Not even a week into this Blogmas thing and I’ve already missed a day. I suppose that means I need to post two blogs today to make up for it. Here we go…
Considering that I’m “mixed,” it might come as a surprise that my hair is nearly impossible to curl. The reason for this is that my hair is chemically straightened and it has been since the 10th grade. I always wanted straight hair ever since I was befuddled by how Princess Mia kept her hair straight in the rain in The Princess Diaries. I don’t think I’ll ever be going back to my natural hair.
The only problem with thermal straightening your hair is that once it’s straight, your hair does not want to be curled. Chemical straightening or perming affect the disulfide bonds of the hair. The disulfide bonds are the strongest bonds in the hair and are what gives hair its natural structure as straight, curly or wavy. Breaking those bonds to form them into a new shape, whether curly or straight, cannot be undone. This is why it’s so hard to curl certain hair types and why I have had so much trouble curling my hair after having it permanently straightened. My hair won’t hold a curl to save my life. I’ve had a professional blowout at a salon that charges $97 for a haircut, I’ve had my hair curled at that same salon and my hair would not hold a curl for 5 minutes. Not even when the stylist pinned up my hair and let it cool for a couple minutes and sprayed it with the obviously expensive, super good-smelling hairspray. I even went to a black hair salon and got a roller set. My hair was back to straight the second I stepped out of the salon and it got a little windy (the stylist didn’t let my hair cool down long enough and I don’t think she used a strong enough setting product).
I just learned how to get my hair to hold a curl. And when I do this, the curl lasts for days. Not hours, days. Honestly, if my hair can hold a curl after being chemically altered, I think anyone’s hair can, even if you have super baby fine limp hair that never holds a curl. The trick is in how you curl your hair. If you want to get fine, hard to curl hair to hold its shape, you have to wet set it with a setting product. Sorry, there’s no way around it. There is no magical blowout technique or product that will get your hair curl. Those expensive velvet hot rollers won’t work either. Ignore the contraptions that suck in your hair and bake it for 20 seconds. Put down the curling wand and don’t waste your money on a Dyson AirWrap. Even steam rollers are unlikely to work. If your hair is impossible to curl, the wet set is the only way to go.
The “wet set” is basically any heatless method of curling your hair that uses wet hair and some type of roller/curler to curl your hair. When your hair is wet or when it gets heated, the hydrogen bonds of the hair are temporarily disrupted. Then, when the hair dries or cools down, those hydrogen bonds reform into whatever shape they are in when they dry or cool. The fact of the matter is, however, that wet setting works better than heat tools. Why? I couldn’t tell you. My only guess is that it has something to do with the hydrogen present in water (aka H2O).
I’ve noticed that with a lot of heatless curls tutorials, the person will say to just do it on damp hair. This doesn’t work for me and if you have hard to curl hair, it probably won’t work for you either. If you want your hair to curl and have it last for days until it’s time to wash it out, your hair needs to be wet, not damp (this is why steam rollers never worked for me). It shouldn’t be sopping wet like you just dunked your head in a pool but after washing your hair, gently squeeze out the excess water and blot with a towel. That’s how wet your hair should be. And, as you’re working on rolling your hair, feel free to re-wet it with a spray bottle section by section.
The next component of a fabulous wet set is a setting product. A setting product helps your hair keep the shape it dries into. I remember when I did headband curls back during my junior year of high school without any product. The front of my hair curled wonderfully, so the product isn’t necessary but you may want or need it, especially if you want your curls to last for many days. I use Lotta Body Setting Lotion (#notsponsored) that I buy from Sally’s Beauty (I love that store, it is my home). The product is a concentrated purple liquid that needs to be mixed in a bottle with water. You can also add some essential oils if you’d like.
I tried putting this in one of those new fangled spray bottles that have a super fine mist but instead of lightly misting my hair, the diluted product would squirt out and get everything soaked. I realized that since it’s a setting product and not just water, the product will dry inside the spray mechanism and force out a squirt instead of a mist. My soultion was to put the diluted product into a an old foaming cleanser bottle. This way, the product comes out as a foam and is easier to spread down the length of the hair.
I’ve found that this product not only works and keeps my curl for days, it also doesn’t leave a cast like gel and it doesn’t get flaky or sticky when it dries. The only time my hair would get hard and crunchy would be if I tried to use the product to re-wet my hair once it was already too dry to roll. If you use enough product to saturate dry hair, your hair will end up in a crunchy cast. Yuck. And at least for this product, since you have to dilute it with water, the bottle will last forever. And not to get ahead of ourselves, but you’ll also need a good heat protectant for when you dry your hair.
Arguably, the most crucial ingredient for curling your hair is the type of rollers you use, or don’t use. When you do a wet set you can use whatever type of rollers you like (except velcro- please don’t use velcro on wet hair, those are for holding blowouts or cooling down curls made with a wand when the hair is already dry) or you can do pin curls, either flat or standing, depending on your preference. Each roller has it’s pros and cons and you have to choose rollers that work for you. If you want modern loose curls, use larger rollers (1.5 inch diameter or larger). If you want springy, natural-looking spirals, use smaller rollers. There are so many choices for rollers and ways to set your hair, I couldn’t possibly name them all but I’ll try to list some of them:
- flexi rods
- magnetic rollers
- brush rollers
- mesh rollers
- hourglass rollers
- Wrap Snap and Go
- pillow rollers
- sponge rollers
- pin curls, standing or flat
- Bantu knots
- Nite Curlers
- perm rods
- Sleep Styler
- strawberry foam curlers
- Skelox rollers
- headband curls
- straw curls
- rag curls
You get the idea, there are a lot of rollers to choose from. When you pick the rollers, there are a few things to consider like if you’ll be sleeping on them overnight, how tight you want the curl, how thick or long your hair is, and how much airflow will be able to get to your hair when it’s wrapped (this affects drying time).
