Last updated: Jun 15, 2015
wavy hair
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The Universal Prep Step


There's one nonnegotiable when it comes to creating waves sans hot tools: starting with damp strands. "Hair is like wax; it's only malleable when wet," explains Riawna Capri, celebrity stylist for Clear Scalp & Hair. "It will set in whatever shape it dries in." The techniques here work best on clean, towel-dried hair and should be left to set overnight.

If your hair is... fine & straight
Thinner strands can go limp and lifeless in humid temps, so focus on creating both waves and va-va-voom volume.

To plump strands without weighing them down, mist a thickening spray from roots to tips, explains San Diego celebrity stylist Jet Rhys. We like Pantene Pro-V Powerful Body Booster Spray ($5; drugstore.com). Before bed, divide damp hair into four sections and tightly braid each one, starting 1 to 2 inches away from your scalp. "On straight hair, waves look the most natural when they begin slightly farther down," says celebrity stylist and Dove Hair Curl Expert Cynthia Alvarez. Pin the end of each plait to the opposite side of your head to secure the style overnight. In the a.m., remove pins and unravel braids. Flip your head over and spritz on a generous dose of dry texturizing spray: "This adds fullness and roughs up strands so they look less polished," Alvarez says. Try Shu Uemura Art of Hair Texture Waves ($38; shuuemuraartofhair-usa.com).

Related: Fight Frizzy Hair All Summer

If your hair is... curly & frizzy
Stretch out your curls correctly and they'll relax into loose, luscious waves.

Prep wet hair with a combo of gel and mousse; the former gives hold, the latter keeps strands touchable. Mix equal parts in your hands and apply throughout your hair. Our picks: Ouidad Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel ($26; ulta.com) and Oribe Surfcomber Tousled Texture Mousse ($37; neimanmarcus.com). Split hair into five sections, one on top and two on either side of your head. Twist each piece, starting at the scalp. "It's essential to twist from the root so the wave is consistent throughout the length of the hair," Alvarez says. Pin the twists back at your crown—leaving them hanging increases the chance of frizz. Unwind in the morning, but lay off the product. Oversaturating hair will bring back your natural curl pattern. A spritz of hairspray, like Suave Professionals Luxe Style Infusion Anti-Humidity Hairspray ($5; walmart.com), is all you need.

Related: How to Look Great This Summer

If your hair is... short
Don't stress if you have cropped strands—as long as your hair is at least chin-length, you, too, can make waves.

Take a 1/2-inch piece of hair and fold the ends halfway up, forming a loop. Roll the loop up until you reach the root, securing it with bobby pins flat against your head, Rhys says. Repeat with remaining hair. Once you remove the pins in the morning, define your waves with a molding paste, such as Kevin Murphy Hair Resort ($25; go to kevinmurphy.com.au for salons). "It's important to play up the piecey-ness so the finished style doesn't look like a 1920s wave," Capri explains. Flip your head over and rake a dime-size dollop through the undersides and along the ends of your strands.

if your hair is... thick & wavy

Lucky you: All you need to do is accentuate your natural texture.

Section towel-dried strands into four equal pieces, then work a nickel-size drop of curling cream through each to enhance the existing bend in your hair. Try Redken Curvaceous Full Swirl Cream Serum ($19; ulta.com). Split each section in half and tie the two pieces together in an overhand knot, as if you were starting to tie shoelaces; continue all the way down and secure with an elastic. Says Rhys, "This kind of crisscrossing brings out the natural wave, without it looking like an overly defined ringlet." Undo the next morning and tousle, then finish with a few shots of salt spray to create that edgy post-swim texture. A pro fave: Bumble and Bumble Surf Infusion ($29; sephora.com).

Related: Tricks for Beautiful, Low Maintenance Hair

DIY salt spray
When there's no beach day on the horizon, you can re-create the effect of salt water and ocean breezes at home with Capri's simple salt spray hack. In a spray bottle, combine 8 ounces warm water, 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or Epsom salts, 1 teaspoon gel (for hold) and 4 or 5 drops of moisturizing coconut oil (which will also provide a yummy tropical scent). Shake well, then spritz liberally onto towel-dried hair.

Second-day style alert!
Day two? Try an updo: "Waves are the perfect foundation for a messy topknot, which works best when there's lots of texture and grip to the hair," Capri says. Spritz a dry shampoo along roots and massage with your fingers; this both absorbs excess oil and adds volume. Pull all your hair straight up from the crown, then twist and wrap it around itself until it forms a loose bun. Secure with bobby pins, but don't worry if a few pieces fall out—untidy is better. If your hair is on the shorter side, twist only the top half (the section from ear to ear) into a knot, leaving the rest down and loose.