Whether you want to rock some messy beach waves or go for tighter spirals, hair rollers are the answer! Our grandmothers knew it and now, we’re slowly relearning this very valuable lesson.
It isn’t hard to see why hair rollers have been a staple in beauty cabinets and are slowly regaining the spotlight in the world of hair care and styling—you get lasting volume, extreme body, and a variety of beautiful results, all with a ridiculously low amount of effort.
The renewed interest in hair rollers today means that you not only have hair rollers for every kind of hairdo but also every hair type, including for those blessed with natural curls.
If you’re considering adding these very handy styling tools to your beauty kit, here’s everything you need to know about the different types of hair rollers and how to use them.
A Little About Hair Rollers and Curlers
Believe it or not, hair curlers of various kinds have been around since a least 2,000 BC! Some of our ancient ancestors in Egypt came up with the clever idea of wrapping their hair around wooden sticks and using the sun’s heat to set the curls. The shaping and maintaining of ones hair style started with these simple inventions.
The ancient Greeks weren’t too far behind, using a hollow iron tube called a calamistrum, which was heated and then used to curl hair. This tool is often considered the first curling iron. The Greeks took it one step further, using beeswax to set their freshly minted curls.
The journey of hair rollers continued, with the rollers of the 19th century most closely resembling the rollers we know today (the major difference was that these were coated with fabric or leather to make them more comfortable).
However, somewhere in the last 50 years, hair rollers have gotten something of a bad rep, with many users blaming them for hair damage simply because some of them use heat to set your hair. What many folks didn’t realize was that it all comes down to what rollers you use and how you use them – as with all tools, you get the best results from using the right tool correctly.
Previous iterations of heated rollers may have caused damage because the technology wasn’t there to get your rollers to an accurate and safe temperature. Luckily, we now have a lot of excellent heated rollers to choose from with excellent heat control, and many curlers and rollers don’t even require heat, they let your hair set naturally in it’s shape as your hair dries, much like the ancient Egyptians.
If used properly, here are the benefits you can expect from them:
- Hair rollers are versatile tools that can give you any type of curls you’re looking for, from casual, messy beach waves to dense spirals to loose ringlets. You can also use them to create volume; they’re especially great for fine hair.
- Hair rollers are extremely easy to use. Styling your hair with rollers can be as simple as wearing these and letting them work their magic while you go about the rest of your getting-ready routine. You can even leave them on overnight.
- Modern hair rollers, even heated ones, can be a little less harsh than a curling iron since they are set for a longer period of time and require less heat to do the job. This makes them especially great for dry or colored hair.
- Hair rollers create great texture and keep your curls frizz-free.
Types of Hair Rollers
Here are the many types of hair rollers. Some are very useful, while others not so much, but we’ve included them all to give a broad idea of what’s out there.
Hot rollers are an excellent solution for achieving frizz-free, voluminous curls, especially for long and/or thick hair. Stylists, especially, adore these curlers because of the gorgeous, long-lasting results that you can get within just a quarter of an hour!
Hot rollers use heat, as the name suggests, to create waves or curls that all extend beautifully in the same direction, unlike beach waves, which tend to have a more tousled look.
They conveniently come in a box that you can plug in and use to heat the curlers (and can store the curlers in, when they’re not in use). Unlike steam rollers which are heated one by one, hot rollers are heated all at once.
Another great thing about these curlers is that each set comes with rollers in different sizes, so you can use the jumbo rollers when you want loose curls and the smaller ones for tight curls.
To use them, switch on the box and let the rollers heat up. In the meantime, spritz a little heat protectant spray onto your hair to minimize damage and frizz. Once your rollers are all heated, roll sections of your hair around them, ends to roots, and secure them in place with straight pins.
Let the rollers cool for about 15 or 20 minutes in your hair before gently taking them out and finger-combing your hair.
Pictured above are the T3 Volumizing Hot Rollers Luxe. This is the set we use in Blowout Studio and we absolutely love them. They’re gorgeous and work flawlessly.
