My all-time biggest beauty predicament in my life has been figuring out how to style my thin and fine hair. Hair dressers often correct me, “You don’t have thin hair — just fine hair. You have a normal amount of hair on your head but it’s fine and it falls flat.”
Either way, getting my hair to look the way I want it to isn’t easy. In high school the messy bun look was in, but my hair wouldn’t cooperate. My “messy bun” was more of a “small, stringy bun”. I’ve always liked my appearance, but I had a hard time accepting that my hair wasn’t naturally voluminous and wavy.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate my hair. First of all, I HAVE hair, which is a huge blessing that I take for granted. Second, I’m realizing that my hair isn’t so terrible. It’s soft to the touch and it dries quickly. (In third grade, my friend Jennifer used to stand behind me in line with her hand on my head and marvel at the softness of my hair.) It doesn’t take too long to style since there isn’t tons of it, and it never gets unruly or too big.
The top photo is me with air-dried hair and no makeup. My hair is naturally straight, and I rarely wear it that way. I curl my hair almost everyday because it gives me a predictable hair style and because when my hair is straight, it tangles pretty easily and needs a brush run through it throughout the day. (I don’t dislike my straight hair though, and I try to go au natural once in a while.)
I get a lot of questions about my curly hair and how I get it to look that way. My everyday look consists of a tapered barrel curling iron, hairspray, and volumizing powder. Keep reading to learn more about this look plus all of my favorite styling tricks for fine hair.
(PS – You’re not hallucinating that my hair is blonder in the second photo. My straight haired selfie is at least two years old and was taken before I lightened my hair.)
Lately the curling iron has been my weapon of choice. I love a loose and wavy look, but unfortunately it can be more difficult to achieve this with fine hair. Tight curls hold great, but loose waves can fall out easily if I don’t style them properly. The right tool makes all the difference.
Here are a few of my hair curling tricks:
Blow dry your hair first for maximum volume. I often allow my hair to air dry when I curl it to cut down on time. It works well enough, but I get the absolute fluffiest and most voluminous curls when I blow dry it first.
Avoid big barreled curling irons. A 1” barrel is the largest that I ever use to curl my hair. Any bigger and my curls fall out. Depending on your hair, you may find you can get away with a bit larger or that you need to go even smaller.
Use wands instead of the clamp.
First of all, it’s super easy to loose bits of your fine hair on that clamp. Second, rolling your hair from bottom to top isn’t going to create loose flowing curls. Switching to a wand was a game changer for me. Curling my hair was faster, and my curls have a much better shape to them.
Use a tapered barrel.The loose waves look that most of us prefer requires that your hair be flatter on top with a tighter curl toward the bottom. A tapered barrel is perfect for achieving this look. The base of the curl will be tight and have great hold but the top will be looser, giving you a better effect.
My tapered barrel is 1” at the base and 0.5” at the tip – I’ve found this is the ideal size to give me curls that hold without making them too tight. You may have to experiment a bit to find the size that is perfect for your hair, but you can always go to a store like Sephora and ask for assistance in testing out the irons.
Make sure you are using the proper heat settings for your hair type. You don’t want to damage your hair!
Don’t overdo it with products. The only product I use when I curl my hair is hairspray to set the curls and some volumizing powder to the roots. After trying all kinds of products I discovered that when I’m curling my hair, less product = less weight and maximum volume. You may want to use a heat protectant spray (I don’t and probably should), but other than that, less = more when it comes to curling fine hair.
For extra hold, put your curls in pin curls while they are still hot off the iron and allow the curls to set before you remove the pins. I do this when I need my hair to last extra long for a night out or if I’m going to be spending time outside.
Section your hair and use smaller pieces rather than larger ones. I actually do three sections on each side of my head even though I could probably do two. The extra separation means more fullness. I’ve found that for looser curls, it works best to do roughly the same number of sections, but brush it out at the end. If I make my sections too big in an attempt to achieve loose waves my hair might just straighten out.
I can sometimes pull off second day hair when it’s curly. To make sure that my curls don’t flatten or take on weird shapes, I’ll sleep with it in one or two messy buns that have been twisted in the direction of the curls. Use bobby pins – hair ties will add weird kinks to your hair – but make sure that the pins are secure and lie flat on your head so it’s not uncomfortable. The next day, brush out your curls with a wide-tooth comb, add baby powder (or dry shampoo), and re-curl the face-framing pieces if needed.
I no longer use wet rollers on a daily basis, but I find that they are one of the best ways to add volume to my hair and do less work in the morning. Wet roller curls have more staying power than anything else I’ve tried. Fine hair tends to really keep whatever shape it dries in (think about how hard it is to get that ponytail dent out of your hair…).
There are a few issues with them, however. They can cause dents in your hair, and they can also turn out very tight. The first time I used them I figured that since I use a smaller barrel on the curling iron, I should use the smaller curlers. BIG mistake. I looked like Shirley Temple.
Here are my tips for using wet rollers effectively:
Use the biggest rollers you can find. The curls will turn out pretty tight no matter what, so definitely skip those tiny rollers.
Put them in when your hair is damp but not wet. Your curls will not dry completely if your hair is too saturated. I put mine in when my hair is almost completely dry, and that has the best turnout.
Once you remove the curlers, blow dry your curls. This will loosen them and it will also help remove that dent. A quick blast at the roots will preserve your curls, or you can turn them into loose waves.
