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Hair curling

What is hair curling?

Using heated curling tongs to add curls or waves to straight hair.

What does hair curling do?

How long does hair curling last?

The effects last until the hair becomes wet, but will gradually wear off over time.

How do I stay safe?


A common cause of serious injuries to children is burns from home use of hair curling tongs.

If you are in a home containing children pay particular care to keep children away until the tongs have completely cooled, which may take several minutes.

Be careful not to touch the heating surface of curling tongs if they may still be hot, and keep hot curling tongs away from anything flammable.

To reduce the amount of damage to the hair caused by styling, it is important to use curling tongs on dry hair, and to use a heat-protection spray 1.

Are there other options?

A more permanent alternative to using curling tongs is permanent hair curling using chemicals.

How do I curl my hair?

Curling tongs (also known as curling irons) use a barrel which are heated up to approximately 200°C. The heat and tension from winding the hair around the barrel breaks chemical bonds in the hair proteins, causing them to reform into the new shape. A variety of different sizes and shapes of barrel are available, creating different shaped curls and waves.

To curl your hair using curling tongs:

  1. Make sure your hair is completely dry and free of tangles

    Applying curling tongs to wet hair might damage it, and curling it with tangles still in will reinforce the tangles.

  2. Heat up the curling tongs

    Plug in the curling tongs and make sure they are switched on. Heating may take several minutes. Some curling tongs may have an indicator to let you know when they are at the right temperature.

  3. If you have it, apply a heat protection spray

    Using a heat protection spray will reduce the amount of damage the curling tongs will do to your hair.

  4. Split your hair into sections

    Using hair clips or hair ties, separate your hair into sections. Bigger sections will result in bigger curls, while smaller sections will give tighter curls. However, smaller sections will mean the whole curling process will take longer.

  5. Curl each section in turn

    Wrap the hair around the iron and holding it there for about ten seconds before releasing it. Untie or unclip each section as you work on it.

  6. Apply hairspray

    Once you are done, apply hairspray if you have it - this will make the curls last longer.

  7. Unplug the curling tongs

    Place the tongs somewhere away from anything flammable while they cool. Keep them out of reach of children.

It also possible to use some hair straighteners to put waves in hair. You can find tutorial videos on YouTube that will tell you how to do this.

As your hair curling will be undone if your hair becomes wet, it may be useful to invest in a shower cap, which will keep your hair dry while you wash the rest of your body in the shower.

How much will it cost?

Curling tongs come in a large range of prices, from £10 to over £100.


  1. 1.
    Christian, Paul, Winsey, Nigel, Whatmough, Marie and Cornwell, Paul A (2011) “The effects of water on heat-styling damage.” Journal of cosmetic science, 62(1), p. 15. Link


This page is illustrated using a photograph by Baylee Gramling available at Unsplash.

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