Here’s the thing about the perfectly tousled, beach waves hairdo: It looks so “I woke up like this,” but in reality, the look is actually kind of hard to pull off.
If you’ve spent about a million hours in front of the mirror with a curling iron trying to create a ‘do that is supposed to appear gloriously care-free, join the club. Getting beach waves is not as low-maintenance as it seems — unless you seek out some serious advice from the pros. Which is exactly what we did.
Here are some expert tips on how to get the beachy hair of your dreams.
1. Fake it
This is the No. 1 recipe for year-round beach hair, and we have New York City hairstylist Jenna Mast to thank for sharing her secrets.
“If you have flat hair, try using a sea salt spray. I like to add a few loose curls around the face using a large curling iron or flat iron. Then I reach for my favorite beach spray, Oribe’s Après Beach,” says Mast. “Start by spraying the hair minimally — you can always add more product. Then I scrunch the hair and really shake it out for that supermodel beachy look. Some girls immediately shy away from salt sprays because they don’t like that knotty feel. To avoid that, don’t overspray and keep spray away from the scalp.”
2. Twist it
While Stephanie Johnson, a licensed hairstylist and makeup and fashion photographer in Dallas, is also a big fan of the salt spray for year-round beach hair, she highly recommends kicking it up a notch by twisting and diffusing.
“The trick is to scrunch the hair while you diffuse or dry,” Johnson says. “Diffusing is best. Salt sprays can feel drying, though, so you can mimic that with a good grooming spray (my new favorite is Suavecito Grooming Spray) on towel-dried (meaning still damp) hair and scrunch while drying. You can twist hair into little twists before diffusing too.”
Johnson adds, “These styles don’t work well if your hair is too long or you haven’t been keeping up the trims for the ends. It’s also good to have some layering and movement if you’re wanting to accomplish this look.”
3. Curl it
But wait, there’s more. Mast was more than happy to walk us through a full beach-wave tutorial, using a curling iron, that’s easy enough to master at home.
“For some, having ‘undone’ beachy texture won’t fly at work or date night,” she explains.
To get a more refined and polished beach look, here are Mast’s expert tips.
- First, choose the appropriate curling iron size. “I typically use a 3/4-inch to 1-1/2-inch curling iron and determine size by the length and density of the hair. If you have really super-thick, shoulder-length hair and use a smaller iron, you will end up with a lion’s mane. Longer lengths do best with a larger iron, too, as a small iron will take much longer,” Mast says.
- Once you’ve chosen the best curling iron or wand, section out the bottom of your hair. She continues, “I imagine splitting the hair into thirds: The first parting will be right above one ear, all the way around to the other ear; the second will be at the points of recession on the hairline; and the last section will be the top dropped down.”
- Before curling, make sure you’ve applied heat protection! Mast explains, “I am very forgiving with my sections, as perfection is not a boho beachy look. Take your first section and start the curl at the mid-lengths. I always curl away from the face first. If the hair is long, I keep the ends out to give a more natural look. Continue around the head, alternating curls away from the face and towards the face. If you do it haphazardly, it looks haphazard, so have a plan.”
- Drop the second section and repeat. “For the last section, really pay close attention to making sure you’re not starting the curl too high, which would result in a dated look. Speaking of dated look, right now you might look like you’re getting ready for prom. That’s ok! Leave the curls in their little coils until they are cooled — don’t be tempted to pull them down or loosen them up yet,” Mast says.
- Put on the finishing touches. “Once the curls have cooled completely (about 5 minutes), skip your hairspray and reach for a texturizing spray. If you don’t have a texture spray, you can use dry shampoo. And my favorite part: Shake it out! Mess it up! Get your hands in your hair and really make it look lived in. For added hold, scrunch a tiny bit of mousse in for added separation. It should take you 20 minutes max,” she says.
4. Braid it
Braids are one of the beautiful basics of beach hair, according to Mast, especially when you use a leave-in conditioner to prevent tangles, dryness and faded color in the sun. For the rest of the year, Mast suggests giving the braid another go, saying, “It can be as simple as a three-strand side braid or fun double French braids, whatever you can do.” Mast says that the best part of this look is that you can easily transition from day to night by taking the braid out — leaving you with gorgeous, soft beach waves with zero styling time and no heat damage.
5. Wing it
Here’s a good one for those of us who may have hit the snooze alarm one too many times on a Monday morning. Erica Harriss, founder of Saving Grace Beauty, suggests letting Mother Nature do the work by allowing hair to air dry for a more natural look.
“If you can’t quite get here, dry your hair about halfway, and air-dry the rest,” she says.
Even better, Harriss suggests, “Don’t wash every day. This allows your natural oils to condition, protect and repair the hair shaft.” And when you do shampoo, she says, “Only use shampoo on the scalp. Use any excess suds near the ends. They don’t need the cleansing strength up near your scalp requires. Dry shampoo fans, be sure to add moisture. Most formulas are designed to absorb oils, just what your ends need to avoid split ends.”
6. Treat it
If you’re just coming off the dog days of summer and so desperately want to try one of the beachy looks above, it’s important to give your sun-damaged hair some TLC first, Johnson says. She suggests, “Weekly masks aren’t just for winter hydration, but for combating the sun and the drying damage of chlorine. Use it once per week if you have severe damage or dryness. If you’re feeling good about how your hair feels, then apply every two or three weeks to maintain.”
Originally published August 2013. Updated June 2017.