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How to Style Wavy Hair with or Without Heat

Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

On its surface, wavy hair seems like a gorgeous, happy medium between curly and straight hair—but anyone who actually has wavy hair will tell you there’s more to managing it than meets the eye. Styling waves can be just as complicated as any other hair type, especially for those of us who aren’t born with perfect beachy waves (a.k.a. just about everyone). One benefit of wavy hair, however, is that it can be styled a number of different ways, and it doesn’t always require heat. Sure, you can achieve gorgeous waves with a blowout or curling wand, but air drying can be just as effective. Continue reading below for wave tips from celebrity hairstylist Ryan Trygstad, plus our top hair product picks for your best wavy hairstyles yet.

About the Expert:

Ryan Trygstad is a celebrity hairstylist and co-owner of Mark Ryan Salon in New York City.

Tips for air drying

Anytime you can skip heat styling (and minimize potential hair damage), you might as well do it. But whether you don’t have time to blow dry or you simply prefer an air dry, you won’t want to forget to apply styling products that enhance your natural texture. One we love? Beach spray—they mimic the effects of ocean water on the hair for a tousled, mermaid-like look. Or, for a similar vibe with softer texture, consider a hair cream. “I always recommend something like an air-dry cream to help create that subtle, effortless volume and texture,” explains Trygstad. “It creates that second-day, lived-in, straight-from-the-ocean look.”

If you want a more defined wave without heat, you can also braid your hair in either a single braid or pigtails. The looser the braid(s), the less defined the finished waves will look, and vice versa. Leave the braids in for several hours (or sleep in them), unravel, then brush your hair or tousle with your fingers. Finally, finish with some dry shampoo or hair cream to add a little extra texture.

Love your waves, and want to extend the hairstyle? It may sound counterintuitive, but the best way to reactivate waves for day two (or three, or four…) is to get the hair a little bit wet, according to Trygstad, who recommends spritzing with a bottle of water blended with a few drops of your favorite essential oil. “This gives the hair a fresh, clean smell while the water reinvigorates the waves for a new day.”

Tips for styling with heat

One of the tricky things about wavy hair is that it’s often unpredictable. So if you prefer neater, Pinterest-perfect loose waves over a more air-dried look, a hair dryer or curling iron will be your best friend. And if your diffuser attachment has been laying at the bottom of your bathroom drawer since you bought it, now is the time to dig it out. “I tell my clients to use the diffuser that comes with the dryer to dry the hair without pulling on it,” explains Trygstad. “This will give the hair the most bounce and texture!”

Then, grab your curling iron. To avoid accidentally curling your hair into ringlets, be sure to use a wider barrel, or a curling wand (i.e. an iron without a clamp, so you hand-wrap the hair around the barrel). For a more undone look, alternate wrapping sections towards your face and away from your face. Pro tip: You can also use a flatiron to create easy, soft waves, too.

The wavy-hair look isn’t just for long hair, either. To get the style on shorter hair, “I like to twirl short hair first with a light [styling] cream when the hair is nice and damp,” says Trygstad. “Then I follow by blow drying with a diffuser, or a soft low dry while twisting and scrunching the hair,” the hairstylist explains, adding, “This will optimize movement.”

Watch Now: 3 Ways to Master Wavy Beach Hair

Products we love

Here are a few IPSY-approved products to try for perfect waves, every time.


1. BUMBLE AND BUMBLE Surf Infusion

This spray deserves a spot in the beach wave hall of fame, as far as we’re concerned. While a lot of sea salt sprays can leave hair on the crunchy side, the unique formula has added coconut and algae extracts for surprisingly soft and shiny strands. Simply spritz into wet hair, scrunch it in a little, let dry and you’re good to go.

IGK HAIR Mistress Hydrating Hair Balm

2. IGK HAIR Mistress Hydrating Hair Balm

Wavy hair, like curly hair, has the tendency to get dry—and yes, frizzy. Packed with coconut oil, argan oil, and shea butter, this hair balm helps seal in moisture, and it can be used on all hair types (including chemically treated). Try it on damp hair before styling, or as a styling cream on dry hair.

OUAI HAIRCARE Finishing Crème

3. OUAI HAIRCARE Finishing Crème

Zap rogue flyaways and frizzy hair with this lightweight yet hydrating hair cream, which leaves waves shiny, defined, and smelling like expensive perfume.

ORIBE HAIR CARE Dry Texturizing Spray

4. ORIBE HAIR CARE Dry Texturizing Spray

This texture spray is like dry shampoo, but amped up—and it’s a wavy-hair must-have. Spritz it on to absorb excess natural oils, revive volume, and add a little bit of zhuzh to next-day hair.

CURLISTO Travel Diffuser

5. CURLISTO Travel Diffuser

You’re in luck if you haven’t seen your diffuser attachment for years: This travel-ready piece fits on most blow dryers and enhances natural curls and waves as it dries.

SLEEK'E HAIR Curling Wand — 32mm

6. SLEEK'E HAIR Curling Wand — 32mm

No Shirley Temple curls here! The wide barrel on this easy-to-use wand keeps waves perfectly piecey and undone, plus it has negative ionic technology that smooths frizz and protects against breakage.

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About the author
Lindy Segal
Lindy is a contributor at IPSY, a beauty and lifestyle writer, and Real Housewives aficionado. She was an editor at People and Glamour, and her freelance work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Who What Wear, and Cosmopolitan, among other publications.
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Article Last Updated November 27, 2020 12:00 AM