No matter what type of hair you've got, creating the perfect "effortless" beach waves requires a deceptive amount of work. You need to have the right products, technique, and—let's be honest— a little power from the universe on your side. But the good news is, it is possible to get the perfect beach waves of your California dreams... it just might take some work, and a whole lotta hair product. Read on for best practices, care of the pros.
Understand what your texture means for your curl process
First things first: Everyone's hair reacts to a curling iron differently, and it all has to do with your history. "Virgin [un-dyed] hair can have a harder time curling and the temperature needs to adjusted based on how well the hair holds the curl," explains Beachwaver founder Sarah Potempa. "Color-treated hair tends to be easier to curl, so you can start off with lower heat setting and adjust accordingly."
Eugene Toye, senior celebrity hairstylist at Rita Hazan Salon, adds that the easiest type of hair to curl is that which has has a natural curl pattern and more moisture, while someone with very, very fine hair may have trouble holding a curl.
Prep your strands
The most important part of the hair curling process is the prep. Step one is to always, always use a heat protectant; this ensures your hair stays its healthiest, shiniest, and bounciest.
And you're going to want to make sure your hair is completely dry before using an iron. Not only is it incredibly damaging for your hair to apply that sort of direct heat when it's wet (in case the putrid smell of burning hair didn't tip you off), but it's also less likely that a curl will hold if there's any excess moisture. And while it may be tempting to smooth your hair with a straightener before going in with your curling tool, don't—it will make it literally impossible for any curl to last, my experts tell me.
Learn to master your iron
While every hair type requires something slightly different from the curling process, there are a few general, one-size-fits-all rules worth committing to memory. First up? Don't crank your iron up to its maximum heat. "While sometimes you need to use a high temperature level when straightening your hair, when you're curling it with a curling iron, you don't need to use the highest setting," says Andrew Fitzsimons, brand ambassador and celebrity hairstylist at NatureLab. TOKYO.
Next comes the "curl test," which will help you figure out how many seconds to hold the iron on your hair in order to achieve your desired curl pattern. Start by holding your hair in the curler for 5 seconds and releasing. If your hair falls limp, try it for 7 seconds; if that's unsuccessful, try again for 10. Sadly, if it your hair won't hold a curl after 10 seconds with the iron, it probably won't hold a curl on its own. In this case—or if you tend to have a harder time holding a curl in general—Fitzsimons recommends setting the hair first with rods or rollers, then using a lower heat setting when it's time to bring out the iron.
And one last tip? "I always tell my clients that you can always add more curls to your look, but it’s much harder to take away the curl," says Toye. In other words, be sure to under do it at your first pass around your head, then go back and add as necessary.
Style your curls based on your texture
If you have straight hair, you want to start the curling process by spritzing your strands with hair spray, which will help your curl hold. Toye recommends setting your iron to 425 degrees, and positioning the iron down (so the handle is at the top).
If you want a more polished curl, Potempa recommends using a Beachwaver S1 ($129), sectioning your hair with clips, and curling your hair away from your face. When you're done, run your fingers through the curls to loosen them up. If you want a more relaxed look, curl your hair before bed then braid it into two sections. You'll wake up with beach waves worthy of the Victoria's Secret runway.
Already got some spring in your strands? Toye says to "determine the size of your natural wave, and use a curling iron that is a size bigger. This method will stretch out your natural curl in order to enhance it. Finish the look with an anti-frizz hair spray and a hair spray, like Lock & Block Spray from Rita Hazan ($26).
To give your curls a more polished look, use a smaller barreled iron—like the Beachwaver S.75 ($129), or something close to the same size as your curls, which will help accentuate what Mother Nature gave ya.
Fitzsimons notes that you can usually get away with air drying your hair, then using a light curl cream to help with definition. "You don't want to use anything too heavy because you want your hair to be able to move and for you to be able to run your fingers through it," he explains. Then, you can amplify curls with a product like NatureLab. TOKYO Perfect Smooth Hair Oil ($16) and a curling iron, which you should always use in the same direction as your natural curls. Select a couple of curls to addd definition to (rather than curling your whole head) and you'll be good to go.
Since you've already got great curls, there are a few things you can do to amp them up. "Using a curling gel and twisting your hair out is a great way to curl your hair again without damaging it with heat," says Fitzsimons, who likes to use NatureLab. TOKYO's Perfect Shine Oil Mist ($16) to add definition and shine, and to protect from frizz.
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