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This was a doozy, for more reasons than one. First, how can one teach Southern women how to master a curling iron, when her Mama already taught her the hot rollers? Second, is one really allowed to tell Southern women how to wield such power as the perfect curl? She’s a force as-is, grace and grit and all. That’s practically unfair. Lastly, can one even convince Southern women that they aren’t already doing it correctly? Most likely not. We are a stubborn bunch, but I can try.

After years and years of at-home testing, I’ve settled on a set of tried-and-true guidelines for using a curling iron that withstand the test of time, humidity, debutante balls, and beach weddings. Countless curling irons purchased. Endless hours of tutorials watched. Many, many tears shed.

If the tips and tricks I’ve gathered can provide a beacon of hope, a ray of sunlight in the darkness, to any Southern woman trying to up her curling iron game, then my work here is done. (Really, if even just one hint proves helpful.) Here are the nine commandments to follow when mastering how to use a curling iron.

Pick the right barrel size—or get the wrong result

Practically every hair stylist will swear up and down by the 1.25” barrel. I’ve tested everything from .75” to 2.0” and no curling iron holds a candle to 1.25." If you want red carpet-worthy curls, you will use a 1.25” curling iron like this one. End of discussion.

If you prefer a tight curl á la Shirley Temple, go down to 1.0” and get to springing. If you prefer barely-there bend like Jennifer Garner, scale up to 1.75” or 2.0” and go forth. If you want those perfectly lived-in curls, stick with the 1.25” and get ready to say “No paparazzi, please.”

Keep calm and alternate the curling direction

The key to natural-looking curls is alternating the direction you’re curling each piece. Curl a piece of hair away from your face, curl a piece of hair towards your face. Repeat. Don’t go crazy. Repeat. Except face-framing pieces—those should always be curled away from your face.

When every piece is curled the same direction, the look starts going more pageant than party. Another good rule of thumb: Leave out at least two inches at the end to ensure a more relaxed curl.

Use second-day hair for extra hold

Busy women everywhere, we hear you. We know you. We are you. And we do not wash our hair every single day, either. Luck’s on our side. Curling your hair freshly washed is unnecessary and, for some, impossible. If you have hair that doesn’t hold curl, just-dried hair won’t hold a lick up to second-day hair, trust us. Wait a day or two, get real with the dry shampoo, and start curling. It’s a dirty little secret for ultimate hold. (Sorry, we had to.)

Ignore the curling iron clamp…because we can’t trust her

Stay with me. While I realize that the clip (or clasp, or clamp, whichever you call it) comes attached to the barrel for a reason, I’ve found that it often does more harm than good. Are you willing to risk the unfixable, unforgiveable crimping that happens when hair gets stuck for just one second too long within its unrelenting grasp? Wrap hair around the barrel, clamp closed, as if it’s a curling wand. And then send us photos of your crimp-less curls.

Hold each curl for a hot second to set

And it will be hot. This one’s self-explanatory: After letting the curl fall from the curling iron, hold the curl together (sort of scrunched up) for a few seconds. As it cools, the curl will set and, as a result, hold longer. Now, most of us don’t have time for this. But if you’re getting ready for an important hours-long event—like, I don’t know, your wedding!—do this to ensure the curls keep their shape.

Don't be afraid to cheat a little 

As in, we don’t always have time to curl our hair, piece by piece. You know what we do have time to do? We can set aside five minutes to curl 10 pieces of hair, just like this Texas mom suggested. Starting with the pieces closest to your face, curl five pieces of hair on each side, focusing only on the top section. Finger-comb the curls, and you’re set with undone-done waves that are way better than showing up with bedhead.

Point the barrel like a loaded gun you’re afraid to shoot…DOWN

Here’s a snippet of nuance you never knew you needed. While it’s not nearly as crucial as something like barrel size, this tweak separates the rookies from the vets, especially when curling your own hair. If you learn to hold the curling iron pointing downwards (as opposed to horizontally), you’ll end up with a more natural-looking curl. Technically, you can hold it vertically facing up, as well. But that means if you ever use a tapered curling iron, you’ll need to adjust. Just learn it once, and hold that thing down.

Give your roots a pick-me-up before (not after!) curling

It’s dealer’s choice on the what, but we’re sure about the when. Give your roots a couple spritzes of dry shampoo or volume spray before you start curling to avoid any post-styling disasters. This is especially important for those who can’t hold curl: Too much commotion causes curl to fall out more quickly. For some, instantaneously.

If your mane can take it, pump up the volume before and after. As Southern women like to say, more is more. The ultimate tip here: Dry shampoo is your new secret weapon, whether your hair is clean or not. Try it, and you won’t turn back.

Know your favorite technique—and don't let anyone tell you otherwise

For some, hot rollers never went out of fashion. For others, Shirley Temple ringlets are all the rage. As for curling iron or flat iron techniques, they are a dime a dozen. Try this technique for easy flat-iron waves, or this technique that masters supermodel-worthy beachy curls, or this technique that lets you fake a full head of curls. (Just please, we beg, use the 1.25” barrel.)

Don’t feel pressured to try every fad out there. It’s already hard enough to find the technique that works for your specific hair type. If it ain’t broke, don’t feel the need to fix it.  

WATCH: Ponytails Are Coming Back Big in 2019—Here Are 23 Pretty Styles to Try Now

And if the whole curling thing doesn't work out, you can always turn to the trusty ponytail, right? 

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