CURLY HAIR SETTING TECHNIQUES

Bouncy, curly hair is easy to create when you have the right tools and know how to use them.

With the exception of hot rollers, most roller sets can be done without using any form of heat. This means you can enjoy the extra spring in your step that curls provide without your hair suffering from the perils of heat styling.

On this page you’ll find detailed instructions on setting hair.

Learn exactly how to wrap and secure rollers for shiny, beautiful curls.

We look at several types of roller, plus how and when to use them to achieve specific results. Also, check out our product recommendations for setting hair to give your style the best results!

Wrapping Tips  |  Basic Wrap  |  Spiral Wrap  |  Securing Your Rollers  |  Finishing

Setting curls in hair
Unwrapping hot rollers

Aside from the type and size of hair roller you use, there are three major factors that will affect the finished look…

  • How the hair is wound onto the roller — The way hair is wound determines your curl formation (spiral, etc.)
  • How the roller sits — How the roller ends up sitting in relation to the scalp determines volume and direction. (see photo below)
  • Use of products — Where there is more product, there is more hold. Customize your curl by spraying just the ends for curl only on the bottom or spray only the roots and underneath for volume, but straight ends (you’d want to use rollers at least 1-1/2 inches in diameter, preferably larger).

My favorite product for roller sets is Biolage Thermal-Active Setting Spray. It provides a strong hold but doesn’t make the hair crunchy. Curls are shiny and bouncy and soft.

Hair set in pincurls
Hair set in pincurls

The position the roller ends up at the scalp is a direct result of the angle at which you comb your section before wrapping. For maximum volume, sections need to be over-directed, which means held slightly forward so they will roll down to rest upon their own base.

All of the top sections in these pincurls are wrapped so they come to rest “on base”. Wrap sections on base where you want the most volume by combing them straight upward or slightly forward before rolling.

Wrap the lower sections “off base” by combing them out 0°-45° from the scalp before rolling.

Think about the way you want your hair to fall when planning your curly hair style. I like to start in the crown and bangs and work my way down. Also think about direction, do you want the curls coming toward your face or away from it? Place the roller on whichever side you’ve chosen, and wrap from there.

Take the time to do a clean and careful wrapping. The idea is to reshape the hair into a shiny, well defined curl. If your set is thrown together haphazardly, it’ll be obvious in your finished style.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a basic roller set…

  • Part off a section the same length and diameter of your roller — Over-direct the hair as you comb the section smooth.
  • Spray the entire section with setting product — Be sure to get underneath and spray the roots in the volume zone, then comb through the hair once more before wrapping the section.
  • Smooth the roller onto the ends and wrap it down — Make sure the ends stay tucked under. This is where perm end papers can come in handy, but the tail of your comb is the best tool for this, just slide it along the top of the roller and give a little sweep to direct the ends into place.
  • Roll the section down to the scalp and secure — Hold the hair taut while rolling to prevent a sloppy, sagging set. If you find the sides of your section are loose, increase the tension by moving the roller from side to side while wrapping.

A spiral wrap creates a long, twisted coil and can be done on all lengths of hair. Shorter hair or a tighter desired curl requires a narrow diameter rod while longer hair, or a looser curl requires wider rods.

  • Use long bendy rollers — Hold the roller straight up and down and start rolling.
  • Begin at the bottom for a tighter more defined spiral.
  • Begin at the top and let the hair twist as it wraps around the rod for a looser, more natural curl.
  • Wrap at least once around the ends to ensure they are tucked under and secured.

Set curls by either allowing hair to air dry OR using a diffuser or hood dryer. If you use heat, allow the hair to cool completely when the set is dry before taking out the rollers. Use that handy cool shot button on your blow dryer to speed up the process.

When removing rollers, gently run your fingers along the hair behind the roller to keep the curly hair smooth and separated.

The method you use to secure your rollers varies with the different types of rollers used. See the guide below for specifics. When using any type of hollow roller, small metal clips are best for securing properly, including pincurls.

In all cases, when securing your roller, keep in mind that any areas of pressure, kinks, or snags from clips or other rollers will show up in your finished curly hair style.

Take a minute to make sure your set is tidy, especially in the top sections and around the face. Once it’s set in there, good, bad or ugly, you’re stuck with it.


Velcro or (Self-grip) rollers are great for creating curly hair. They’re quick and fuss-free. Use on wet or dry hair and simply give the roller a little wiggle when you’ve reached the scalp to help secure. When used on long or thick hair, these rollers sometimes need to be secured by clipping.

Place the clip underneath the roller where the hair starts to curve away from the scalp and try not to clamp down over the top of the section of hair at all, just underneath, to prevent unsightly dents and marks on the hair. If a section is heavy and drooping, secure both sides of the roller.

Hair set in bendy rollers.

When securing bendies, simply bend the top inch or two over toward the back or top of the section. This means that you need to leave that space free and not wrap the hair all the way to the top end of the roller.

If you don’t feel there is enough tension, make sure the section is rolled all the way to the scalp and bend the top over backwards right where the hair meets the scalp. Play around with it a little and you’ll feel when you’ve got the right position.

Hair set in hot rollers.

Hot rollers can be secured with large plastic jaw clamps (click to see inexpensive clamps for hot rollers at Amazon.com). Because of their weight, they may not clamp up tightly against your scalp, and may even sag a little.

Hot rollers are not the best choice for creating curly hair styles on fine hair because of their weight and their lack of support at the root.

Try Velcro’s if your hair is fine, unless you want a loose, wavy effect. In that case, hot rollers would work well.

Using heat (from a hair dryer with diffuser or hood dryer) will speed up your hair setting time. Heat the hair thoroughly to dry the setting product and then allow to cool completely before removing the rollers. The cool shot button on your hair dryer is a great help here. Once cooled, your curls will be firmly set and ready for the next step in styling. Run your fingers through for light separation or use a brush to blend the curls into deep waves. A good set is also a great foundation for updo hairstyles.

RELATED:

Setting product recommendations

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