Reader's Digest February 6, 2022

Readers's Digest

Hair Care

How to Use a Hair Diffuser for Your Most Perfect Curls Ever


Once you learn how to use a hair diffuser, you'll kiss that flat iron goodbye.

Curly-hair is having a moment. After so many years of pin-straight hair trending among style icons, curls are making a comeback. But curls can often be unpredictable and, for some, prone to frizz. We asked hairstylists and other curly-hair experts how to use a hair diffuser to tame frizzy hair and achieve soft, perfect curls, coils, and waves every time you blow-dry.

How big of a difference could a hair dryer diffuser make? Very big, it turns out. Forget hairbrushes, mousse, and curling irons. This handy gadget is an underappreciated tool for achieving the bounciest curls ever. Keep reading for hairstylist tips on how to use a hair diffuser.

What is a hair dryer diffuser anyway?

“A diffuser is an attachment to your hair dryer that evenly blows air across the hair instead of having it be focused on one exact spot,” explains Brittany Harrington, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Salty Locks hair extensions.

Visually, it looks a little bit like a disconnected shower head with plastic fingers poking from its surface. Practically speaking, it’s a wide, squat attachment that you can buy on its own or in a set with a blow-dryer.

For such an unassuming little gadget, it plays an outsize role in keeping curly hair not only dry but also smooth. “Diffusers prevent frizz and lead to great curls,” says Shayna Kutcher, a stylist at the Ambitious Blonde Hair Studio in Delray Beach, Florida. She credits the device’s frizz-taming power to its ability to both evenly distribute air and blow air more slowly.

Jennifer Mendoza, owner of Flourish Hair Beauty in Chicago, says she has “the curliest hair” and loves teaching her clients how to style their curls. She’s a huge fan of using a hair dryer diffuser because “it also helps the airflow stay in the section you want to dry.”

Curly hair diffusers aren’t just for curly hair

Let’s get one thing straight: The diffuser isn’t a curly-girl-only tool. People with a little wave in their hair can trade their straightener brushes for a diffuser to amp up the curl factor.

“A diffuser can also be used to dry short hairstyles in place,” says Leigh Hardges, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago who uses hair dryer diffusers for special occasions and updos as well. “It’s a great way to set your style with hair spray, then use the diffuser with the hair dryer on low to set the spray without disturbing the style.”

But diffusers aren’t for every hair type. “Coily hair types may choose to avoid diffusing or using heat to help maintain moisture balance and avoid curl shrinkage,” says Anna Kimble, director of events and education for Drybar.

How to use a hair diffuser for perfect curls

After years of wearing her hair in a bun or ponytail, plus years of using a straightening iron, stylist Paola Torres of Westfield, New Jersey’s Utopia Hair and Day Spa finally embraced her natural curls. Now she’s paying it forward by revealing the curly hair tips that give her bouncy, enviable curls. Her secret weapon? You guessed it: a hair dryer diffuser.

Keep reading for Torres’s step-by-step tutorial on how to use a hair diffuser for perfect, frizz-free curls.

1. Wash your hair and apply product, usually a gel.

You can’t skip steps and hope for stellar results. So while you may want to fast forward to the blow-drying part, you really need to start with a clean head of hair. So wash your hair with a curly-hair shampoo, and don’t forget the conditioner.

“Before you start to diffuse, the application of products is key to success,” says Torres. When applying your favorite styling products, keep in mind that less is more. “You want to use more water than product,” she says. “The water helps to hydrate the hair and also distribute the product through the hair evenly.”

2. Squeeze out excess water.

Dry your hair as much as possible—without flipping the blow-dryer’s On switch. “You want to grab a microfiber towel and squeeze as much of the water out as possible,” Torres says. “This will help cut down on drying time.”

If your hair is sensitive or prone to breakage, you might want to pat it dry rather than squeeze.

That’s it. Avoid brushing your hair, which can ruin the curl pattern and lead to frizziness. If you must, use a wide-tooth comb to get rid of knots.

3. Hover over your hair with the diffuser.

First, make sure the diffuser is attached to your device (we love this stylist-recommended hair dryer). You don’t want to dry those curls without it! Then choose the settings that will dry your hair most evenly: “You’re going to diffuse at a low heat and medium speed,” Torres says.

Start with a technique she calls the “hover diffuse.” It will allow the cast—the slightly hard or crunchy feeling the hair gets after using a product—to properly set. Contrary to what many people believe, she says, you don’t actually need that stiff, almost crispy feeling to achieve perfect curls.

4. Hover around the hairline.

Want to know how to use a hair diffuser to get rid of that seemingly unavoidable frizz at your roots? It’s easy: Torres recommends hovering the diffuser around your hairline.

5. Cup your hair.

For more volume and definition, flip forward and start cupping your hair from below with the diffuser, suggests Torres. It’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds.

“You cup the hair with the diffuser gently up,” she says. “Hold it for up to 30 seconds, then gently let it go.”

If you’re not trying to add definition or volume, you can experiment by holding the diffuser so it points horizontally, diffusing from side to side.

6. Add a curl defining serum.

Once hair is 100 percent dry and you’re happy with the way it looks, grab your favorite frizzy-hair product—Torres loves Rezo Curl Define Hair Serum—and scrunch your curls.

“A cast needs to be scrunched out with a serum or an oil in order to reveal those soft curls underneath,” Torres says, calling this a step most people miss.

7. Separate your curls.

Perfect curls take time. Once you scrunch out that cast, Torres says it’s time to separate your curls for a fuller look. Skipping this step is a fine-hair mistake you won’t want to make.

8. Shake it out.

Your last step in achieving bouncy curls is unquestionably the easiest: Flip your head forward and, gently using the pads of your fingers, shake through the curls on the sides of your head close to the root. Voilà! Perfect curls.

Give it a go

Ready to try a hair dryer diffuser? The experts have spoken, and these are the products they say will help you achieve smooth, full, bouncy curls.