I’ll give you the bad news first. Here it goes: There’s no magic potion for thickening hair that’s naturally thin. I know this better than anyone. No matter how much I’ve wished it to be true, my naturally fine hair hasn’t transformed into the super-voluminous ’90s-supermodel ’do of my dreams. Now for the good news: We fine-haired people aren’t powerless. In fact, there are a variety of things we can do to support our strands and give the appearance of body and density.
First, we can treat our strands well, providing them adequate moisture (I collect hair masks like it’s my job) and protecting them from unnecessary damage (whether that’s from excessive heat styling, aggressive brushing, tight hairstyles, or a combination of all three). We can also choose strategic haircuts and hairstyles to boost the appearance of thickness (or go a step further and get volume-boosting extensions). Finally, we can use the right products and tools.
That last one is of the utmost importance. The right products and the right tools will maximize the appearance of volume and density while minimizing damage. Take the humble curling iron, for instance. Did you know that the type of curling iron you use matters? As does the heat setting and technique you use.
Take it from celebrity hairstylist and R+Co Collective member Sami Knight. “Fine hair is usually delicate and needs a little extra care when being styled with heat to avoid breakage. Fine hair is also not as good at holding a curl as its thicker relatives, but it can be done! Using heat protectant and curling irons with a lower heat setting are a must!” Keep scrolling to see the eight best curling irons for faking thicker hair, according to hairstylists and editors.
1. T3 Curl ID 1.25" Smart Curling Iron
"It's very important to use a curling iron that has a lower heat setting if your hair is fine," Knight says. "Too much heat will damage the hair and make it susceptible to breakage, as well as making it even more difficult to achieve a curl next time you style. Not all hot tools have heat settings. I love the T3 Curl ID 1.25" Smart curling Iron, which not only has nine heat settings but also auto-adjusts its temperature based on your hair texture and condition."
2. T3 SinglePass Curl 1" Professional Curling Iron
The brand also makes a similar iron in a one-inch barrel called the T3 Single Pass Curl. This has five heat settings, and the thinner barrel will make a tighter curl that's more appropriate for shorter hair or really silky hair that has a more difficult time holding onto shape.
3. GHD Creative Curl Tapered Curling Wand
"I love using GHD irons on fine hair," says Clariss Rubenstein, hairstylist and R+Co Collective member. "They're so effective, heat quickly and evenly, and come in a variety of sizes. (Often, you have to use a smaller-size iron for hair that falls easily.) The GHD irons also automatically default to the safe hair temperature of 365ºF and heat perfectly evenly, which helps damage hair much less."
4. GHD Classic Curl 1" Curling Iron
Leo Izquierdo is a hairstylist and co-founder of IGK Hair Care. He also recommends GHD curling irons, calling them his "go-to" hot tools. "Not only are they sleek-looking, but they also maintain the heat all day in the salon with tons of clients coming in daily, last a long time through wear and tear at the salon, are easy to use and don't have any complicated buttons or instructions, heat up quickly, and have many different sizes so I have options based on my clients' length and density of hair."
5. Harry Josh Pro Tools 3-in-1 Ceramic Curling Iron
Who What Wear's senior beauty editor, Erin Jahns, swears by this three-in-one curling iron from celebrity hairstylist Harry Josh. The detachable clamps mean you can create defined barrel curls, beach waves, or a tousled look with a single tool.
6. Hot Tools Professional 24K Gold Curling Iron
My favorite budget-friendly curling iron to use on my fine hair is this one from Hot Tools. It has variable heat settings up to 430ºF (although, I never go past 380ºF so as not to risk damage), a swivel cord, and a 24-karat-gold-plated barrel with a cool tip for holding while styling.
7. Dry Bar The Mixologist Interchangeable Styling Iron
Another three-in-one, this hot tool can act as a curling wand, a traditional curling iron, and a waver. It also works on all hair types (including fine hair). Who doesn't love an interchangeable product?
8. Dyson Airwrap Styler
The Dyson Airwrap uses a digital motor to style hair without excess heat. Yes, it's an investment. (A hot tool that costs over $500 is nothing to sneeze at.) However, if you style your hair every day, and you want to do away with as much damage as possible, this might be your best bet.
How to Keep Curls From Falling Flat in Fine Hair
Knight, Rubenstein, and Izquierdo all have the same expert tip for keeping curls in place in fine hair: Use hair spray before reaching for the curling iron. According to Knight, this gives the hair some "memory" so it keeps bouncing back instead of falling flat.
"You want something that won't become crispy or flaky," Knight says. He recommends R+Co Outer Space Flexible Hairspray for this step. Just be sure to follow up with another coat of hair spray after you're done curling each section. This will lock in the style and shape.
One more thing: Refrain from touching your hair until it's completely cooled down. "After you curl the hair or add a wave pattern, let the hair cool off before touching it or running fingers through it to allow the cuticle to shut and seal the style," Izquierdo says.
Another tip from Knight is to put your scalp's natural oils to good use. Don't curl your hair after washing it, as it won't hold the shape as well. "I'd say freshly washed hair isn't ideal for curls in fine hair, so make the most of a second-day head," he says. "Touch up a little with dry shampoo first. Then, start the curl process."
As for a more extreme but "very useful" tip, consider getting a perm. "If you want to sport waves or curls every day and just can't make them stay, a perm is a great way to add some bite and texture into your hair before you begin styling," Knight says. "Modern perms have come a long way since the very drying perms of the ’80s and ’90s. Find a salon that specializes in perm processes, and give it a try. You’ll find the curls you later add in with a curling iron stay in until the next wash!"
There's another thing all three hairstylists agree on, and that's that heat protection is key, especially when it comes to fine, damage-prone hair. "Heat protectant is so important for all hair types, but especially for fine hair," Knight says.
As for Izquierdo, he recommends this IGK heat-protectant spray. "IGK Good Behavior Spirulina Protein Smoothing Spray has 450-degree heat protection and should be used before any heat-tool styling," he says.
Shop 5 Other Styling and Treatment Products for Fine Hair
These are my go-to clips for sectioning and styling.
I'm not-so-secretly obsessed with Kristin Ess products.