How to Use a Curling Iron on Short Hair

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Short hair is becoming an increasingly popular style among women. The 1990s and early-2000s saw a rise in long hairstyles, but as we all know- styles were made to be changed! 

In 2020, the number one trending hairstyle for women was short hair

Many women cut their hair short to save time on styling and upkeep, and some just prefer a shortcut because it looks better and makes them feel more confident. Just because you have a “low-key” cut, though, is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to style your hair! 

If anything, short hair is significantly easier and faster to style than long hair. However, styling short hair is definitely different than styling long hair. This is the part that can take some getting used to. Don’t be afraid, though! Once you’ve done it a few times, it will be like second nature to you. 

Short hair is IN! Now, what can you do with it? Let’s look at How to Use a Curling Iron on Short Hair.


How Short Is Too Short?

Before we begin, we want to make sure that we don’t waste any of your valuable time. So let’s cut straight to the chase- how short is too short to style your hair? 

When we’re talking about short hair in this guide, we’re typically referring to hair that’s somewhere between ear-length and shoulder-length. 

If you have a pixie cut that’s higher than your ears, it’s going to be a lot harder to use a curling iron or wand on it, including an automatic curling iron. But don’t think that you can’t style your hair! There are tons of options that range from cute to totally badass if you’ve got an extra-short pixie cut.

Check out this awesome compilation. 

How To Use A Curling Iron On Short Hair: Step-By-Step

Now, for the part that you’ve been waiting for! your ultimate how-to guide for how to use a curling iron on short hair. At first, it may seem a bit lengthy, but it’s actually quite simple! Here’s everything you need to know from start to finish. 

If you prefer video, here’s short video going over the basics.

Step 1: Start With A Clean Slate

Before curling your hair, you always want to make sure that it’s as clean as possible. If you have any residual hair products such as hairspray, leave-in conditioner, gel, etc., they need to be completely washed out using a high-quality shampoo. 

We also recommend using a bit of conditioner to prevent your hair from becoming frizzy or getting too dry once you start using the curling iron. 

If you try to curl your hair with a bunch of leftover products in it, then it can turn out really messy. The product can burn and clump, acting almost like glue to your hair (ugh!). While shampooing your hair, make sure that you do your best to wash all of it out as well. 

Before stepping out of the shower, it’s also a good idea to run some cold water over your head as well. The cold water shocks your hair and encourages it to lock-in vital oils that will improve your hairstyle’s overall appearance.

Step 2: Protect Your Hair

Unfortunately, most women crank their curling iron up to high heat and then apply it directly to their dry hair. Sure, it will come out looking okay the first few times you do it.

But if you continue to curl your hair unprotected, you stand to damage your hair, causing split-ends and extra frizziness permanently.

As mentioned above, most hair professionals recommend using a protective oil or spray on your hair before applying the curling iron. Argan oil and castor oil are excellent all-natural products that will not only nourish your hair but will also protect it from heat damage.

Simply put a dime-sized drop in your palms, rub them together, and then run your hands through your hair to spread it around. 

If you’re looking for something a little bit easier and less messy, there are plenty of affordable, semi-natural sprays that you can use to give your hair a quick protective layer. 

Step 3: Start With The Front

Now that your hair is clean and protected, it’s time for the fun part- curling your hair

We recommend starting toward the front. Since your front locks will be the most visible, it’s important to ensure they’re the perfect size and shape. 

If you were to start from the back, you could easily leave your front locks looking thinner, giving you an uneven appearance. 

Starting near the roots, grab a lock of your hair (as thin or thick as you’d like), open the clamp on the iron, and twirl your hair around the length of the barrel. 

Then, close the clamp, let it sit for a couple of seconds and then slowly pull the curling iron away from you, let your hair slide out. It should now have taken on a curly or wavy appearance. 

Styling Tip: You can curl all of your hair in one direction, or you can curl different locks in different directions. If you’re looking for a more refined, professional appearance- put it to the side. If you’re looking for a young, vibrant appearance, vary your curls and direction slightly for a windswept look. 

Step 4: Gradually Move Back

Once you finish the most visible sections of your hair, start moving your curling iron towards the back of your hair. These curls will usually be thinner and may not be quite as defined since they’re harder to see and reach. 

Step 5: Shake It Like You Mean It

Once you’re satisfied with your curls, shake your hair out a bit! Run your fingers through your scalp and separate the curls from each other using light pressure. This will help give your hair more volume and give it a far more natural appearance that’s great for everyday wear. 

Step 6: Hairspray And Styling (Optional)

This step is optional. If you want to give yourself that polished, professional look, then you’ll want to keep your curls looking as tight and shiny as possible. In order to achieve that look, you’re going to want to have a medium to strong holding hairspray. 