And as always, make sure the ends of your hair are smooth as possible to avoid fish hooked ends.
Drying Your Hair
I personally have used the Wrap Snap and Go rollers to curl my hair. I liked these because, for me, they’re easy to use and easy to sleep in. That being said, my hair does not air-dry overnight with these. My hair doesn’t air dry in 12 hours. I left these suckers in for three days! I put them in on a Wednesday night and then they were finally dry when I took them out Saturday morning.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stay up in the house for 3 days while I’m waiting for my hair to dry and most people don’t have the time to stay home for that long. Besides, by the time I took my hair out of the rollers, my hair was seriously tangled from not being brushed or combed in 3 days and it was basically time to wash it again or put in some dry shampoo. This is why I switched over to magnetic rollers and why you need a hairdryer.
You can get a soft hood that attaches to your regular blow dryer, a hard hat dryer that sits on a countertop, or (the most expensive option) a standing roll-about dryer, the best of which is a Pibbs. Which dryer you get will depend on how often you curl your hair, how often you travel, and how fast you need it to dry. After having my hair pin-straight for 5 years, I’m really feeling these curls now and plan to set my hair often. I had a soft bonnet that attaches to my hairdryer. It gets the job done but it takes forever to dry my hair and the dryer gets very hot very quickly because it sits directly on your head so there’s no open airflow like with a salon hard bonnet dryer. To keep the heat from building up, I used to tape down the cool shot button on my dryer and have it dry on cool which adds more time compared to drying it on hot.
After getting fed up with that, I cut some ventilation holes in the top and around the sides of the dryer attachment, as well as on the connecter hose. The dryer attachment was cheap (under $10) so I didn’t mind “ruining” it and cutting those extra holes really did help. I’m now able to stand the lowest heat setting with it (but I do like to use the cold shot for a couple of seconds every 10 to 15 minutes or so). Even with using the heat however, the soft bonnet took over an hour to dry my hair and when I took it down it wasn’t 100% dry in every location. It was about 95% dry and I think the setting lotion is what held the curls in spite of it not being dry 100%. I’d say the dryer attachment is best for people who only plan to curl their hair on special occasions, have at least an hour and a half (depending on hair length and thickness) to sit under the dryer, and who don’t want or need to spend the extra money on a hard hat dryer. The regular hairdryer plus the soft bonnet attachment is also the most travel-friendly option for people who travel a lot.
One more thing I should mention about the soft dryer attatchment is that when I used my 2 inch magnetic rollers, the hood would not fit over all of the rollers so I couldn’t use it! You could buy a larger bonnet dryer (which are surpiringly hard to find online considering how popular Dominican blowouts and roller sets are) or you could buy a second bonnet and sew two of them together which is what I did. I wouldn’t recommend it. Honestly, it would’ve been easier to just start from scratch and make my own bonnet, but bigger. The issue was that the bonnet dryer I have is made of some obscure cheap nylon fabric where the reverse side is coated in alluminum or some metal to give it heat resistance so it doesn’t catch fire. I saw in Amazon reviews for other bonnets that the bonnets melted so I was not about to take my chances with just any old nylon.
Remember how I said the front of my hair curled well with headband curls in junior year? The back of my hair didn’t do so hot. Since the hair didn’t dry (even after 24 hours), the curls totally fell out in the back. This is why it’s essential to ensure that your hair is 100% dry and/or cooled down (especially in the back). But the thing is, air drying will take forever, especially when the hair is wrapped on top of itself in rollers. This is the reason why people in YouTube tutorials tell you to do heatless curls on dry hair or to lightly spritz dry hair with water; when the hair is any wetter than damp, it won’t dry overnight. But when you have hard to curl hair, you must set your hair when it’s wet in order to break all the hydrogen bonds in the hair. For some of us, only breaking a few of those hydrogen bonds just won’t work. The extra time it takes to fully dry wet hair versus hair that’s just damp necessitates a hairdryer and some heat protectant.
Taking Out the Curls
Once you’re certain your hair is dry, it’s time to take them out. When it come to pin curls or Bantu knots, the way you wrap your hair determines the direction of the curl, but other rollers, it’s all about how you take them out.
If the hair is rolled under with your roots sitting on top of the roller, you’ll need to gently pull down on the end of the roller closest to your face and unwind the hair that way to get curls that go away from the face. Pull down on the end of the roller closest to the back of your head to get curls that go towards your face (this gives a more vintage look). If the hair is rolled over with the roller sitting on top of your roots, pull the end of the roller closest to the back of your head for curls that go away from your face or pull the end closest to your face for curls that go toward your face. This only applies to rollers that are rolled horizontally on the head, parallel to the floor.
If the rollers are rolled vertically, perpendicular to the floor, the direction of the curl will depend on how they were first rolled. For rollers rolled on the top of the head horizontally, rolling the hair under, away from the face will give curls that go away from the face, no matter which side you part your hair on or if you part it in the middle. Rolling the hair over will do the opposite. I like to use hair oil on my hands when taking out the rollers to prevent frizz and moisturize the ends of my hair. But I wouldn’t advise using too much oil, especially on thinner, finner hair. The oil may weigh down your curls and make your hair look stringy and greasy instead of soft and shiny.
Depending on the look you’re going for and how much you want to loosen up the curls, you can either brush them out for a vintage vibe or just lightly run your fingers through them and shake them up a bit. With the Lottabody setting lotion, I find hairspray to be completely optional and not even necessary for me.
And voila! Enjoy your bouncy hair until your next wash day!