Chances are, your hair diffuser—you know, the bowl-shaped plastic thing that came with your blow dryer—is probably collecting dust in the depths of your bathroom cabinet. And we get it: No matter how simple friends, stylists, or even YouTubers make it look, using a diffuser for the first time can be incredibly intimidating—not to mention frustrating. But with a little advice and our step-by-step how-to guide, a diffuser might become your most trusted tool for defined, perfectly-dried waves and curls.
For starters, what exactly does a hair diffuser do? While you can use a diffuser on straight hair (expect extra volume and movement), curly and wavy hair benefit most from the transformative tool. "It adds definition, shape, and body to existing waves and curls—with little or no frizz," says Nunzio Saviano, owner of the Nunzio Saviano Salon in New York City. Not to mention that using a diffuser might be better for your hair: Unlike traditional dryer attachments (like the rectangular smoothing nozzle) that concentrate the heat in one area, a diffuser evenly disperses hot air more broadly, which means it can lead to a faster drying time and, most importantly, less damage.
Ready to give your diffuser a second—or third or fourth—chance? We asked Saviano and celebrity hairstylist Justine Marjan to walk us through how to use a diffuser.
Step 1: Prep your strands with a super-moisturizing shampoo and conditioner.
Great hair starts with the right routine—and for defined, frizz-free curls, that begins in the shower. Since curly hair tends to be drier and less porous than straight hair, it’s important that you use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner to maximize hydration and minimize frizz, says Saviano. (Are your strands more wavy than curly? In that case, Marjan recommends using a curl-enhancing shampoo and conditioner.)
After you’ve applied conditioner from mid-lengths to ends, let it sit for a few minutes, then gently run a wide-tooth comb through your hair before rinsing. This will not only ensure that the product is distributed evenly, but it will also smooth out knots—without causing breakage.
Step 2: Dry off with a microfiber towel or turban, rather than a cotton towel.
If you’ve ever used a stiff, scratchy towel, you know all towels are not created equal. In fact, vigorously rubbing your hair with a regular cotton towel can be abrasive and may lead to frizz and damage—which is why Marjan recommends using a microfiber version or turban instead. After getting out of the shower, blot wet strands, then wrap it around your head to soak up excess moisture.
Step 3: Shape your curls with a cocktail of styling products.
Depending on your natural texture and your desired curl shape, there are many ways to prep your strands—but regardless of your technique, Saviano recommends first applying a styling cream that adds shine and moisture (we like this leave-in conditioner from Carol's Daughter ). “If you like your natural curl pattern, just use an extra-hold gel before diffusing,” says Marjan. “If you have looser curls and want more texture, apply a mousse, then twirl wet hair in place around your finger.”
To give your curls even more shape, divide your hair into small, even sections, then take two sections of hair and wrap them around each other continuously to the ends. Repeat with the remaining sections of hair, making sure to alternate the direction of your twists.
Once you’ve finished shaping your strands, spritz your favorite heat protectant spray all over, making sure to cover each and every strand—and in doing so, protect your hair from damage.
Step 4: Using your diffuser, dry your hair in small sections.
Attach the diffuser to the end of your dryer (Marjan recommends the ghd air hair dryer and diffuser or the brand’s helios hair dryer) and tilt your head to whichever side your starting with. Lift a two-inch section of your hair into the diffuser, then turn your hair dryer on a medium heat setting and a low speed. “This is key because too much airflow can make curls look frizzy,” says Marjan. To create a more even curl pattern, make sure the ends are inside the diffuser, and slowly move up toward the head as you dry. Repeat this process for every section of hair. “To prevent your strands from puffing up the second you step outside, make sure your hair is completely dry before you finish,” says Marjan.
Want more volume? You can also flip your head upside down for the final few minutes of drying, says Saviano.
Step 5: Once you're finished, avoid touching your curls.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make is running their fingers through their curls after drying, which leads to frizz,” says Saviano. That means as soon as you’re finished styling, hands off—though as we learned with the coronavirus pandemic, that’s often easier said than done. To avoid touching your fresh style, you might want to make this the last step in your morning routine.
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