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How to Curl Your Barbie or Monster High Doll's Hair

This Monster High doll has a gorgeous boil perm.

This Monster High doll has a gorgeous boil perm.

Learn to Curl Your Doll's Hair With Hot Water by Doing a Boil Perm

If your doll has straight hair and you want it to be curly instead, a boil perm is the easiest way to accomplish it. Boil perms involve putting the doll's hair in curlers and then soaking it in hot water. One of the prettiest looks you can create is a spiral perm, which features long, cascading, vertical rows of curls.

Can You Use Human Hair Techniques on Doll Hair?

Doll hair is a synthetic fiber and does not react to the same processes as human hair, so different techniques need to be used. I will explain it all to you, and then you will have all the information you need to give your dolls a new curly style!

What Is Doll Hair Made From?

Saran, Kanekalon and Nylon are the most commonly used synthetic fibers in Barbie and Monster High doll hair. I have heard that Saran and Nylon are used most for Barbies, while Saran and Kanekalon are more common for Monster High dolls.

Each kind of material has different properties that make it easier or harder to hold a curl:

  • Saran: As a rule, it's harder to get Saran to hold a curl, and it needs to have a longer processing time. Still, I find Saran to be silkier and nicer than the other materials; it's very shiny.
  • Kanekalon: This material takes a curl much faster and holds it better over time. Kanekalon is fluffier than the other fibers, and it's prone to tangling and becoming unruly.
  • Nylon: Nylon is similar to Kanekalon in that it takes curls quickly and holds them well. But I don't like it as much; it seems stiff to me.
Here's another Monster High doll with a lovely boil perm.

Here's another Monster High doll with a lovely boil perm.

How Do Boil Perms Work?

A boil perm works by softening the synthetic fibers in hot water so that the hair can be reformed into a new shape on your perm rods or curlers. In the same way that a salon perm uses a chemical solution to break down the bonds of human hair, the hot water serves as the "chemical" that helps curl the synthetic fibers.

You'll need perm rods to do a boil perm.

You'll need perm rods to do a boil perm.

You'll also need end papers.

You'll also need end papers.

Supply List for a Spiral Perm

Spiral perms refer to rolling the fibers vertically on long perm rods. This works best with longer material and looks really beautiful. Here's what you'll need to achieve this look for your doll, along with some tips for purchasing a few of the items.

  • Perm rods
  • End papers
  • Small comb
  • Hair clips
  • Towel
  • Pot for boiling water
  • Bowl or pot for cold water

Perm Rods

I find that perm rods that are used for human hair are the easiest to use for curling Barbie or Monster High doll hair. The thinner the perm rod, the tighter the curl will be. For much looser waves, you can use a larger diameter rod.

Perm rods are really inexpensive. I like to keep several styles and sizes on hand so that I can create a variety of looks on my dolls. The rods come in different colors that are used to designate the diameter of the rods. For a spiral perm, you want to use the longest rods, as you'll need the room to roll up the fibers. I mostly use the pale blue rods. I have about 40 of them on hand.

End Papers

These are really cheap as well, and a box will last you forever; they come 1,000 to a box! They are similar in feel to tissue paper and are used to keep the hair on the perm rods.

Hair Clips

You'll use these to hold sections out of your way as you're working on your doll's head, so purchase clips that are small.

Comb the doll's wet hair straight down.

Comb the doll's wet hair straight down.

Step 1: Wet and Comb the Doll's Hair

Lay out a towel and place your doll on it (the towel makes the cleanup easier). Wet your doll's hair and comb it straight down her back.

Divide the hair into sections.

Divide the hair into sections.

Step 2: Section the Hair

Next, you need to section the doll's hair. This means to part the hair in specific areas so you can work on one section at a time. Use the comb to part the doll's hair horizontally, dividing it into upper and lower layers as shown in the photo above.

Work with one small section of the bottom layer at a time and comb it straight.

Work with one small section of the bottom layer at a time and comb it straight.

Step 3: Prepare the Bottom Layers of Hair for Rolling

You will start by rolling the lower rows of hair, so leave the bottom row hanging down and clip the rest of it up and out of the way. We will work from the bottom layers to the top layer. Take a 1/4- to 1/2-inch section of hair and comb it straight as shown.

Place an end paper behind the hair.

Place an end paper behind the hair.

Fold the paper over the hair.

Fold the paper over the hair.

Step 4: Wrap the First Section of Hair in End Paper

  1. Take an end paper and place it behind the section of hair as shown above. The moisture from the wet fiber helps it stick to the end paper and makes it easier to roll up the material on the perm rods.
  2. Next, fold the end paper over the hair as shown. The hair will be sandwiched between the paper. Make sure it lays flat inside the paper and is not all bunched up.
Place the hair in an open perm rod, preparing to roll it up evenly.

Place the hair in an open perm rod, preparing to roll it up evenly.

Step 5: Place the Hair in an Open Perm Rod

Open up the perm rod by making sure the end is popped off; you will see what I mean when they are in your hand. (You can also see the open end in the photo above.) Place the hair in the rod as shown.

Wind up the hair on the rod at an angle, keeping it even and smooth.

Wind up the hair on the rod at an angle, keeping it even and smooth.

Step 6: Roll Up the Hair

Roll up the hair, making sure you start from the very bottom of the rod. You will need to roll it on an angle to get a spiral perm look.

You can either roll the fibers up on the rod to the top if you want it all curled, or just partway up if you only want curls at the ends. I am going about halfway up in this demonstration, as I still want her hair to be very long.

Close the cap on the rod, and your first curl is ready to go!

Close the cap on the rod, and your first curl is ready to go!

