Three-Barrel Curling Irons: How to Use Them For Mermaid Waves

Three-Barrel Curling Iron Mermade Waver

Although the current run of three-barrel curling irons may look similar to the crimpers of Y2K and ‘80s-era sleepovers past, the two tools couldn’t be further from each other when it comes to the finished effect. While a crimper creates the tight, angular texture that adorned the prom tendrils of starlets in Disney Channel Originals, three-barrel curling irons provide a softer, mermaid-esque finish. We have a strong feeling that Lizzie McGuire, had the reboot taken its full form, would be extremely on board. 

Here, we spoke to pro hairstylists Devin Toth and Joseph Maine to find out what three-barrel curling irons do, the benefits of using one, and how to work with the tool. Keep reading to learn all about three-barrel curling irons and see some of our favorite wave-making options.

Meet the Expert

  • Devin Toth is a hairstylist with over a decade of experience working with celebrity clients and backstage at Fashion Week shows. He is based in New York City at Salon SCK
  • Joseph Maine is a hairstylist who has worked on numerous editorial shoots, on brand campaigns with celebrity clients, and backstage at Fashion Week. He is the founder of Trademark Beauty and the artistic director of Color Wow.

What Is a Three-Barrel Curling Iron?

A three-barrel curling iron is a hot tool that comprises a trio of side-by-side curling wands. When used on a section of hair, the tool will create a soft, wavy texture. “The way the hair is creased between the three barrels results in a shape that’s like an elongated W,” Maine says.

Benefits of Using a Three-Barrel Curling Iron

A three-barrel curling iron creates a more precise, uniform finish than what you may get from a traditional curling wand, and it's easier to maneuver than a flat iron when creating a soft wave. “The waves are easy to create, and the finish often lasts longer—even on fine or thin hair,” Toth says. Additionally, the larger surface area allows you to grab more hair at once, potentially cutting down on the total styling time.

Risks of Using a Three-Barrel Curling Iron

The larger size of the tool could pose a larger risk of burning yourself, and the different shape can take some time to get used to. “Wavers are so simple to use, but the size and clamping may feel foreign at first,” says Maine. Additionally, Toth notes that the high heat and surface area combination could be slightly more damaging to your strands than a traditional curling wand. “Prep your hair with a heat protectant, and while you're crimping, try not to overlap any crimps while you're working your way down a section of hair,” he says. 

Hair Type Considerations

Any hair type or texture can work with a three-barrel curling iron, though certain styles fare better when paired with a smooth, blown-out base. “It works great on wavy or somewhat curly hair to enhance that naturally wavy look, and those with inconsistent wave pattern can use it to enhance what they have,” Maine says. “If you have really textured hair, I recommend starting with a smooth finish, as the iron doesn’t provide a lot of tension, and it won’t reduce texture that exists in the hair.” Additionally, you’ll need some length considering the size of the tool—Maine advises against going right up to your root unless your intention is to add volume around the crown.

How to Use a Three-Barrel Curling Iron

Maine recommends holding the iron at a 45-degree angle, which helps to elongate the wave, then clamping the tool down on your hair, avoiding the root area. “Don’t bend the hair once you’ve clamped onto it, because if you push the side of the clip, it can create a dent,” he says. “You can hold the iron either right side up or upside down, and it’ll create the same wave.” Repeat the motions until you reach your ends, then move onto the next section of hair. 

The above technique will create a soft beach wave, but according to Toth, a few simple maneuvers can impart a more retro, Hollywood-style S-wave using the same tool. Start by prepping your strands with a veil of light-hold hairspray and a few drops of styling oil. Then, work the tool through your hair, with the clip side in a downward direction and the barrels facing upwards. “This is important because the clamps will block your line of sight if they are above the section you’re working on, and you definitely need to see the section of hair so you can visually decide where you want to move the iron as you work your way down,” he says. Repeat the same motions through the mid-lengths and ends on the rest of your head, brush through the style, then finish with a final mist of hairspray if needed. 

Shop a few of our favorite three-barrel curling irons below.

The Best Three-Barrel Curling Irons

Mermaid Hair Pro Waver 32mm
Mermade Hair Pro Waver 32mm $74.00

Designed to give you that ever-so-luscious mermaid look, this three-barrel curling iron's high-grade ceramics create waves in seconds while protecting your hair from unnecessary damage.

Trademark Beauty Babe Waves The Hair Waver
Trademark Beauty Babe Waves The Hair Waver $59.00

Great for both beach waves and a classic, glamorous look, this tool features temperature control and a crease-free clamp, making it easy to create your ideal style no matter your hair type.

Amika High Tide Deep Waver
Amika High Tide Deep Waver $120.00

This sleek device uses triple tourmaline barrels plus negative ion technology to create the smoothest, dreamiest beach waves. As an added bonus, it has an auto shutoff option, so you no longer have to worry whether you unplugged it before leaving the house.

INH Insert Waves Here Deep Waver
INH Insert Waves Here Deep Waver $72.00

This three-barrel curling iron has controllable temperature as well as tourmaline ceramic plates to ensure you get the style you want while minimizing damage. It even comes with a heat protective glove, so you can focus less on the potential for burning your fingers and more on crafting your perfect wave.

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