How to Use a Curling Iron – Easy to Follow Guide With Videos

| Last Updated: January 2, 2021

A curling iron is a great tool to achieve bouncy, glamorous curls or beachy, casual waves.

A versatile tool, a curling iron can provide you with a whole host of different styles depending on your mood. 

However, they can sometimes be a little hard to handle if you haven’t mastered the technique, leaving you with bends and grooves in the hair, and the odd nasty burn. Try these steps for easier hair curling.

How to Use a Curling Iron

Let’s look at some basic guidelines for using a curling iron first. After that we’ll give some advice for specific hair lengths - and even for the guys!

  1. When using a curling iron, make sure you prepare the hair with a heat protectant and a holding product, such as hair spray or mousse.

  2. Plug your curling iron in and wait for it to heat up. If you use it before it is fully hot, it won’t create long-lasting curls; they’ll drop out as soon as they cool down. Using a medium temperature will make it easier to manage without feeling rushed.

  3. Section your hair so that you can see each part you are going to work with.

  4. Take a section about 2 inches wide and brush through this. Detangling it stops the hair bending or creating strange shapes when curled.

  5. You need to curl your hair from the root to the tip. If you start from the tip of the hair, you are clamping the most delicate part of the hair against the most direct heat, which will cause damage and split ends.

  6. Lightly run the curling iron quickly down the strand. This seasons the hair by adding a little warmth, making it easier to manipulate.

  7. Place the curling iron at the root of the hair, and place the strand against the barrel and through the clip. Let the clip slightly clamp down, but not all the way.

  8. Start to spin the curling iron so that the whole strand wraps around the curling iron. Remember to hover the clamp rather than letting it go all the way. If it clamps all the way, it will pull the hair as you twist the curling iron, pulling the hair out and causing grooves in the overall finish.

  9. Once all wrapped on the barrel, let the clamp down fully, and hold in place for 1-2 seconds.

  10. Release the clamp while gently pulling the curler out in the direction of the ringlet.

  11. It is also possible to curl the hair by ‘tonging’ it. This is a similar method; however, you open the clamp all the way and wrap the hair around the barrel, without closing the clamp. This gives a softer curl.

How to Use a Curling Iron on Long Hair

Consider the size of the barrel you will be using as this will determine the size of the curl at the end. With longer hair you have the most to work with, allowing for more styles and flexibility!

  1. Section your hair, giving you an inch square of hair to work with, clipping the rest of the hair out of the way.

  2. Brush through the small section of hair to make sure it is smooth.

  3. Start at the root of the hair as this area needs more heat and the tip is easily damaged when touched by direct heat for a long time.

  4. Clamp the hair into the curler and slowly twist the hair curler so that the hair wraps around it.

  5. As you wrap, hover the clip open and closed and slowly work the curler down the hair so that direct heat is not applied to the root the whole time.

  6. Pull the hair curler out in the direction that the ringlet goes, by releasing the clip and gently pulling.

  7. Alternatively, for a looser curl, you can open the tongs the whole way. Hold the curling iron to the root of the hair and wrap the hair around the barrel. If you leave and inch uncurled at the bottom, this gives a beachier feel.

How to Use a Curling Iron on Short Hair

Shorter hair is a bit harder to curl, but you can still do it! There are lots of great options to try.

  1. Make sure your hair is completely dry. Using a round brush under the roots when drying will create lift for a bouncier feel. Use a smaller barrel for short hair.

  2. Section the hair leaving about an inch square to work with. Clip the rest out of the way.

  3. Place the barrel close to the root of the hair and clamp the hair inside the curling iron.

  4. Twist the barrel gently, hovering on the clamp, so that the hair wraps up inside the curler.

  5. As short hair is harder to curl, try to wrap the hair so that each wrap-around is close to the last. If the hair spans the whole length of the barrel, you will have very few curls.

  6. Finish by setting with hairspray. If you want more extravagant, bouncy curls rather than ringlets, run your fingers through the curls to separate them once the hair cools down. Turn your head upside and scrunch for a fiercer look.

How to Use a Curling Iron for Men’s Hair

Men can really benefit from curls, too. They can help add volume and bounce even when the guys don’t have very long hair.

  1. For shorter men’s hair, you can create texture and volume with a curling iron. To do this you need a curling iron with a barrel about 1 inch around.

  2. Start by parting the hair to one side, leaving a section about 1 inch thick. You can clip it to keep it out the way.

  3. Start at the middle of the hair and twist the hair to tuck the tip of the hair in.

  4. Roll the curling iron down to the root to tuck up the whole strand of hair.

  5. Hold the curler in the hair for a couple of seconds.

  6. Once the hair has cooled, run your fingers through the hair in one direction.

  7. Spray with a hair product to set the hair or use a gel. Rub the gel in between your hands and run through the hair as though running your fingers through it. This will give a natural and textured look.


Using a curling iron can give you a variety of different curled looks. However it can be difficult to maneuver a curling iron on the first go. Just remember to work with a lower temperature when first using a curling iron so you don’t burn the hair, and never work from the tip upwards. Also, always keep in mind the size of the barrel. The smaller the barrel, the tighter the curl will be. The same is true of how closely you wrap the curls on the barrel itself.

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Hi I'm Emilia! I like to think of myself as the "crash-test-dummy" of the hair world. Whether that means testing out the newest curling iron or going with fresh hair styles. I like to mix it up. I share my thoughts on Caffe Hair based on my first hand experience!

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