Heatless hair curlers are nothing new (remember hair rollers?), but the latest curl technique circulating TikTok For You Pages seems easier than ever. It starts with wrapping hair around a silk headband, then removing it to reveal mermaid-like waves. We totally get the appeal: If you're looking for a way to curl your hair fast, gently and achieve smooth, bouncy curls overnight, this makes it easy.
The Good Housekeeping Institute's team of beauty chemists and product testing experts tried these viral Kitsch Satin Heatless Curling Set and LILYSILK Silk Curling Headband and Scrunchie Set out on different hair types, from thin to thick hair and short, medium to long lengths. Here's what we found:
How do heatless hair curlers work?
Hair's protein structure is held together by chemical bonds (disulfide bonds, salt bridges and hydrogen bonds), and "manipulating these bonds can reshape hair from its natural state," says GH Beauty Lab Senior Chemist Sabina Wizemann. Water breaks hydrogen bonds which cause wet hair to lose its original shape; when hair is dried (either by air or blow-drying) these bonds are reformed, and the new hair shape is locked in. In layman's terms, you can change your hair's shape as it dries.
To do so, though, hair must be dried entirely; otherwise, even slightly wet hair will try to go back to its natural shape, says Wizemann, so when it comes to heatless styling, you'll need to avoid taking off the rollers until hair is fully dried through.
This technique works on both wet and dry hair, but the benefit of using it for overnight air-drying is that you take any possible heat damage out of the equation. Our pros recommend locking the resulting style with product after everything's dried, since using products prematurely on wet or damp hair can weigh down strands and make you lose the hairstyle.
How to use a heatless hair curler
A heatless hair curler kit usually comes complete with a satin-wrapped foam curling rod and two satin scrunchies. (We also recommend buying a claw clip to lock it in place.) On either wet or dry hair, place the ribbon over your head like a headband, using the clip to hold it in place. Start from the top and twist sections of hair around the ribbon, adding more little by little, then tie scrunchies at the end to keep everything in place. Then, cuddle up to your pillow!
The before and after
Here's how the viral heatless hair curlers worked for our in-house testing pros:
LILYSILK on thick, long, wavy hair
- Ease of use: "There is a learning curve, so it may take a few tries to figure out how to use it and what method works best for your hair. If you’re like me and have wavy hair, it may turn out better using a little heat like a quick blow dry. (I did so on my partially dry hair to take out some of my waves and frizz.)"
- The results: "After a few hours of wearing the headband, I took it out ... revealing beachy waves. The heatless hair curler results don't look quite as good as using a blow dryer or a curling iron, but I'm satisfied and would use it on days when I want an easy alternative to curling all my hair with a curling iron. The curls fell, but I think if I had applied hairspray, it would have held the waves more."
- The bottom line: "It’s great for a casual yet put-together hair day, but I wouldn’t use it for an important event or a night out." –Jamie Ueda, freelance writer
Kitsch on thin, mid-length, wavy hair
- Ease of use: "My hair is naturally wavy and short, so I struggled a bit wrapping my shoulder-length hair completely around the foam headband, but after redoing it a few times, it stayed in place with the included scrunchie and hair clip. Compared to stiff hair rollers I've tried in the past, I found these considerably more comfortable and less bothersome to sleep in."
- The results: "After eight hours of wearing this silk headband set on dry hair, the results were bouncy curls that mimic the results of my thick 32 mm curling iron."
- The bottom line: "Trying this overnight heatless headband curler means waking up like a Disney princess. I'm always looking for more ways to improve my hair health, so I'll definitely be using this non-heat method again, especially over uncomfy, stiff hair curlers." –Jacqueline Saguin, Associate Product & Reviews Editor
Kitsch on fine, short, wavy hair
- Ease of use: "The rod is spongy but not flexible and keeping it steady to wrap short to mid-length hair around is awkward. I wished that it was heavier and denser so it wouldn't bounce so much. Sleeping with it was not a good idea; it ultimately slid out, but it may not be a problem with long hair. The second and third time I tried, it was during the day after a shower, which was fine, but not quite as comfortable as I expected.
- The results: As for the curls, they were wide, bouncy spirals that had volume but unfortunately didn't last long on my hair without hair spray application.
- The bottom line: "I'm surprised how much effort this turned out to be." –Sabina Wizemann, Senior Chemist
Is there a difference between silk and satin headbands?
In testing silk products including silk pillowcases, silk sheets and silk eye masks, our pros know that material matters. It's true that the benefits of silk include smoother, less frizzy bedhead, which is why these headbands are so great. But there is a difference between silk and satin: Silk is the fiber, whereas satin is the weave, so while something can be silk and satin, "if you see it marketed as 'satin' instead of silk, and it’s less expensive, chances are it’s made with polyester," according to Executive Textiles Director Lexie Sachs.
Kitsch Satin Heatless Curling Set is made of synthetic satin, which Sachs "would definitely recommend ... if you’re on a budget," she says, since polyester satin is still smooth enough to reduce frizz. But synthetic satin is not as luxuriously smooth as the real silk used in LILYSILK's Silk Curling Headband.
According to Kitsch, you can actually machine wash the curling set to clean it when necessary. The LILYSILK set is made from mulberry silk, so it requires a bit more care: You should spot clean with lukewarm water and hang dry after spot-cleaned, according the site.
So, do heatless hair curlers actually work?
They do, but they require a bit more technique than meets the eye. Its reigning traits are that it's gentler on hair because it won't tug or require heat and is comfier than traditional hair rollers. Don't toss out your curling irons or curling wands just yet: We found it difficult to use on shorter hair lengths and that the resulting styles didn't stay as long as we may have liked. Our Executive Director of the Beauty, Health & Sustainability Lab Birnur Aral, Ph.D., could not wrap her short hair fully around the rod. She suspects that thin, straight and longer hair types will get more use out of these headband-style curlers, a hypothesis we confirmed in our tests.