Whether you’ve been rocking a pixie cut for years or you’ve just trimmed your tresses into a stylish crop or bob, short hair can flatter all face shapes and shed years from your overall appearance. But when it comes to styling short hair with curls, you might find yourself with more questions than answers. And since you have less hair to work with when it’s shorter, this impacts the techniques you can use to create everything from bouncy coils to loose spirals. That’s why we tapped two pro hairstylists for their tips on how to curl short hair. From heatless tricks to the best way to use a curling iron on short locks, you’ll find everything you need here to add gorgeous curls to short strands.
How curls enhance short hair
Curls can work wonders for all types of short hair, from adding texture and body to limper locks to playing up your best facial features with their placement. “Adding curls to shorter hair can really amp up your style by bringing in some movement and volume, giving off a more feminine and playful vibe,” says Rogerio Cavalcante, hairstylist and owner of The Second Floor Salon in New York City. “This is awesome if you’re looking to boost thickness, especially for those with fine or thin hair.” Those with a short, thicker mane can also benefit from curls. “If you have thick hair, adding curls can help tame and gather the hair into place,” says Bridget Brager, hairstylist and Rodan + Fields ambassador, who’s worked with Sarah Paulson and Gwyneth Paltrow.
With the right prep and styling products, curls can also offer a way to look put-together and polished with minimal effort on, say, day two or day three after your initial styling session. “They make your daily routine a bit easier since curls can keep your hair looking styled even on days when you skip the wash,” says Cavalcante.
That said, if you’re looking to rock a short curly style, it’s very important to get the right haircut. “Your stylist must be sure to look at your best features and add layers and framing accordingly,” says Brager. Ideally, you want your styled curls to sit in such a way that they draw attention to your eyes, your cheekbones or whatever your favorite feature may be.
How to curl short hair
Whether you prefer going heatless with your hair styling or you love that a curling iron or wand offers a quick shortcut for bouncy ringlets and waves, there are plenty of ways how to curl short hair. These stylist how-tos and tricks will make you and your strands look stunning.
1. How to curl short hair with a curling iron
To get your short hair ready for curls, begin with damp, clean hair, and apply a volumizing mousse, like Authentic Beauty Concept Amplify (Buy from Amazon, $28), ensuring even distribution, says Cavalcante. “This mousse not only adds volume but also provides hold while keeping your hair manageable,” he says. Plus, it also functions as a heat protectant.
Next, blow-dry hair, then grab your curling iron or wand. “For short hair, a medium-sized wand, around 1 or 1¼ inches, works best since a larger barrel might not suit shorter lengths,” says Cavalcante. And he also cautions to “keep the temperature around 350 degrees to avoid damaging your hair.” As you work your way around your whole head, wrap each section of hair around the wand, leaving 1″ of hair at the ends unwrapped. Finish with a texturizing spray, especially if your hair is naturally thin or very straight. “This will add that extra oomph to your curls and complete your stylish, voluminous look,” he adds.
Another pro tip? “If you hold your wand horizontally and wrap your hair to curl it, your curls will appear wider,” says Brager. “If you hold your iron vertically, your curls will be skinnier and stay closer to the head. This is important to know so you can achieve the best shape and movement for your short hairstyle using a wand.” Play around with both techniques to get a sense of what end result you like better.
2. How to curl short hair with finger waves
Finger waves are very versatile but can be especially suited for those with really short styles. Start with clean, damp hair — no drying needed — and apply a styling mousse for hold and texture. Then, “use a fine-tooth comb to create deep waves, curving the hair in an ‘S’ pattern and securing each wave with clips as you go,” says Cavalcante. Let the waves set naturally for a few hours or overnight, or consider speeding up the process with a frizz-fighting Bonnet attachment, like Gold ‘N Hot Bonnet Dryer Attachment (Buy from Sally Beauty, $15.99), if desired. Once the waves have set, gently remove the clips. “Finish with a light hairspray for hold and smoothness, using your fingers to refine the waves as needed,” says Cavalcante.
For an in-depth tutorial on how to create finger waves, check out the below video from @Milabuco on YouTube.
3. How to curl short hair with *this* heatless method
“A simple and heatless method for curling short hair involves dividing it into two sections from the forehead to the back of the neck,” says Cavalcante, which can be done by creating a middle part. Then, he says to begin on one side, and take two 1-inch sections of strands near the front of the face and twist them together. After making the first twist, add a new strand to the bottom part of the twist, similar to a french braid and continue until you reach the hair near the neck.” Secure with a hair tie, scrunchie, or clip, and repeat on the other side. Let hair set in the twists overnight so “you’ll wake up to beautifully curled hair,” says Cavalcante.
In a hurry but still want to go light on the heat? “For a quicker result, spray hair with a texturizing spray before twisting, use a hairdryer for five minutes, and let it cool for 10 to 20 minutes before releasing the curls,” says Cavalcante.
4. How to curl short hair with rollers or flexi rods
It might have been a while since you’ve used sponge rollers or rods, but they’re still super-effective in creating heatless curls on short haircuts. Brager recommends flexi rods, like Red by Kiss Flexi Rods (Buy from Amazon, $5.49), because they offer a wide variety of thickness and lengths to choose from. That way, you can hone in on the version that will give you the size and tightness of coils or waves that you’re looking for, though you might have to experiment a bit to find your ideal match.
“Focus on using them on the longest hair, typically your top section,” she says. After removing the rods, Brager likes to use a curl cream, like Rodan + Fields Define+ Curl Cream (Buy from Rodan + Fields, $39), to smooth or rack through hair roots to ends. “It gives a nice finish, adds separation and texture, protects your hair from the elements, and reduces frizz and flyways.”
Check out the below video from YouTuber Alisa Molina to see how easy it is to use flexi rods on short hair.
5. How to curl short hair with pin curls
If you thought this tried-and-true method was only for longer lengths, think again. A few tweaks can make it easy for those with short hair to achieve pin curls. To start, prep clean, damp hair with a leave-in treatment for smoothing, followed by applying a soft gel or mousse for hold. Then, part hair and divide strands into 2-inch sections. Wrap or curl each section, one by one, around one or two of your fingers. Roll the hair in the sections up to your scalp (or where you want the curls to start), then gently pull your finger(s) away and clip your section with a flat duckbill clip.
“I suggest wrapping all the hair away from the face and setting,” says Brager. If you want a super-retro look, she advises curling hair toward your face. Next, use a diffuser to dry your hair, or clip your curls flat to your head so you can sleep in them as they dry. After curls have set, remove the clips and brush hair using a boar bristle brush and mist with a workable hairspray to lock curls in place. “Depending on hair type, you might want to smooth a light cream or balm over the style and brush through to smooth the hair to a perfect finish,” adds Brager.
To see pin curls being created in action, watch the below pin curl tutorial from The Knit Yorker YouTube channel.
Tips for making curls for short hair last longer
You might think the key to long-lasting waves and coils is simply finishing off your look with a strong, flexible hairspray, but that’s only half the equation, whether you’re on the go during the day or want to preserve your style overnight. “Making curls last longer starts in the prep,” says Brager, so set yourself up for success by using a volumizing shampoo and conditioner. She also suggesting applying a mousse, leave-in conditioner or gel that will provide some hold before styling your hair. And if you’ll be using heat to create your curls, it’s best to mist on a heat protectant too.
Since the weather is a factor in how curls can last, you can also up your product game if you know it’s likely to rain or be very hot, for example. “If you find yourself in a highly humid environment, use humidity-blocking products before styling,” says Cavalcante.
Finally, try to keep your hands off your curls. Too much touching can make them fall flat and lose their shape.
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