- Hair rollers are old-school hair curlers in the form of cylindrical tubes that are rolled into the hair to style waves and curls.
- Rollers come in a variety of sizes and styles, with hot rollers, velcro rollers, and flexi-rods being the most common types.
- You can use hair rollers both on dry and wet hair, with or without heat styling tools, depending on the type you are using.
Hair rollers (also known as hair curlers) are cylindrical styling tools that you wind your hair around and either with the use of heat, or a setting solution, create curls, waves, or volume in your hair. They are such an essential part of hairstyling and are a staple tool for salons and at-home haircare. In this guide, we discuss how to use hair rollers to get bouncy curls, sharing some critical tips to nail your next roller set.
In this article:
- The History of Hair Rollers
- How to Use Hair Rollers & Hair Rods
- Hot Rollers vs. Curling Irons
- Other Hot Roller Tips to Know
The History of Hair Rollers
But where did this must-have item come from, and why are they so ubiquitous? Using a heat tool to curl hair isn’t new as even ancient Egyptian nobles curled their hair and beards for ceremonial events.
However, the modern concept of using a hot tool to curl hair is credited to Marcel Grateau – a name you should know if the term “Marcel iron” sounds familiar – that would be the first iteration of a curling iron in the 1870s. But quite a few decades would pass between the original curling iron and its many safety concerns, and when hot rollers would emerge on the scene with their more user-friendly design.
A Mid-Century Invention
While we can’t confirm when generic hair rollers first appeared in the beauty world, we do know that hot rollers emerged on the scene in 1930 thanks to Solomon Harper. He is credited with inventing a better version in 1953 as well.
How to Use Hair Rollers & Hair Rods
For many people, using hair rollers can be a challenge. If you’re not sure how to properly use them, it’s easy to make mistakes and spend all that time only to end up with less than stellar results. So, let’s break down the right way to use each of the rollers we highlighted, assuming you’ve already selected the right style and size for your hair length and type.
Let’s Talk Placement and Basics
No matter which roller you decide to use, you need to think about how you want your hair to look in the end and apply the hair rollers accordingly. Follow this roller placement guide:
- For curls that go back, place the roller behind the section of hair.
- For curls that go forward, place the roller in front of the section of hair.
- For curls that go down, place the roller under the section of hair.
- For curls that go up (flipped-out look), place the roller above the section of hair
Using Hot and Steam Rollers
It’s always important to confirm whether the roller you want to use can be applied to wet, damp, or dry hair. This distinction is important because you can end up with limp curls as a result. However, most hot rollers are designed for use with damp or dry hair.
- So, either air-dry or use a blow dryer to get your hair 75 percent dry before you set it on rollers.
- Make sure you’ve properly combed or brushed your hair so that it’s free of tangles. Then apply a heat protectant because even though most steam and hot rollers are designed to be gentler than traditional hot tools, constant exposure to heat can damage your hair over time. Follow up with a setting spray.
- Section your hair so that you have at least four sections: the crown and three sides. The largest rollers should be set on the crown to create volume and lift.
- If you’re facing the mirror, hold the roller horizontally and begin by rolling the hair away from you so that when you’re done, you can see your roots. Keep the width of rolled hair no wider than the roller you’re using and use the included clips to keep the rollers securely in place.
- But keep in mind that depending on your preferred style, the way you apply the rollers to your hair will have to be modified. For bouncy curls and added volume, the above method is fine. But if you’re hoping to create spiral curls, you’ll need to hold your rollers vertically as you roll your hair onto them.
- Also, remember that bigger rollers are going to give you volume or waves, whereas classic curls require small to medium-sized hair rollers.
Using Velcro Rollers
Velcro rollers are ideal if you prefer setting your hair when it’s wet or damp, or like the idea of using a blow dryer to create lift, volume, or to set curls. While the process of setting your hair on velcro rollers is the same as with hot rollers or steam rollers, the difference is in what you do after you’ve finished putting up your hair.
With hot rollers, after you’ve set your hair on the rollers, they do all the work, so you don’t have to. With velcro or self-gripping rollers, your job is only half done. But we will add that depending on how long your hair is, and how much hair you’re trying to set on each velcro roller, you may find that even though the product claims to be self-gripping, you still need a clip or pin to keep it in place.
- With velcro rollers, you’ll need to decide whether you want to air-dry your hair or use a blow dryer. If you prefer to air-dry, plan on waiting for at least an hour for your style to fully set and dry. If you’re pressed for time, a blow dryer is the way to go. Whether you opt for vented or ceramic velcro rollers, a blow dryer can not only speed up your drying time but also help to quickly set your style.
- Using medium heat and a concentrator nozzle, make sure to evenly cover your head with heat, paying special attention to the roots on your crown to create volume. Make sure you blow-dry your hair in the direction that it was set on the rollers to avoid frizz and flyaways.
- However, if you’re using velcro rollers all over your head instead of just at the crown to create volume, we recommend investing in a hooded or bonnet hair dryer. This will give you even heat all over your head, and save you from the discomfort of achy arms.
- And as with hot rollers, pay attention to the size of the rollers. Jumbo velcro rollers are best for creating volume. Large rollers will create waves, and small or medium-sized rollers are best for traditional curls or spirals.
- Once you’ve finished with the blow dryer step, let your curls sit for about 15 minutes on the rollers before you attempt to remove them.
- The biggest difficulty with velcro rollers can be that it’s easy for your hair to get tangled in them as you take them out. So, rather than unrolling them like you would a traditional hair roller, pull them to the side to gently release them. The benefit of this is that the velcro can also act as a final brush to smooth your hair as they work through the length.
