How to curl your hair with straighteners

Oman curling her hair with hair straighteners
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Don’t be deceived by their name, hair straighteners can do a lot more than simply smooth out your hair so it's poker straight. Unlike the best hair dryers, which can only dry your locks, and with the help of a barrel brush, add volume to your tresses, the best hair straighteners are an extremely versatile hair care appliance. 

They can be used to create curls, waves, S-bends, and flicks, all of which add texture and movement to the hair in ways that straightening can’t. There is a catch, however. Creating these styles is easier said than done. 

To help simplify the process and expand your styling repertoire, we’ve spoken to experts from salon hair care appliance brands GHD and Revamp Professional and Hairstory to find out how to curl your hair with straighteners. 

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Read on to find out how the experts recommend curling your hair with straighteners. Alternatively, check out the prices we've found for some of the best hair straighteners right now. 

First, prepare your hair

Preparing to curl your hair is the same as straightening it. We’ve explained those steps in more detail in our guide on how to straighten your hair but in summary:

  • Wash your hair with a moisturising shampoo and conditioner 
  • Use a towel to gently squeeze excess water from your hair 
  • Apply a leave-in conditioner
  • Rough dry your hair by blasting it with a hair dryer on a low heat to remove all remaining water. 
  • If you’ve got curly or natural hair, swap a rough dry for a blow-dry in order to create a smoother, straighter finish from which to work with. Check out how to blow-dry your hair for plenty of tips and tricks. 

Just as you shouldn’t straighten your hair when it’s wet, you also shouldn’t curl it when there is any water trapped inside. This increases the chances of damaging the hair and breaking the cuticle. 

How to choose a heat setting for curling your hair with straighteners 

Choosing the correct heat setting for your hair type will minimize damage and make sure you achieve the best finish and style as possible. 

If you’ve got thin and fine hair, you’ll be able to achieve curls and waves with your straighteners on a low setting. If you’ve got thicker hair, you’ll likely need to increase the heat to a medium or high setting, depending on how thick and long it is. 

The only exception is if you have damaged or colour-treated hair. In this instance, it’s better for the hair to remain on a low heat, regardless of how thick or thin your hair is. 

Some straighteners, like the GHD Platinum Plus and GHD Unplugged, don’t offer adjustable settings. In the case of the GHD range, their default temperature setting is 365 F / 185 C. This is when the hair is said to be the most flexible, which according to manufacturers is the optimal temperature for creating smooth styles without causing excess damage. 

How to curl your hair with straighteners

We’ve tried various ways to curl our hair with straighteners, including wrapping the hair around the plates, and continually rotating the hair as the styler moves through it. They all work well, but can be a little fiddly, not to mention potentially dangerous when trying to wrap hair around burning hot plates…

With this in mind, the following step-by-step guide is what we consider to be the easiest and fastest way to get curls and create body and movement.

  • Section into quarters: Using sectioning clips, part your hair into four –  two sections either side of your parting, and two sections that run from above your ear and are split down the back of your head. Clip each in place
  • Section each quarter into smaller strips: Now divide one of the quarters into smaller sections and clip the rest of the hair out of the way. It’s best to start from underneath
  • Apply heat protector: Spray this smaller section with heat protection spray from a distance, to avoid making the hair damp

Curling hair with a hair straightener

(Image credit: TechRadar)
  • Turn the straighteners to face the floor and gently clamp the hair: Hold the straighteners with the plates facing towards the floor and gently clamp the hair where you want the curl to start. This can be the root for fuller curls and more volume, or midway down the hair shaft for looser, more natural curls

Curling hair with a hair straightener

(Image credit: TechRadar)
  • Twist the straighteners: Turn the straighteners 90-degrees for waves, or 180-degrees for curls. You can choose to turn towards your face, or away from it. As Hairstory’s Resident Hairdresser, Wes Sharpton tells TechRadar: “The direction will depend on what style you want. Doing alternating turns results in a more natural-looking effect. Turning them in the same direction lends itself to a 70s blowout vibe. Either way, you want to make sure you’re curling the front sections away from the face on each side as this will open the face up.”

Curling hair with a hair straightener

(Image credit: TechRadar)
  • Pull the hair through the straighteners: Pull the hair through the straighteners slowly. The slower you pull the hair, the more chance the curl has of taking shape. Just make sure you don’t stop at any point because you’ll create a kink. Joseph Koniak, the Global Brand Ambassador and Creative Director at Revamp Professional likens the movement to pulling scissors through a ribbon for a Christmas present. “When following this technique, you should be able to create beautifully shaped curls depending on your hair type.”
  • Cool: Let the curl cool down and move to the next small section of hair. Repeat steps 2-6 until you have a head full of curls. If you want the curls to last even longer, Koniak suggests wrapping each curl back towards the root with your fingers. “Pin it in place with a small hair section clip and leave the curls to cool completely to set the style in place.”  
  • Separate: To make your curls look more natural, use your fingers or a wide-tooth comb to brush them out. If you like your curls to look fuller, you can skip this step
  • Set: Spritz with hairspray to set the curls in place

If you want bigger curls or waves, you can pull the straighteners away from your head at right angles during step 6. If you want looser curls or waves, pull the straighteners down towards the floor. 

"My top tip on curling hair is to trust the styler, don’t clamp and drag the plates down the hair," GHD Creative Artist, Patrick Wilson tells TechRadar. 

"It’s not a competition to curl it in the fastest time possible, so take your time with the sections you are curling and let the styler do the work for you."

He continues that the benefits of curling with a styler, over a wand or similar, is that it helps to smooth the hair while curling, and is "a really quick way to get through a full head of hair once you know the correct technique to use."

Vicky Woollaston
Freelance Contributor

Victoria Woollaston-Webber is a freelance journalist, editor, and founder of science-led health, beauty, and grooming sites, mamabella and MBman. She has more than a decade of experience in both online and print journalism, having written about tech and gadgets since day one for national papers, magazines, and global brands. Victoria specializes in beauty gadgets, as well as small appliances including vacuum cleaners, air fryers, blenders, and mixers, plus all things baby and toddler. When she’s not testing the latest must-have beauty product, she loves Lego Architecture, murder mysteries, and chasing after her four-year-old.