Velcro rollers are great for all hair types and lengths. You can use these versatile curlers to create both tight ringlets and loose curls; the fact that they’re heatless tools makes them especially great for hair extensions.
Velcro rollers, as the name suggests, have velcro pads attached to plastic bases, a combination that lets your curls stay strong and defined, through crazy parties and even headbanging at a metal concert. The superior grip on your hair is particularly useful to those with fine hair.
Using velcro rollers is insanely simple. Start by sectioning off your hair, making sure you match the size of your roller; if a section’s too thick or thin, you’re not going to get the results you’re looking for.
Brush the section you’re curling, spritzing it lightly with hairspray. Hold the section straight (you may have to pull a little to get it extremely straight, especially if you’ve got naturally curly hair) and start rolling the ends of your hair around your curler. Make sure the hair sticks thoroughly to the curler.
Do this with all sections of your hair. Keep the curlers on for around 20-30 minutes. You can use straight pins to keep the sections in place, if needed. Once the rollers have worked their magic, gently remove them and give your hair some gentle finger-combing love.
For tight curls and short hair, use small rollers. Increase the size depending on how loose and voluminous you want your curls to be and how long your hair is. Additionally, if you’re looking for loose waves, don’t curl the rollers in too tight.
Foam rollers are the perfect tool for creating loose waves and volume. Also known as sponge hair rollers, foam rollers are super convenient as they work perfectly on dry hair.
To use these spongy curlers, section and brush your hair, and wrap each section around the roller, starting at the ends. Work your way up to the roots and secure the roller with the attached clip.
No heat is involved, which means that your locks are safe, but the dry hair could mean having to deal with some pulling.
To avoid this, leave a few inches between the roller and your scalp, and don’t roll too tightly. While removing the rollers (ideally after you’ve spent a whole night in them), make sure you’re as gentle as possible. Alternatively, you could use these curlers on slightly damp hair.
Seal the deal by finger-combing and a bit of curl refresher for definition and shine, and rock your new waves the rest of the day!
Magnetic Hair Rollers
If you’ve never had the patience to spend time on your curls or are just now beginning to explore the wonder that hair rollers are, magnetic hair rollers are an excellent idea.
The easy magnetic snap closure makes hair curling easy even for the most uncoordinated of us. These rollers only work with wet hair, though, so they may not be the wisest option when you’re crunched for time.
Additionally, though they’re named magnetic hair rollers, these are actually just plain plastic rollers with ventilation holes—they’re called magnetic rollers simply because the wet hair sticks to the tubes and negates the need for any styling product.
To use these, wet your hair, section it, and use a styling product of your choice, if needed (mousse, curling gel, serum, or lotion), applying it from mid-length to the roots of each section. Then, roll your hair around the rollers from the ends and work your way up to the roots. Each rolled-up section will be kept in place by the magnetic snap closure. Remove the rollers once your hair is completely dry.
Steam rollers use heat just like hot rollers and curling wands, but they tend to use a lower heat. Like Velcro rollers, these can give you a range of beautiful results, depending on how tightly you secure them.
Start by heating your rollers, one at a time, over steam. Then, section your hair, brush the section you’re going to curl, and start rolling your hair around the roller.
For defined curls, roll all the way toward your scalp and for more body and looser curls, stop rolling a few inches away from your roots. Whichever technique you use, leave the curlers in for about 20 minutes or until the heat dissipates.
Once cool, gently unravel your rollers, comb through your hair gently with your fingers, and seal your curls with a spritz of anti-frizz hairspray.
Flexi rods, or bendy rollers, are heatless curlers can create some pretty awesome spirals!
Flexi rods are flexible, cushioned rods that bend into any shape you want and are designed to stay secure without clips or pins. These are best used to stretch out tight curls, for naturally curly folks, or create defined ringlets.
To use these, start with wet, detangled hair. We recommend using a good detangler to work out all those knots and have a silky-smooth base to work with as this makes things much easier and faster while reducing hair damage. Alternatively, you could use a heat protectant spray, especially if your locks are thick and/or coarse and you need to smooth out the frizz.
