I never thought I’d find myself on the hunt for the best hot rollers, but if you’ve found yourself lost in a rabbit hole on TikTok or Instagram lately, you’ll know the old-school hairstyling staple is making come back.
To be honest, I don’t exactly know why I was so hesitant to try them. It makes sense a throwback tool would work perfectly for the voluminous ’90s hair and old-Hollywood hairstyles cycling back into fashion right now. But it’s so easy to get caught up in the endless stream of the newest best thing. What could hot curlers offer that a wand or no-heat hack couldn’t? They’re not nearly as compact as curling irons, and real talk: most of us probably grew up associating them with our grandmothers or Nick at Nite.
But it turns out hair rollers couldn’t be any easier to use. And once you get comfortable with them, they can be even more versatile than your go-to wand, since you can create curls, waves, and volume with the same set. They’re also great if you’re in a rush (though I rarely am anymore) since your hands are free for makeup, and they take way less time than any of the curling irons I’ve tried. Whenever I use an iron I end up with either floppy, loose waves or pageant-ready spirals, but hot rollers give me the perfect middle ground—every time. And sure, I also love feeling like Lady Gaga in the “Telephone” video while I wait for my hair to set.
Intrigued? Here’s everything you need to know about using them.
Who can use hot rollers?
Any hair type can use hot rollers, but they’re particularly helpful for fine hair that falls easily, since the curl has longer to set and you can get a little more volume. If you have naturally curly hair you can still use hot rollers, you’ll just need to blow your hair out first. They are also great for damaged or colored hair, since there’s no heat being directly applied to your hair.
What are the different types of hair rollers?
There are three major types of hair rollers: plastic ones with textured “grips,” velvet-wrapped, or foam rollers. Whichever type you use is totally your preference, but if you have fine hair you’ll probably want the plastic type since they help your hair stay in place better. Velvet-wrapped rollers are great for all textures, while foam rollers are extra gentle on damaged or dry hair.
How do you use hot rollers?
Be sure to follow the directions on whatever set you choose, but the basic premise is pretty simple. Make sure your hair is dry or mostly-dry, and then apply some heat protectant while you wait for your curlers to heat up. Once they’re ready, wrap a section of hair around the roller, and pin or clip it up. You can do your whole head in the same size and direction for a more “done” look, or alternate both for more natural-looking waves.
The amount of time you’ll want to leave them varies (again, check your directions here), but usually experts recommend leaving them in for around 12 minutes. Unroll, hit your curls with some hairspray or texturizer before finger-raking them out, and you’re good to go.
What are the best hot rollers?
Just like any other hair tool, there are a lot of options to sift through if you’re looking to invest in hot rollers. Which is why I pored through reviews and consulted with hairstylists to find what the best options are for a range of hair types, skill levels, and price points. Here’s what pros and shoppers alike swear by.
Best for beginners: Conair Compact Hairsetter
If you want to dip your toes into hot curlers, this is a great place to start. It’s only $20, super compact, and comes with small, medium, and large rollers so you can get a feel for what you like. These were the first rollers I tried and there was basically no learning curve. Since my hair is short and fine, I like to stick to the small rollers, but when I want some volume the medium are great.
Best for a bouncy blowout: T3 Volumizing Hot Rollers LUXE
Lately, I’ve been coveting a vintage-y classic blowout over my usual beachy waves, but I have one small problem: I’m useless with a round brush. These rollers can give you big, bombshell curls on longer hair, but on my lob I get more of that chic curled-under bounce. They’re somewhat expensive, but the higher price tag comes with a lot of perks—like grips that won’t burn your fingers, two heat settings, auto turn-off, and a sleek, compact look.
Best pro option: BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium 20 Roller Hairsetter
With a mix of small, medium, and large rollers, you can create pretty much any wave or curl size you’re after. Velvet rollers keep your hands cool and hair smooth, and the gentle far-infrared heat doesn’t damage your hair.
Best for thick hair: Conair Jumbo and Super Jumbo Hot Rollers
This recommendation comes straight from Glamour’s West Coast editor Jessica Radloff. She swears by them for her super thick hair, which she says usually takes an hour to curl with a traditional wand. Instead, she just pops these extra-large curlers in for 20 minutes while she’s multi-tasking and is left with a “Kate Middleton bouncy blowout.” Sold.
Best for waves: John Frieda Body & Shine Smooth Waves Jumbo Rollers
If loose waves are more your thing than mega volume, hot rollers have you covered for that as well. The trick is to look for curlers that are jumbo in size, which will add more of a bend to your hair as opposed to tighter ringlets or spirals. This set includes five extra-large rollers to give you big, bouncy waves. Think: classic Victoria’s Secret waves.
Best for travel: Revlon Curls-to-Go Travel Hot Rollers
Yes, hot rollers made specifically for travel exist. This super-compact set includes five medium and five small rollers, so you have the best of both worlds. Plus, it comes a heat resistant bag and clips, so you can throw them straight into your suitcase after using them.
Best classic rollers: Calista Hot Wavers
Consider this a no-frills set of rollers that will give you a classic curl. They’re a great option if you prefer clips over pins, and don’t want to spend too much money. The included travel case is a nice bonus for storage as well.
Best for damaged hair: Caruso Molecular Steam Hairsetter
This set uses steam to heat up foam rollers one by one. While all hot rollers are gentler on hair than an iron, these are particularly good for fragile hair since they’re flexible and there’s even less heat applied.
Best compact rollers: Remington Pro Hair Setter
This handy little kit is super compact since the clips are stored with the rollers, and there’s the built-in cord wrap. It might be small, but the base holds 20 curlers of different sizes and the thermal technology heats up in under five minutes.
Bella Cacciatore is the beauty associate at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @bellacacciatore_.