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Some people think flat irons are just for straightening hair. Not true!
Yes, you can definitely tame frizz, waves, and curls into a sleek, shiny do with the right flat iron. But you can also create waves and curls with this tool.
At BestReviews, we’ve done our homework. We’ve studied the flat iron market, consulted experts, and spoken with owners of several different popular flat irons.
And, frankly, there’s quite a bit you need to know about this specialized tool before making a purchase. These appliances aren’t always cheap, and in general, a higher-quality unit yields a much better style — and healthier hair, too.
Which flat iron is right for you? That depends largely on your hair type. A person with coarse, curly hair requires a different type of tool than a person with fine or slightly wavy hair.
Of course, if you want to skip the research, you can, as we’ve done it for you. If you’re ready to dive into a flat iron purchase, please see the product matrix above for our top recommendations. Because we never accept free manufacturer samples for our lab — we independently buy our test products from online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores — you can rely on us to share the unbiased truth about what’s available on the consumer market.
We’re confident that you would be happy with one of the top five flat irons on our shortlist. But if you’d like to learn more about this versatile styling tool before laying your money down, please continue reading this shopping guide. In it, you’ll find a helpful introduction to the flat iron anatomy, as well as tips and FAQ that can help guide you to the perfect styling tool.
The best flat irons offer multiple heat settings so you can tailor your styling session to your hair type. How do you know which heat setting is best for you?
Some flat irons, like the Remington S5500 on our shortlist, include a digital display that lets you know precisely how hot the plate is. This feature is especially helpful for those with fine hair who worry about accidentally exposing their tresses to a higher temperature than necessary.
The part of the flat iron that heats up and presses the hair is called the plate. Different irons offer different plate widths and materials. The trick is to know which width and material works best for you before you invest in a pricey new iron.
A flat iron is a wonderful styling tool, but anything you can do to minimize the number of times you pass the iron over your hair will ultimately benefit the health of your strands.
The average plate width is one inch, but dimensions vary across the product line from a very narrow one-half inch to a generous three inches.
Flat iron plates are made with a handful of different materials. Ceramic, tourmaline, a ceramic/tourmaline mix, and titanium are the most common. What’s the difference between these materials, and how does the plate material you choose affect your results?
Many of today’s flat irons have ceramic infused into the plate. The negative ions emitted by the ceramic help create a smooth, shiny look. This might sound like magic, but there’s actually a scientific explanation behind it.
Hair naturally carries a positive electrical charge associated with its degree of “dryness.” The negative ions created by the styling tool counteract the effect of the positive ions. Think of the positive ions as “bad guys” who try to make your hair look ragged and fried. The negative ions supplied by your iron are “good guys” whose mission is to rescue your hair from the bad guys — or at least temper their ill effects somewhat.
But buyer beware: whereas some plates are pure ceramic, others are simply “coated” with ceramic. The latter are cheaper, but they’re also weaker and less durable, since the ceramic coating will eventually wear off.
Ceramic plates tend to work well for people with fine hair, but those with thick or curly hair may want to consider titanium.
Tourmaline is an organic, crystalline “gemstone” that has been ground up and layered onto the surface of the heating element. The gemstone layer holds heat evenly and consistently, which in turn helps you create a better style.
Because tourmaline is even closer to nature than ceramic, it’s got a lot of the good guys — negative ions, that is — working for it. Faced with a choice between ceramic and tourmaline, many people gravitate toward tourmaline because it’s naturally better for the hair.
Fortunately, manufacturers got wise to this and quickly began infusing both ceramic and tourmaline into the plates of their flat irons. The HSI Professional flat iron and the Chi Original Pro are both examples of excellent ceramic/tourmaline technology.
Titanium is an actual chemical element (symbol: Ti) that some manufacturers use as a top coat over the styling plate. Heat styling tools made of titanium are extremely powerful. They heat up fast, and their high heat is often enough to tame the most unruly of tresses with one pass.
People with “stubborn,” difficult-to-style hair appreciate the effectiveness of this material. Notably, titanium tends to cost more than other styling technologies. The titanium-plated BaByliss Pro is a powerhouse tool, but it’s also one of the more expensive tools that we have endorsed.
Hair dryers use ceramic, tourmaline, and titanium materials, too. If you want to create a sleek look with your hair dryer, look for a product with similar technology in the hair dryer space.
Ideally, you won’t be spending too many minutes with your flat iron in hand. The faster you can complete your style, the sooner you’ll relieve your strands from the stress of high-heat exposure.
