In this article I’ll be sharing all the basics about how to curl your hair for beginners.
There are three different types of irons that I’ll be talking about and educating you.
The first is a traditional Marcel iron, the second is a spring iron and the third is a wand.
Each of these gives you slightly different end results and can totally be based on preference which one
you use in your arsenal. for all of these, we’ll walk through exactly how to use them properly, how to hold them and the different end results you can achieve.
If you’re a little less comfortable, practice your iron work and your positioning without anything plugged in, just with your hand and rotation movements. That way you can get really comfortable with your tool and you can execute your applications much easier.
Table of Contents
The first iron which is probably one of the most challenging is a traditional Marcel iron. This is a professional-grade tool that’s been used by stylists for years and because it’s so classic it really provides us with a lot of great end results.
Looking at it horizontally, you’ll want to place the resting portion on your thumb making sure that most of the weight and control is centered in the center.
Then I like to take my pointer finger and my pinky finger and rest it on the top part of the rotation bar. If you need a little bit more control or if your fingers aren’t quite long enough to give you that control you need, you can always bring your ring finger higher.
Notice that the motion is going to be up and down using your pointer and pinky finger and then additionally we can roll the iron using our fingers.
Between those two motions, this iron is one of the best to create a ton of different wave patterns and curls and it’s often used by professional stylists.
One feature that I think is really important to remember that most Marcel irons have is the lock and unlock feature. If you don’t want this secondary rotation, you can totally lock it which makes it a little bit easier to use. When you lock it, your iron just has the bar capability, it doesn’t do the rotation.
The second iron I’ll speak to and showcase for you guys is a spring iron.
This is a really easy iron to use. It also has a clamp so this gives you the capabilities to smooth your subsections and really perfect those ends, but what’s also great about this is the spring that provides a little bit more tension. The rotation of your iron and the functionality of it is really straightforward.
The third iron I’ll be using and showcasing is a wand. This is likely the iron that you have at home because it’s really easy to use and creates that super traditional beach wave.
What makes this unique and different from other irons is it doesn’t have a clamp, so you’re truly just meant to wrap the subsection of the hair around this bar to create that wave. Additionally most wands comes with a glove. This is truly just meant to protect your hands so that if you’re perfecting or smoothing those ends you don’t get burned.
Each iron that I’m using and showcasing today represents a very classic category however what I always advise is if you’re using an iron that’s new to you or with a different manufacturer to always look at their instructions to make sure that you’re using it properly.
Now that we’re ready to start curling hair, I think it’s really important to discuss and remember the ideal canvas to safely and effectively create a curl pattern.
First it’s super important to remember that the hair should be a hundred percent dry before applying a thermal styling tool. Because the hair is way more susceptible to break when it’s damp then when it’s dry, any extra moisture will create further damage and you won’t get an effective curl pattern. Really focus on making sure that that canvas is totally dry before you apply an iron.
The second thing to remember is that you should always use some sort of thermal protectant on the hair prior to applying your iron.
Remember that even if you’ve applied a thermal protectant on to the hair, each additional application of heat requires its own thermal protectant. So while I’m doing iron work on dry hair, I should also layer in my thermal protectant of choice to ensure that it’s completely protected.
How to Curl Your Hair For Beginners
Now we’re ready to start curling.
What I want to focus on first is showcasing the differences between each of the irons we spoke to earlier.
I’m going to prep the interior subsection of hair with a thermal protectant.
In this subsection I’ll show you one of each iron so you can clearly see the differences between them and see just a classic way to use each iron.
Curling With a Marcel Iron
In my first subsection I’ll use my Marcel and I do prefer to use it unlocked. You’ll want to make sure you smooth out each subsection before you apply it regardless of the iron you’re using and then again using proper hand positioning, I’m just gonna wrap the hair, feeding the end through, using that rotation to build up to the mids and the base until that end is completely fed through. From there I can release and we have our traditional Marcel curl.
Curling With a Spring Iron
My next subsection will be showcasing a spring iron. This iron does have a clamp but it does have a little bit more tension.
I’ll again wrap the hair at the mid first, kind of heating it all the way through, using my finger to adjust the clamp and again just working that subsection up and down until this end is totally fed through. Once it’s heated, you can release.
Curling With a Wand
Now for my last subsection I’ll be showcasing a wand and again this iron has no clamp so your positioning is gonna be a little bit different.
My preference is to hold it upside down as opposed to right-side up and you’ll just start wrapping the hair around that surface until you get to the very end, hold it there to ensure that that heat permeates through and then let it release.
You can see each of the three different irons represented in a very classic application. The Marcel and the spring are very similar, some slight differences and this can totally be based on your technique and application. But what I’m noticing is that the Marcel is a little bit more elongated, whereas the spring because of the tension has a little bit more bounce to it. And then of course our wand is gonna be a little bit more defined.
So each of these gives just a slight different end result in its most classic application, but again your use can totally be based on the preference that you have personally and the end result you’re trying to achieve.
Now that we’ve discussed the different tools that we have available it’s time to get into technique I’m going to show you three different techniques that you can use to create different curl patterns.
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Creating Traditional Curl
The first technique I’m going to showcase is just that traditional curl. I’m gonna be using a Marcel iron just because that’s my personal preference and I think the more you use an iron, the better you get with it.
To do a traditional wave with a Marcel, you’re just gonna start by wrapping the hair, heating the mids and the base and just focusing on feeding that end through.
The angle of my iron isn’t completely horizontal, it’s on a slight diagonal. For me this creates nice balance of elongation and volume.
For these traditional curls, you’ll notice that each of my waves are going in the same direction. However a pro tip for creating a little bit more texture is to alternate the direction of each curl.
