Hot rollers, curling irons and crimping irons are not what they used to be-now they're designed to create a myriad of temporary styles in every texture imaginable. Even if you already have curl, you can easily express your more sophisticated-or playful-side by reshaping what nature gave you, with styling tools that are lighter, faster and more versatile than eve before. Best yet, these basic beauty tools let you have all the great new textured styles and make fine hair look thicker by adding volume, all without risking a "permanent" look you'll have to live with, like it or not.
Electric curlers of the past were real scorchers. Thankfully, times have changed. Today, thermostatically controlled electric rollers heat up in as short a time as 120 seconds, but they're gentler on your hair than past high-heat rollers.
Custom-designed hot rods break the traditional, cylindrical shaped mold. Thanks to design improvements, you can select rollers of all sizes and shapes. For instance, Vidal Sassoon's Hot Sticks create tight spirals when you loop them into a circle and secure the ends. Double them up for super-fat spirals.
Yet another breakthrough: Today's rollers aren't only for long hair. Modern hairsetters include rods small enough to curl just three inches of hair, or include special attachments for wrapping the shortest of layers. One system, the Caruso Molecular Steam Hairstetting System, uses steam heat to lock in curl. Your hair is conditioned by the steam's moisture and the set holds even the most curl resistant hair. Rollers come in four sizes, for setting hair of most any length.
The main thing to remember about hot rollers is to let them cool down before taking them out (Conair Instant Hairsetter pictured to the side). The reason for this is that heat both imparts and removes curl. If your hair is still warm when you brush it, you'll subtract up to 30 percent of the curl you just added. Says Mitchell Barnes of Carter/Barnes Salon in Atlanta, "Women who get frayed ends from hot rollers think they burned their hair. If the ends look kinky, it's because they weren't placed smoothly on the roller, which is hard to do when hair is dry. For a healthy-looking set, dampen your fingers and apply a small amount of moisture to the ends before rolling."
If your ends tend to bend and kink, try setters with rollers that grip stray strands. Conair's Curl & Carry 10-roller travel set has starter strips that grip hair for easy rolling. For curl that really sticks around, look for rollers with wax-filled cores. Remington's Care Setter has them; as the roller heats up, the wax melts and holds in heat but the roller's rim stays cool to the touch. Once you've wound-up curls, the wax cools and curl is locked-in as the hair returns to normal temperature.
The Heat Is On
Curling irons are not what they used to be either-they've gotten a lot more sophisticated. Flat-shaped barrels create zigzag curls, triangular hot rods catch Zs in three dimensions, and spiral rods make romantic corkscrew curls. Check beauty supply stores for specialty rods. Most companies offer curling irons with barrels that range from -inch to 1-1/4-inches in diameter, allowing you to create everything from deep, undulating waves to tiny spirals.
With tools that provide such a styling range, you can shape up a style that's uniquely you. Try setting longer hair on an iron with a large-diameter barrel; then wrap bangs vertically on a small-diameter tool. If you use a curling iron frequently, keep your hair healthy by spritzing on a thermal protector. This not only safeguards your hair from potential heat damage, but also helps the set hold longer.
Remember, whenever you use thermal tools, scalp contact is a definite no-no. Says Carmine Minardi co-owner of Minardi salon, NYC, "Women get scalp burns because they place heated appliances right next to the head. To avoid scalp contact, place a large, wide-toothed comb at the base of each section as you set it."
You can create "heat waves" even in the dead of winter. To get the most out of your curling iron, Minardi suggests asking your hairstylist to demonstrate proper technique. "We teach clients how to use an iron because many of them roll hair under, hold it in place and release the entire section at once. For a perfect curl, roll the iron along the strand, then open and close the lip as you rotate the iron and move it bock down the hairshaft slowly. This also helps seal the cuticle, making the hair's surface look shiny even when hair is curled."
Flat-plated, straightening irons make "heat waves" and come with interchangeable crimping and waving plates. ( Conair Straightening Iron pictured to the side). Crimping plates have four or five, pointed ridges that turn straight strands into sexy, "Kim Basingeresque" curls in minutes. Waving plates have rounded hollows for creating deep, sculpted waves.
When using a plate, comb the hair over the bottom plate before closing the two together to prevent uneven waving and thwart frizziness. Vidal Sassoon's 2-In-1 Crimper has convertible plates for fast changes; Conair's 4-in-One Tool lets you have a smooth, waved, super shiny or crimped look from just one tool with four interchangeable plates. Even better, the 4 in One uses gentle heat.
For women on the go, Conair Mini Straightener fits in your purse --so handy for a last minute beauty boost before your special rendezvous.
Double barreled action lends the look of a movie star of the '40s with those great "S" waves. For the ultimate, Helen of Troy has a three barrel waving iron. If you buy a "professional" style iron at a beauty supply store, remember they are designed for salon use so they run a little hotter than normal. Test these irons by holding them on your hair for 10 seconds to start. Increase the timing by five second increments until you find what's perfect for your locks. If the iron seems too hot, spritz the barrel with water.
With the return of texture, the European air styling brush that doubles as a dryer is another hair styling tool making a comeback. A good example is Conair's Thermal Brush and Dryer, (shown to the side is 3/4" Full Size Hot Conair Brush Model) which allows you to style your hair as you dry it. Use these brushes on slightly damp (not wet) hair. If you've been avoiding curling brushes because you always get your hair tangled in the bristles, it could be because you held the brush in place too long. For tangle-free styling, release hair within thirty seconds and select a brush large enough to wrap your hair easily. Some have retractable tines, another bonus.
The big difference between a curling iron and a thermal styling brush is the end result. Curling brushes add movement and direction; irons create true curl. Whatever hot rods you decide to use to rev-up your hair style, there's a bonus beyond escape from ho-hum hair. Heat-set strands won't easily go limp in humid weather, crush under a winter hat or completely lose their shape in blustery winds. What better way to beat the blahs of "hair ordinaire" than with a new look that lasts ...until you change it tomorrow.
About Victoria Wurdinger
Victoria Wurdinger is an award-winning writer and researcher who specializes in business and beauty.
She has written for dozens of magazines, including Longevity, Drug Store News, Beauty Digest, Drug & Cosmetic Industry, Modern Salon, Art Business News, British Hairdressers Journal, Celebrity Hairstyles, Color & Style, Beauty Store Business, Studio and Day Spa. Victoria has also authored several books, including "Competition Hairdesign," "Home Haircutting Made Easy," "The Photo Session Handbook" and "Multicultural Clients."
Victoria has won several American Society of Business Press Editors awards, not only for her writing but for her design and layout concepts.