Secrets to Vintage Hair Success

(photo from silent_screen_queen)

Vintage styled hair is an integral part of being a vintage girl – well in my opinion, anyhow. It’s just one more piece of the puzzle that helps lend a girl that classic film star feeling. My technique of choice is pincurling because I favor the 1940’s rolled, smooth styles. Ladies, if you’ve never tried pincurling, you honestly have no idea what you’re missing. If you are interested in learning, YouTube is chock full of valuable information from our leading vintage gals. I learned from Aya’s Tutorial (part 1, part 2) but Lisa (part 1, part 2) has great instructions, too.

My reason for bringing all this up today is that I have discovered a marvelous vintage hair secret that I’d like to share. Well, it’s not so much a secret but I think it’s relatively unknown. In the tutorials above the ladies recommend using hair products or water as a setting lotion when you pincurl. These do work to terrific effect and there are many superior products to buy (check out this Fedora Lounge discussion for tips on the best ones). However, I’ve always been overprotective of my hair and try to avoid hair products and heat when styling. It’s become something of an obsession with me, so when my storebought setting lotion ran out a month ago, I decided to see if I could make my own.

My search led me to the aforementioned Fedora Lounge thread where I was soon engrossed in the ins-and-outs of setting lotion. Some of the ladies mentioned the possibility of homemade setting lotion and as I read further I even found links. I printed out two of the most promising recipes and set about procuring ingredients.

So far, I’ve only tried the first one but it has proved to be such an immense success for me that I couldn’t keep it to myself another moment. It’s a blindingly simple recipe that uses only 2 ingredients and takes only 15 minutes to make.

Flax Seed Hair Setting Lotion

3/4 cup water

1 tablespoon whole flax seeds

Combine the water and flax seeds in a small pan, and bring to a boil. Simmer until the mixture is gelatinous (about 10-15 minutes). Strain out as many of the seeds as you can. Let cool. Keeps for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

The result is an odorless, colorless gel that can be used just like setting lotion or putty when setting pincurls. It has the consistency of egg whites. Don’t worry if you aren’t into cooking. It’s a forgiving recipe. The first time I tried it, I forgot about it and it boiled over a bit, but the mixture turned to jelly anyway. I tried straining the seeds out, but they get pretty set into the jelly and it’s a tough task. I just left the seeds in and was careful not to get them in my hair. [2/8/11 Update: After making this recipe once every two weeks since posting this, I’ve found that it’s quite easy to strain the seeds out. Just be sure to strain as soon as you take the mixture off the heat. If it has a chance to rest, it sets up.]

The marvelous part of this is the softness of my hair after pincurling. No yucky hard pieces where the product has built up, no greasy feeling. Just soft, dry, perfectly curled hair. I have found that my curls stay in longer and better with it, too. The product I used always gave up within 2 days of setting my hair. Last week, I was able to go for 4 days with my flax seed set and it was quite easy to fix my hair style each morning. I was testing to see how long it would last – I don’t normally go 4 days without washing my hair! :)

One more tip: if you want that amazingly shiny hair we often see on classic film starlets, massage some tea tree oil into your scalp and comb through your hair before pincurling. Works like a charm and smells divine, too!


4/14/10 Update: I have a convert! Be sure to check out the post Kate of Vintage in a Modern World wrote about her flax seed experience!

2/8/11 Update: Another convert! Atlanta of The Story of a Seamstress and her gorgeous pincurled, self-set hairstyle.

6/13/11 Update: Joanna of FriendSheep is a happy convert!


Filed under How to

33 responses to “Secrets to Vintage Hair Success

  1. OOOH I kind of want to try this!
    I’ve done exactly *one* pincurl in my hair to see how it worked, but now I’m really interested!

  2. Swell! Thank you for sharing this. Somehow I missed that discussion on Fedora Lounge. I’ve been wanting to try pincurls, but was waiting until I got some Lottabody setting lotion. Since I actually have flaxseed in my cupboard, my first pincurl experience may be sooner than I originally thought :)

  3. Sarah! – I’m positively delighted to have peaked your interest! Please do try it. I think you’ll look lovely with pincurled hair! It’s quite easy to adapt the curls into Julie Christie-type 60’s updos, if you want to try that. Let me know how it works for you! I’ll be happy to answer questions, too.

    Miss CherryBubbles – You’re welcome and thank you for commenting! Lottabody sounds like the best setting lotion to use, I agree. I was all set to go treat myself to a bottle if the flax seeds failed me. ;) Luckily, they didn’t! I’d be thrilled if you reported back on your pincurling experience. I’ll link to your blog if you’d like to write a post!

  4. That recipe worked so much better than I expected. I posted a link to your blog on mine ( ). The lotion held the curl very well. Which in my case wasn’t the best since my pincurls turned out a little um, poofier than expected. Still, thanks for the recipe! :)

  5. Kate – Hooray for you! Thank you so much for the link. I’ve added a link to your post above in mine, also. Poofiness is a sign that you did your pincurling correctly, so kudos! I left a comment on your post explaining how to alleviate poofiness. :) Thanks for giving the flax seeds a try!

  6. Thank you so, so much for posting this recipe. I have incredibly sensitive skin and cannot use 99.9999% of all store bought hair care products, so it means so much to a vintage loving gal like myself to discover a homemade recipe for setting lotion that I should be able to safely use (I could just hug you right now!).

