned off first to eliminate the risk of burns while perfecting your craft.

How to Use a Straightener For Beach Waves

"For beachy waves, luckily you won’t have to worry thinking about going away or towards your face," says Kim. "It’s one of the easier versions of the flat iron waves." When it comes to creating a tousled beachy curl, there are two methods touted by these top stylists. 

Simple Beach C-Waves

  • Section off the front and separate about one-inch wide per piece of hair.
  • Beginning at the root, make a "C" shape with the rounded curve facing the outside. "Depending on how many waves you want to put in, you can drag the flat iron a little longer or shorter when you create the C-shape wave," Kim says.
  • Repeat this motion in the opposite direction to create an "S."
  • Continue down the length of the hair until you reach the ends—you'll keep these a little straighter.
  • Use your fingers (and a spritz of sea salt spray) to loosen the curls.

Beachy Pin Curls

  • Gather a small vertical section.
  • Use your fingers to twist the strand from roots to ends.
  • Wrap the twisted section into a pin curl.
  • Using a good amount of tension, press down on the pin curl with a flat iron for four seconds.
  • Repeat until the entire head is done.
  • Work a medium control texturizing spray—Villa reaches for  Redken Triple Dry 15 ($28)—into the hair for undone, beachy waves.

How to Use a Straightener For Bouncy Curls

Bouncy curls are all about lift and volume. Kim suggests working Ouai Volume Spray ($26) into the hair before blow-drying and following with Christophe Robin Hydrating Leave-In Mist With Aloe Vera ($39).

  • Starting about one inch away from the root, hold the iron vertically and slightly tilted away from the face and press down.
  • Twist the iron a half and turn away from the face.
  • Use tension and hold the ends of the hair as you glide the iron halfway down the length.
  • Twist the iron another half, turn away from the face, and glide the rest of the way through using light tension.
  • Repeat this process twice per strand for extra bounce, or use larger sections for a looser look.

"Pay attention to pass and compression," explains Villa. "The pass is the amount of time heat is applied to an area and the compression is the amount of pressure with which the heat is applied."

How to Use a Straightener For Polished Waves

There are two ways to make this happen, according to Kim. "You can repeat the beach waves [C-curl method], but make the 'C' shape much wider and curvier and round at the ends." Or use the following technique for more variation in the waves.

  • Create a one-inch vertical section and bring the iron to the root.
  • Smooth the root down, or for more volume, go outward.
  • Pivot the iron a half-turn away from the face and gently pull down for about an inch and a half.
  • Make a tiny dip where the first wave left off, making an elongated "C." Make sure the more round edge is on the inner side, close to your face.
  • Repeat these steps down the length of the hair and finish with rounded ends for a polished look.
  • Use a large-toothed comb or fingers to rake through hair and apply a light-hold hair spray and hair serum for added shine.

Other Curl Methods to Try With a Straightener

Five-Second Touch Up

Villa says to reach for a straightener if you're in a pinch. "A quick hit with an iron through the ends adds a touch of style that looks fresh and modern," he explains. "Pick up a few pieces organically and press the iron down as you turn under. It's a five-second style hack."

Alternate the direction you curl the hair to add dimension and texture. "It's simple yet looks like you just walked out of the salon," Villa says. He suggests wrapping the excess cord around your arm so the iron becomes one with your hand—we also like the idea of knocking everything off the counter a little less frequently.

Hollywood S-Waves

The quintessential Old Hollywood (or modern Kim Kardashian) look, S-waves are elegant, sleek, and teeming with volume. There are two ways to create this nostalgic style with a flat iron.

For tighter waves, Villa suggests creating alternating "C" shapes down the length of the hair. "Starting on the side of the head one inch from the root, use fingers to pinch the hair, and push up towards the root to form a 'C' shape," he explains. "Hold in place. With the iron held horizontally, tap the 'C' three to four times." Secure a clip in the center of the "C" and begin again one inch below the clip, this time twisting the hair in the opposite direction to form a backward "C". Follow this technique down the strand and across the entire head, alternating directions as you go.

To create looser S-waves, Kim says to start with an inch-wide horizontal section of hair. "Lightly tap the flatiron down on your hair while you make a continuous 'S' shape from root to ends," she explains. "You can even do this from ends to root. It’ll make beautiful, effortless waves, and depending on how wide the curves are, it can come out looser or tighter."

For perfectly polished S-waves, finish off with a glossy holding spray like Redken Shine Flash Shine Spray ($23).

Tips for Curling Hair With a Straightener

  • Start with a heat protectant: Anytime you use a hot styling tool, it's a good idea to spray on a product that will protect your hair. Whether you use a spray, oil, or a cream, reach for something that mitigates against damage caused by heat.
  • Clamp the iron down based on the curl you want: According to Villa, one of the most important things to remember when curling your hair with a flat iron is: "Always be aware of how you are closing the iron, based on your end result." As discussed above, holding the iron vertically, using too much pressure and curling extra-large sections of the hair can all contribute to the shape of the curl.
  • Keep the tool moving: If you clamp a straightener on your hair for too long, you run the risk of burning your strands. Keep the product moving throughout as you weave the tool throughout the hair.
  • Start curls near your eyes: Starting curls at eye level looks more natural than creating curls above or below that. Similarly, leaving an inch or two of hair out of the iron, at the ends, will also create a natural, wavy look.

Curling Hair With a Straightener vs. With a Curling Iron

The great thing about using a straightener over a curling iron is that a straightener can also, well, straighten the hair. In that sense, it's almost like having two tools in one. Similarly, based on how you use it, you can get a whole manner of waves and curls out of the tool (unlike a curling iron, which will create waves based on the barrel size).

Keep in mind that not all curls are created equal. There's a particular technique to about every type of curly look you can imagine—and a plethora of tools to go along with them. But if there's one iron to have in your arsenal, it's a good old-fashioned flat iron —because it's not just for keeping hair straight. The jack of all curl-creating trades, a flat iron is one of the easiest ways to produce a number of different kinds of coils.

Related Stories