But while you’re standing there in front of the mirror primping and coiffing, you want to be comfortable. You shouldn’t have to assume the role of a contortionist just to get the look you want on the sides, top, and back of your head.
Look for these comfort-related qualities in your next flat iron:
The metal part of your iron might shoot up to 450°F, but the part you touch with your hands should stay cool. For example, the BaBylissPRO’s housing is made of Ryton, a thermoplastic material that can temporarily resist temperatures up to 500°F.
Some flat irons, like the HSI Professional in our product matrix, include a 360° swivel cord for easy manipulation. You won’t find yourself performing the contortionist exercises mentioned above with this type of user-friendly cord.
Owners tend to prefer longer cords over shorter ones, too. A longer cord is simply more convenient for some bathroom setups.
This feature refers more to your emotional comfort than your physical comfort. A styling tool with automatic shutoff can be a godsend for those who feel particularly scattered or stressed in the morning. If you get to work or school and suddenly remember that you forgot to turn off your Remington S5500, for example, you needn’t stress about it all day: this appliance shuts itself off after 60 minutes. Interestingly, the BIO Ionic Onepass — the priciest flat iron on our shortlist — does not include an automatic shutoff function.
Don’t use alcohol-based heat protectant or leave-in conditioner before you straighten, or you’re likely to hear a sizzling noise that isn’t bacon.
If you plan to straighten your hair every day, a cheap flat iron is simply not the way to go. With repeated use, a cheap flat iron can wreak havoc on the health of your hair. Repeated exposure to this kind of heat, no matter how many negative ions it releases, can create breakages and brittleness. It can even damage your color.
If you opt for something in the $20 to $40 range, we suggest you go with one of our tried-and-true recommendations, such as the Remington Digital Anti-Static Ceramic Hair Straightener or the HSI Professional Ceramic/Tourmaline iron. Although cheaper flat irons are sometimes associated with hair damage, these two products have scored a lot of happy customers.
This is quite a broad price range. Depending on sales, however, you might be able to get a flat iron that normally sells for $100 at a price closer to $50 or $60. The Chi Original Pro is a great “mid-range” product in our lineup.
The BaBylissPRO and BIO IONIC Onepass both fall under this pricing umbrella. So why would you pay so much more for these items than, say, the Chi or the HSI?
The BIO IONIC is unique on our list in that its plate includes infused “nanoionics” minerals. Nanoionic technology employs negative ions just as tourmaline and ceramic do, but it does so on a “nanolevel” that is considered to be more thorough. The BIO IONIC promises to keep hair healthy and hydrated even as it is exposed to the extreme heat of a flat iron.
The BaBylissPRO is also a “nano” flat iron with a layer of titanium over the plate. As noted above, titanium tends to cost more because it’s a faster-heating material.
Much like sunblock protects your skin from the sun’s UV rays, a heat protectant shields your hair from the heat damage caused by frequent styling.
Q: I have long, thick hair that’s sometimes wavy and sometimes curly. It’s a nightmare to style. What type of flat iron should I use?
A: Consider a flat iron with a larger plate (between one and two inches in width). Titanium might be your best bet, but a well-made flat iron of ceramic or a ceramic/tourmaline mix could also be great. We recommend a flat iron with an adjustable temperature that can go up to about 420°F.
Q: My hair is long, fine, and thin. Even though it’s rather straight, I find that it looks even shinier if I use a flat iron. What’s the best product for me?
A: A flat iron with a one-inch plate, or perhaps even a bit smaller, would likely suit you. Choose a tool that can be dialed down to a temperature of 360°F or lower to minimize heat damage. The negative ions supplied by a ceramic or ceramic/tourmaline straightener should give you a good shine boost.
Q: I am African American, and my hair is very dry, coarse, and curly. How do I proceed with a flat iron?
A: Your number-one goal (aside from a great style) is the preservation of your hair’s health and moisture content. Shampoo first to remove any product buildup or residue. (You don’t want to bake the previous day’s chemicals into your hair while you’re straightening.) Then, working in sections, comb out your curls as much as possible and apply a leave-in conditioner and oil to safeguard your strands.
Wait until your hair is dry, then begin the straightening process. Experts recommend that you use a fine-tooth comb to separate extremely small sections. The work will be slow and tedious, but if done right, you should be pleased with your results.
Q: I understand how to straighten my hair with a flat iron, but I have no idea how to create waves with it. Any advice?
A: For beachy waves, try this quick trick on longer hair:
The above is just one of many flat iron styling tips you can find on the internet. If you’ve got the time, the internet has the resources for creating curls, waves, chic bang styles, and much more with your new flat iron.