Our Hairstyle Expert's Foolproof Tips For Long, Flirty Mermaid Waves

Trends may come and go, but there's no escaping the Y2K influences. Hairstyles are a case in point. A hair look that hit fever pitch in 2022 and is still having a moment in 2023 is mermaid waves — a looser, more romanticized version of the early 2000s' defined crimped waves. Featuring wavy locks of hair cascading down the bodice in a uniform pattern, mermaid waves are the perfect hairstyle choice if you want to go for an ultimately feminine yet freedom-craving, pleasure-seeking look.

From Kim Kardashian to Kylie Jenner and Zendaya, many celebrities and influencers are fans of this sea-simulated look. On TikTok, searches for #mermaidwaves have grossed over 6.6 billion views and counting. What's great about this hairstyle is that no trips to a hair salon are needed — you can create these mythical waves on your own. To help you create long, flirty mermaid waves soaked with ocean energy, we reached out to celebrity hairstylist and extension artist Kevin Kelly for insightful tips.

The difference between mermaid waves and beach waves

Many people get confused between mermaid waves and beach waves. According to Kevin Kelly, while both hairstyles feature the wavy look, mermaid waves are looser than beach waves. Beach waves look windswept and boast lots of movements, while mermaid waves have a more subtle and sculpted movement that takes the form of the letter "S" shape. Plus, the feathery ends of mermaid waves make it look like you've just come out from underwater in a massive splash and are now sitting on a sea stack to air dry your hair. 

The reason why mermaid waves are all the rage right now, according to Kelly, is because these soft and barely-there waves offer just "enough movement and definition." Compared to defined and spiral curls, mermaid waves project a more lived-in vibe. They still assume the appearance of curls but their ends are on the straight and wispy side, which makes the mane look more relaxed yet still polished at the same time.

How to achieve this hairstyle at home

Styling-wise, you'll want to go with a hair tool based on how big and how tight you want your curls to be. To conjure the smoothest and softest of mermaid waves with a salon-quality finish, Kevin Kelly recommends a jumbo 33mm beach waver. And as for which hair lengths best rock the look, he adds, "I would say medium to long hair would be your best result."

To style your waves with a hair waver, section dry hair into different parts using hair clips. The larger the section, the bigger the waves; smaller sections will give you tighter curls. Then, clamp the hair between the barrels, position the waver horizontally about one inch from your scalp, and hold for three to 10 seconds. The more defined you want the waves to be, the longer you should apply heat to the hair. Then, release the clasp, continue working through the length of hair for a seamless transition, and repeat the process for the entire head.

To keep the waves in place, especially when you're attending a beach event, Kelly recommends carrying a texture gloss spray to add flexible hold and shine to the tresses. If it's a more elegant event you're attending, applying a little moisturizing hair oil will help deliver smooth, long-lasting ripples.