Holding the hairspray about half a foot away from your head, cover your scalp with a balanced mist. You don’t want to hold the hairspray too close to your head or else you’ll end up with a hard, sticky residue. When it comes to hairspray- less is better

Pick The Right Curling Iron For Short Hair

If you’ve ever used a curling iron or flat iron on your hair before, it was most likely for longer hair (shoulder-length or longer). However, you’re going to need to use a different size curling iron for short hair than you would with long hair. 

Curling irons designed to be used on long hair tend to have wider and longer barrels designed to allow you to wrap long, thick locks of hair around the barrel multiple times. This makes for a quicker styling process. 

While you can certainly try to use a larger curling iron on your short hair, it’s probably going to be more of a challenge than you expect.

But hey- we applaud you for trying! 

So, before we get into our tutorial, let’s take a second to discuss what type of curling iron you should be using to style your short hair so that you can get the most out of it. 

Barrel Width

No matter what brand you go with or what bells and whistles come with it, the most important feature of a curling iron is how thick the barrel is. The barrels are measured by circumference from one side of the barrel to the other. 

The most common barrel lengths for longer hairstyles are:

  • 1.5-inch barrel
  • 1.75-inch barrel
  • 2-inch barrel

Of course, there are smaller and larger barrel sizes designed for different hair types, but these tend to be the most commonly used sizes. 

Since short hair seems to be the upcoming trend of the decade, though, you’ll be able to find a lot more options for curling irons with a small barrel. 

The barrel size you end up selecting to style your short hair will depend mostly on how tight you want your curls. The best barrel sizes for short hair are:

  • .75-inch barrel
  • 1-inch barrel
  • 1.25-inch barrel
  • … and sometimes a 1.5-inch barrel

The smaller the barrel, the tighter the curls. A .75-inch barrel will produce super-tight, bouncy curls, whereas a 1.25-inch barrel will give your hair more of a wavy appearance. If you’re unsure, we suggest trying to find a 1-inch barrel so you have a perfect medium. 

Barrel Length

The length of a curling iron’s barrel will usually correlate with how thick the barrel is. Thinner barrels will usually have a shorter length, whereas thicker barrels will usually have a longer length. This is mostly to ensure that heat distribution is even throughout the barrel. 

Usually, you won’t have much choice when it comes to barrel length, but try to pick something that’s easy to hold and that you can wrap a lock of hair around several times. 

Titanium vs. Ceramic Curling Irons

Apart from brand and barrel size, the most common difference you’ll notice when it comes to curling irons is what material the barrel is made out of. Historically, they were made of iron, hence the term “curling iron.” 

However, iron would often overheat, and the metal was prone to corrosion and rust. For these reasons, curling iron manufacturers switched to using titanium and ceramic barrels. Some hybrid barrels combine ceramic with crystal tourmaline to provide more even heat distribution. 

The same is true for flat irons as well.

Most flat irons are made of either titanium or ceramic.

Titanium Curling Irons

Titanium curling irons are more traditional, and also known for being cheaper and more affordable. Don’t mistake them for “cheap,” though! One of the biggest reasons to use titanium over a ceramic barrel is that they are known for leaving your hair with extra shine

The barrels are able to add shine to your hair because titanium contains negatively-charged ions. Your hair contains positively-charged ions. When the titanium barrel makes contact with your hair, the positive ions from your hair “jump” to the barrel. The result is that you’ll have tighter curls and an added sheen (which is great for a night out). 

Ceramic Curling Irons

Ceramic curling irons are a more recent development in styling technology. Ceramic is often used in high-end models because it provides better heat distribution and is more resistant to corrosion. If you’re working with wet hair or using hairspray, a ceramic curling iron will give you a smoother curling experience. 

The one disadvantage of ceramic curling irons is that they don’t give your hair that extra added shine that a titanium curling iron does. This is completely up to you, though! Both materials are good options. 

High Temperature vs. Low Temperature

Most curling irons have a variable heat setting that allows you to use it anywhere between 210-Degrees and 450-Degrees. Many people mess up by jumping straight to a high temperature in the 400s just because the curling process goes faster. The only thing is- your hair isn’t meant to handle that much heat at once

Hair professionals recommend starting off in the mid-200s if you have thin hair. If you have thicker hair (some ethnic hair types, for example), or if your hair is already curly, then start in the high-200s or low-300s. 

Temperatures of 400 and above should be reserved for extra-thick hair only. If you are going to use these high temperatures, then make sure that you’re using a hair protectant oil or spray like this HSI Hair Protectant.

Hair Protectant Spray

These sprays will provide a protective barrier so that you don’t end up burning your hair and damaging it in the long run. 

Final Tips

Curling your short hair isn’t all that different from curling long hair, but there are a few differences. Once you get used to going through the process a few times, though, you’ll usually find that styling your hair is faster and easier than it’s ever been!

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).