Those are just three phrases that come to mind to describe the process of repeatedly winding one’s hair around a hot curling iron for 37 minutes in search of the perfectly curled mane.
Look. If I voluntarily give up sleep to meticulously do that the words used to describe the resulting curls better be bombshell, stunning, or Instagram worthy.
Yet how often do we find the curls start out approaching that level of awesomeness, if we’re lucky, only to droop like yesterday’s wildflower bouquet by lunch time.
But you know what?
Maybe it’s not the curls’ fault.
Maybe it’s our fault.
Maybe it’s us who don’t know the right way to go about creating lasting curls with a hot styling appliance.
It’s us who makes the mistakes that shorten the life of the curls and let heat damage spiral out of control.
OMG! Then that means the source of the problem could be looking at you in the mirror. But then too so is the one to fix it!
Basically I’ve found the reasons we have next to zero curls left by lunchtime is because we typically make curl-fatal mistakes that fall into one of three categories:
- Tool – the problem lies with your tool of choice.
- Technique – the problem is you don’t know how to use the curling iron or use it the wrong way.
- Product – the problem is you don’t use the right styling products or use them at the wrong time.
So that’s the three ways this comprehensive overview of curling iron mistakes is organized.
Combined they reveal over 17 mistakes too many make. Some you may be aware of. But some I’ll bet are new to you.
So keep on reading if you find curling irons to be a challenge. Or if you prefer you can jump ahead and check out the problem you suspect is plaguing your curls.
- Tool Mistake #1: Going Cheap
- Tool Mistake #2: What’s on Your Barrel?
- Tool Mistake #3: Marcel Curling Iron, Really?
- Tool Mistake #4: Ugh, When Did You Clean This Thing Last?
- Tool Mistake #5: Working With a Vintage Iron
- Tool Mistake #6: Using the Wrong Sized Barrel
- Product Mistake #1: Failing to Use Protection
- Product Mistake #2: Misting Hairspray Too Late To Matter
- Product Mistake #3: Wrong Product Wrong Time
- Technique Mistake #1: Curling Damp Hair Spells Danger
- Technique Mistake #2: Iron’s Too Darn Hot
- Technique Mistake #3: Not Turning Away
- Technique Mistake #4: Clamping All Wrong
- Technique Mistake #5: Dragging Your Feet
- Technique Mistake #6: Portion Size’s Wrong
- Technique Mistake #7: Releasing Curls Before They’re Set
- Technique Mistake #8: Keep Your Hands To Yourself
- Technique Mistake #9: Going At It From the Wrong Angle
Now there are several wrong turns you can make when buying the curling iron itself. The biggest one is the first one. It can be fatal for your locks.
Tool Mistake #1: Going Cheap
That’s right, the first misstep is heading to see what’s available in the styling tool bargain bin.
That may be the worst mistake in the tool category because picking the one marked down or with the cheapest price tag can lead to all sorts of problems.
While this video is an extreme example and admittedly somewhat tongue in cheek it does highlight this fact. You get what you pay for.
Look. This is an investment. One that will last giving you years of excellent curls. Which should leave out Dollar Store finds out of consideration.
Which is all the more important if you find yourself with this tool in your hand often.
Plus as Teen Vogue pointed out, with better quality curling irons your mane is less apt to be damaged inadvertently. Usually you’ll get a digital temperature gauge with less risk of hot spots on the tool because the heat is more even distributed.
Bottom line? Your hair pays the price in the long run if you don’t pony up enough money for your styling tools. Just saying.
Tool Mistake #2: What’s on Your Barrel?
Too often we go curling iron shopping without understanding what makes one curling iron better than another. So if you aren’t aware of that, too often you end up deciding based on price thinking they’re all the same so what difference does it make?
That’s you if the iron you’re using has a rod (or barrel) that is a shiny metal. Sure chrome irons don’t cost as much. But they are harder on your locks.
In part it comes down to those pesky negative ions.
