Why a curling iron is a must-have in your hairstyling toolkit

Loved for its versatility, the curling iron is one of the best hairstyling tools to have at home. Learn how to use it like a pro and create looks you’ll love.

Gone are the days when getting a blowout meant going to the hairdresser and spending big money.

And while a trip to the hair salon is still a treat, new technologies – and easy access to styling videos – have made it possible to achieve a pro-quality hairdo at home.

One of the most versatile tools to have in your at-home styling kit is the humble curling iron.

Read on to learn how to use this handy device to create looks you’ll love, without damaging your locks.

How do you use a curling iron?

Renowned celebrity hairstylist Lauren Mackellar says there are few different ways to use a curling iron (sometimes called curling tongs), and each will give a different variation of a curl or wave to the hair.

For fine tresses

“Wrap the section of hair around the barrel of the iron and hold until the hair feels warm to touch,” Lauren, of Robe Haircare, says.

This particular method works best on fine and smooth hair that may need more volume and texture, she adds.

For thick hair

If you have thicker hair or want long-lasting results, the clamp is your friend.

While trickier to manoeuvre when you’re new to an iron, it gives great results when mastered.

“Open the clamp, wrap the hair around the barrel, then close the clamp down,” Lauren says.

“This method can give longer-lasting results, and works well with thicker hair that needs to have more heat from both sides of the hair to help it to last.”

To achieve beach waves

Playing around with leaving the tail end of hair sections out of the curler will result in a more beachy, “undone” look.

To achieve a tighter curl

Twisting the hair into a rope as you wind it around the barrel will give you a sleeker, condensed curl.

Curling iron vs curling wand: what’s the difference?

There’s a big difference between these two heat-styling tools, ghd hair stylist and educator Sheree Knobel says.

“Curling irons have a round barrel so the curl is consistent, and they also have a clamp to hold the hair in place,” Sheree, of Bixie Colour in Sydney, explains.

She points out curling wands, on the other hand, have an irregular, tapered barrel that can create a variety of waves.

These waves are a deeper, more natural wave as opposed to the classic curls created by tongs.

Can you create curls with a flat iron?

Yes, you can. However, using a flat iron for this purpose can be a little trickier to master.

Lauren says when curling with a flat iron, you need to feed the section of hair between the two plates, and twist your wrist as you move down the length of the hair.

“The trick is to apply (just) enough pressure on the hair by squeezing the plates together that the hair can slide through seamlessly, but enough that the heat has time to penetrate thoroughly for the style to hold,” she explains.

How to use a curling iron without damaging your hair

Step 1: Hydrate your hair

Before you begin styling with heat, our experts recommend preparing your hair properly – after a wash, apply a leave-in treatment evenly through damp hair to boost hydration.

Step 2: Dry your mane

Always start with completely dry hair.

“The hair should be dry when you’re using a curling iron or flat iron to avoid burning the hair and causing damage to the cuticle,” Lauren says.

Step 3: Protect your locks

Apply a heat protectant, which will act as a barrier between your hair and the curling iron.

Choose a product that suits your hair type; if you prefer, you can choose a formula that’s suitable for use on wet hair.

Step 4: Set the temperature

The ideal temperature for heat styling is 185C Sheree says, adding that you should only hold the hot tool on your hair for about five to eight seconds.

Step 5: Skip a day

Excessive heat styling can strip your hair of its natural oil, making it dry, brittle and more prone to breakage.

Avoid using your tongs every day but if you choose not to skip a day or two, air-dry your tresses instead of using a hair dryer, and nourish your hair with the appropriate products.

What hairstyles can you create with a curling iron?

“There’s no limit to the looks you can create with the curling iron – from beachy, textured waves to big, bouncy blowouts,” Sheree says.

“You can create movement in shorter lengths or bobs, and let’s not forget fringes, from short to sweeping.

“Irons will give you the movement and hold a brush sometimes just can’t.”

How to clean a curling iron

“Keep your hot tool turned off and unplugged when cleaning,” Lauren says.

Our experts recommend using an organic cottonwool pad with a little nail polish remover to wipe the styler plates and iron body with care.

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Written by Caroline Zielinski.