In Part One of our Pictorial Guide to Rollers, I showed you how different sizes of rollers affect the size and shape of the hair and what happens when you use different directions of roll. In Part Two, I’m going to show you the basics of good (and bad!) roller technique – how to correctly wrap the hair, what kind of products to use and how to attach the things to your hair or wig.
While I am using a lace front, human hair wig for demonstration, the techniques are universal to all rollers and all heads of hair, including the stuff you grow yourself and synthetic wigs.
I really can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a level, clean work surface with decent light. Further, I cannot roll or style a wig without a large mirror in front of me – the mirror is essential for letting you see what the wig is doing and how the style is shaping up.
A mirror isn’t as critical for the rolling stage, but if you’re setting up your own special area for rolling styling wigs or hair, a large mirror is your biggest ally. And if you are working on your own head, you’ll find it much harder without the mirror.
In addition to the hair, you’re going to need some kind of styling spray, rollers of the correct size (see Part 1 for choosing the right rollers), and your preferred combs, brushes and other tools. You’ll find rolling a wig much easier if you have a clamp for the wig, as that will keep the wig head in place while you work on it. Most of the tools and gear you’ll need for this can be found at your local beauty supply store or big box retailer. Experiment to find the right products and tools for you.
Hair is easier to roll when it’s damp. Dampening the hair also makes the set take better, giving you a better result. A plant sprayer is great for dampening hair and distributing your styling product evenly. It’s not necessary to soak or saturate the hair, just dampen it enough to make it workable and to allow the roller set to take. It’s usually easiest to start with dry hair and mist each section as you roll. Keep a bottle of plain water and a bottle of your styling spray handy – if you need to re-wet while you’re rolling, just use the plain water since you already have styling product on the hair.
What kind of styling product should you use?
Handy Tip – if you’re re-rolling a wig that has become messy or just needs some tlc, you might not need to wash and start from scratch. Often, you can maintain a style by simply dampening with plain water (it will reactivate the styling gel already in the hair!) and re-rolling it.
One last thing about styling product – too much is worse than none. With roller sets, the product isn’t the star player, the process of moisture and evaporation is. The product will help the hair hold the set, but it’s better to use good roller technique and allow for the set to dry completely than to rely only on gel or spray. If you can manage it, using heat to dry your wig or hair will dramatically increase the success of your roller set (more on that later!)
Which rollers should you use?
Pick smooth rollers that are firm and have an open mesh or weave to them. You’re going to need a firm roller to get the right amount of tension – sponge rollers aren’t great for this as they will compress under the hair, compromising the set. Brush and velcro rollers or rollers with “teeth” on the outside will snag on the hair and make it harder to smoothly remove the roller, causing flyaways and frizz before you even get started.
Our preferred roller is to the left – available on Amazon.com and at Sally Beauty, it’s simple and sturdy, and it comes in a range of sizes. This brand does have a brush insert in it, we just remove them with pliers when we buy a new pack. While this sort of roller is ideal and is the best tool for the job, in a pinch, you can use almost anything that is the right diameter as a roller – and drinking straws make a great teeny tiny roller for little face framing tendrils.
You’ll need something to smooth and detangle the hair, and something to help you section out the hair as you put it onto the rollers. What kind of combs and brushes to use is very subjective and will vary depending on the situation and personal preference. As with all things relating to hair-styling, trial and experimentation are the key to figuring out what will work best for you.
Having said that, these are my personal essentials for hair styling – all of these can be purchased at a drug store, big box retailer or beauty supply store. The top comb is great for smoothing hair and the pointy end of both the comb and brush are very useful for “sectioning” out the individual chunks of hair before putting it on the roller (more on sectioning below!). The large comb on the bottom is excellent for combing and detangling hair, and for combing out the hair once you’ve set it. This isn’t my full complement of tools, but these are the ones I use every time.
So now you have your space, your products, your rollers and tools – what do you do with all of it? I’m going to take you through the basics of good roller usage – with the information on how rollers manipulate hair from Part 1 and this nut and bolts guide to making the rollers work, you’ll be all set to start using rollers to create hairstyles – which we’ll cover in Part 3 next week!
The single most important factor in using rollers is putting the correct amount of tension on the hair as it’s wrapped on the curler – failure to get the hair on there tautly will negate the rest of your hard work. This is vital to your roller set at the roots in particular – you want the hair wrapped snugly around the roller, and for the roller rest right up to the roots.
The right amount of tension is step one – but you’ll also want to ensure you’re not making these two common mistakes
Too much hair on the roller
Too large a chunk or section of hair prevents the hair from getting the right amount of tension, resulting in a loose, sloppy curl. It also takes longer to dry, so it’s both incorrect and inefficient
In the photo to the right, the top roller has the correct amount of hair on it. You want to use the pointy end of the comb or brush to carefully pick out a piece of hair that is not much thicker than 3/8″. If you look at the photo, the top roller has a section of hair that allows for the roller to have maximum contact with the roots. There is both the right amount of hair and the right amount of tension.
The roller on the bottom in the photo has a much thicker section of hair wrapped around it -nearly an inch! You can see that the roller isn’t even close to most of the roots, meaning that the upper section of that piece of hair isn’t going to benefit from the roller at all!