Redken goes so far as to suggest you should only consider curling irons that have one of three materials on the barrel. That would be either a ceramic, tourmaline or titanium iron. Notice bare metal or chrome plated didn’t make the list. For good reason.
- Heat distribution is more even with those three.
- Ceramic and tourmaline both emit negative ions that work to calm down the cuticles leaving you with shinier, smoother strands with less frizz.
- All are less likely to snag your hair so it glides over the heated surface effortlessly.
As InStyle magazine confirms, such materials work best to give a more even heat distribution insuring all strands get equal attention. That helps create long lasting curls.
Tool Mistake #3: Marcel Curling Iron, Really?
It’s usually a mistake to get a tool you may not understand how to use.
It’s also a mistake to get one with a longer learning curve than you have the patience for.
Such might be the case with a flashy Marcel iron. Instead of a spring loaded clamp you have to manually manipulate it.
Think of it like driving an automatic vs a standard shift car. Some find three pedals and only two feet too big of a brain teaser to overcome.
It’s somewhat the same with this type of iron.
Those that take the time to learn how to use it love it. Those that don’t or can’t pretty much don’t.
Now you may not be the styling tool junkie some are, so InStyle magazine explains the technique used with a Marcel iron and why it might not be the one for you.
Yeah, the word most commonly associated with this tool is “practice”. (Leaving some to ask, “Who thought this was a good idea?”)
Since it takes some getting used to, you know to get the hang of it, it may be best left for the pros.
But in the spirit of presenting both sides here’s one stylist’s take on the benefits. You can decide for yourself if you would benefit.
Tool Mistake #4: Ugh, When Did You Clean This Thing Last?
Take a look at your iron. Look a little sad and grimy – to put it mildly?
If it’s more than just a little foul let me ask – when was the last time you cleaned it exactly?
Yeah. Don’t be afraid to clean your iron regularly, just as you would make up or hair brushes, to get the best out of it.
Because if you’re using any kind of heat protectant, as you should, or just ironing second day hair that is loaded with, oh I don’t know, dry shampoo, mousse or texturizing spray, product residue is going to end up on the barrel. Not to mention natural hair oil and such too.
And you’re using this ratty thing on clean hair?
Not only is all that gunk gross and nasty, if it gets bad enough it can hamper how your tool performs. All that grunge can affect heat transfer and cause temperature variation – either of which can prevent you from creating the best curl pattern.
It’s not hard and doesn’t require anything you don’t already have lying around to clean it. Like for instance rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, baking soda or maybe some lemon juice even. An old tooth brush can come in handy too for more stubborn buildup that doesn’t just wipe off.
Or if you prefer, there is a special gunk remover you can use.
While we’re at it, this video, starting at around 45 seconds in, shows you how to de-grunge your flat iron too.
Tool Mistake #5: Working With a Vintage Iron
There’s a difference between loyalty and blind loyalty.
There also comes a time when an upgrade to newer, more modern technology is for the best.
How do you know if it’s time?
Well, you might need a new tool if your curling iron
- doesn’t offer an array of heat settings.
- shows signs of the ceramic coating wearing away. (Heavy user, huh?)
- doesn’t have a digital temperature read out much less digital controls you can swipe like your cell phone.
- takes just short of forever to reach the desired temp.
- doesn’t have an auto shut off safety feature.
In other words if Wilma Flintstone would recognize it it’s probably time for an update.
Of course some of those indicators are more important than others.
For instance anything that puts those locks of yours at risk should come first on the list. Followed closely by the risk of burning down the house simply because you forgot to turn the darn thing off in your haste to get out the door.
Tool Mistake #6: Using the Wrong Sized Barrel
Curling irons are for sure not a one-size-fits-all deal.
So while it’s cliché, the size of the barrel does matter.
In general the rule of thumb is the bigger the barrel the more body and looser the curls you’ll get.
While the smaller barrels tend to produce tighter, longer lasting curls because the hair is twisted around the barrel more times which better establishes the wave pattern.
