Dec 12, 2021

Hot Rollers Vs. Curling Irons

What's the difference between hot rollers and curling irons?

Formulate user Annie has a curl question:

I'm addicted to my curling iron, I use it literally every day before I leave the house. But I'm trying to branch out and try different ways of curling my hair. How do you use hot rollers, and what's the difference between the curls made by those vs curls made with curling irons? And is one more damaging than the other?

Thanks for your questions, Annie. We'll do our best to answer.

What are the differences in curls created by hot rollers and curling irons? 

Alyssa Hare, Professional Hairstylist and In-House Beauty Consultant at Vagaro, says that while hot rollers create large, gorgeous curls, they don't leave too much room for customization. "Hot rollers are a one-size-fits-all style, whereas with curling irons, you can create an endless amount of different curl types and patterns." Sure, there's a little bit of wiggle room (if you're willing to purchase multiple different sets of rollers, that is) with hot rollers, but according to Alyssa, there's no comparison to the potential of the curling iron. "While hot rollers do come in different rod sizes, they typically create larger, uniform, voluminous body waves in your hair - think old-time Hollywood glam. If you're looking to create tight ringlets, beachy waves, coily locks, or a mix of any of these styles, using a curling iron is your best bet."

That being said, it'd be pretty difficult to get the same mega-glam mega-wave that so easily comes from using hot rollers by using a curling iron. Laura Roncagli, Hairstylist, Makeup Artist and Co-Founder of MyBeautik.com, says that hot rollers still have an important place in the beauty industry. "Hot rollers may look obsolete but, have you ever noticed that on tv, when they show the backstage at fashion shows, you see so many models with hot rollers?" Big rollers give big volume, and are also more subtle than individual ringlets. Laura shares, "Hot rollers are available in big diameters that iron curlers just don't reach. Giant rollers allow getting a super-voluminous effect on the roots and big waves on the lengths. This is not possible with iron curlers."

How do you use hot rollers?

Alyssa recommends that if you're planning on using hot rollers, you should be prepared to wait a little while for your rollers to heat up. "Hot rollers save you time over the course of getting ready, but they do require a little more prep than curling irons. Different brands require different times to warm up, so double check your instruction manual." She also advises that you grab your hairdryer and give yourself a blowout before wrapping. "Since hot rollers may not smooth your hair texture, blowing your hair out smooth before use can help. Spritz generously with a heat protection spray. Next, divide your hair into manageable sections. Finally, start wrapping your sectioned hair around your rollers."  Laura agrees on the importance of smoothing hair before rolling. "If a lock is not perfectly straight and combed before getting rolled, you will get some ugly folds and wrinkles on the hair." She recommends using the minimum airspeed on your dryer when blowing out hair pre-rollers. "Otherwise all the so-called 'baby hair' will be pushed out, resulting in an untidy final effect."

Alyssa also recommends that once you start wrapping your hair around your rollers, you should start at the front of your head and work your way to the back. After that, be prepared for a bit of a wait: "Once all of your locks are wrapped, wait until the rollers are fully cooled before removing to ensure your curls don't fall flat. Finish off with a spritz of hairspray."

As for styling, Alyssa says it's pretty simple: "When styling curls created by hot rollers, you'll want to run your fingers through your hair or brush gently to break the curls up a bit to achieve your desired look." And just like that, you're good to go with fabulous long-lasting volume.

How do you use a curling iron?

Laura says that there's definitely a learning curve when it comes to using a curling iron. "Curlers require some manual skills but allow you to get very defined curls in a short time. If you're not used to curlers, you should start with one without a clamp accessory. It could feel harder as you have to hold the lock the whole time, but gives you more control over the styling." Alyssa also recommends being mindful of the type of curling iron you use, even if you're a curling iron veteran: "Make sure you choose the right barrel size for your desired look. Tighter curls? Use a smaller barrel. Looser curls? Larger barrel." 

A big difference between rollers and curling irons is that a curling iron can be set at a specific temperature while it's being used to style. Alyssa says this is super important: "Be mindful of how long you're using the tool on your hair to further avoid heat damage." She says that though an iron's high heat settings of up to 450 degrees can help smooth unruly texture, it can also singe hair to the point of no return, so do use curling irons with caution. "Keep hair on the iron for a maximum of eight seconds then unravel and cup the curl in your hand for about three seconds to allow it to cool. Apply hairspray and be on your way!" 

Which tool causes more heat damage to hair? 

Both tools come with their risks. Per Alyssa: "Curling irons will cause more damage than hot rollers because of the high heat settings. However, with hot rollers, you run the risk of twisting your hair too tightly which can result in breakage, especially in already damaged hair. So, take precautions when using either method to keep your locks happy and healthy!"


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