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How to Use a Diffuser

By Amalah

I’m sure there is probably a really simple answer to this, but what is a hair diffuser for and how in the crap do you use one? Mine has just been taking up precious bathroom space because I have no clue what to do with it. So please… bring me out of the hair drying dark ages and into the 21st century!

So you’ll never believe this, but the diffuser attachment for your hair dryer…diffuses the air. It takes the blast of concentrated hot air that the dryer sends out and kind of…spreads it out, for a more gentle drying. It’s best for naturally curly or permed hair, or very damaged, unhealthy hair. Straight hair? Eh, not so much, unless it’s super prone to heat damage. Some people with really fine hair swear by diffusers for creating volume without being overly harsh, though personally I’ve never really achieved results with a diffuser that couldn’t be done as well and MUCH FASTER by just flipping my hair upside-down and blasting the roots for 30 seconds or so.
Then again, I’ll beat the crap out of my hair in the name of efficiency, because gah babies everywhere that need things gotta finish up in the bathroom right now right now eeeee.
black-diffuser-11.jpgChances are, if you’ve gone your whole life and never had a stylist whip out the diffuser attachment after a haircut, it might not be something your hair needs. I’ve had stylists use diffusers when I requested my hair NOT be blown out straight, but left slightly wavy (as much as my hair can wave…it really just kind of bends, but with the right product and a lot scrunching I can usually coax some beachy, windblown-type waves out of it). I’m always a little torn about the results — it takes a LONG time to get my hair dry with the diffuser, and I sometimes think it really doesn’t look all that different than my usual routine of just drying the roots and then scrunching the wet ends and letting them air dry.
How do you a diffuser? You use it very close to your head, unlike other dryer attachments. Pull sections of hair into the diffuser, allowing the prongs to lift and separate the hair. Start at your roots and move the dryer in a circular direction, then move on down the hair shaft, always blasting the dried hair really quickly with cold air to lock in the style and prevent frizz. Use your fingers to separate and shape curls. If you want volume, flip your head over and spend extra time on the roots, always working in a circular motion. For curly or permed hair, applying some anti-frizz/heat-protection/shine serum before starting will really help set the curls.
My hair dryer actually just kicked the bucket, and even though I always say the next dryer I buy will be a professional-caliber one, I always see the price tags and opt for another middle-of-the-road kind that you can find at Target. This time, I opted to skip the diffuser attachment and went with one by Remington that offered a concentrater (the angled-in tube thing) for drying my hair straight, and then this weird wind-tunnel thing that promised tousled waves. I am a sucker for crazy-sounding promises, plus the dryer was the same price as the ones with diffuser attachments that I KNOW will simply sit in a drawer for all eternity, so I tried it.
Does it work? Yes and no. You have to use the wave attachment at the EXACT right point in the drying process — use it when your hair is too wet, and it will take for-freaking-EVER to dry, though it will still produce nice waves. Use it when your hair is too dry, and you’re left with a tangled, frizzed-up mess. Use it somewhere in between on small (like a inch) sections of hair and you can indeed get some nice-looking waves out of non-naturally wavy hair. (I follow up with some beach/salt spray and some scrunching to keep the waves there all day.)


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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

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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  • Sarah in LA

    February 27, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    My hair is naturally curly and I find that the best way to preserve my curl without making it frizzy OR having my curls go flat is to flip my head over and hold the dryer at the ends of my hair at first, and then go to the roots. (When drying the ends, I hold the dryer pointing up, not to the side of my hair.) I don’t actually put the diffuser IN my hair, it just gets very CLOSE to my hair. Even though my stylist does it, I don’t do the circular motion thing because that breaks up my curls, and for the same reason I try not to finger comb or do much of anything except stand there and hold the dryer. The hot air can do its business giving me nice curls on its own.

  • Linda_M

    February 27, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    I have wavy/curly hair and I could *NOT* survive the winter without my diffuser (in the warm weather I just let it air dry). As Amy says, there’s no need for it with straight hair, however. The few times a year I wear my hair straight I use a big round brush and the concentrator attachment on my dryer. If you want to see a diffuser in use on curly hair, I find the “Making the Most of Your Hair Dryer” video on the Jessicurl site to be very helpful:
    (Standard disclaimer: Not affiliated with Jessicurl, etc. etc. Just a curly girl who needed all the help she could get!)