Then, section off your hair (into sections about an inch thick), wrap your hair around the vertical rods, starting from the ends, and then roll the rods toward your scalp. The rods come out only once your hair is completely dry – depending on the time you have, you can air dry or blow dry your hair (use a low-heat setting to protect your hair).
Remember – working with wet, detangled hair is essential if you’re looking for those tight, bouncy, bang-on-trend curls. After your hair dries completely, remove the rods and finish off by finger-combing your hair to separate the curls.
Pillow-Soft Hair Rollers
In the quest for those perfect beach waves, most of us resign ourselves to dealing with or even ignoring the discomfort that curlers can mean overnight.
Pillow-soft hair rollers are a decent solution to comfortable and crimp-free curls for all textures and lengths. These rollers resemble ribbon curlers, except that they’re made entirely of fabric (they resemble cut-off glove fingers).
Section off your hair and wrap them around the roller. Once rolled, secure the curlers by tucking the sides inwards. The next morning, unroll your hair and separate your curls by finger-combing them.
Rag rollers, or “ragging,” can create excellent texture, waves, and curls, and if you have the time, you can even create your own at home with fabric scraps.
To use these, dampen your hair, section it, and detangle it, before tying the fabric about halfway down the section of hair you’re working with. Make sure that the knot is secure, and once it is, slide it all the way to the ends. Then, roll your hair around the fabric, just as you would with a regular roller, all the way to the roots.
Let your rag rollers sit in your hair until it’s completely dry. Once dry, remove the rollers and seal your hair with anti-frizz hairspray for silky-smooth results.
Cold-Wave Perm Rods
If you’ve got medium-length or short hair, cold-wave perm rods are the perfect solution for defined spirals.
To use these hollow rods, dampen your hair and seal in the moisture with a bit of hair oil. Start wrapping your hair around the roller from ends to roots and secure it in place with the attached clip/elastic.
Once all your hair is wrapped up, let it dry before you remove the rods. If you’re so inclined, you can even rock your wound-up hair as a scarf updo by simply covering it with a scarf!
Brush Hair Rollers
These rollers look like the mini-sized heads of boar bristle brushes and are your best bet if you want salon-like blowouts every week!
Like boar bristle brushes, these rollers introduce a level of shine and smoothness to your locks that other curlers can’t give you without some help from hairspray. The bristles on the surface also serve to keep your hair firmly in place while it curls.
Ribbon curlers are for short and medium-length hair. You’re supposed to roll them in and leave them overnight for the perfect curls.
Ribbon curlers feature a hooked end and a spiraling fabric piece on a stick. To use these, give your hair sections a slight twist and then start rolling them, one at a time, around the curler, ensuring that the hook faces the ceiling. Rolling your hair with these curlers is slightly different – you hook your hair and pull it down gently into the fabric, going on until the stick emerges.
The next morning, remove your curlers by straightening the fabric completely and sliding it off your hair while you gently squeeze the hook near your scalp. Give your hair a good shake and seal it with hairspray or a curl refresher for longer-lasting results.
I thought these looked interesting and had to try them out and I personally don’t recommend these ribbon curlers. The process of getting your hair into them is not that easy, it can pull out your hair, they’re uncomfortable and overall, the final result isn’t any better than other similar methods (ie, overnight ragging). These are something to avoid.
Hair rollers are an excellent, safe substitute for curling irons, often giving you the same results minus the hair damage. You can get the results you want simply by switching the size of the roller, and in as little as 15 minutes, with some types!
Before curling your hair, we highly recommend prepping it well. Wash your hair (don’t forget the conditioner), dry it with a microfiber towel until it’s just damp (microfiber towels reduce fizz), and apply either curl prep or serum for smooth, long-lasting curls. Work in sections while prepping, just as you do when curling your hair.
Another thing to remember – the direction you’re winding your curlers in will define the direction that your curls face, so factor this in when styling your hair.
Now, get those curlers out and say hello to those gorgeous locks!