I’m pretty damn good at doing hair (I'm also very humble). I take pride in being able to turn your "annoying" hair ("it's too slippery!" "It's too short!" "It's too thick!" "It just doesn't do anything!") into a braided, twisted, magical style. So when my friend challenged me to curl her "aggressively straight" hair, I chuckled, patted her on the head, and got to work. And then it imploded.
Because no matter what I did, her straight hair would not hold a curl or even a wave. I sprayed the hell out of it with every texturizing product and hairspray I had, I kept the curl in my hand until it cooled from the best curling iron I owned, I begged and pleaded with the hairs to stay twisted still, I was left with limp nothingness. Defeated and ego-bruised, I vowed to never again let another strand conquer my soul.
So I sought out an actual professional, i.e., celeb hairstylist Justine Marjan, and convinced her to tell me exactly how to master stick-straight hair once and for all. And, thankfully, she delivered. So before you break out those elastics for yet another topknot, try these brilliant tricks and product recommendations that'll keep curls and waves intact all day long.
Step 1: Play With Mousse and Mist
Most of your curl power comes from how you prep your damp hair, and that should include products with “memory”—i.e., ones that give your hair a flexible, malleable shape when you’re heat-styling them, then help it retain that shape when you’re done. Marjan reaches for Tresemmé Beauty Full Volume Mousse (a dense, non-sticky mousse that gives hair insane volume) and Ouai Wave Spray (a lightweight spray that coaxes textured waves out of even the straightest hair types). We also love Kristin Ess Instant Lift Volumizing Mousse. It strays away from the sticky and tacky feeling most mousses are known for.
After towel-drying your hair, rake a puff of mousse (baseball-size for long hair; golf-ball-size for short hair) through your damp hair with your fingers, from roots to ends, then liberally mist the wave spray all over your hair, focusing on your mid-lengths to ends. Then comb through it all with a wide-tooth comb.
Step 2: Blow Your Hair Dry the Right Way
Next up: The drying process. The biggest mistake Marjan says people make with their stick-straight hair is blowing it dry with a round brush, which smooths out all of the natural texture your hair needs to hold a curl. “Instead, you want to enhance your hair’s texture by using a diffuser attachment or by drying it with your hands,” she says.
Basically, don’t play nice—flip your damp hair over, rough-dry it with your hands, and encourage all the waves you can get out of your hair. “If I really need to use a brush, I’ll use a small ceramic round brush to brush and curl the hair as it dries,” she adds. (Marjan, a brand ambassador for Ghd, swears by the Ghd Air Hair Dryer, though you can also try my favorite Conair Infiniti Pro Hair Dryer.)
Step 3: Spray and Curl Your Hair
After your hair is totally and completely dry (no, really—is it dry, yet?), add another layer of staying power to your hair by misting it with hairspray, says Marjan, who recommends R+Co's Vicious Hairspray, a strong, yet flexible formula that adds shine and heat protection. You can try one of our favorite drugstore ones, L'Oréal Paris Elnett Satin Extra Strong Hold Hairspray, which Kate Middleton's hairstylist, Amanda Cook Tucker, has used in the past.
Brush through your hair to break up the spray, grab a one-inch curling iron or wand (Marjan loves the Ghd Classic Curl Iron, but you can also try my favorite Bed Head Curlipops Curling Wand).
"Make sure to use an iron with a barrel that's smaller than the curl or wave you actually want, because your curls will gradually fall out and loosen up," says Marjan. Wrap one-inch sections of hair around the iron, "holding longer than you think you would need to," then release the curl into your palm for a few seconds while it cools. You can also clip each warm coil to your head to really make sure your hair holds the curl, though it will take you a bit more time.