A step-by-step guide to curling your hair with a flat iron, according to pro stylists

I once saw a tweet that labeled girls who knew how to curl their hair with a flat iron as ELITE. The comment was made to communicate exactly how hard it is to achieve curls and waves with a tool that’s meant for doing the exact opposite. And while it’s totally true that curling your hair with flat iron isn’t quite as intuitive as a traditional curling iron (I’ll admit it can take a few tries to get curls without dents) once you get the hang of it, you realize it’s really not that difficult.

Not to mention, learning this skill cuts down on the number of styling tools you have to keep in that precious storage space under your sink.

In an effort to clear up any confusion about the right way to curl hair with a straightener, I asked three pros for their best tips and tricks for getting bouncy waves and curls using just my trusty old flat iron. Here’s what they had to say.

How to curl hair with a flat iron:

1Spritz on some heat protectant.

Before you ever pick up a hot tool—be it a hairdryer, curling wand, or flat iron—please do your hair a favor and apply some heat protectant. The reason these tools work is because they get HOT (like, as hot as your oven gets to cook a pizza), and while it’s nice to have perfect curls, we should aim make them perfect and healthy curls.

moroccan oil heat protectant spray

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Celebrity stylist Kendall Dorsey loves using the Moroccanoil Perfect Defense Heat Protectant on his A-list clients. So, if it’s good for ladies like Lizzo, it’s good enough for us, too.

2Adjust the heat of the iron.


If you already have damaged or color-treated hair (which I do), it’s especially important to adjust the heat of your straightener in order to cut down on the damage it can do to the hair shaft. Once again, we want our hair to be healthy, ladies! Our experts recommend keeping it somewhere around 350 to 365 degrees for optimal results.

Additionally, as Judy McGuiness, a stylist at mizu Louis Licari salon, points out, “You’ll need a flat iron that has curved edges in order to avoid any weird lines in the hair. This will also make it much easier to glide through the hair as you’re twisting.”

If you’re looking for a great iron, you can get the same trusty pink one I’ve had for years here, or splurge for this one, which tons of pro stylists love.

3Work in small sections.


Now that your hair is prepped, it’s time to start sectioning it out so you can get ready to curl it. Dorsey recommends using about one-inch sections, and McGuiness agrees. “Any larger than the width of the flat iron and you won’t get consistent waves,” she says.

4Twist and pull iron down the length of hair in one fluid motion.

Here’s where the technique comes in. As Dhiran Mistry, an NYC-based hairstylist says, “It’s all in the wrist.”

Take the section of your hair and gently clamp it towards the roots of your head, then twirl the iron about 180 degrees away from your face. Hold the iron vertically (similar to the way you would hold a curling wand) and pull the iron down the length of the hair in one fluid motion.

“The slower you pull the hair through the iron, the more curly your hair will look, so try to work fairly quickly if you’re going for a more lived-in vibe,” notes McGuiness.

Dorsey agrees. “The quicker you pull the straightener through your hair, the looser the wave will be,” he says. “For tighter, corkscrew curls, glide the straightener slowly down the hair shaft. You can also leave the ends out for a less perfect, cooler end result.”

I promise, it’s less complicated than it looks. Mistry gave some good advice by saying that you need to pay attention to the direction you are twisting your wrist as you go through this motion, as this will determine the direction of the curl.

5Finish with a bit of dry texturizing spray.

Lock in your hard work and newly learned skill by finishing with a few spritzes of light texturizing spray for that undone look that’s not stiff or weighed down.

oribe dry texturizing spray for curling hair with flat iron

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There you have it. Loose, lived-in curls care of one little flat iron. Welcome to the elite.