How to Create Effortless Waves for Short Hair: A Tutorial
I have a confession to make: I was 20 years old the first time I curled my hair. See, growing up in the mid-2000s, the au courant look was bone-straight hair, and I could wield a flatiron like it was an Olympic sport. But curling it? For years, this simply wasn't on my radar.
But hair trends evolved, as they thankfully do, and by five years ago, messy waves had risen as the reigning look. Trust me when I say those first few years curling my hair were rough—it took a while for me to get as comfortable curling my hair as I'd been straightening it, especially after I cut my hair short. Let's just say if you don't quite know what you're doing, curls on short hair can quickly look less like J.Law and more like Shirley Temple.
Luckily, as it turns out, it doesn't have to be so complicated. Over the past few years, I've had the joy of interacting with some of the best hair stylists in the industry (plus a few very talented friends), and they have all led me to the hair-curling technique I now use every time I want that perfectly imperfect style. It takes a teensy bit of practice, but overall, the steps are super simple. If I can do it, so can you—promise.
If you haven't yet been able to nail down how to curl short hair, this easy tutorial is for you. Keep scrolling to learn how to create the perfect messy waves for short hair!
My hair is pretty straight naturally, but this tutorial will work just as well or better if yours has more texture. If you want the final look to be extra voluminous, I recommend parting your hair on the opposite side of your natural part. (But feel free to part it wherever you wish.)
Start out by misting your hair all over with a heat protectant, like Tresemmé's tried-and-true Thermal Creations Heat Tamer Spray ($8) to prevent damage from the curling iron. This step is especially important if you have colour-damaged hair like I do.
Next, take an alligator clip or hair tie, and put the upper half of your hair out of the way. This is so that you can reach the hair underneath with your curling iron.
For bob- and lob-length hair, I recommend using a clamp-free curling wand with a one-inch barrel. Anything larger won't work for your short hair, and anything smaller will make the ringlets too tight. Today I'm using the one-inch styling rod from Paul Mitchell's Express Ion Unclipped 3-in-1.
I've learned that there are two keys to achieving effortless waves on short hair. First, it's important to curl away from your face. That means you need to hold the curling iron in your right hand to curl the hair on the left side of your head (and vice versa). Reach the curling iron over your head, hold it vertically, and wrap one-inch sections of hair around it away from your face. If your iron is set to maximum temperature, you only need to hold each section around the wand for about 10 seconds before you release. Continue doing that around the back of your head, then switch to the other side. (It might feel awkward if you've never done it before, but you'll get used to it!)
The second important thing to remember is this: don't curl your ends. For short hair, this means you only want to wrap each strand of hair about one and a half times around the iron. If you curl all the way down to the ends, the style will end up looking too constricted and a little bit dated. But leave the ends out, and you'll get that effortless effect.
Another little-known tip: To set each wave, catch it right as you release it from around the barrel. Then hold it in your hand for three seconds or so, and release.
Also, be sure not to comb through your waves when they're still hot! This will cause them to fall right away. After you release each curl, leave them alone until they cool.
Okay short-haired friends, here's another secret. Sometimes the ends of your hair have a mind of their own and end up curling in a little bit despite your best efforts to keep them loose. When this happens, simply dust off your flatiron, and gently glide it over the very tips of your hair. You'll notice this instantly gives the whole look an easier, more natural finish.
Now that you're finished styling with heat, it's time for products. Grab a dry shampoo or texture spray, like Ouai's Texturizing Spray or Oribe's Après Beach Wave and Shine Spray, and spray it at the root throughout sections of your hair, lightly tousling your waves as you do. This will add body, enhance the texture, and help hold the style in place.
Here's a trick I discovered just this year. As we've learned, getting the right finish at your ends is key to perfecting messy waves for short hair, and another thing you can do to help is to apply some pomade. I like to take a tiny bit of flexible hair paste, like Kevin Murphy's Free Hold Cream ($40), and twist it through the ends all around my head. This makes the style look more shaggy and edgy.