How to Roller Set Natural Hair, According to a Natural Hair Expert

Create a smooth roller set with the right technique.
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Roller sets remain one of the gentlest ways to style your hair with minimal heat. It may look easy when your stylist does it, but it can be frustrating to learn what to use when you want to do it yourself. And even when you have all the tools on hand at home, it can take a little practice to master it. But with a little patience and the right technique, just about anyone can get a professional-quality look at home. We spoke to a natural hair specialist to get a thorough walkthrough and all the best tips to roller set your natural hair at home, and help you achieve a long-lasting set without having to pay a pro to do it for you.

Ready for an Instagram-worthy hairstyle you can do at home? Keep scrolling to learn exactly how to roller set natural hair.

Meet the Expert

Crystle Jones-Bond is a licensed cosmetologist, natural hair specialist, owner of Assuage Hair & Body, and the author of I Want to Go Natural, Now What?

01 of 10

Begin With Damp Hair

”Start with freshly washed hair that was previously shampooed and conditioned,” says Jones-Bond. “After the conditioner is rinsed, thoroughly towel dry the hair. The hair should be left damp (but not sopping wet)." You can spritz your hair with water while you roll if any sections begin to dry out.

02 of 10

Section Your Hair

Once your hair is clean and toweled until it’s damp, you’re ready to start prepping for rollers. "Section the hair into four to eight sections and clip each section up. This allows you to apply the products evenly and detangle quickly,” explains Jones-Bond.

03 of 10

Spray On Leave-In Conditioner

"Spray the leave-in conditioner into each section of the hair. My favorite leave-in conditioners have aloe juice as the main ingredient. It keeps the hair in great condition, and leaves it smooth, shiny, and reduces brittleness." And, this isn't the time to skimp on whatever setting products you use. Each section you roll should be coated from the roots all the way to your ends. Whether it's a liquid setting lotion or a mousse, apply it evenly to each section as you begin to work on it instead of an allover application at the beginning of your set. Look for setting agents with a moderate to strong amount of hold since the longevity of your finished hairstyle depends on the product you use when setting.

04 of 10

Apply Oil

Long natural curls hydrated with hair oil


Jones-Bond says that next, you’ll apply a fingertip full of oil to your palm and rub it in like lotion, and then apply the oil to each section of your hair evenly. “After applying the oil, do the same thing with a cream or butter. Applying leave-in conditioner, oil, and cream in that order locks and seals the moisture into each strand of the hair, leaving the hair moisturized for a long period of time,” she explains.

The specific ingredients and products that are best for your hair will depend on the type of hair you have. “Low-porosity hair needs ingredients such as grapeseed oil, argan oil, jojoba oil, coconut water, and sunflower oil (just to name a few),” notes Jones-Bond. “High-porosity hair needs ingredients like shea butter, mango butter, coconut oil, cocoa butter, castor oil, avocado oil, and coconut milk."

05 of 10

Detangle, Detangle, Detangle

Natural hair with curlers on half the head


Completely detangled hair will result in a smooth roller set. Any tangles you leave in will show up in the final style, so take care with this step. “Apply detangler to each section of the hair and detangle with a wide-tooth comb or a detached back brush. Start from the ends of the hair and work your way up to the roots, then clip it away,” explains Jones-Bond. “The brush will use less tension on the hair to glide through your curls without force. It will decrease breakage and split ends." Working up the hair also helps to thoroughly distribute your setting agent.

06 of 10

Divide Hair Into Small Sections

Next, Jones-Bond says to take down one section of your newly detangled hair and from it, section out a smaller area of hair. Then, clip the rest of that section back into place. Not only will large sections of rolled hair take longer to dry, but they're also less likely to stay completely smooth and straight. It's important to have enough rollers on hand so you can keep your sections small for a polished style. Try to work with areas no more than one inch across.

“Apply three pumps of mousse to the small area of hair, and then brush it again to detangle,” explains Jones-Bond, who says to use an endpaper to grab some of the uneven hair strands into the roller. “Put the paper in the middle of the hair, slide it to the ends, and pull gently. Pick up the roller and roll the hair and the endpaper around the roller all the way up to the root.”

If you want a tighter root, you can two-strand twist only the root of your hair before rolling it. This will make the root less puffy and the hair more defined. 

07 of 10

Pull Your Hair Taut

Continue rolling your hair section by section until your whole head of hair is rolled, but ensure that each adjacent section of hair is rolled in the opposite direction. According to Jones-Bond, “When you curl the hair in opposite directions, they will not combine. You will not have to pull them apart as much or as often for fullness.”

Note that a good roller set means hair is wrapped tautly around each roller. When you begin rolling from the ends, keep the section straight with a firm grip as you roll toward your scalp. Failing to keep your hair taut as you roll will result in a loose hold around the roller and less-than-straight results. As you roll each section, secure it at the root with a roller clip or roller cover so that the roller stays in place.

08 of 10

Dry Thoroughly

Now, you wait. "Sit under the dryer until your hair is completely dry. If you are not completely dry, your hair will not hold its form and [will] become frizzy,” notes Jones-Bond.

The importance of this step can't be emphasized enough. To get the best results from your roller set, you must wait until your hair is completely dry before removing the rollers. Taking them out with any sign of dampness puts your hair at risk for frizz and fallen curls.

If roller setting is your go-to styling method, consider investing in a hood or bonnet dryer since air drying can take a long time.

You may want to apply a heat protectant before sitting under the dryer to keep your hair protected from the heat; although this is indirect heat, a little extra protection helps to maintain your healthiest strands.

09 of 10

Remove the Rollers

"After your hair is dry, undo your rollers one by one in a clockwise or counterclockwise manner [so as] not to disturb its form,” advises Jones-Bond.

10 of 10

Finish Off With Oil

Dae Prickly Pear Hair Oil on distressed neutral background


Jones-Bond says to add oil to the palm of your hand and rub it in your hands like lotion. “Start to separate your curls and wind the hair clockwise or counterclockwise until you have done each section for fullness,” she advises.

These tips not only work for magnetic rollers, but also for flexi rod sets. Don't be discouraged if your first couple of attempts fall flat. Continue practicing your technique and your roller setting skills will improve.

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