Ask the Experts: Heat-Free Curling Methods

Melinda Bouldin, who creates curly coifs at New York City's Dop Dop Salon, shared a few of her tried-and-true methods for creating curls the natural way. Here's how to get glowing ringlets, sans heat — no matter your curl pattern. Maybe it's time to toss the curling irons for good!
Nicole Marie Melton Aug, 08, 2013

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If your hair texture is tightly curled like Solange’s, enhance your natural curl pattern using a coiling method.“By coiling the hair with your finger and using the right products, you can really bring out your curls,” says Bouldin.

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After adding a leave-in conditioner of your choice, try using a pomade to help reduce frizz and add a gentle hold. ($11, available at

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We’ve heard great things about this pomade from several naturalistas who love the definition it adds and its all natural ingredient list. ($6, available at

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Kim Coles’ curly coif can easily be achieved with the tried-and-true straw set method. “Once this style is set, you can touch up the crown or the edges every few days to make it last longer,” says Bouldin.

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For this style, purchase drinking straws from the grocery or dollar store. With wet hair, add this setting lotion and wrap small sections around the straws. Secure with bobby pins. ($9, available at

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“This defining cream gel is perfect for setting curls because it is moisturizing and won’t dry your hair out like typical hair gels,” says Bouldin. ($19, available at

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Emulate Corine Bailey-Rae’s fluffy spirals by setting your hair overnight in chunky two-strand twists. “Two-strand twists are very simple to learn and they’re convenient,” says Bouldin.

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After your hair has been deep conditioned, create two-strand twists on wet or damp hair adding a dollop of this moisturizer to each section. ($10, available at

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For best results, leave your two-strand twists in overnight. As you untwist and section each one, add just a touch of this pudding to any areas that may look a little frizzy.($12, available at

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Tracee Ellis Ross is known for flaunting her natural hair, but when she updated her curls into this roller-set style recently, we loved this look too!

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You’ll need several packs of magnetic rolls like these to start your roller set. Starting with wet hair, apply a leave-in conditioner and divide into small sections. Begin combing each section from ends to roots, and once your hair is smooth, begin rolling while smoothing the ends on the roller. Once the rolling is complete, secure the roller with a duckbill or metal clip at the roots. ($3-$5 per pack depending on size, available at beauty supply stores)

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Give your roller set a super-smooth boost by applying this wrap lotion to each section as you put in the rollers. ($5, available at Walgreens)

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Serena’s thick ringlets are spectacular! Luckily, this look is easy to achieve sans direct heat with a few packs of flexi-rods.

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The great thing about flexi rods is that they come in a myriad of sizes! Choose the size that’s right for you depending on the thickness of your hair and how large you want your curls to be. ($3-$5 per pack, available at beauty supply stores)

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Starting with damp, towel-dried hair, apply this liquid balm from root to tip as you add in your rods section by section. This balm is especially great because it’s free of parabens, sulfates, and mineral oil – SCORE!($14, available at

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Bantu knots are a quick and easy way to get free-flowing curls that are less defined. Get Alicia Keys’ curls by placing the hair in bantu knots overnight.

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You can start your bantu knots with damp hair and apply this lotion to help smooth frizz and define your natural curl. Divide the hair into about 8-10 sections. Take one section and begin a two-strand twist hair at the root, (approximately two inches) then twist the remaining length into a bantu knot. ($16, available at

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Once your knot is twisted flat to your scalp, apply this conditioning cream to the ends before securing with a small bobby pin. ($5,

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With the help of Curlformers, you can get wide, super-spiraled curls a la’ Marsha Ambrosious.

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Curlformers are one of the newest products to create big, bouncy curls sans heat. Each set comes with a detailed instruction manual and there are also tons of helpful how-to’s on YouTube. ($50-$70 per kit depending on size, available at

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When using your Curlformers, be sure to use moisturizing spray instead of a gel or cream which can make the tubes sticky, resulting in a less defined curl. ($25, available at

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Here, Sophie Okonedo sports as adorable, wash-and-go tousled look. With the right products, you too can have shiny, defined curls right out of the shower. “When washing your hair, make sure your shampoos are sulfate free,” advises Bouldin. This will help give your wash-and-go a better foundation.

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Most naturalistas have great success defining their natural curl with gels. Luckily, there are several gel options available today that won’t dry your hair out like the crunchy, flaky gels of yesteryear. ($17, available at

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For best wash-and-go results, start with wet hair and liberally apply a gel or custard to your hair section by section. Avoid combing out your hair which will only cause the curls to frizz up. ($5, available at

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If your hair is already naturally curly like Tanika Ray’s, maintain your look with less frizz by taking small sections and using the pin curl method overnight.

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If your hair is already naturally curly like Tanika Ray’s, maintain your look with less frizz by taking small sections and using the pin curl method overnight.

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Pin curls are best for hair with a looser curl pattern or tight curls that have been stretched via two-strand twists or braids. Start by dividing dry hair in small sections. Wrap the sectioned hair around your finger tightly while holding your finger close to your head. Slip the pin curl off your finger and pin it to your head with a bobby pin.($1.18, available at

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After your pin curls are set, remove the bobby pins and give your hair a good shake to add volume. Spray on a little of this oil sheen to add moisture and shine. ($5, available at

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If you’re a loc star, you’ll love curling your locs to create versatile looks such as Ledisi’s signature updo. Believe it or not, one of the most popular ways to curl locs is by using pipe cleaners from the craft store!

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Revisit the kid in you by using pipe cleaners to curl and set your locs. Start with wet hair and form a spiral with 3-4 locs on each pipe cleaner. Let sit overnight and – volia! – you’ll wake up to perfectly curled locs. ($3, available at Michaels)

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To keep your locs well moisturized, this oil gets the job done without being greasy and sticky or weighing the hair down. ($5, available at


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