Another rule of thumb is the shorter the strands the smaller the barrel needed.
On the other hand if it’s a struggle to wind your long hair about the barrel you need to step up in size.
Yet regardless of length you want to wrap your strands around the rod two or at most three times.
Rather than get into any “use this size for that spiral or that size barrel for those waves” kind of discussion thought I’d point you towards a handy curling iron size guide. It shows an outcome paired with a suggested barrel size to help you get the curl type you want.
And let’s follow that up with more thoughts on picking your perfectly sized iron.
There you go. Almost everything you ever wanted to know about sizing your curler.
Now another area ripe for red flags is product usage. Using the right product at the right time can go a long way towards helping you master the curling iron once and for all.
Let’s start with one most apt to be mentioned just to get it out of the way.
Product Mistake #1: Failing to Use Protection
More than likely you’ll see this one brought up in like 7 out of 10 curling iron mistakes articles.
Not sure if it is referenced so often because so many lamely ignore the advice. Or if it’s more just to fill out the list – which is the case here.
Because surely you know to use heat protectant and how to apply it by now. If not that link will take to you the help you need.
Now what isn’t often covered is how this works to keep heat damage at bay.
Really it’s rather simple. Cosmo magazine reported that the silicones in heat protectant (i.e. dimethicone copolyol, behenoxy dimethicone and stearoxy dimethicone) work much like the zinc in sunscreen does. They form a protective barrier that coats your strands much like sunscreen coats your skin.
Some are even heat activated and wrap each precious strand in its own little cocoon.
That coating also seals in the moisture to help maintain your hair’s hydration in the face of such high levels of hotness.
Just make sure you are doing more than misting the top layers of hair and calling it good. Use your hands to create some separation of the layers to insure even and complete coverage.
Product Mistake #2: Misting Hairspray Too Late To Matter
Sometimes with curls timing is everything.
So do you save the hairspray until the very end?
While it sounds right, it’s wrong. Not always but often enough.
You see, spraying at the end might lead to curls that are pretty droopy by lunch.
While if you know your hair is somewhat curl resistant using a light hold product during your prep time can help to set the curls.
But as was mentioned in Allure just be sure to give it a sec to dry or you can singe those strands.
Afterwards you can seal the deal by pulling out the finishing spray. Mist your tresses and your hands. Then gently scrunch the ends to work in some extra staying power.
Anyway hairspray plays a vital role. For some it’s after the curls are formed for added hold. For others it’s as part of the curl tango prep.
Product Mistake #3: Wrong Product Wrong Time
Another product mistake is using the wrong one at the wrong time.
So if you’re having trouble getting your somewhat limp, straight hair to hold the curl you might look at the styling products you are or are not using.
Some have compared this to building the foundation for the curls to rest on.
Especially important if you have fine hair.
If that’s you then it makes perfect sense to cut back or avoid leave in conditioner entirely. Reason being the product makes your locks too soft. That softness makes it harder to create curls that last. So on days you plan to fire up the curling iron skip the leave in.
Then too you might look at volumizing products applied while your mane is still damp. Think root lift or a volumizing or thickening spray. These will add some grit and texture to the mix which can help the curls last.
Here’s how Kate of TheSmallThingsBlog works such product into her hair.
Another popular way to get more texture and control when curling is to turn to styling glazes or pomades.
Getting the product right is all the more important if your mane is super silky, shiny and soft. In other words too healthy!
It sounds crazy to say I know, but a little damage goes a long way to helping your curling iron curls to last.
Which is why those with sleek, lush locks may find curls hold best on second day hair. Work in a little volumizing dry shampoo and it’s curls away.
Okay. So having covered tools and products that’s two down and one to go. It leaves us with the vital role technique plays with your curls.
Because important as the products and tools you use are, more often than not I really really feel it comes down to technique. In other words doing it right or wrong can make or break your curls.
So let’s do a bit of a crash course on the nitty gritty of how curl your hair using a curling iron so the curls stay.
