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Curling Irons 101

Apr13

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I made it through law school but I cannot use a curling iron.
They always leave a crimped section where the arm part folds over the hair.
I know you must know what I am talking about!
help. me.
Tara

Ah, I remember the day my mom taught me how to use the curling iron by myself! The good news is that my forehead eventually healed.
A couple things could be happening here to cause the crimping: the most obvious is that you maybe aren’t getting the ends of your hair COMPLETELY encased in the arm thing. When you close the iron, your ends should not stick out at all. Any stick-outtage will result in a bendy line.
If you’re getting the bendy line ABOVE the iron (like…not your ends…and my GOD this column is extra wordy because there aren’t really specific terms to describe any of this stuff), it’s possible that you aren’t holding your hair taught enough when you curl, or you’re using the wrong size iron or heat setting for your hair.
Unless you’re after ringlets, you shouldn’t use a small-barreled iron. I know some people chose the barrel size based on the length of their hair, but it’s actually all about the style of curl you want. Even if you have very short hair, if you just want a sleek, curled-under look, you should choose the widest barrel you can get your hair to wrap around. If you want tight, small curls, then get the skinnier iron.
I own two irons — a one-inch and a one-and-a-half inch. I use the big one for volume and big, loose waves, and the smaller one for curling my ends under. Anything smaller than an inch is too small for me, since my hair will NEVER submit to ringlets.
And then there’s the heat setting. If you don’t let the iron heat up enough, the heat won’t be even and those little hot spots will cause funky things to happen. If you’re setting it too low, you might end up holding your hair in the iron too long and again — hot spots around the arm, funkage results. My hair is naturally straight and resistant to heat styling, so I set my iron pretty hot. I have a Conair with 25 different heat settings, and a blinking light indicates when it’s still heating up. Once the light stays on, I know it’s ready to use.
(As an aside: I generally stay away from any pre-heat styling products, including hair spray. They DO make the curls last longer, but my hair is just too damn fine. Product + heat + ultra-fine hair = sizzlin’ split ends.)
(Oh, and I’m curious: does anyone reading use a ceramic curling iron? What do you think? Much different than the metal? Better? Worse?)
If you still really can’t get the hang of using a curling iron, remember: there’s no law that says you HAVE to use that arm thing. Just wrap your hair around the entire iron and hold it there. You’ll have to watch your fingertips and the end result will be more of a wave than a curl, but it does work. (And why irons like these are kind of gimmicky.)
Also: hot rollers. They really don’t take much longer to use than a curling iron, but provide lots of volume and long-lasting curls. They also cover a multitude of bad-haircut sins, which is why I currently use them. (Grumble grumble HATE.)

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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8 Responses to “Curling Irons 101”

  1. nicshtik Apr 13 at 11:19 am Reply Reply

    —> Previous Lurker on ALL of your sites
    Just wanted to let you know….a)my mom is hairstylist b) I ONLY use ceramic. Ceramic is 100xs better and hardly damages your hair, plus does the sleek shiny thing. LOVE CERAMIC!!!

  2. jen Apr 13 at 11:31 am Reply Reply

    a couple of other ideas from someone who used to curl her hair ALL THE TIME (an old boyfriend used to beg me to. that’s kind of weird and kind of sweet all at once):
    - make sure you’re putting the arm part on TOP of your hair, not underneath. when you curl it under, the arm part should be on the outside.
    - one way to help get all the hair in is to take a chunk, get the iron to latch on at the top of the chunk, and then slide it down the chunk until it’s JUST about to fall out… that way you get all the hair
    - I’ll also throw in a vote in favor of the hot rollers. much more long-lasting and volume-producing indeed. takes a little bit to get used to them but once you get the hang of it it’s easy-peasy.

  3. LGraves65 Apr 13 at 11:52 am Reply Reply

    I second that arm-on-top thing. If you clip it, then curl the iron the “opposite” way, you’ll get those wonky bendy spots.

  4. Arwen Apr 13 at 12:47 pm Reply Reply

    I totally get Tara’s dilemma: curling irons have always been a mystery to me. And despite your advice, Amalah, I don’t have much hope of my ever conquering them. (Clumsy!)
    That being said, I love my hot rollers. So easy to use! The curl holds longer in my fine, curl-resistant hair. And they’re very forgiving – even if you use them badly, your hair still looks pretty good.

  5. slynnro Apr 13 at 12:54 pm Reply Reply

    I have the same hair- ultra thin, ultra fine- and I use the Conair 25 setting ceramic iron. I think it does make a difference in terms of hold. And it was only like $16.

  6. srah Apr 13 at 1:00 pm Reply Reply

    I have this thing that’s like a cross between a curling iron and a blowdrier. It’s really good for me, because I’m clumsy with the curling iron and always get those crimps, too.
    It’s sort of like this:
    http://www.amazon.com/Conair-CD160JBCS-Hot-Curling-Combo/dp/B000FTLFB4/

  7. Marnie Apr 14 at 1:36 am Reply Reply

    I love the look of hot rollers and velcro rollers, but I suck at using them (get the bendy line where they hang wrong). I use a metal round brush with a very hot blow dryer. Doesn’t seem to take any longer than the curling iron, and I haven’t had a “hickey” on my neck in over a decade.

  8. Cindy Apr 18 at 3:48 pm Reply Reply

    Ceramic = heaven.
    Hot rollers = even better. I have some big round ones with velvet on them (I couldn’t tell you what brand or what size because I’ve had them for years), but for my very fine hair, they work wonders. The styles lasts a million times longer than a curling iron, and the curls are smoother and more natural than an iron. I use a straightener to fix any spots that might get a kink in them and … wah lah .. a style that lasts all day (with a bit of hairspray).

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