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Even if Mother Nature graced you with stick-straight hair, the right curling iron can help you twirl, bend, and lift your ‘do to your heart’s desire. Whether you’re going for bouncy corkscrews, sexy waves, or something in between, a properly wielded curling iron can give you the style you want.
But choosing the right curling iron can be complicated. There are so many on the market: different brands, different models, and definitely different price points. You might be tempted to simply reach for the least-expensive curling iron — or the one with the most glamorous photo on the box. But don’t give in just yet.
Here at BestReviews, we’re ready to help you find the right curling iron for your hair, your styling goals, and your budget. We never accept free products or manufacturer perks in exchange for a good review. We gather the information ourselves. We talk to experts in the field and listen to real product owners. And ultimately, we provide unbiased, accurate recommendations based on our findings.
So if you’re ready to buy a new curling iron, check out our five top picks in the matrix above. And if you’d like to learn more about choosing a curling iron, read on. We’ll break down what you need to know before buying one of these handy beauty essentials.
As beauty tools go, a curling iron is quite simple. There’s a handle that remains cool to the touch, a round heated barrel that you wrap your hair around to create curls or waves, and a clasp to hold the lock of hair in place as you style. Other than travel curling irons, most also have a cord.
In general, a curling iron has a clasp that holds the hair in place while it’s being styled. But a curling wand has no clasp; you simply wind the hair loosely around the barrel.
Curling irons are used to create actual curls or pronounced waves. Curling wands are used to create a loose, tousled look.
Curl your hair away from your face for natural, soft volume.
One of the most important factors in choosing a curling iron is the width of the barrel, as that’s what determines the tightness of the curl. Here are some general guidelines.
(0.5- to 0.75-inch barrel) These thin curling irons are perfect for styling very short hair or creating tight, ringlet-style curls on medium-length locks.
(0.75- to 1-inch barrel) Use this handy-sized curling iron to touch up natural curls, create tight curls or flowing waves on medium to long hair, or add some lift and texture to shorter locks.
For dramatic volume, use your curling iron to angle the hair on the crown of your head forward, toward your face.
(1- to 1.5-inch barrel) This is the perfect size if you want loose curls or beachy waves on medium to long hair. You can also use it to add lift at your roots, flips at your ends, or texture throughout your mane.
(1.75- to 2-inch barrel) The largest curling irons are useful for waving or loosely curling heavy or long hair. You can also use a large curling iron to straighten your hair by loosely wrapping your locks around the barrel, then gently drawing the iron out to the ends.
Hold the curling iron vertically for loose curls and horizontally for tighter curls.
The least-expensive curling irons usually have metal barrels, but they can be rough on your hair.
Ceramic barrels are far easier on your hair. Ceramic heats evenly, won’t pull or snag strands of hair, and is scratch-resistant.
The first step in using a curling iron to style your hair is to choose the right kind of product. Choose between ceramic, tourmaline, or titanium materials depending on how frequently you use a curling iron and the quality of your hair.
Moving up a notch, tourmaline-coated barrels — made from a semi-precious gemstone — also heat evenly and are unlikely to snag or tug. Plus, they cut down on frizz and reduce damage to your hair.
Titanium barrels are excellent at conducting heat, making them a good choice for thick or heavy hair, but you’ll pay more for these high-end models.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
BaBylissPRO Nano Straightening Iron
Owners love the BaBylissPRO's impressive list of features, including its lightweight design, fast heat-up, easy-to-use buttons, and gorgeous results. At the very top of its feature list, however, is quality. BaByliss maintains an excellent reputation in the beauty tool industry, and for good reason. This is a brilliantly engineered curling iron with a huge fan base. Owners, many of whom are devoted to the entire BaByliss line of styling products, say they're delighted with their purchase.
Want to make it easier to wind your hair around the curling iron? Simply start with the clamp facing forward.
The cheapest curling irons typically only have two settings: on and off. You might be happier with a beauty tool that lets you choose the heat level best suited to your hair type. Some curling irons have two or three heat settings, while others offer ten or more.
While some curling irons only reach a temperature of 250°F, others — especially higher-end models — climb up to 400°F or higher. Unless you have thick or coarse hair, you won’t need such an extreme temperature, however.
Air-dry your hair before curling for natural waves. Curling your hair after blow drying will give it a voluminous look. Straightening your hair before using your curling iron will leave it looking sleek.
A curling iron isn’t as complicated as some other beauty tools. But it’s still helpful to understand the different features you’re likely to encounter as you shop.
