The Hair Channel

How to blow-dry like a pro: five easy steps

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Anna Brech
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If you’re one of those people who slaves away with a hair dryer for 45 minutes every morning, only to end up with dry, lacklustre locks – take comfort.

Replicating the kind of lustrous polish created by a salon blow-dry at home is more difficult than it looks.

But it’s nothing that a little patience and the right technique can’t fix.

We’ve gathered together easy tips from some of the industry’s leading hair stylists on how to craft the ultimate DIY blow-dry.

Follow these five steps for glowing, healthy hair that holds its style all day long and beyond...

1. Gently pat your hair dry 

A good blow-dry begins in the shower. Conditioner will help to repel moisture and prevent frizz, but make sure it’s all thoroughly rinsed out.

Any remnants will weigh your locks down and subsequent styling won’t last as long. 

Think about where you dry before you begin – choose a dry, steam-free setting. 

“If you blow dry in the bathroom, you will be fighting against the steam that is lingering from your hot shower,” explains celebrity stylist Gregory Patterson. “This will not only add dry time as you'll be fighting double the moisture, but if you have curly or wavy hair, it will undo all of the hard work that you just did.”

Resist the impulse to blast your wet hair with heat straight away.

“When you start with dripping wet hair, blow-drying not only takes forever, but it also encourages frizz,” says hair specialist Michelle Villett, founder of Canadian site Beauty Editor.

Doing so “leaves the hair parched and brittle”, warns LA-based hairstylist Michael Duenas. “Most people are so concerned with getting all the moisture out, that they take out the moisture that's vital to hair health as well,” he adds.

Most of the heat damage associated with blow-dries come about because people do it for too long.

Towel drying reduces the time frame of the actual blow-dry, so you’re less likely to end up with dried-out hair.

Remember, wet hair is at its most sensitive. Launching in with a vigorous towel rub is tempting, but it’ll cause your cuticles to tangle and break. 

“Never create friction between the towel and your hair. Always rake toward the ends and pat dry,” says Gina Capano, co-founder of US-based The Luxebar salon. 

After patting out excess moisture (some experts recommend a microfibre towel for less friction), use a detangling hairbrush to gently remove snags, working from the ends and moving upwards towards your roots.

2. Follow with a rough dry using your fingers

Creating a good, consistent blow-dry takes time, which is where a lot of people go wrong. Even after you’ve towel-dried your hair, don’t rush into styling it.

“Hair takes shape from damp to dry, NOT wet to damp – so you don’t want to waste your time and effort at this point, and it can take away a lot of volume if you overwork the hair,” says New York stylist Reagan Baker

Instead you should rough dry using your fingers. Do this until your hair is about 50% dry if it’s curly or wavy, or 80-90% dry if it’s straight. 

The only exception to this is if you have a fringe, in which case you should heat style just that section straight away, in order to catch and tame those pesky cowlicks. 

Don’t be too precise with your rough dry, and don’t aim the nozzle down at this point.

“Focus on the roots and blow dry upwards, since you want volume and don’t want the hair to be slicked to your head,” says Baker.

Remember to keep your hairdryer moving the whole time with a rough dry; concentrating for too long on one area will cause heat damage, and you’re not aiming for styling at this point.

3. Divide your hair into small, clean sections

“One of the biggest mistakes women make in their at-home blow-dries is that their sections are too large, resulting in flat hair,” says celebrity stylist Ted Gibson

Too much hair on your hairbrush can also cause frizz, and make your hair tricky to handle. Additionally, using big or messy chunks will make it difficult to concentrate your brush, resulting in breakages. 

For smooth management and to easily separate dry from wet areas, divide off your hair into small sections of around 1-2 inches in width.

Start by separating out larger sections.

“Divide your hair into four sections by creating a horseshoe shape from your temples to the back of your crown, and then parting it down the middle. Clip up the sections and then work on one quadrant at a time” says Villett.

“Within each section, you're going to have several smaller sections (each, say, as wide as your brush).” 

Concentrate on your roots and mid-shaft first. These will require more heat than your ends, which dry faster.

And again, it’s important not to rush - however much you want to.

“Make sure each section feels springy and cool, and falls off the brush easily before you move on to the next section. If not, keep drying until it does,” says Villett.

Letting your hair cool down while on the brush will help it to set, and the style will last longer.

As Boston-based stylist Jeffrey Dauksevich likes to say, “let it cool and you will rule”.

4. Dry each section taut, using a nozzle

Tension is key when it comes to perfecting a smooth, long-lasting blow-dry.

“It creates root movement, and this very movement at the root is like the scaffolding of the blow-dry you construct,” says Errol Douglas MBE, hair stylist to stars such as Charlize Theron and Naomie Harris.

“This is essential for getting hair to dry smoothly, especially if you have cowlicks,” agrees New York-based stylist Teddi Cranford.

Use a good quality, anti-static round brush to style your hair, and a paddle brush to dry remaining ends. 

Always use your hairdryer nozzle to centralise air over the bristles of your brush, and point it downwards to minimize flyaways and get a smoother finish. Your hairdryer should be positioned around five inches away from taut sections of hair.

Don’t confuse tension with yanking or over-pulling, though, which will damage your hair. Dry slowly in small sections, concentrating on horizontal areas from root to tip. 

Kimberly Kimble, who styles Beyoncé’s hair, says blow drying from root to tip is the way forward unless your hair is damaged.

“Blow dry hair from root to ends going slow and using heat and tension in order to seal the cuticle,” she says. “However, if your hair is weak or over-processed, start blow drying at the ends.”

Patience is key here. Cranford says she may go over the same taut section up to 10 times if needed; “I really make sure I’m getting the root and creating tension with the brush.”

If you want to add some movement to your style, Douglas recommends pinning up the section you’re not working on; or you can let it hang naturally if you want your hair entirely straight. 

Another good trick is to pull your hairbrush in an upwards motion to create curl and volume (while retaining the smoothness that comes from directing the hairdryer down).

5. The finishing touches 

Don’t forget to set up a mirror behind you, so you can check how the back of the hair is looking.

When you’re done styling each section, give a quick all-over blast with cool air to set the style.

“Once you're finished and your hair is cool, take out the rollers and lightly rake through with your fingers,” says Gibson. “Turn your head upside down, shake it out a bit and flip it back.”

Stick to the golden rule of not over-working it.

“Once your look is finished, keep your hands out of it. The more you affect the fabric with your hands, the quicker you will break your look down,” says Dauksevich.

Always have in the back of your mind that a little more time wins above speed and over-heating.

“If you'll take 10 extra minutes blow drying your hair, you're going to get two extra days on that blowout and it's going to save you time in the long run,” says Massachusetts hairstylist Justine Piecuch-Clifford.

And there you have it: a glossy blow-dry that’s yours to keep, without ever having to step foot inside a salon.

Photos: iStock and Rex Features

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.