Diffuser 101: How To Turn Frizzy Waves Into Well-Defined Curls

I'm busting three myths about this intimidating, misunderstood and underutilized blowdryer attachment.
Publish date:
November 18, 2014
curly hair, blowdry, hair tools, wavy hair, How-To, diffusers

It's comeback time for the curl. You've probably noticed the movement in hair has begun to move away from the-straighter-the-better trend of the previous years. And if you have some natural wiggles or coils or loops, twists, bends or curves, your hair can look amazing.

Chances are, your hair has a lot more potential than you realize. It just hasn't been harnessed properly yet. But, as a stylist, I hear these kinds of things on a daily basis:

  • "I would wear my hair curly if my curls looked like that!"
  • "My hair isn't curly, its just frizzy."
  • "I don't really have curl, just some unruly wave."

Most times, they can totally be proven wrong with the proper use of a notoriously intimidating, misunderstood and underutilized device: the diffuser.

Now, if your hair is truly straight, a diffuser won't magically make it curl, but so many of us unknowingly do have the potential for sexy, springy curls. The problem is that we're stuck in the rut of blasting the moisture out of our hair at full force, so we never see anything more than a ripple here and there and maybe some frizzy ends. We blame that fuzz on our natural hair texture, when it's actually the fault of our drying technique.

Revelation alert: frizz is unlocked wave! Waves are meant to be enhanced! If they are agitated with the relentless gusts of a hairdryer, they flatten out (which is fine if straight is what you're going for, but I'm trying to widen your hairdo horizons here). Worse yet, they become a frizzly mess that we further torture with the addition of the much-overused flatiron.

Take my hair for example.

If left to air dry, it's not much to look at. Kinda resembles an Afghan Hound. Maybe a bit less shiny. But, believe it or not, that obvious texture is the basis for some untapped curls.

Here it is again blown out with my fingers.

It gets pretty straight, but could definitely stand to be polished with a round brush.

And here it is diffused.

Curls! Hiding in there all along.

The magic is all in the diffuser and proper technique. Let's bust some of the myths on how to use them...

Myth 1: All diffusers are created equal.


The diffuser test: Hold it about six inches from your hair and turn the dryer on. I prefer low power and high heat (in some instances, you can use high power, but it must still pass the test). If the diffuser blows your hair like a jet engine, just throw it away!

Sadly, most "sock"-style diffusers and "I got this free with my hairdryer" styles fall into that category. But, if it sends a gentle breeze though your hair swaying them like dune grass but not disturbing them, you have a winner!

A diffuser works like a sprinkler on the end of a garden hose; it breaks down and separates the air enough that the heat can pass through your curls and dry them without unlocking them. This is the secret to the perfect soft, springy curl.

Myth 2: I have to brush my hair.


Fight the urge! With curls, its best NOT to brush your hair. At least not after you put the diffuser to it!

Your best results will come if you brush your hair well before you shampoo, or use a wide-tooth comb before rinsing out your conditioner. After the shower, hang your head from side to side and gently scrunch with your towel to remove excess water. Careful not to muss! It may work to dry Fido, but your curls will not respond positively.

Myth 3: It's best just to dry the roots -- it'll give it a little volume, and the rest can air dry.


Drying just the roots is pointless. When leaving all that water weight in the ends it will just pull the roots flat again as it dries and cause the curls to be saggy or turn into lifeless waves.

Once you have gently pressed the excess water out with a towel, use a similar scrunching technique to disperse a cream styling product such as Global Keratin’s CurlsDefineHer and/or use a curl spray like Enjoy’s Curl Enhancing Spray to avoid the need to brush. Make sure to towel-dry it well, but never wait until parts of your hair have already dried. These dry pieces will just become fly-aways and will result in your finished product looking frizzy.

Always start your diffusing process at the ends and work upwards as the hair dries. This allows the curls to spring up without the weight of the water pulling them down. To avoid creating fly-aways, make sure to always keep the nozzle of the dryer horizontal and not aiming up.

If your hair is long or medium-length, it's best to start upside-down, then switch from side to side as you get closer to the roots. Make sure NEVER to comb through with your fingers while you're drying! Only use your hands to lift the ends of the hair and take the weight off the curls as they are drying. Some gentle scrunching is OK.

As you get to the roots, use your hands to make a "claw" then make small circles on your scalp with your fingertips. This encourages the curl and volume all the way to the roots. If you have a diffuser with "fingers" like the Solono Universal Finger Softstyler, you can actually press these points directly against the scalp and do circles as you hang your hair to one side and then the other.

The crunchy wet-look curls of the past is a definite no-no for today --we're going for touchable, soft and bouncy. So once your hair is dry, grab an old-fashioned plastic pick or wide-tooth comb and loosely work it through your hair. This will gently separate and soften the curls with a modern finish. Just remember to do this AFTER the hair is completely dry or you'll create the dreaded frizz effect.

Are you comfortable using a diffuser? Do you have a favorite?