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How To Use A Curling Iron On Short Hair: Your Complete Guide 

Your Complete Guide To Using a Curling Iron On Short Hair

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Main image – Look!/Adobe

Oh how we love long, wavy, mermaid-style hair. The kind you see shimmering in the movies, adorning posters and swishing along the red carpet. 

But wait a minute! Who said beautifully curled hair had to be restricted to waist-length locks? Definitely not us. 

Got short hair? Lucky you. Want to add a wave? We like your style! But, like most people, you probably have questions. 

Questions like, how on earth do you create curly short hair without it looking like a scarecrow’s mop? (Just us?) Which angle is best for your tong? And how long is enough – and safe – to hold each curl in the barrel?

We’re here to tell you that using a curling iron on short hair is easier to achieve than you may have thought. We asked Sian Quinn, colour ambassador for Headmasters, celebrity hairstylist, hair YouTube Creator and owner of Deeper Than Hair Annagjid “Kee” Taylor and Clyde Haygood, celebrity hairstylist and Pura D’Or partner for all their expert tips on curling short hair and all we can say is, you’re welcome! 

Whether you want a beachy wave look or tight curls, consider this your complete curl guide. From de-bunking barrel sizes to nailing the direction of your iron, get ready for your very best short hair era.


Your Complete Guide To Use A Curling Iron On Short Hair

Image – Sergeychumakov/Adobe


Step-by-step guide to curling short hair with an iron

For some, the thought of curling short hair seems like more of a chore than on long hair. But why the bad rap? 

“It’s definitely more fiddly,” explains Sian. “There is less hair to wrap around the barrel, therefore less room for error and taking the hair at the wrong angle means it can kick out in all directions and look quite messy.” 

Here’s how to look less ‘messy’, more red carpet-worthy…


Step 1. 

The first step to curling short hair is to get the right barrel size for your hair length. “The bigger the barrel, the softer the curl,” says Sian. Simple, yes? But remember, the bigger the barrel, the trickier it also is to grab hold of very short lengths, so aim small on short bobs. “Use a ¼ to ½ inch iron,” advises Clyde.

“Chopstick tongs are the smallest and are fantastic for making very tight curls,” adds Sian. “Using bigger sections of hair will make it more wearable for every day.” 

Alternatively, if you have a longer bob, you can go for a medium-sized barrel which will create fab beachy waves. 


Step 2. 

So now you’ve broken down your barrels, it’s time to start thinking about heat protection. Yes yes, we know – hair admin!

But intense heat styling can seriously dry out and affect the look and behaviour of your curls so it’s important to invest in a decent protector. Because the last thing you want after all that hard work, is that oh-so coveted ‘bale-of-hay’ look…

We love Kerastase Resistance Ciment Thermique Heat Protector (£33.70/$42.40) which not only protects against heat, but also puts vital protein back into the hair. Apply it to towel-dried hair and give yourself a well-earned pat on the back.


Step 3. 

To get the best results with your curling iron, you need to make sure it gets the best start with a decent blow dry. “This improves the longevity of the style as it seals down the cuticle,” explains Sian. 

As you dry, “try to get a little bend through the ends with a medium-sized round brush as this will make curling the ends a lot easier later,” she adds.


Step 4. 

On short hair, the key to perfect curls is where you place your tong. “Hold it vertically and wrap the hair around the barrel downwards in diagonal sections, otherwise the hair can kick out in all directions and be quite unmanageable,” says Sian. 

Also, when you wrap, go from top to bottom. “This is so that the thickest part of your hair has the longest time with the heat on and the ends are more easily convinced to stay in shape,” she says. Avoid wrapping horizontally; “this will create the illusion of shorter hair as it creates volume in width,” she explains.

As for how big your sections are, Sian says to keep it relaxed. “I like to hold different sized pieces as I feel it gives a cooler feel to the hair afterwards.”


Step 5.