One important caveat here, and we’ll cover this is much more detail in Part 3 – I’m going on about tension at the root and getting the roller as close to the root as possible. That’s because these are key features of a successful roller set – however, the lower portions of the hair rely less on these two principles. So while I am using this photo to show off ineffective roller usage, know that the amount of hair and placement of roller two might be just fine for the lower part of a hairstyle, such as those from the 1930’s and 1940’s where you just want the hair to have some curl on the ends and the root is hidden.
Section of hair is too wide for the roller
This is almost as bad as putting too thick of a section of hair on the roller! The top roller is correct – the width of the section of hair is no wider than the roller. That ensures that, in addition to the correct amount of tension and proper thickness of the section, the whole piece of hair is having equal contact with the roller.
The bottom roller is practically invisible under that giant piece of hair! You can tell immediately if you’re trying to put too wide of a section on your roller as the hair will try to slide off the ends of the roller since there isn’t enough room for it.
So what do you do if you need to roll a wider section of hair? The best course is to simply use two (or more) rollers side by side – but occasionally, there will be a large section of hair that needs to go onto a single curler (for example, turning under a gentleman’s queue for an 18th century wig). If that happens, tape two roller together, making one longer roller to allow all of the hair to have contact with the roller.
In short, if the hair isn’t touching the roller or wrapped around it, the roller won’t be able to change the texture or style of the hair – which will leave you with uneven, imprecise styles and sloppy outcomes.
A word about sectioning –
I’ve mentioned “sectioning” now repeatedly and shown how critical it is that you section off the right size and thickness of hair – but how do you do that? Remember our pointy ended brush? Use that point to lift up the hair you think you want to work with – you might have to adjust your initial picking and that’s fine. While you can do this with your fingers or other tools, I find the pointy end of a comb or brush is the most effective – especially since you can immediately turn the brush around and smooth the section down before you roll it.
In the top photo, the brush’s pointy end allowed for a small section of hair to be picked up. You can then use the brush (or pointy tailed comb) to smooth out the section of hair. Once you have a nice, smooth section, maintain tension on the section of hair and wrap the ends neatly around the curler, as in the photo below. This will ensure you have a taut, smooth section of hair as you roll the hair up.
So I’ve covered some of the mechanics of putting hair onto rollers, but you might wondering how to get the rollers to stay put. There are several options for this, though admittedly some of them might be better suited to anchoring rollers to wigs unless your pain tolerance is exceptional. Keeping rollers securely in your wig or hair is why I recommend using open mesh rollers, as you can see below.
From the left, a simple sewing pin is stuck through the roller and into the canvas head. Obviously, this is better suited to a wig than a human. Second from the left is a similar approach, using a T-pin instead of a sewing pin. Both pins will stick through the roller and the hair into the head, but the thinner sewing pin makes it a better choice for delicate wigs, which the T-pin is great for the sturdier back sections or machine made wigs that have thicker foundations.
For those not keen on pinning curlers into their head, you can use duck-bill roller clips (photo 3) – these metal clips are perfect for holding a roller snugly in place but be sure you put the clip towards the underside of the roller so you don’t get a crimp in the hair when you take it out. Their length is key to holding the entire piece of hair snugly on the roller. The fourth photo shows how to use a large hairpin to hold the rollers in place. Simply poke the hairpin through the roller and it will hold it in place – there are also “roller picks” available that perform the same function but I find hairpins to be more versatile.
Whatever method you use, make sure the roller stays firmly in place and that the tension you worked so hard to build isn’t lost through a loosely placed pin or clip. With the pin methods, it’s best to put the pin in the center of the roller to keep the roller in position.
A quick word about removing the rollers – first, make sure the hair is completely dry. If you can possibly apply hot air for any length of time, it will both speed the drying process and greatly improve the durability of the set. Once you are certain all of the hair is dry, unwrap the rollers one at a time and gently unwind the hair from the roller, rather than pulling the roller out – unwrapping maximizes and preserves the pattern and curl the rollers made.
Curious as to how much of a difference all of these little details make? Check out the Goofus and Gallant portion of the post below.
On the left (Goofus, if you will), we have sloppy rollers, the hair is wrapped loosely and haphazardly, and some rollers have too much hair. On the right (Gallant, of course), the hair is wrapped neatly and tightly on the rollers, each roller has the right amount of hair on it and the hair is divided fairly evenly among the rollers.
Here’s what happens once they dry and are styled- for both sides, I removed the rollers and gave the hair identical combing and styling.
On the left, the wave is less consistent and crisp and the roots are pretty limp and sloppy. The center photo shows how the two sides look in contrast. The right has a much more consistent wave pattern, the execution is less limp and messy and most importantly, the roots have a shape and wave that is almost entirely absent in the Goofus side. That might not seem critical, but if the beginning point of your style isn’t right, the overall execution is going to be much less effective. Imagine trying to do a structured style like finger waves with Goofus – it would be lackluster, at best!
Next week, we’ll start putting all of this roller technique to use in creating hairstyles. Remember that practice makes perfect and that it pays to work on your roller skills as using rollers correctly will allow you to achieve a wide range of hairstyles – and as a bonus, hair set will rollers is likely to hold up far longer!
A few final tips, notes and trivia:
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