Flexi-rod rollers are one of the few options that can also create a gorgeous, defined curly style even for air-dried hair. These hair rollers are perfect for recreating a straw or rod set. They’re a fan-favorite because they’re soft, flexible, stay in place, are ideal for longer hair lengths because of the length of the rod, and you can comfortably sleep in them.
However, flexi-rod hair rollers are best for smaller spiral curls or medium waves since even the largest flexi-rod curler is usually only equivalent to a traditional medium-width roller. Flexi-rods are especially popular among people with natural hair because it’s a low-manipulation option that doesn’t require heat, yet can create a beautiful style that lasts.
First, decide how you want to use your rods. Are you planning on twisting or braiding your hair and setting the ends on rods? Or do you prefer to use these rods to create a curly style that lasts?
- If you want to use these hair rollers as a finishing touch for a twist or braid set, first braid or twist your hair into sections as normal using your preferred styling products.
- Then holding the end of your section with tension to stretch your hair to its full length, wind the end along the rod and roll it up.
- A big benefit of flexi-rods is that you can easily twist the ends of the roller to hold it securely in place. A popular option is to do this hairstyle at night, and allow your hair to set while you sleep.
- For a traditional curl set, depending on the state of your hair, you may need to use heat. If your hair is already straight because it is either naturally straight or relaxed, then simply choose the styling product of your choice and apply it evenly throughout your hair.
- It’s up to you whether you want to dampen your hair with water before you begin. Section your hair and roll it onto the flexi-rods.
- You can set this style at night and rely on an air-dry approach to create the style or sit under a dryer hood to speed up drying time.
If you are natural and use flexi-rods to create a smoother texture without heat, pay attention to your sections. The goal is to use thinner sections of hair to optimize airflow. If you put too much hair on a rod, you’ll end up with uneven results and hair that looks frizzy with no discernable curl. And most importantly, don’t rush!
Air-drying naturally curly hair on flexi-rods can take time. Depending on how wet or damp your hair is, this could require a full day of wearing flexi-rods. Taking them down too early will leave you with damp hair that will turn frizzy as it dries.
When you’re ready to take down the hair rollers, simply unwind them starting at the bottom of your head and working your way up to the crown. Separate the curls to create volume, and if you prefer, fluff with your hands or a pick to further loosen the curls.
Hot Rollers vs. Curling Irons
While there’s no definitive right or wrong option between hot rollers or curling irons, people often wonder if one is preferable to the other. The styling tool you use is going to come down to personal preference. Both of them offer the same benefits – a quick way to create a defined curl or volume in your hair. But they both have their benefits and disadvantages.
Hands down (pun intended), hot rollers are great if you’re trying to multitask. While you do have to initially spend time setting your hair on the rollers, once they’re in, you’re free to go about your day. Use the time to apply makeup, pick your outfit for the day, or whatever your heart desires.
Another major benefit is that you’re less likely to burn yourself with a hot roller. Modern hot rollers have been designed with cool-touch ends to protect your fingers. And since you’re not waving a metal wand around your face, you don’t have to worry about injuring yourself.
Plus, most hair rollers feature a set with a range of sizes. This means you can focus on creating volume at the crown one day, or opt for an all-over bouncy curly look the next. If you’re new to hair styling, hot rollers are a safer and goof-proof option.
The main disadvantage of hot rollers is the same as with any heat tool. If you rely on hot rollers frequently, there’s always a risk of causing heat damage to your hair. So, to protect the health of your hair, always use a heat protectant before setting your hair on hot rollers.
Also, hot rollers usually aren’t recommended for people with coarse or kinky curly hair unless they’ve already straightened their hair and are now ready to style it because they do not offer the same heat output as a curling iron. So, the limited texture range, as well as the lower heat output can be a drawback.
In terms of styling, curling irons and hot rollers are equally competitive. There is a wide range of styles that can easily be achieved with both of these heat styling tools. However, whereas you get a range of roller sizes with hot rollers, unless you buy a set of curling irons or wands, you’re limited to one barrel width.
Likewise, the debate over which takes more time is dicey too. While you do get the multitasking benefits from hot rollers, you are, in theory, taking the same amount of time, whether you’re setting your hair on rollers or using a curling iron.
The biggest risk with a curling iron is that it’s very easy to injure yourself or burn your hair. Curling irons usually come with an adjustable temperature option, which can range from 200 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Often people use too much heat and end up damaging their hair or burning it off entirely. And if you’re not careful, you can end up burning your fingers, ears, or even face with an errant curling iron that slips out of your hands.
But that wide temperature range means that curling irons are ideal for any hair type or texture. And this makes this heat styling tool a great essential option for anyone.
In terms of price, both hot rollers and curling irons come in a variety of price points to fit a range of budgets. It’s possible to find a wallet-friendly option both for hot rollers and curling irons. But if you’re looking for enhanced features like tourmaline barrels, ionic properties, and the like, no matter which tool you pick, prepare to spend more.
Other Hot Roller Tips to Know
Keep these best practices in mind the next time you reach for your hot roller set.
- Always start with clean hair.
- Always use a heat protectant, especially if you frequently reach for hot rollers.
- For a modern look, always roll hair away from your face.
- For more natural curls, roll your hair in different directions.
- Don’t forget to tousle curls. Use your hands or a wide-tooth comb to create a more natural effect.
- Size matters – bigger hair rollers equal more volume and less curl.
Photos via @chiaraferragni, Instagram