Find out the best ways to cut hair at home if you can't see a pro.

By Renee Cherry
May 28, 2020
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Credit: Atsushi Yamada/Getty Images

Do-it-yourself haircuts get a bad rap, thanks in great part to whoever thought bowls were a good idea. But done well they can actually look good and can help keep your ends looking healthy.

For the record, it's always better to wait until you can go to a pro. But you definitely shouldn't be resorting to DIY unless you're noticing the signs of frayed ends and won't get to an appointment for a while. "When you're finding more and more knots in the shower, that's a good sign that your cuticles are probably fusing together a bit," says Lorraine Massey, creator of the Curly Girl Method and owner of Sprial (x,y,z) salon in New York City. (Refresher: The cuticle is the outer protective layer of each strand that resembles a row of scales.) "And if you clean up those ends it really makes a difference."

Cutting your hair dry rather than wet will give you the most control. "If you're going to cut wet, it often will change after it's dry because wet hair has a lot of elasticity in it," says Toronto-based hairstylist Morgan Tully. "If you pull on it when it's wet and cut it, most likely it will jump up quite a bit. So in order to avoid any surprises, you want to make sure your hair is totally dry when you cut it." (Related: How to Cut Your Own Hair without It Being a Total Disaster)

If you're aiming to give yourself a cut that won't have your hairstylist cringing in a few weeks, it's best to give yourself a trim rather than the big chop. Sure, it might not be as thrilling, but it's way less likely to result in a fail.

You'll also be better off buying dedicated haircutting scissors rather than hacking away with an everyday pair, even if you only plan to use them once. "If you're cutting hair at home, you should invest at least $100 in a really nice stainless steel blade," says Massey. (For reference, the scissors that pros use cost $500–$2,000.) Massey recommends trying Joewell scissors or hunting for a secondhand pair from a salon-quality brand like Hikari. (There are currently some listed on Ebay, FYI.)

Granted, $100 is quite a splurge. Tully thinks cutting hair with a more inexpensive pair of haircutting scissors from Amazon or beauty supply store can be fine for the occasional at-home tune-up, but still urges against using a regular household pair. "If you use kitchen scissors you're not going to get good results—even if you're really good at it," she says.

If you don't have a large mirror to sit in front of, a wide vanity mirror can be useful. It'll give you a full view of your hair from the front and side, so that you can have both hands free to cut. When you're assessing your work, you can use a hand mirror across from your large mirror to view the back.

Once you've secured a pair of scissors and a mirror, block out plenty of time and find a well-lit space. Then follow the steps below according to your texture. (Related: How to Score a Blowout Hairstyle at Home In 10 Minutes)

How to Cut Curly or Wavy Hair at Home

For people with curly and wavy hair especially, Massey recommends working with second- or third-day hair. "When your hair is freshly cleansed, it springs more, and you might end up taking off too much," she says. "Whereas after two or three days, it's at a more natural state." Here's her plan of attack for people with curly hair:

  1. Sway your head back and forth to allow your hair to settle into its natural position. Look carefully and plan out how much you want to trim. Before cutting, use a large mirror and a hand-held mirror to observe how hair naturally falls.
  2. If your hair is past your shoulders, part it in the center all the way from the hairline to the neck (even if that's not your normal part) and bring both sides in front of your shoulders. (If your hair is too short for that, you may need to enlist someone to help with the back.)
  3. Hold a small section of curls out in front of your face between thumb and finger. Curl by curl, trim less than an inch off of the end—just enough to eliminate frayed ends. Use the previously trimmed curl as a guide for the next curl. When cutting, hold scissors straight across rather than at an angle.
  4. Repeat step 3 with additional sections, until the entire head of hair has been cut.
  5. If you have bangs: Pull bangs down to their furthest point, noting where they reach, then allow them to settle back into place. If they only reached mid nose at their furthest point, carefully trim the ends freehand with bangs in their natural resting point, removing only the very tips. If they reached a lower point, stretch each curl to its furthest point and trim the very tips. With bangs, it's especially important to err on the side of taking less length off.
  6. Once every section's been cut, splay fingers on scalp, and shuffle hair. If there are any remaining frays, snip them off.

How to Cut Straight Hair at Home

If your texture's on the straighter side and you're going to cut your hair at home, Tully suggests using a technique called point cutting. That means holding the scissors vertically and cutting up into the tips, rather than cutting across. "If you cut it straight across, you'll get big blunt, choppy lines, which you obviously want to avoid if you're cutting your own hair," she says. "Cutting triangular-shaped divots into the bottom of the hair is going to create a softer texture." (Related: The Best Root Touch Up for Covering Grays or Grown Out Highlights at Home)

Some people might like the effect of using texturizing shears (Buy It, $25, sallybeauty.com) in addition to regular haircutting scissors, Tully adds. They look like scissors with a row of teeth rather than a straight blade. "Texturizing shears can soften any line that you create," she says. "Let's say you cut the bottom of your hair but it's still a little bit chunky. You can take the tip of the texturizing shear and just kind of cut into the length a little bit and that's just going to give you a softer edge." For people with straight hair who are cutting hair at home, Tully suggests the following method:

  1. Part hair down the middle all the way from the hairline to the neck, even if you don't part your hair that way normally, and pull hair on either side in front of shoulders.
  2. Hold one of the sections between second and third finger and slide fingers down, almost to the ends. Pointcut the very ends of the hair.
  3. To maintain face-framing layers: About an inch back from your hairline at the center of your head, grab a small section of hair. Point cut the very ends. Take off a little bit, then let it fall and see where it lays rather than taking off a lot of length in one go.
  4. If you have bangs: Let bangs rest naturally (don't stretch them with your non-scissor hand) and point cut the ends in very small increments. Using the tip of a texturizing shear, point cut the ends to create a softer edge.

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