Step 7: Close the Cap on the Rod

Once you have the material rolled up on the perm rod, you will need to take that little plastic cap that is attached to the rod by the rubber band and clip it over the rod to the other side. The little cap fits into the hole. This is what holds it to the rod. You've finished prepping your first curl!

Roll up the rest of the bottom layer of hair using the same process.

Roll up the rest of the bottom layer of hair using the same process.

Step 8: Finish Rolling Up the Bottom Layer of Hair

Now move on to the next section. Take another small piece of hair and repeat what you just did. Roll up the entire bottom row this way.

Roll up all the hair in the top row, and you'll be ready to dunk the doll in hot water.

Roll up all the hair in the top row, and you'll be ready to dunk the doll in hot water.

Step 9: Roll Up the Top Layer of Hair

When the bottom row is complete, you can unclip the top and repeat the procedure on that layer. How much hair your Barbie or Monster High doll has to start with will determine how many rods you'll need to use. The key is to keep each section the same size.

Don't make the sections or rows too thick, because the material will not curl evenly. It needs to be rolled in even sections in order for the curls to be the same size and diameter.

Submerge the doll's head in boiling water to set the curls.

Submerge the doll's head in boiling water to set the curls.

Step 10: Dunk the Doll's Head in Boiling Water

Now we can get to the actual curling part of this curling tutorial!

  1. Get a pot of water boiling and have your sink cleared out so you can work in it. You'll need to dunk your doll's head in cold water after, so you may want to have a bowl handy for the cold dunk.
  2. When the water in the pot has come to a boil, turn off the heat and bring the pot to the sink. Lay the doll's head into the water, making sure all the perm rods are covered with water.

How Long Do You Leave the Doll in the Water?

  • Saran: 1 minute
  • Kanekalon: 20 seconds
  • Nylon: 20 seconds

If you are sure the doll's hair is made from Saran, then you will need to leave the head submerged for about 1 minute, but no longer. Nylon and Kanekalon curl in much less time and may frizz if left in too long, so 20 seconds or less is best for those.

You can always re-perm if the hair is not curled enough, but if you leave it in hot water too long and it over-perms, it is not easy to repair the material. It's better to err on the side of caution if you are unsure what kind of hair your Barbie or Monster High doll has.

Step 11: Dunk the Doll's Head in Icy Cold Water

After the allotted time, remove your doll from the hot water and immediately immerse her head in icy cold water. This is what sets the curl and stops the softening process. Forgetting this step can result in hair that is over-processed and possibly ruined, as the rolled material will keep the heat for quite awhile.

After dunking the doll in cold water, unroll one of the curls to see if it's tight enough.

After dunking the doll in cold water, unroll one of the curls to see if it's tight enough.

Step 12: Unroll a Curl and Check It

You can now test a curl to see if it's curled as tightly as you want. If the curl doesn't hold, reroll the hair and repeat the process. Don't dip the doll in the hot water for as long the second time.

If you're happy with the curls, it's time to let them dry, either on the perm rods or off of them.

If you're happy with the curls, it's time to let them dry, either on the perm rods or off of them.

Step 13: Prepare the Curls for Drying

If the hair is curled to your satisfaction, you can either let the fibers dry on the perm rods or unroll them carefully and let the curls air-dry off the rods. It doesn't make a huge difference either way. Toss out the used end papers.

You can add some hair gel while the curls are still damp to help them hold.

You can add some hair gel while the curls are still damp to help them hold.

Step 14 (Optional): Add Hair Gel to the Damp Curls

I like to use a clear styling gel to hold the curls, as I usually repaint my Monster High dolls and make OOAK Barbie dolls. I just take some gel in my hands and gently pat it into the wet curls.

You're done—time to admire your work!

You're done—time to admire your work!

Step 15: Gently Separate the Curls and Admire Your Work

Once the curls are dry, you can separate them by hand or use a wide-tooth comb to pick them apart and loosen them up a little. Do not, however, use a brush on dry-curled fibers! If you do, you are going to get some really big hair.

If you have ended up under-perming the hair, you will find that the fibers droop and the curls wilt. But at least you will know better for next time! I hope you've enjoyed this curling tutorial for Barbies and Monster High dolls.

Monster High Doll Styling Photos

Monster High Doll Styling Photos

Questions & Answers

Question: If you have curly hair, can you use cold water to straighten it out?

Answer: You would use hot water to remove the curls if you wanted it straight again.

Question: How do you know what type of hair your doll has?

Answer: I don't know. I can only guess from the texture and how it takes a curl. If the curls droop easily, it is probably saran.

Question: I want to curl the hair and paint some blue and pink in parts of the hair with acrylic. Can I spray a sealer on the hair and face of the doll to keep the hairstyle and color or will that ruin the curls? How to stiffen the curls and give hair a mix of color without rerooting?

Answer: I am unsure what you mean when you say 'spray a sealer on the hair and face". The sealer one uses to prepare a face for repainting with pastels and colored pencils ( never needed for acrylic paints alone ) should never be applied to the hair. Curls can be held in place with either a clear hair gel, or if you want something really stiff you can use a watered down white glue. If you are painting acrylics onto those curls, this in itself will make the curls very stiff.

Question: What size are the perm rods you use? How thick and long?

Answer: They are the ones you can buy at any beauty supply store. I use all sizes depending on what kind of curl I want. They come in many widths from very skinny to the fatter grey colored ones. They are all the same length- about four inches.

Question: What size end papers do you use for the doll's hair and how many perm rollers would you use per head?

Answer: I am pretty sure end papers only come in one size. Never saw an option for larger or smaller as they are made to fit the 4" length of the perm rods. In answer to how many per head- that's up to each individual. There is no one way that everyone does it. It depends on the look you are going for.