Skip to Content

How to Curl Really Short Hair | Complete Styling Guide

If you’re wondering how to curl really short hair, the truth is that you have more options than you probably realize! Read on to learn how to curl short hair with or without the use of heated styling tools.

Wondering How to Curl Really Short Hair?

Curling super short hair can be a challenge. After all, you have to be able to grasp the hair and manipulate it around the barrel of a curling iron, roller, or rolling rag at least 2 1/2 times to create a curl. That’s a tall order when you’re dealing with shorter hair. While it’s a challenge, it is still possible. And who doesn’t love a great challenge?

So, let’s get started!

When you want to curl really short hair, you need to start with freshly washed hair. Then, you can then either roll your damp hair on curling rags (no old-fashioned curlers here!) and let it sit overnight, throw in some pin curls, or use electric heat styling tools to create curls. Once your hair is fully dry and set, you can fluff and style your hair as necessary and finish with hairspray or another styling product.

How to Curl Really Short Hair in 4 Steps

1. Gather Hair Care Items

A number of hair tools and products sitting on a counter in a layflat image


Make sure that you have everything that you need at hand. This includes shampoo and conditioner, alligator clips to section your hair, a wide-tooth comb, hairspray, or another styling product.

You’ll also need items that are specific to the method you choose, such as hairpins, rags, a heat protectant product, curling iron, curling wand, or flat iron.

2. Wash Hair

To illustrate step 2 about how to curl really short hair, a woman washing her short hair in a sink


You’ll need to start with hair that is freshly washed. Use shampoo and conditioner that rinses out cleanly and does not weigh your hair down. You want your hair to be “squeaky clean” before you start curling it. Don’t add any other styling products yet.

3(a). Make Pin Curls

You’ll start with damp hair saturated with some setting lotion, roll your hair in pin curls, and let it dry overnight. This technique is not one you can do on a whim or when you’re getting ready for date night. If you want to use a leave-in conditioner or texturizer, you can apply that before you get started.

Separate your hair into sections – small sections for tight curls, larger ones for looser curls. Wrap each section around your finger, slide the coiled hair off your finger, and then secure the coil with two hairpins in an “X” shape.

If you have fine or thin hair, it may dry fully before you’re finished coiling and pinning it. This method only works with damp hair, so if your hair starts to dry, mist it with plain water before you start curling it.

Let your hair dry and set overnight. You may want to wrap it or wear a cap while you sleep to keep the curls in place. In the morning, remove all the hairpins and style as desired.

3(b). Make Rag Curls

This technique is similar to making pin curls. You start with damp hair and let it sit overnight after putting the rags in. Allowing your hair to dry while it’s wound around rags temporarily “sets” curls into your hair.

Some people do find that rag curls are more comfortable to sleep with than other types of rollers and hair pins. None of these options require much investment in equipment, so you can always try all of these methods to see which you prefer!

Cut clean rags or towels into small strips. The size you need depends on the length and thickness of your hair, but you can start with 2”x10” and make adjustments as necessary. Apply a leave-in conditioner or texturizer product. Divide your hair into small sections for tight curls or larger sections for looser curls.

Hold the rag at the bottom of the first section of hair and wrap the ends of your hair around the center of the rag. Roll your hair around the rag (kind of like twirling spaghetti). When you get close to your scalp, tie the ends of the rag together to hold everything in place.

If you find that some sections of hair dry out before you can wrap them, moisten your hair with plain water. As with pin curls, this method only works if you start with damp or wet hair and let it dry in curls. Let your hair set overnight.

As above, you may want to wrap your head when you sleep to keep everything in place. Unwrap your hair in the morning and style. You can keep and reuse the rags for next time.

3(c). Curl Hair With Curling Iron

Gal curling her short hair with a curly iron as a step in how to curl really short hair

Kyrylo Glivin/Shutterstock

Blow-dry your hair or let it dry naturally. It should be almost or completely dry before you start styling it. Preheat a curling iron with a 1” or 1¼” barrel (smaller barrels will create more curl on shorter hair). Spray your hair lightly with a high-quality heat protectant product.