Once the hair is in the barrel, “hold it in until you can feel the hair has completely heated through – normally 5-8 seconds,” explains Sian. “Then let it drop out of the barrel and cup your hand under the hair for about 10 seconds so the first stage of cooling happens while it’s in its barrel form.”

Then as you go around your head curling in sections, keep holding the iron vertically, wrapping downwards but, “alternate the direction you diagonally wrap the hair in from left to right, ensuring the front fringe area is going away from the face.”


Step 6.

Once you’ve created your curls, and using your fingers, Clyde says to “stretch the curls out while they cool to give hair the perfect modern done but undone look with tons of volume and texture,” and then spray to set your curls. 

“Those with thinner hair types should use a bit of texturizing spray for added volume and hold,” says Annagjid. “Those with thicker, denser hair types should use a hard hold spray to keep the curls in place.”


Other ways to curl short hair


Curling wand: “This is an easy tool to use on your own hair as you don’t have to worry about the clip [from a curling iron] creating dents in your hair,” says Sian. The same method as the curling iron applies, only instead of the hair being held in a barrel, you need to hold it against the wand while it curls. 


Flat iron: These are ideal for condensing thick or frizzy hair. “They compact hair the most so often in thicker hair textures the curl will hold for longer,” says Sian. “Take a section, close the plates onto the top then twist 180 degrees while sliding them down the hair at a consistent speed so no dents are made in the hair.”


Your Complete Guide To Use A Curling Iron On Short Hair

Image – Alex/Adobe


Salt spray: “My favourite heat-free way to curl short hair is spritzing a salt spray onto damp hair and scrunching it in,” says Sian. “Then once it’s dried, no matter if your hair is naturally quite straight, wavy or curly, you will get a cool, undone result!” 


Pin curl set: “After using a mousse or setting spray, wrap a section of hair around your finger, paying attention to the natural wave pattern the hair wants to take,” explains Clyde. “Secure the curl with a bobby pin or small pointed clip, let it air dry then tousle hair with your fingers to aerate.”


Heatless rollers: “They help to create bouncy curls overnight and are the best way to get damage-free curls,” says Annagjid. Sian adds, “Use as big a section as possible as if they are too small you run the risk of your hair ending up tightly coiled.”


Your Complete Guide To Use A Curling Iron On Short Hair

Image – Pixelshot/Adobe


The takeaway

Well there you have it, curl-friends! Your go-to step-by-step guide to shaking up short hair.

We learnt that the first rule of using a curling iron on short hair is to check your barrel. Too big and you may only get half a curl, depending on how short your hair is. Too small and you may get a curl that’s too tight, or doesn’t look natural. Decide on the finish you want and choose your barrel accordingly.

All that heat styling takes its toll on even the strongest of hair, so remember that heat protection is non-negotiable and don’t forget to give your hair a decent blow out before you even pick up your curling iron.

Think vertical and diagonal when using your curling iron, avoid the horizontal approach and count between 5-8 seconds before you release the clip. 

And remember, there are a few other ways to curl short hair if you want to skip the heat altogether. Curly, short hair with a touch of sass, here you come! 


Meet the experts

Sian Quinn is colour ambassador for Headmasters. The first Headmasters salon opened in Wimbledon Village in 1982 and has grown into one of the UK’s biggest salon groups, consisting of 54 salons and 2 academies, employing over 700 Stylists, 200 Apprentices and 100 Front of House Team.


Annagjid “Kee” Taylor is a celebrity hairstylist, a hair YouTube creator with 1.3M+ subscribers and salon owner at Deeper Than Hair


Clyde Haygood is a celebrity hairstylist and Pura D’Or partner. His clients include Katy Perrym Demi Lovato, Shakira, Erika Jayne, Khloe, Kourtney and Kim Kardashian and Kylie and Kris Jenner and is recognised as one of the top hair stylists in the fashion and beauty industry.




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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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