An additional pro tip is anytime you’re curling the hair is to remember that we’re working with the hydrogen bonds and to lock in those hydrogen bonds we have to ensure that each subsection cools. So rather than immediately raking through each of subsections, I’m going to let them sit so that the shape can lock in and then I’ll go through and brush through it once the subsections are cool.
Creating Beach Wave
The next wave I’m going to showcase is a beach wave. This has quickly become one of the most top requested waves. There’s a couple important pro tips to remember when you’re executing this technique.
Again I’m going to be using a Marcel and the initial application of this technique is very similar to traditional. We’re still gonna focus on feeding the hair into the iron, heating the mids and base first, but rather than totally feeding this and through, I’m actually gonna let some of it sit out and this is where we use that secondary rotation with our iron.
While this is heating, I’m actually gonna twist the iron itself and rotate it additionally. Twist it out, create some tension, rotate it again, creating that elongation and as I get further down, I’ll feed that end through a little bit more. Smooth it out and let it sit.
What we’ve done here is we’ve elongated the traditional curl which creates a little bit more of that soft effortless wave but because the Marcel has the clamp and the ease of that additional rotation, we were still able to smooth and perfect the end.
One thing I like thinking about when taking subsections is making sure that the size coordinates well with the size of my iron. I’m using approximately a square inch size subsections. however you can totally use larger ones if you want to.
A pro tip if you’re looking to take large subsections it’s just feel the hair on the surface of that iron to ensure that that heat is permeating through before you unravel it.
As I’m twisting out, I’m really pulling my iron to create some extra tension. What that essentially creates is additional elongation of the curl. If you want it to be a truly elongated beach wave, that tension is really
The more you twist out your wave, the tighter that wave will be. So we’re just gonna do some additional rotations to really emphasize that texture and you’ll see it creates a slightly different look.
So if you’re looking for some variety and a lot of times beach waves have really nice variety, you can totally adjust and customize how much twist out you have.
Creating Volume Wave
The last wave technique I’m gonna show is a volume wave. The main focus here is creating volume all the way from the base through to the ends, based on the curling technique that you create and the tension you have.
For a volume wave what I really like to do with each subsection is just start by over directing it as high as possible. By creating that initial over direction, we’re gonna see a lot of volume and I also like to take my iron and just softly heat the base.
The base is gonna be the most important area where we want to see that added volume, so any additional heat we can provide to encourage that is great.
A spring is gonna be my preference here, just because it allows me to get really nice high tension to ensure that my curl is wrapped off base. It’s slightly higher than where the base exists. That’s gonna really create some volume for you.
My iron is also completely horizontal. Having this horizontal placement is just gonna again ensure that that volume exists not only at the base but through the mids and ends as well. We’ll let that heat and then once it’s permeated through, we’ll release the curl.
A pro top for really ensuring that that lift maintains is to set the curl as it cools. I’ll just wrap it up and make sure that my set is slightly high off base, so that again that volume is gonna lock in.
A pro tip to keep in mind for volumize waves but also is really great to remember for any waving or curling technique is to make sure that your subsection is nice and smooth before it goes into the iron.
If we allow any of these ends to have indentations or any texture, that’s really going to create imperfections in the curl so you want to make sure prior to applying it into the iron that everything’s brushed and smooth and perfected.
To finish the look, I’m gonna do the beach wave technique throughout the front portions of hair just because this is one of my favorite techniques to finish and create that perfect look.
As we move towards the front hairline, the curl direction is going to get a little bit more specific for this technique. Everything along front hairline I’m actually going to curl away from the face. My subsection is coming back instead of forward.
I’ll still do my twist out to create that elongated pattern and now that I’m off that hairline, a pro tip for really creating some beautiful texture throughout the interior of your technique, is with this subsection that’s above and slightly behind the ear.
I’m actually gonna curl this forward as opposed to backward. My clamp is over top and is bringing the curl direction forward. This is really going to help to ensure that there’s some movement throughout the sides and the interior of the hair.
Sometimes if you curl everything away from the face, it looks completely uniform, which can be really beautiful but might not resemble that beach wave look. This small subsection makes a huge difference to really creating that beautiful texture movement that we’re looking for. And then I’ll just continue the rest away from the face.
Now that we’re getting to the part line of hair, I really want to focus on customizing this front face frame piece. I love using a wand for this just because you get a lot of control and it’s really easy to create soft bend versus complete movement.
One thing I love doing for the beach wave is over directing this piece forward so that she gets some nice pinch and push to really create that face frame.
Again kind of heating the base forward where it’s over directed and then taking that bend through more the mid area than the ends. I’ll let that be the area where I focus most of my heat, then I’ll complete the end for a few seconds and let it fall. It creates just this beautiful face frame that’s softly wrapped.
Then for the rest of the hair on the top, I’ll continue using my Marcel and I’ll do my twist out technique, away from the face.
Now that I’ve completed one side of my head, I’m going to do the same technique on the opposite side to finish the look.
Now our waves are complete and we’re ready to comb everything out.
A pro tip is to really make sure that all of your subsections have totally cooled so that the hair is really locked into place.
One of my favorite products to use for an Instagram ready end result is Kenra Shine Spray. I’ll just spray that on the surface of the hair and then I like to use a wide tooth comb to start raking through the curls so that we don’t totally elongate the curl pattern we just created, we just kind of break it up.
Samantha is a hairstylist with over 12 years of color and stylist experience. She enjoys using her knowledge to create what her clients really want when they sit down in her chair. Her passion is creating unique looks that her clients feel great in.