And relax. You’ll be a curling pro in no time once you put these mistakes behind you.
Technique Mistake #1: Curling Damp Hair Spells Danger
That’s D-A-N-G-E-R as curling hair even slightly damp is a major hot styling no no. Only do so if your hair has a death wish.
And I know. This can start to feel like a never ending process if you have to blow dry your hair first. But I don’t make the rules here.
You must achieve complete 100% dryness if you want to avoid stressing out those locks of yours.
Even if your arms feel like they’re going to fall off, don’t quit.
Because when are your strands most vulnerable? Right. When they are wet.
And you’re going to apply blow torch worthy heat to your crowning glory at this point?
What are you thinking? LOL
I mean who wants to be like those girls who have burned off chunks of their hair on YouTube?
One way to avoid all that unpleasantness is to make sure those strands are bone dry.
Oh and before shutting down the blow dryer give things a final blast with the cool setting to insure optimal dryness. (Which also closes those cuticles which should work to give you curls that last all day.)
Listen. Sizzle is a good to associate with steaks. But not something you want to hear when curling your hair.
Besides, you’ll have biceps to die for too after taking care to do properly dry that mane prior to curling.
Technique Mistake #2: Iron’s Too Darn Hot
Too many mistakenly believe the hotter the iron the better the curl.
Not so fast. If that’s you, you might want to rethink that.
Not only does excessive heat not necessarily produce better coils, it puts your hair on the fast track to Dullsville.
This is a variation of the age old adage “just because you can do something does that mean you should?”.
Yeah. Just because your iron can be cranked up to 450 degree Fahrenheit, does that mean you should go there?
Now there are a bunch of online resources that’ll suggest an ideal temperature range based on hair type. But rather than duplicate any of that let me just make a common sense suggestion that will work for everyone.
Play it safe. Use only the amount of heat needed to do the job with YOUR hair.
That likely means you’ll want to start at a low heat setting and see what happens.
And you’re right. Your hair may not hold a curl if the setting was 200 degrees. But it may at 250. You’ll never find that out however, if you start at 300.
So start low and slowly take it up a notch each time to see how it goes each stop along the way.
Obviously the more processed your hair, or if it’s colored, well, you’ll definitely want to start lower to avoid further strand abuse.
What works may also vary from tool to tool. So if you’ve got a new iron, well, it’s time to recalibrate things starting from square one.
Anyway, if you’re definitely guilty of using high heat when something less toasty will work just fine – stop it!
Technique Mistake #3: Not Turning Away
Curling with a hot styling tool seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? Plug in the iron, set the temp, wrap your hair and eventually you’re done.
Problem is many fail to recognize how essential technique is to the finished product. Leaving plenty of room for curling iron mistakes that get in the way of classic curls. Or almost worse prevent your hard won curls from lasting all day.
Take how you wrap your hair on the iron. The idea is to have face framing curls since those are more flattering and how natural curls work.
To get that you want to curl the hair away from your face.
If this is the least bit confusing it means on the right side of your face you wrap the hair around the barrel in a clockwise direction. On the other side of your head you do the opposite, or wind the hair counter clockwise.
Just mentally switch gears when you switch to the opposite side.
Okay so the curl police aren’t going to track you down for doing this wrong. It’s just the most complimentary way to go about it.
While as for the rest of your hair, many feel alternating the direction gives the prettiest curls. They don’t all clump together for one. And they just look more natural being messy and such.
When done don’t forget to run your fingers through the finished curls. Raking like like this is another give the style a more natural look.
If you want a smoother finished product brushing is always an option. Just take care to be gentle or you can brush too much curl out and then what?
Technique Mistake #4: Clamping All Wrong
How often do you start by clamping the ends of your hair and then rolling the iron up the entire length of the strand?
Starting at the bottom like that is one of the mistakes made that involve the clamp. It’s not an end of the world mistake but there is a better way.
