With summer just around the corner, now is the time to master the art of “beachy waves.” And who better to teach us how to get perfect beach waves than Sarah Potempa, creator of the Beachwaver and hairstylist to Lea Michele, Romee Strijd, and more. So just what is perfect beach hair? Unlike the hairstyle implies, beach hair is not the texture of your tresses after you take a dip in the ocean. No, perfect beach hair is a series of S curves that are almost always created with a curling iron. And while that may sound simple enough, the hairstyle can prove rather tricky for those of us with a texture that doesn't quite hold a wave.
Fortunately, Potempa has remedied this issue via tips and products for straight and curly hair types alike.
1. Let Your Hair Air-Dry
First things first, Potempa recommends applying a lightweight mousse to wet hair. Then, let your hair air-dry so that the product can work itself into your natural texture (or provide a bit of an artificial wave if your hair is normally straight).
2. Section Your Hair
According to Potempa, one of the most important steps is the sectioning of your hair. In order to get a consistent curl throughout, she suggests sectioning the hair horizontally from the bottom to the top of the head via clips (about three sections should do, but if your hair is thicker, try four).
3. Curl Your Hair
If you have straight or fine hair that doesn't hold a curl, Potempa recommends curling one-inch sections of hair with a 0.75-inch barrel. Have curly hair? Create smooth waves by curling 1.5-inch sections of hair with a 1.25-inch barrel (or a smaller 0.50-inch barrel if you want tighter waves). Not quite sure what texture you have? Potempa recommends curling 1- to 1.5-inch sections of hair with a 1-inch barrel if your hair is neither straight nor curly.
Now that you've figured out which curling iron to use, you can get started on curling your hair. To do this, twist 1 to 1.5 inches of hair (depending on your hair texture) around the barrel. Make sure to leave out your ends for a more lived-in wave. Repeat this throughout the rest of your hair, alternating the direction in which you curl with every other strand. Once you've reached the front of your head, Potempa says to curl your strands away from your face so as to accentuate your features.
If you have curly hair, Potempa and Byrdie editors suggest spraying a brush with flexible-hold hair spray and combing out the curl as soon as it has been removed from the heat. This will create a smooth, voluminous wave.
4. Set With Hair Spray
How you set your hair depends on your hair texture. If you have fine or straight hair, Potempa says to spray a flexible-hold hair spray directly onto the curls. However, if you have curly or wavy hair, she recommends spraying a brush with flexible-hold hair spray and then brushing out your curls.
5. Apply a Finishing Agent
Whether your hair is damp or dry, rub a dime-size amount into your hands and work evenly through locks, scrunching as needed. Give your hair a good tszuj and you’re good to go.
6. The Final Result
Depending on the curling iron and barrel size you use, the final result should look a little something like the below pictures.
If you have naturally curly hair…
A small, tight barrel, like a 0.50-inch barrel, will help yield these dreamy waves on Jourdan Dunn above. Try wrapping the hair around a barrel instead of clamping and rolling as you normally would for more of a wave than a tight coil.
You can also try using a straightener to wave out natural hair. This "beach water waves" tutorial explains step by step how to get the look.
If you have thin hair…
Here's where applying a bit of finishing cream to the ends of your hair will serve you well. Ali Larter's hair is on the thinner side, so using too much styling cream would make the hair look too greasy and weighed down. But with just the right amount on the ends plus a little fine-mist hair spray for hold, the result is a back-from-the-ocean tousle.
If you have thick hair…
Thick hair handles product a bit better and may need a heavier deposit of styling cream if it's especially coarse.
If you have short hair…
Waving short hair is similar to how you would approach long hair, but the key is keeping the ends as straight as possible. Take a look at this tutorial from our features editor, Amanda Montell.
Shop more of our favorite hair products for beach waves below!
This mousse is infused with sea salt for kissed-with-ocean-mist texture.
For something a bit lighter, this spray, with the same salinity as sea water, is your go-to. It's also got lavender and sage essential oils for a lovely hair perfume.
Sometimes our roots need a little extra lift, and this spray will provide just the sexy tousled volume you're after.
For those with dry or damaged hair that lends itself to frizz, this gel will help put moisture back into your locks and keep waves looking their best.
Next up: learn helpful tips for air-drying thick hair.