Twirl a small section of hair near your hairline onto the curling iron. Keep it on the iron according to your curling iron’s instructions, and then release it. Let it cool without combing or brushing it.

Repeat with another section of hair. It’s okay if there’s a little overlap or the sections are slightly uneven. For an especially youthful, casual look, you can twist each section in a different direction.

3(d). Curl Hair With Curling Wand

Image for step 3d on how to curl really short hair, this time a close up of someone curling short hair with a curling wand

Vladimka Production/Shutterstock

Blow-dry your hair or let it dry naturally. It should be almost or completely dry before you start styling it. Use a wand with a barrel that is 1” or smaller.

Apply a light heat protectant and distribute it evenly. Preheat your curling wand. Divide your hair into sections and clip all but the working section out of the way.

The technique here is much the same as described above, but a curling wand does not have a clamp, as a curling iron does. You’ll hold the wand at an angle and twist each section of your hair around the (hot!) barrel, working from the wider end of the barrel to the narrow end.

3(e). Curl Hair With Flat Iron

Pink haired liberal woman with crazy pink hair curling her really short hair with a flat iron

Michelle Aleksa/Shutterstock

Blow-dry your hair or let it dry naturally. It should be almost or completely dry before you start styling it. For super-short hair, you’ll want a small flat iron, preferably between ½” and 1” in width. Ideally, the flat iron will have ceramic plates. These are easier to work with and kinder to your hair.

Apply your favorite heat protection styling product and make sure that it’s distributed evenly. Preheat your flat iron. Section off the top layer of your hair and secure the sections with clips.

Start with the bottom half of your hair. Working with approximately one-inch sections, clamp each section of hair in the flat iron and twist the iron gently as you move it down the section. Release the hair and let it cool without combing or brushing it.

Repeat until the entire bottom layer of hair is curled. Unclip the top layer of hair and run your fingers through it to find your part. Divide it into sections and use the flat iron on each section as described above. It’s okay if there is some “overlap” between sections or layers.

4. Style Your Curls

Portrait of a young hipster woman in a white shirt with short curly hair

Wayhome Studio/Shutterstock

Whichever method you used to create them, you should now have a head full of tight curls (or at least some wave if you used a large-barreled curling iron or flat iron). Use your fingers or a wide-tooth comb to gently separate and arrange the curls as you like. Short hair looks great with loose, tousled curls and waves.

You can also use your fingers or comb to fluff up hair near the roots to give your style a little lift. Finish with a light mist of hairspray or other styling product if you want. Short hair can get weighed down easily, and you don’t want to lose the curls you’ve worked so hard to get, so a light touch is essential here.

Things to Consider

There are quite a few different ways to curl very short hair, and the good news is that you don’t have to limit yourself – there’s room for all these techniques in your styling repertoire.

  • Have more time to dedicate to your hair at night or in the morning? If you’re rushed in the morning, set your hair in pin curls or rag curls at night. But if you like some me-time before you start your day, try one of the heat styling methods.
  • Want even curls, or are you going for an intentionally messy, tousled look? When you curl your hair with a curling iron or curling wand, the curls are all pretty much the same size. If you do pin curls or rag curls, you can vary the size of sections that you wrap so that some are chunkier than others.
  • Will you be traveling? It can be a pain to lug a flat iron around with you, and if you’re traveling internationally, you may not even be able to use it without an adapter. But a pack of hairpins or a bunch of rags is a lot easier to tuck into a carry-on bag.
  • Is your hair healthy? If you’re working on getting your hair in better condition, you may want to avoid the use of heat styling tools, or at the very least, use a high-quality heat protection product before you curl your hair.

So, How Do You Curl Really Short Hair?

While there are variations on each theme, you can either curl your really short hair with electric heat styling tools or by setting it when it’s wet. Whichever you choose, remember to start with clean hair and style your new curls very gently.

You Might Also Like: