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How to Do Finger Waves, According to a Celebrity Hairstylist

The retro style is a forever classic.

finger waves
David LivingstonGetty Images

As far as retro hairstyles are concerned, few looks are as iconic as finger waves. Named because they’re created using, well, your fingers, finger waves were one of the most prominent looks to come out of the 1920s and ‘30s. The look was also a signature of silver screen sirens like Josephine Baker and Claudette Colbert.

Fast forward a few decades, and finger waves had a resurgence in the ‘90s, when celebs like Madonna and Missy Elliot wore the look. Sure enough, the style is back yet again in all its throwback glamour (see: Zendaya, Rihanna, Kirsten Dunst…). We asked Biolage curl specialist and celebrity stylist Cynthia Alvarez to share her expertise about finger waves, including how to get the look.

What Are Finger Waves?

The hairstyle itself is defined by its shiny, defined wave shape. “Finger waving is the shaping or molding of hair while wet into an S-shaped curve with the fingers and a comb,” explains Alvarez. Because of the nature of the style, it works best on fine, straight, or relaxed hair textures, but it can be done on any hair type.

What You Need

You only need a few products to recreate this look, including:

    How to Create Finger Waves

    1. Start with freshly washed hair. No drying necessary.
    2. Apply mousse or gel for sculpting. See Alvarez’s recommendations based on hair texture above.
    3. Create the wave. “Use a small-tooth rattail comb to make an S-shape while placing a finger or two where you’re making your groove to keep the hair in place,” explains Alvarez. It may take a few tries to get it, so have some patience!
    4. Continue to shape the waves. “Work your way around your head until all the hair is in waves,” says Alvarez. And this style benefits from more hold, so “Don’t be afraid to reapply product as needed,” says the stylist.
    5. Set the style. “Lastly, set your hair by sitting under a dryer to ensure the style is locked in place as soon as possible,” says Alvarez.
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