My final step is that I do touch ups with my regular curling iron. If you are really good at rolling you might be able to get your curls to turn out perfectly on the first try, but I usually have a few missteps that I need to correct. There’s still much less heat damage and less time spent in the morning than curling my whole head with the iron.
Wet rollers and a curling iron are my top two choices for curling fine hair. Here are the pros and cons of using wet rollers vs the iron:
✔ Less heat damage than an iron
✔ Great staying power, so keep it in mind for days when you need that extra longevity
✔ Less time in the morning, but same time overall as curling your hair (great if you are not a morning person and would prefer to get some of the work done the night before)
✔ Not impossible to sleep, but definitely not as comfortable (I tend to use this sparingly and not for everyday)
✔ A bit less control over the way your hair falls — unless you do the touch-ups I recommended
For significantly fuller hair, extensions are really your only option. I am against permanent extensions for fine hair. Your hair is already somewhat delicate, and extensions will cause breakage. Taking care of my real hair is more important to me than beauty tricks that might make me feel good for a moment but will cause damage.
Maybe you’ll identify with my feelings on this issue: For most occasions, I’m perfectly okay with my natural hair. But fine hair can be a bit tricky to photograph. I’ll be wearing a style that looks wonderful in person but falls a bit flat in photos. Or, I’ll find that my hair looks great in certain pictures when it’s laying right, but a simple gust of wind can throw things off.
If you spend a lot of time on camera, whether it’s video or photography, temporary clip-in extensions are a great way to make your hair more photogenic and to avoid all the fussing and hair-flipping that we fine-haired ladies tend to do. My trick is to cut them approximately the same length as the rest of your hair. Your hair will get a subtle boost of fullness without the extra length that can make it really obvious that you are wearing extensions.
Teasing Comb vs Volumizing Powder
Teasing is a great way to add fullness to your hair, but doing this on a regular basis is very damaging. My hairstylist friend introduced me to this volumizing powder. It looks like baby powder, but it feels a bit tacky in your hands. You work this powder into your roots and it adds matrix and grip, which thickens your roots and gives a similar effect to teasing, with no damage.
I love this stuff. Even when I volumize my hair, my roots can fall a bit flat. I used to tease it, but that would cause breakage and little baby hairs near my part. Since I started using this powder, I rarely ever put a teasing comb to my hair.
A PERM-anent Solution
I got a perm once! My hairstylist friend gave me the lightest perm she had with big barrels, and the curls did not stay in my hair. But the perm gave my hair texture, and I found that this texture made my hair appear thicker and caused my curls to hold even better.
I haven’t tried perming my hair again, but it caused such a difference that I felt it was worth mentioning. Overdoing it with a perm can be damaging, or it might not give your hair the desired curl you are seeking. But if your hair is even thinner or finer than mine and you really need an extra boost, try getting a very light perm. It could be a great help when it comes to styling your hair.
Second-day curly hair with a bit of dry-shampoo is the perfect start for an up-do! I only put my hair up when it’s curly. When my hair is straight, putting my hair up can look sloppy. (Remember my bad messy bun from high school?)
For the best updo:
1. Start with wavy or curly and slightly dirty hair
2. Add volumizing powder and dry shampoo or baby powder
3. Use bobby pins, NOT a ponytail holder. Bobby pins give you complete control and make it a lot easier to fake volume.
4. If you can, leave loose pieces to frame your face.
5. Use tools like a rat, bump-it, donut, or sock bun to add volume.
I rarely wear my hair in a pony tail except to work out. Hair elastics can cause fine hair to break, so I avoid wearing them too often. But when you do choose a pony, add some volume by pulling the hair loose instead of leaving it tight to your head, and try to leave face-framing pieces. A high pony will add volume, so try to find that perfect spot that adds volume but avoids looking like a cheerleader.
Whenever you put an elastic in your hair, do it carefully to avoid breakage. Also, keep in mind that areas close to the elastic that get pulled taught are going to be especially breakage-prone.
Hair Care Tips
Since fine hair is breakage prone and tends to get weighed down easily, my top hair care needs are strengthening it and making sure that my hair is thoroughly cleansed from any product residue.
Use a good anti-breakage shampoo. I use OGX Anti-Breakage Keratin Oil Shampoo & Conditioner. This helps prevent my hair from breaking, but I actually chose this because it’s sulfate-free and doesn’t give me forehead breakouts (my skin reacts really badly to sulfates!).
Wash your hair frequently. I wash my hair almost every night. Occasionally I’ll allow myself to skip a night, but my hair ultimately looks best when it’s been freshly washed. Product residue can add a bit of thickness to my hair, but it totally removes volume. I usually spring for a up-do or a half-up look with second day hair.
Don’t overdo it with brushing. I recently discovered that if I blow dry my hair upside down, I don’t even need to brush it. I can just skip right to sectioning it for curls. You might not be able to skip brushing, but be sparing with it. And definitely don’t brush wet hair unless you want to experience a world of breakage. You can use a wide tooth comb to detangle wet, freshly conditioned hair.
Take care of your hair. When my hair is hydrated it’s soft and has a pretty texture, but it when it’s dry it just looks stringy. I recently added a deep conditioning mask to my regimen. I use Redken Extreme Strength Builders Plus and my hair feels AMAZING afterward. I have a feeling this mask won’t be so nice in the warmer weather when my hair is greasy, but it’s perfect for winter.
What is your favorite tip for styling fine hair? Share it in the comments below!