How to Style Loose Curls, According to Michelle Obama's Hairstylist

  • We talked to celebrity stylist Johnny Wright about how to style loose curls like a pro.
  • To maintain the long-term integrity of your curls, use indirect heat instead of curling wands and irons.
  • If you do use heat to style, look for tools where you can adjust the temperature.

Whether you're heading to work, brunch, or a black-tie celebration, loose curls always lend a beautiful, polished look. But it can be tricky to nail down the perfect curls that are defined yet natural looking. From expensive tools to a world of hair-styling products that promise effortless curls and waves, how do you know what's right for your hair type and texture?

We sat down with celebrity stylist Johnny Wright, who spent eight years as Michelle Obama's personal hairstylist during the Obama administration and has styled celebrities like Queen Latifah, Kerry Washington, Tiffany Cross, and Angela Rye. He even has a book coming out in October dedicated to styling natural and curly hair.

Here, we're breaking down Wright's favorite techniques and products to achieve loose curls and waves at home.

Tools and Products You'll Need For Styling Loose Curls

  • Curlformers: Wright often ops for Curlformers because they offer a way of curling your hair that won't cause heat damage. Simply roll your hair, and sit under a dryer.
  • Flexirods: "There are so many different sizes, and they're great for all hair types and textures," Wright says. If you have very short hair, go for flexi rods — as long as you have two inches of hair, you can still get a curl.
  • Texture ID: So much of hair styling is trial and error. Different products work for different people, but Wright recommends products by Texture ID because it offers a wide array of products for different hair types and textures.
  • Gel, mousse, or foam: Depending on your hair type, you'll want a product to keep your curls in place. According to Wright, "Typically, if you have coarse-textured hair, you'll want a product that holds a little more, like gel or a mousse. For finer hair textures, use a foam." We're also partial to creams if you have fine hair, plus a texturizing or salt spray to finish it off.
  • A curling wand or flat iron: When it comes to curling wands and irons, Wright says, "Curling wands are direct heat, [and] I do try to minimize how much my clients use direct heat. But if you do use them, make sure you back it up with a steam treatment and a mask when it's time for wash day." If you do prefer to use a flat iron, Wright recommends finding ones with variable heat control, so you can turn the heat down. When looking for a curling iron, you'll likely want to opt for a midsize barrel (think: one to 1.5 inches) or one with interchangeable barrels so that you can get a perfect wave.

How to Style Loose Curls, Step by Step

Step one: prep your hair. Wright recommends this first step for all hair types: shampoo, condition, and go under a steamer to let the conditioner penetrate (or just sit in your shower!). He says, "Steam treatments are so important and great; they're for hair and skin. They'll help you get defined, bouncy curls."

Step two (if styling with no heat): apply product, and curl. Next, while your hair is still wet, use your favorite curl product: a setting lotion, gel, foam, or mousse. Roll your hair onto the flexi rods or Curlforms, and sit under the dryer to let it dry.

Step two (if styling with a flat iron): dry hair, then style. Prep your hair with a heat-protectant spray, then dry your hair fully. Section your hair into top and bottom so that it's easier to see what areas you've styled. Make sure your flat iron is facing down to the floor rather than horizontally, and use whatever curling method you like. You could wrap hair around the iron and twist away from your face, bend your wrist up and down in a flipping motion for more of a crimp, or bend the hair with your hands to get S-shaped waves.

Step two (if styling with a curling iron): dry hair, then style. Prep your hair with a heat-protectant spray, then dry your hair fully. Depending on the length of your hair, use around a one-inch-barrel curling wand, grab small sections of hair, and wrap around the barrel. The key is leaving an inch or two out at the ends and alternating directions (pulling toward and away from the face) as you go. You also only want to leave the hair wrapped for a few seconds to avoid a too-perfect curl.

Step three: add texture. If you're using a heatless method, once your hair is dry, remove the rods. For all methods, use a nice serum, polish, or oil (if that's something your hair likes), then gently separate the curls with your fingers or with a brush to loosen them up. You can then spritz with a salt spray or run through with a texturizing cream to make the curls last.

Step four: maintain. For curl maintenance, make sure you sleep on satin pillowcases at night, so your curls can last as long as possible. This minimizes friction on the hair, so you won't lose definition in your curls.

Best Loose-Curl Styles

Imperfect Loose Waves

'70s-Inspired Loose Curls

Beachy Loose Curls

Short-Hair Loose Waves

Natural Loose Curls

'90s-Inspired Loose Curls

Sleek Loose Curls

Brushed-Out Loose Curls