The second is to start towards the scalp only to clamp down. Now that’s a surefire recipe for creating the dreaded curling iron crease.
All of which is to say how many of us make use of the clamp is totally wrong.
Plus with the first misstep the ends are getting the brunt of the heat when they need it the least. As you know your ends are where any damage is worst anyway. So the less contact the tips have with any heated surface the better.
To avoid the second problem the trick is to twist the tool while letting the clamp down easy starting mid strand or higher. Not to suggest you obsess over where you start but going in higher does a couple of things for you.
Not only do you avoid that nasty crease this approach also concentrates the heat where you need it most. Giving you a smooth, consistent curl which you can then loosen up as much or as little as you want from there. You know just to pull the entire look together?
Suspecting what you need to do here still isn’t exactly obvious this video perfectly shows what not to do and what to do instead. It’s clear and definitely perfect for those struggling with their technique.
Note that the spirals she creates are consistently as tight near the scalp as the ends. That’s what you want.
I suspect what you discover from this beginner friendly tutorial can be a game changer for you.
Oh and if you want a more beachy wave effect, keep the ends out from under the clamp entirely. That will give you a more casual, natural, lived in look to the resulting waves.
Technique Mistake #5: Dragging Your Feet
Keeping in mind this tool gets hot it’s best not to leave your locks sitting on it too long.
So what is it?
While you’ll often see the mythical 8-10 second rule quoted as the optimum time I don’t think anyone can tell from a distance what is best for your hair.
But I can say the mistake to avoid here is leaving your strands exposed to the heat any longer than you have to achieve a curl that lasts WITH YOUR HAIR TYPE.
Which means the best answer to the “how long is too long” question is “it depends”.
For one on your hair’s texture. Fine strands will need less face time with the iron than thicker or coarser hair will obviously.
Plus proper technique, starting midstrand or higher and not taking a ginormous clump of hair but something more barrel size appropriate, plays a role in the how long answer too.
The perfect time also assumes the heat setting is appropriate for your hair type too.
PRO TIP: Here’s one little known way to tell when enough’s enough. Lightly tap the hair sitting on the iron with your finger to gauge things. If the strand feels hot it’s been warmed enough.
Consistency counts too. If you expose all strands to roughly the same amount of heat time the curls should all turn out pretty much the same and hold up the same. I know. Easier said than done.
Technique Mistake #6: Portion Size’s All Wrong
Are you’re curls pulling a disappearing act before you get out the door?
If so maybe it’s because you’re trying to curl too much hair at once.
It’s a common problem. And it happens because either we’re in too big of a hurry or we don’t know how to determine how big of a strand to curl each go.
But if you think about the epic curl fail that results from doing this it makes perfect sense.
What’s happening is the heat doesn’t get evenly distributed throughout the section being curled. Because only the inside strands or those actually next to the barrel are being heated up enough. Since there is so much the heat can’t penetrate to reach the hair on the outside.
That means the outside bits won’t be curled right. Which could explain why the coil when it comes off the barrel may not look consistent. Or is a droopy floppy fail within minutes.
Again that’s because some of the hair is curled completely and some is not.
Yeah you went through the motions. But that’s about all you did.
Making this mistake will greatly reduce the life expectancy of the curl – no matter what else you do.
Well obviously it’s to cut back on the size of the strand you’re running through the iron. But by how much?
Again I’ve seen all sorts of rules of thumb when it comes to how much hair to curl at once.
Some knowingly say half an inch.
Others offer three quarters of an inch.
Others still suggest an inch or more.
But I feel they all miss the point. Because there’s a simple rule of thumb to remember as demonstrated in this video.
As you’ll see it all comes down to the size of the rod or barrel. The larger the barrel the bigger the capacity it has. Which means the more hair you can get away with curling at one time.
Eye opening, huh?
So for example if you’ve got a half inch iron you’ll want to work with half inch sections of hair.
It all comes down to matching the size of the strand to be curled to the size of the barrel.