Some curling irons come with multiple barrels — generally in different sizes — so you can choose the one that best suits your styling goal for the day.
Spiraling ridges on these curling irons guide your hair into place and create romantic spiral curls.
For the most natural-looking curls, let your hair air dry before using your curling iron. For big, voluminous curls, blow dry first and then curl.
These curling irons have double or triple barrels. You weave your hair around the barrels, creating beachy waves or looping curls.
Clamp a lock of hair, press the button, and the barrel rotates, drawing your hair into even, bouncy curls.
Instead of a straight barrel, these curling irons have cone-shaped barrels, making it easy to create curls that are looser on the top and tighter on the bottom, or vice versa.
If your hair is thin or color-treated, the temperature of your curling iron should not exceed 200°F to minimize damage. If you have coarse or thick hair, you can use a heat up to 300°F.
Travel curling irons are often cordless. You get the convenience of cord-free curling but will have to periodically change the batteries. A curling iron with a swivel cord makes it easy to position yourself at the best angle in front of your bathroom mirror without being bound by a traditional stationary cord.
This is a crucial safety feature. Your curling iron should turn itself off after a set amount of time — generally 60 minutes or less.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Remington CI9538 T|Studio Salon Collection Curling Wand
The Remington Pearl Digital Ceramic Curling Iron smooths and curls via ceramic and crushed-pearl technology. The ceramic-pearl combination is a popular technology that evenly distributes heat for more defined curls and lustrous hair. The wand's conical shape, when used correctly, can create curls even for those with "uncurlable" hair. Ringlets are the easiest type of curl to make, but once you get a handle on how to use the clamp-less conical barrel, you'll enjoy even more control over your final results.
Many curling irons include a heat-resistant glove to protect your fingers from a nasty burn.
With a cool tip, the very tip of the barrel remains cool, reducing the risk of burning your scalp or fingers.
Some curling irons include a stand so you can set the hot iron down without damaging your bathroom counter.
Want to add volume and pretty waves to your hair? Pull it into a high ponytail, curl small sections, then release the ponytail and let your hair frame your face.
You could buy a curling iron for less than $10 or splurge on a professional model that costs more than $100. But, as with most things, you get what you pay for.
You’re not likely to need the bells and whistles of a professional curling iron for typical at-home styles, but the cheapest curling irons are likely to disappoint. Most will lack desirable features, and inexpensive curling irons generally have metal barrels that heat unevenly, increasing the risk of scorched hair.
If you use your curling iron on a regular basis to create basic waves and curls, you’d likely be pleased with a beauty tool in the $20 to $40 range.
The smaller the barrel of your curling iron, the tighter the curls will be. Opt for a large-barrel curling iron for looser waves.
It takes some practice to master the art of curling your hair with a curling iron or curling wand, so don’t expect perfect results the first few times you use one of these beauty tools. The following tips will help you get the best results.
Never use your curling iron on wet or damp hair; you’ll end up with sizzled locks. Your hair needs to be completely dry before you use a hot styling tool.
Protect your hair from damage, and reduce color fade if you dye your mane, by applying a heat-resistant spray before getting started.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
BaBylissPRO Nano Straightening Iron
The BaBylissPRO uses titanium technology to evenly heat and curl hair. This technology is great for delicate hair because it preserves moisture, prevents burning, and unlocks negative ions to promote a healthy shine. Other great features include speedy heat-up, easy-to-use controls, and a swiveling cord that allows you to maneuver the iron any which way you please.
Work in any desired styling products, such as mousse, gel, spray, or serum, before you style. Once you’ve made your curls, add shine with a gloss spray or keep your locks in place with a setting spray.
For tighter curls, work with small locks of hair. For loose waves, clamp a larger section of hair around your curling iron.
Don’t expose your hair to heat for more than 15 seconds at a time — less if your hair is thin or delicate.
For spiral curls, twist each lock of hair before you clamp it on the curling iron.
For sexy, tousled curls, alternate direction on each lock of hair. Wrap one section away from your face and the next toward your face.
To avoid any crimp, remove the clamp from your curling iron before use. To minimize crimp, clamp your hair as close to the ends as possible.
Want longer-lasting curls? Then start curling close to the root.
Hold your hair in place for several seconds after removing it from the curling iron. This sets the curl as the hair cools down.
Colored hair should be styled on the lowest heat possible to set the curl.
Clean your curling iron by gently rubbing the slightly warm barrel with a damp cloth.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.