    Many thanks again & have a gorgeous day!
    ♥ Jessica

  7. Jessica – Hello! Thank you so much for commenting, you have completely made my day! :D I’m simply thrilled to have been able to help you. Let me know how it works for you. I love hearing feedback!
    You are so welcome.

  8. justaudrey

    I love this idea. I don’t know if I would be talented enough to try it on my own head but I absolutely adore that hairstyle pictured. Thanks for sharing this! :D

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  11. Casey, I really struggle with the whole hair thing – I am going to give this a go – thanks so much! Trish

  12. Oh Trish that makes me SO happy to hear! If you have trouble with anything, please let me know. I’d love to help!

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  14. Tara

    Hi there! I just tried to make the flax seed setting lotion and I wasn’t able to filter the seeds out…what do you use? I tried using a sieve but the holes were so small that nothing would strain through and a collander’s holes are too big…any advice would be much appreciated!

  15. Hi Tara – I’m very excited to hear you made the flax seed gel! About getting the seeds out – I would recommend checking around your local kitchen shops for different sized sieves and strainers. I have two or three with varied grid meshes. Also, it’s possible for the gel to become too thick to strain. The first few times I made it, it came out too thick because I allowed it to cook too long. Now when I make it, I stir it every couple minutes and watch how thick it’s getting. I take it off the heat as soon as it gets to the consistency of honey. At that stage, it’s still watery enough to let the seeds strain but also has enough body to hold it’s own as a gel. I hope so much that helps! Do let me know if you need more info.


  16. Eleni

    Hi- love these fab tips for setting hair naturally! I can’t wait to try it. Just a quick question- can you also use the flax seed gel to set dry hair? Has anyone tried this?

  17. Hi Eleni,

    Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Yes, you can absolutely use the gel on dry hair. I’ve actually started allowing my hair to completely dry overnight and then setting it the next morning. The set air dries quicker if you do it that way. I try to avoid using heat on my hair if at all possible. ;) I would love to see the results of your set, if you care to share. Tweet me a link to a pic!


  18. Eleni

    Thanks Casey,

    I tried it and it worked amazingly! I have a picture I’d like to send to you but I don’t have a twitter account.

  19. Oh Eleni that makes me so happy to hear! Check your email, I wrote you a quick note. :)

  20. janna

    Just came across this post while looking for setting lotion recommendations. I use flaxseed gel in place of egg whites in a lot of baking recipes (had a vegetarian roommate once) but have always just mixed ground flaxseed powder with water instead of boiling whole seeds. Sounds like it sets up just the same. Do you think it would work the same as a setting lotion?

  21. Hi Janna,

    Yeah, I don’t see why that would not work just as well. I know that after I cook my gel, it must be refrigerated, so I imagine the same would be true for your water/ground seed mix. It’s definitely worth a try to see what kind of consistency you get! I would love to hear how it turns out. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!


  22. Cherie Erten

    I just stumbled across this page while looking for homemade setting lotions. My hair is short right now about ear level and I want to let it grow out and try pin curling. I made an attempt at doing some pin curls today after many many years. Well, needless to say It was rather frizzie looking but I didn’t have any setting lotion. My hair is baby fine to boot. I am not ready to throw in the towel yet though and it looked so much fuller, even with the frizz. I just need to get my technique up to speed. I love this page I have several days of reading here and I am now on the hunt for flaxseed. I live outside the US and this might not be an easy task. Thanks for some wonderful Info.

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  24. Hello :) I whipped up your little treasure or a recipe here, and I have let it cool. I think it turned out pretty good. Now, I am new at this, so I was wondering: How do you apply this, and get it to be uniform? First time using perm rods as well.. :) Any tips for me? Thank you very much <3 <3

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  26. Lisa

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. It’s simple, the ingredients are easy to find, and it’s completely natural. Wonderful!
    I’ve never tried pin curling before but I’d like to give it a go as a way to look a bit more groomed during the day, and this recipe fits in beautifully with my goal of going as toxin-free as possible with haircare and skincare products. Thank you!

  27. Hi Lisa,

    I’m so pleased you are enjoying the recipe! The toxin-free aspect is the reason I sought out the recipe, myself. I love how it makes my hair so soft and natural. Please let me know how it all goes for you.

    All the best,


  28. Veronica

    I just wanted to tell you I make this once a week. I don’t use it for ion curls or setting my hair. I use it as a regular hair gel and it is awesome. I cannot tolerate the use of any chemicals so when I saw this I tried it immediately. Once my (long straight) hair is styled I finish it with a sugar water hairspray. Love it.

  29. Catherine

    Hi, this is so amazing, I love it! I mentioned the recipe in one of my youtube videos and posted a link to your blog, I hope that´s ok?

  30. Hi Catherine,

    I’m honored you were inspired by the post enough to share the recipe and link to me! Send me the link of your video, I’d love to see it.


  31. Catherine

    Glad you don`t mind :)
    Here`s the link:
    hope you like it

  32. I’ve just made this (found it on Pinterest! Thank you, pin addiction) and honestly cannot wait to try it out tonight for tomorrow’s pincurl set! Thank you!

  33. So excited you found it! Let me know how it works out for you!

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