Pro Prep Tip: Run the iron across the entire length of the strand you’re going to curl to warm it up before the curling begins.
Sure you can vary the amount of hair and work with a little more or less to get some natural variation in the resulting curls. But don’t stray too far away from sections roughly matching the size of the barrel. At least not if you want curls that last.
One more thing. The type of curl, loose or tight, is more determined by what you do after curling than the amount hair curled at a time. (So while you may read that to get a looser curl just grab a bigger section of hair to curl that is likely only setting the stage for an epic fail later in the day.)
In the end matching the size of hair to be curled to the size of the curling iron may mean it takes longer to curl your hair. So be it.
It pays to do it right since the outcome will be vastly superior.
Plus by knowing what you’re doing you’ll be able to consistently produce the same outcome each time you pick up your curler.
Technique Mistake #7: Releasing the Curls Before They’re Set
One easily and most often overlooked step is failing to give your curls time to set. Rather than just letting them drop off the iron and calling it good you need to give each curl a little love to insure it’s longevity.
You do that by catching the heated coil in the palm of your hand. Then you secure it against your scalp so it has time to cool and set properly.
Metal duckbill or single prong clips, readily available at Target or Walmart, work great for this although bobby pins will do. The risk with the latter however is they can leave dents in your hair.
If need be a light blast of hairspray can further help tresses that doesn’t hold a curl well.
Then just give the curls plenty of time to cool down. What doing so does is it allows the cuticles to close and set. The cool shot button on your hair dryer can speed things up if you’re in a hurry.
Once they are cool to the touch remove the clip and shake them out as little or as much as you wish.
This is a small change that can make a big difference. You’ll be amazed at how much longer your curls hang in there by doing this one simple thing.
Technique Mistake #8: Keep Your Hands To Yourself
I don’t know why it is some days I just can’t keep my hands off my hair. It’s like I’m a neurotic or something.
But if you want learn how to get curls that last this is an easy one.
All you have to do is stop fiddling with it. A good idea always but better than good if you’re having issues with your curls.
Not going to belabor this one because the fix is simple and obvious.
Whenever you catch yourself doing that just envision lovely high impact curls on display at the end of day because you didn’t mess them up by playing with them.
Technique Mistake #9: Going At It From the Wrong Angle
You may not think that how you hold the thing would make that much of a difference and you’re not alone.
But guess what?
Because like this article from Matrix points out it’s all about geometry. (And here you thought high school geometry would never matter.)
So, yeah, turns out how you hold the iron goes a long way to determining the type of curl you end up with. Who knew, right?
- For those classic, tight and billowy curls horizontal is the way to go.
- Long, loose beachy waves call for holding the iron vertically. And don’t forget to leave the ends out.
- Want voluminous volume at the crown? Then more of a diagonal angle (think 45 degrees) is what you want.
Here’s a demonstration of the second approach. You’ll notice she’s holding the iron perpendicular to her head to get beach wave look.
This video is also a little like a (very) mini review of some of the more important fixes discussed previously to help you avoid many of the common mistakes made.
Of course the direction you hold it in is completely up to you.
Just do whatever you do on purpose and you’ll be fine.
This is also another example that proves, by and large, impressive curls are all in the technique. Or in this case how something as seemingly unimportant as how you hold the rod can produce three different kinds of curls.
So there you go. As you can see there are plenty of ways you can screw this up. Any of which can either damage your hair or prevent those curls you slaved over from lasting all day.
Conversely as the fixes show you’re not preordained to be a curling iron klutz forever.
Isn’t it time you mastered this intimidating hot styling tool for good? Happy curling.
Super helpful and comprehensive! Thank you so much for the thoughtfulness put behind every single piece of advice, along with the video clips bookmarked to the exact spot.
Amazing a million times over. You have a new follower just from this post! And you inspired me to write this comment. The time and effort you put forth in this shows clearly.
Awwww. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, Christina. Do appreciate that you noticed the effort. Wishing you your best curls ever! 🙂