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What is a Wet Set?

By Jan Hill
Updated May 21, 2024
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A wet set is a method of styling hair while it is wet, by wrapping the hair around curlers, or rollers, or creating pin curls. After the hair is set, it is either allowed to air dry or dried under a hood dryer, which circulates warm air to help evaporate the water. When the hair is completely dry, it is styled using the fingers, combs, or brushes. Because the hair goes from wet to completely dry in the same position, wet sets are usually quite long lasting.

The wet set was most popular in the 1950s and 1960s before hand-held electric hair appliances, such as blow dryers and curling irons, became widely available. The technique, however, is still used today to achieve a vintage look. Wet sets are also usually less damaging to the hair than electric appliances, which place relatively high heat directly onto the hair. A wet set is also a way to temporarily give curl and movement to the hair without the use of strong chemicals such as permanent wave solution.

Magnetic plastic rollers often give the smoothest set but require the use of clips to hold them in place. Velcro rollers, also known as brush rollers, stick to the hair and do not necessarily need clips, although sometimes plastic picks are used to fasten one to another and keep them in place. Rollers come in different sizes, and generally should be chosen based on the length of the hair and the desired size of curl. When doing a wet set, the hair should go around the roller two or three times for the strongest curl.

After the hair is shampooed and towel-dried, it is ready for a wet set. The application of a small amount of styling lotion or gel to each section as it is rolled may make the hair easier to work with and give the style additional holding power. The hair is typically combed and wound around the curlers as smoothly as possible, keeping the ends very smooth to avoid fishhooks, or straight areas near the ends of the hair. Care should be taken to neatly section the hair and not put too much on each roller, or it may take a long time to dry. If the hair is too short to be wrapped around a roller, it can be formed into a pin curl and held against the head with a clip. Pin curls are also sometimes used near the ears and at the nape of the neck.

Allowing a wet set to air dry causes the least amount of damage to the hair, but typically takes the most time, usually all day or all night. Because sleeping on rollers can be very uncomfortable and wearing them all day is not generally practical, most choose to sit under a hood dryer to speed up the process. Hood dryers can either be hard like the ones in a salon, or soft like a shower cap. The heat should usually be set to medium, not high, and the set should be allowed to cool before the rollers are removed, making sure the hair is completely dry.

There are many options when styling a wet set. Simply running the fingers through it can separate the curls a bit but maintain the pattern. It can also be lightly brushed to create a full, wavy style, or thoroughly brushed to get a straighter look with volume. A little hair spray may hold the style longer.

By varying the size of the rollers, their pattern and placement, and the type of styling products used, many different hair styles can be created with a wet set. This styling technique is also very forgiving. If the result isn't quite right, it can be washed out and done over again.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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