If you’ve had a look around my site (or the internet in general), you will know there are a huge number of different irons, and they can all give you varying styles. Beyond just spirals, you can use curling irons to make waves, barrel curls, crimps and more. There are plenty of all-purpose irons that make it possible to get a bunch of different styles with one handy tool, but in general you can rely on certain irons to give you a very definitive look.
In general the smaller the iron the tighter the curl is. If you want very small ringlets that fall all over your head, then you’ll need to go with an option that varies from as small as 3/8 to as big as about 3/4 of an inch. If you’re trying to get significant curl into very short hair, you should go for a 3/8 of an inch iron.
It’s possible to use an iron that small on long hair, but it can be a lot of work. If you consider that each ringlet can take as long as 20 seconds and you’ll be putting as many as 100 in your hair, that’s a big time commitment for long hair.
There are two primary types of handheld curling products that make it possible to get the style you want: Irons and Wands. I’ve explained the difference in more detail here, but basically curling irons are heated barrels that have a clamp to hold the hair in place, and curling wands don’t have a clamp. This means that wands require more contact with your hair to get the style, and therefore curl a lot faster than irons.
Curling irons give you more flexibility in barrel size because they come as small as 3/8 of an inch and go all the way up to 2 inches or more. You will have to buy separate irons to get different curl sizes though, and that can turn into a fairly large collection. That being said, irons are usually less expensive than professional style wands. Options like the Hot Tools Professional (reviewed here) run the gamut of every possible size available.
You can get more than one curl size out of many wands, and different brands manage this in a number of ways. Some of them come with tapered barrels that are larger at the base than they are at the tip. This enables people to get curls of varying sizes by using different ends of the iron.
Basically, you get two or three different tools in one with products like the Revlon Bold Expressions curling iron wand which I reviewed here. Another way wands make different size barrels possible is by coming in sets that allow you to change them between uses. You can get small curls one day and large curls on another with an item like the HSI Professional Curling Iron Set.
If you don’t want super tight curls, but you want a style that is more than just waves you’re probably looking for corkscrew curls. They make fewer rotations so you can get away with a larger iron, and they’re probably best served with a wand. Corkscrew curls are often pulled back. They may also be used to make the hair look shorter than it is. They’re also bigger, so you won’t have as many of them (I’m thinking time saving here).
If you’re trying to get some extra body in your hair without creating full on curls, you need to add some texture with waves. Anything larger than a one inch iron is going to be great for waving, and it doesn’t have to be done all over to get the look you’re going for. Often, you can curl just around the face. When you’re trying to wave most of the curl sits right at the ends, and that gives the illusion of a bigger style while still maintaining class.
That being said, keep in mind that you’ll get looser waves with a bigger iron. If you want your hair to look just a little tousled while maintaining a classic look, a 2 inch iron is best. For beach-y waves that look like you just woke up, go with a 1.25 inch iron. Pick an iron in between for anything else on the wave spectrum.
Your other option is to try a waver like the Bed Head Deep Waver instead of a curling iron (see my review here), but they are the most limiting of all of the curling models. You can’t do much with a waver other than put a certain amount of texture in your hair. They tend to manage more hair at once, but they only style a few inches at a time.
That being said, wavers take a lot of thinking out of the curling process because all you have to do is open and close without burning your hair off. If I’m rushed or trying to do my hair in the morning before work, I would consider using a waver instead of a curling iron for speed and ease of use. If I had time to get it perfect, I would always go back to old faithful – the curling iron.
There are plenty of different ways to go about it, but the easiest way to get started is to find an image of what you’re going for and decide if they’re small curls, barrel, corkscrews, or waves etc. Once you know that, remember the bigger the curl or wave, the larger the iron you need.
If your hair is short, you will always need a smaller iron because you won’t have enough hair to wrap around a big one. If your hair is long, you could spend hours trying to get perfect tiny curls. No matter what you choose practice makes perfect, but try not to put too much heat on your hair in one day. The outcome isn’t pretty!