  • Amanda

    February 27, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I am a girl with naturally curly/wavy hair. I love me a diffuser. I normally try to let my hair airdry (even if that means applying a product after I have gotten to work) but for those times I need to blow dry, if I am going for the curly look, I have to use a diffuser. A dab of BioSilk and the diffuser, and I am good to go.

  • Natalie

    February 27, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    I have naturally curly hair and I SWEAR by my diffuser. It was like a whole new world when I started using it. Yes, it takes quite a long to time to dry your hair when you’re using a diffuser, but it really makes a HUGE difference if you’ve got naturally curly hair.

  • Jess

    February 27, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    I have very curly hair and have had YEARS of torment figuring out how to tame my mane. I, personally, HATE…. repeat HATE the diffuser. It takes FOR-EFFING-EVER to dry my hair (I’m all about speed and efficiency) and leaves my hair super frizzy. I have gone through soooo many products and tried sooo many techniques and have found the holy grail of combos to get separated, non frizzy curls. Read on if you care. 🙂
    I comb my hair when I get out of the shower to separate the curls and put it up in a towel while i go through my routine. Then, at the perfect in between drying time I add some Marc Anthony Strictly Curls throughout my hair (it’s long so I’m generous) and then follow with TreSemme hair spray. The hair spray is KEY. Then (because if I don’t my hair ends up a crunchy gnarly mess) I blow dry my hair (no diffuser!!! oh god!! no!) upside down until it’s about half way dry….at which point i do something else for a while and then before i leave the house blow dry a bit more. All. Key. Steps. Totally works and only takes 10 minutes MAX.

  • Stephanie

    February 27, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Thank God! I always thought I was just being lazy to use the fancy-schmancy hair accessory. Now I realize, my extremely straight, thick hair doesn’t even need it. Awesome!
    Also, whenever I have tested it out, totally took forever to dry and didn’t see any special changes. I guess I just never took in what I was seeing with my eyes, and always thought I was doing something wrong.

  • Maren

    February 27, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    The crazy thing about curly hair is that it is so frickin picky. I have never found another person with the exact system I have, and no other system has ever worked. I have also never found a stylist that can make my hair look nice with curls without “cheating” and using a curling iron (so I always have them blow it straight since I won’t take the time) So yes, diffuser, it rocks and doesn’t really take terribly long compared to blowing and flat-ironing. My hair would be just kind of limp and ugly curls without it. As it is, the curls will last for two days (or more if I wake up really late…) and look great.

  • Kim

    March 1, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    I’ve got to agree with all the other commenters. I never used a diffuser until two years ago when my old hair dryer died and the new one I bought came with a diffuser. I have naturally wavy hair and the diffuser is a godsend. Ok, maybe not quite that important but really it means the difference between frizzy 80s hair and nicely separated curls.

  • Shari

    November 20, 2009 at 11:53 am

    “My hair is long and curly, what is the best product to use for separated curls?” … I punched it in on Google and this is the page I got.
    I appreciate all of the diffuser info, I rarely use mine; any kind of heat does no justice for my long, curly, thick & unruly hair. I wouldn’t trade it for straight but I’m 41 and still have NOT found the perfect, you know, “separated, defined-shiny-curls-celebrity-look” product to use on my hair no matter what I do!
    I’ve been to so many “professional” hair stylists… yeah right… frizz, frizz, frizz… what do I have to do go to NY or CA top salons…? I’m in MI, on a budget and this is ridiculous.
    This is MY ROUTINE:
    I wash my hair every other day with a pretty expensive smoothing shampoo and smoothing conditioner, hair goes up in a towel while I do makeup, dress, etc.
    While hair is still really damp, I use Paul Mitchell Sculpting foam all over, a little V05 mousse (oh I know) for the back, and a squirt of “Glass” then spray all over with Freeze N Shine, let air dry.
    This is what works for me but I want one product… ONE magic product and after reading this post I now know that I am not the only one out there with this problem.
    What works best for you…?

  • Nita

    January 23, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    This is the best answer I’ve seen. I know what a diffuser is but had no clue as to why and how to use it. Thanks!!!

  • Becca

    March 9, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    I would second the last commenter, one of the best articles I have found on using a hair diffuser.