Like many curly-haired girls, I have a dynamic relationship with my hair. Some days the curls spiral counterclockwise, forcing me to change my styling tactics. Other days the previous chemical damage (relaxers and Japanese hair straightening) overtakes them and alternates the pattern, and I’ll opt for a different concoction of products. Regardless of how my curls behave, over the years, my greatest trick to a good hair day (sans frizz and loads of shine) is drying my curls properly.
There are really two ways you can dry your curls: air drying and diffusing. When you air dry your hair, the water weighs down curls and elongates their pattern. When you use a diffuser, or the bowl-shaped blow dryer attachment, “curls will mold as they dry and set, encouraging the natural curl pattern” says texture expert and Mizani ambassador Ashley Lee. “With air drying, curls may fall flat, whereas diffusing promotes curl formation and a more springy look.” Translation: it’s a hero product for curls (and bonus, it’s often super affordable).
And because learning how to dry your hair is no easy feat, ahead, learn the tips and tricks on how to diffuse your curls for definition, shine, volume, and bounce straight from the pros. Plus, discover what hair texture is best for diffusers, products to prep the hair before diffusing, and the top diffusers on the market, according to hairstylists.
What Is A Diffuser?
Put simply, “a diffuser is a tool that helps you dry your hair without disturbing the curl pattern,” says Ted Gibson, a celebrity hairstylist who works with Lily Collins and Ashley Greene. Not only does it evenly dry curls, but with the multiple heat settings (my coils do best on medium-speed, high-heat), the tool “diffuses the air coming from the dryer to allow the air to circle around the hair strands rather than directly hit them — eliminating frizz,” says Yummie O, Founder of KOSA Professionals & Yummy Extensions. April Kayganich, Hairstory Curl Expert, recommends “a lower temperature, a quality blow dryer, and the diffused air to help avoid heat damage.”
Typically seen as bowl-shaped heat tools, diffusers can also have, “prongs on the inside to act as fingers to lift the hair from the root for more body and volume,” Mane Addicts stylist and stylist to Hailey Bieber and Kendall Jenner, Irinel De León, tells TZR.
What Texture Works Best With Diffusers?
The experts all note that diffusers are great for any hair texture, but particularly great on curly hair. “It’s especially helpful for lower curl types (loose curl to wavy) whose curls may generally dry with less bounce. A diffuser will help to pump up limp curls and assist with making them come more alive,” says Lee.
De León also recommends diffusers for anyone wanting to enhance their natural curl pattern or to train their curl for added volume and body. “Diffusers cup for hair in a way that holds it in a natural curl pattern so curls are left with more bounce, definition, and body. For example, someone’s hair that dries with a slight wave naturally can get a tighter wave or curl pattern with a diffuser,” she says.
What Are The Benefits Of Using A Diffuser?
The experts all agree the greatest benefit to using a diffuser is curls that are frizz-free. “A diffuser gives a light heat and air to dry hair more naturally, while minimizing frizz,” says Anthony Cole, Sebastian Professional International Artist. The hot air softly flows throughout hair to help curls retain their natural form without breaking or frizzing the curl pattern.
Diffusers are also great to hold styles in place and create volume. “Diffusers help create volume while taking the weight off the hair, so that the curl pattern can stay stable during drying,” says Dale Koenig, Director of Sales and Education for Sultra. “This will allow for bouncy, frizz-free, and separated movement of curls and waves.”
According to Anna Kimble, Director of Events & Education for Drybar, diffusing will help speed up the drying process, whereas air drying can occasionally lead to wet or damp curls when on the go. That means a faster morning routine for you with more defined and frizz-free hair — a win-win.
How To Use A Diffuser
Step 1: Prep Curls
Prior to diffusing your hair, you want to ensure you have detangled your hair in the shower. “Apply product to very wet hair in the shower,” says Kayganich. Gibson also suggests using a wide-tooth comb to rake product into the hair by sections.
Next, part your hair in the desired place. “Shake your curls to allow the hair to lay in its natural flow before diffusing,” says Koenig. If you notice your hair is extremely dry, León encourages clients to apply a leave-in conditioner to very wet hair and scrunch out any extra moisture.
And if you have even more moisture to get rid of, Cole recommends lightly towel drying hair after the product is applied. “Wrap your hair in the towel so it takes out the excess moisture,” he says. Once hair is clean, conditioned, and scrunched you can begin styling curls.
Step 2: Style Curls
Style and define your curls as much as possible pre-diffusing. Wella Professionals North American ambassador Dereq Clark likes to use Wella Nutricurls Defining Balm to prep and define the curls and add a soft hold and bounce to the hair. Natural oils like coconut and macadamia work great as well for shine and moisture for curly hair.
For styling: “Finger coiling will help your curls dry with maximum definition, allowing you to fluff with less frizz and longer lasting style when dry,” Lee tells TZR.
Step 3: Blow Dry Directionally
“The key to diffusing is directional blow drying.” says Lee. “Dry your hair from root to tip, in the way that you’d like it to be styled in its final look. If you desire volume at your root, tilt your head with your roots at a 90 degree angle from your head for maximum volume. Likewise, tilt your head to the floor for maximum lift.”
When diffusing, Cole recommends avoiding the high temperature setting, and instead sticking to medium to low. “If you put it on high, it blows the hair too much, which can make the hair frizzy,” he shares.
Once you’ve decided on volume, lift, and curl definition, start by scooping large amounts of hair into the diffuser, allowing natural curls to form. Next, Kimble recommends “gently massaging hair in a circular motion with the diffusers prongs. Hold each section in place for several seconds until hair is dry or desired style is achieved.”
According to De León, the thing to avoid while diffusing is touching your hair with your fingers as this can transfer oil from your fingertips, causing frizz and preventing curls from laying naturally.
Below, shop the experts’ five favorite diffusers on the market.
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