How to Style Natural Wavy Hair, According to Experts

From prep steps to drying tips

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how to style natural wavy hair a photo of jessica biel on the red carpet
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On its best behavior, naturally wavy hair can look like you just stepped off the beach (or runway). At its worst, it has a mind of its own, neither curly nor straight, with random bits sticking out every which way. Alas, with some smart styling, it’s a great texture to work with.

To that end, we enlisted the help of two top celebrity hairstylists who are behind some of the best waves in Hollywood (we’re talking Gigi Hadid, Chrissy Teigen, Emma Stone and Natalie Portman here). They’re walking us through how to enhance your natural waves from start to finish.

Meet the Experts

  • Mara Roszak is a celebrity hairstylist and founder & CEO of RŌZ, a high-performing line of luxury hair products. After beginning her career at Chris McMillan Salon, she opened Mare Salon in Los Angeles, alongside her two co-founders, Alex Polillo and Denis De Souza. Her work has been featured in Vogue, W, ELLE and Harper’s Bazaar and her clients include Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana, Emma Stone, Michelle Yeoh and many more.
  • Laura Polko is a celebrity hairstylist at PRTNRS and has over 15 years of experience in the industry. Her work has been featured on Vogue, Allure, Harper's Bazaar and Cosmopolitan, as well as on red carpet events, movie premieres and fashion shows. Her clients include Gigi Hadid, Hailey Steinfeld, Maren Morris, Chrissy Teigen and many more.

How to Air-Dry Your Hair (and Not Look Like a Poodle)

The Prep Steps

“When you’re in the shower, comb through your mask or conditioner before rinsing it out. After rinsing, brush though your hair one more time while it’s still wet to get out any tangles,” says Roszak.

“You want to towel dry your hair right out of the shower,” adds Polko. “Then, what’s key is to apply a product that will enhance your natural texture, but make sure it’s evenly distributed throughout your hair so it’s not just sitting on the top section with no product reaching the sections of hair underneath.” Polko likes to use a wide tooth detangling comb for this.

Get the look: Kitsch Consciously Created Wide Tooth Comb ($12); AQUIS Towel Hair-Drying Tool ($25; $21)

If You’re Air-drying Your Hair

“Once the product is applied, allow the hair to dry about 70 percent of the way without touching it. Then, you can create some definition in your waves by twisting two sections of hair into pigtails and clipping them up together until your hair is almost completely dry. Let it down, add a tiny bit more styling product and voila,” says Roszak.

Polko has a similar approach: Start by ensuring you have your part in the right place by splitting your hair horizontally on either side of your face. Then, do a loose braid or rope braid on either side and secure the ends with a silk scrunchie so you don’t get creases. Tousle when dry and finish the look with a dry texture spray.

Get the look: Slip Small Slipsilk Scrunchies ($39); David Mallett Spray No. 2 Le Volume ($49)

If You’re Heat-styling Your Hair

Polko recommends applying a bit of mousse throughout before twisting one-inch sections of your hair away from the face. From there, you can use the diffuser attachment on your blow dryer and put it on low to medium heat (you don't want it to be too high on your locks). Then, gently push your hair up from the bottom and move it around in small circular motions to achieve bouncy, but refined curls. Once your hair is dry, shake your head out and apply a dime-sized amount of styling cream on the ends. (Note: You can also try defining your waves using a curling iron, too.)

Get the look: R+Co Chiffon Styling Mousse ($38); T3 SoftCurl Diffuser ($30); Bumble and bumble Light Defining Curl Cream ($34)

If You’re Straightening Your Wavy Hair

“Be sure to spritz on a heat protector beforehand to protect against thermal damage. Then, take your flat iron and work your way up and around the head using sections that are only as big as the width of the flat iron, so you don’t miss any spots. I also love to use setting clips around the face to keep hair in place once you've applied the heat to it,” says Polko.

If you’re blow-drying your hair straight, you don’t want it to be completely dry. Having a little bit of moisture to work with is key. “Sometimes it helps to use a spray bottle to dampen hair slightly if need be, especially around the face, as that’s usually the most challenging part to style. Then, use a boar bristle brush for extra smoothing while blow drying,” she adds.

Get the look: Kitsch Eco-Friendly Creaseless Clip Set ($10); Ceremonia Guava Rescue Hair Heat Protectant Spray ($24); Shash Boar bristle Brush ($43); T3 Lucea 1” Hair Straightener ($170)

Any Tips For What Not To Do When Styling Wavy Hair?

“Try not to brush or comb your hair once it’s dry—or even mostly dry! That can disrupt your waves. It’s better to twist your hair with your fingers periodically or put it up into a bun if you want to add definition to naturally wavy hair,” advises Roszak.

“Again, make sure you distribute any styling products evenly from the start. If you're only applying product to the top layer of your hair, you can end up with flat hair on top and curls and frizz underneath,” says Polko.

Any Final Words Of Wisdom?

According to our experts, it's important to invest in high-quality products. As Roszak shares, “Enhancing your natural waves starts with healthy hair. Using a mask treatment weekly is key—especially if you color your hair. Regular trims also help. Once every three months is ideal. I also recommend adding supplements to your regimen, which can promote healthy growth, add fullness and help enhance your natural waves.”

Get the look: Olaplex No.8 Bond Intense Moisture Mask ($30); Viviscal Extra Strength Hair Growth Supplements ($30)

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