Curly hair requires a special kind of care. For optimum health, shine, and bounce, it needs a gentle touch, lots of moisture, and the right products and tools. It's no secret, then, that creating a curly haircare routine can feel almost dizzying at times. With so many competing products, techniques, and philosophies, it's only natural to feel overwhelmed.
While word-of-mouth recommendations are surely much-needed, most people need to go through some trial and error before finding the routine that works for them and their specific curl pattern. Luckily, there are a few nearly universal truths that can help. One of those truths is that a diffuser is almost always a staple accessory.
The purpose of a diffuser is to disperse the airflow of a hair dryer in order to encourage your natural wave pattern to form with minimal frizz or damage. According to Biolage curl specialist and celebrity stylist Cynthia Alvarez, "there are five different types of diffusers that each work to achieve different looks and work for different hair types." Keep scrolling to see all five types, and shop the best product picks from each one.
First, we need to talk about how to properly use a diffuser. "I recommend always adding your products to wet curls before you start diffusing," Alvarez says. "Since diffusers apply a gentle heat, make sure to prime hair with a heat protectant, like the Biolage All-in-One Coconut Infusion Multi-Benefit Spray ($31). To lock in your curls without drying your hair out, I use the Biolage Curl Defining Elixir ($19), which is also alcohol-free."
For voluminous curls, Alvarez suggests flipping your hair sideways or upside down before cupping your hair with the diffuser. Move it up and down to thoroughly dry your hair.
For elongated and defined curls, Alvarez recommends holding the diffuser at the roots, allowing the warm air to dry the ends. "You can move the diffuser around your head but be careful not to disrupt the curls. You can also stretch your ends while drying," she says.
1. Hand-Shaped Diffusers
Hand-shaped diffusers, like this popular universally fitting one from DevaCurl, are "the best at preventing shrinkage and frizz but are not ideal if you are looking to achieve voluminous curls," Alvarez says. To use this type of diffuser, she recommends placing it at your roots and lightly stretching the ends.
2. Cup Diffusers
Chances are a cup diffuser is what comes to mind when you think of this hair accessory. "Cup diffusers are the most popular since they disperse hair evenly to reduce frizz and create defined curls," Alvarez says. "To use, place your hair in the cup and move the diffuser close to your roots and back down the length of the curls."
3. Collapsible Diffusers
Next up, there are collapsible diffusers. Alvarez says these are great for all curl lengths since they stretch out to a full diffuser but can also condense into a flat, round surface. They're also great for traveling since they collapse into a small disc. "If you're using the flat surface, point the diffuser downward and dry hair in that motion, moving it around the head as the curls dry," Alvarez explains. "If you're using the full size, use it as you would use a cup diffuser."
4. Sock or Mesh Diffusers
This type of diffuser might look unfamiliar to you, especially if you're used to using a cup or 3D-prong diffuser. It's a mesh sleeve that goes over the nozzle of a dryer to redirect the air. These ones tend to be universal, fitting any dryer, thanks to a cinch-able base. "If you have a fragile curl pattern, the sock/mesh diffuser is perfect for adding body and smoothness without disrupting your curls," Alvarez says. "They’re also great to travel with and super compact!" To use this type of diffuser, simply move it around your curls to deliver extra definition.
5. 3D-Prong Diffusers
Just as the name implies, 3D-prong diffusers have, well, little prongs that stick up and off the base of the attachment. Alvarez says these types of diffusers are generally larger in width and, as such, are designed to be used on long, thick curls. "Use as you would the cup diffuser, working in smaller sections as you go," she says.
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