Do you control your hair, or does your hair control you? The right hair dryer can tremendously impact your appearance and confidence. Whether your hair is thick or fine, curly or straight, there's a hair dryer out there that's perfect for you.
The problem, though, is finding it. Today's market boasts a wide range of drying tools with a realm of various technologies. Tourmaline, ceramic, ionic—which should you choose? Furthermore, how much should you pay for this technology? We help you parse the details in this review.
A hair dryer is an extremely personal appliance. No two people will experience the same dryer the same way. Nevertheless, certain characteristics will prompt a dryer to stand out from the pack.
The market's best hair dryers offer user-friendly features that enhance the drying experience. A lightweight, ergonomically sound appliance is easier to hold and operate than a clunky dryer with poor engineering. A long cord is helpful, but if it's too long, it becomes a nuisance. Some dryers come with attachments, such as a diffuser and/or concentrator nozzle. However, if the attachments don't adhere properly to the barrel, they become an irritation and a safety hazard.
Beauty is subjective, and so is the reputation of any hair dryer out there—at least to an extent. For this reason, we carefully weighed the opinions of hundreds of consumers, as well as our own lab testers, when evaluating these products.
You could pay a small fortune for a hair dryer if you wanted to. Conversely, you could nab a fairly decent appliance for little more than chump change. We examined all factors—ease of use, user opinion, visual results, our own lab test results (see below)—to determine the validity of each product's price.
To consistently test the quality of our hair dryers, we built a mechanism to replicate the drying process in a repeatable fashion. A wig of human hair was mounted on a mannequin head, which was in turn installed on a motor-driven turntable. The turntable assembly was placed on a precision scale.
The motor was controlled by a computer so it rotated left and right. Each dryer under test, meanwhile, was mounted on a slide arm that moved it up and down while pointing at the wig at a distance of six inches. Together, the rotational motion of the mannequin head and the up-and-down motion of the appliance simulated a person using a hair dryer—but with more repeatability.
We tested hair dryer performance using this rig by spraying the wig with 15 ounces of water, turning the turntable and the slide arm on, and running the hair dryers on their highest setting (high heat and high speed). After two minutes, we recorded the weight of water removed from the wig.
All products proved similarly effective in this test, with two slight exceptions: the Xtava Allure, also the most powerful dryer in terms of wattage used, did the best job of drying. The Revlon, for reasons we could not determine but that might have been related to its nozzle shape, dried less well than the other products.
To test the heat output of each hair dryer, we blasted a human hand belonging to our lab tech, Jimi, with the top hot air output of each product. We did this for 20 seconds at a distance of nine inches. The products showed similar results again, except for the powerful Xtava, which was a few degrees hotter.
We measured each hair dryer's power consumption, in watts, at all possible combinations of heat and fan speed. Most of the products we tested were advertised to draw a maximum of 1875 or 2000 watts, with one product (the Xtava Allure) claiming to draw 2200 watts. Interestingly, our tests showed power draws that ranged only from about 1200 to 1600 watts.
Naturally, good visual results are key to a hair dryer's success. The internal components of a dryer, otherwise known as its “technology,” play a large role in the outcome of any styling session.
Before we go any further, let's review two important buzz words in the hair dryer world: tourmaline and ceramic.
Many of our dryers boast a “tourmaline/ionic" component. Tourmaline is a naturally occurring, semi-precious mineral that emits negative ions when heated. Negative ions close the hair cuticle to create a smooth look. You can find hair dryers with tourmaline at all price ranges, but the cheaper ones tend to contain smaller amounts of the mineral and are, therefore, less effective.
Some hair dryers feature a “ceramic” component. This material isn't as pricey as tourmaline. When heated, ceramic creates a type of infrared heat that naturally preserves the hair's moisture content while simultaneously drying it. Considering that most people prefer not to bake or fry their hair, ceramic is a good thing.
Note: The fact that a dryer incorporates tourmaline or ceramic doesn't necessarily make it a good product. The quality of the materials and the way they're engineered determine the aesthetic outcome of your styling session.
Denise has a background in healthcare and physical therapy. She also has the unique experience of raising three boys. Through the years, she has coached her sons and many of their friends through their share of childhood health problems and accidents. When not helping others recover from their injuries, you may find Denise working in her garden or reading.
The Good: Lightweight and easy to hold. Impressive water removal. Six speed/heat settings and a cool shot button.
The Bad: Buttons inadvertently turn off. Directional nozzle flies off.
The Bottom Line: An excellent mid-range hair dryer with a few known flaws.
The BaByliss Pro hails from the company's “Nano Titanium” line of products. According to the manufacturer, hair dries quickly due to the dryer's heat-conducive titanium material. The dryer breaks down water molecules quickly by emitting millions upon millions of negative ions into its air stream.
Indeed, this dryer works fast. In our lab, the BaByliss removed 14.3 ounces of water from a wig of human hair after just two minutes of use. (Notably, all contenders were able to remove between 10 and 15 ounces of water during our two-minute test. The Xtava and Solano removed slightly more water than the BaByliss, but the difference was negligible.)
The manufacturer claims that the BaByliss runs at 2000 watts, but we were unable to replicated this in our lab. At its highest speed and heat settings, the largest wattage reading we obtained was 1587. Although this negates what it says on the box, it's not necessarily a big deal. In fact, celebrity stylist Ryan Richman advises that a wattage between 1300 and 1875 is “ideal” for home users.
Wattage impacts heat dispersal more than it does air flow, but some owners have commented that the BaByliss' fastest speed is too much for them. Fortunately, the dryer offers six speed/heat settings and a cool shot button. A directional nozzle is also included.
One of the dryer's best qualities, according to consumers and our lab testers, is its ergonomic appeal. At 1.4 pounds, it's extremely easy to hold and maneuver. In the hand, some owners say it feels just like a travel hair dryer. Don't let its manageable weight fool you, however; the BaByliss is a powerful contender that would fit in at a swanky salon just as easily as it would on your bathroom counter.
Speaking of the bathroom counter, the BaByliss is unique in that it can rest solidly on its “back” when not in use. You'll never worry about it “dancing away” when you set it down. Owners appreciate this feature, as well as the fact that the dryer's Ryton® housing stays cool during use.
A flaw we noted during testing is the fact that the buttons, though clearly marked, are easy to accidentally turn off. In addition, the directional nozzle has a tendency to wiggle loose and fly off the barrel, especially when the fastest air speed is selected. Both of these flaws are common among some of the BaByliss' competitors, too, but they're bothersome nonetheless.
At a cost of $79, this is a mid-level, professional-grade dryer from a reputable manufacturer. Its main competitor on our list is the similarly priced Rusk W8less. A case could definitely be made for this dryer's ergonomically sound design and user-friendly features.
The Good: Light and maneuverable. Tourmaline and ceramic yield good results for those with frizzy hair. Seven heat settings.
The Bad: Some users have had problems inadvertently pressing buttons on the handle.
The Bottom Line: A mid-priced hair dryer with few complaints and numerous satisfied customers.
Happy owners confirm that the Rusk W8less, with its tourmaline and ceramic grill technology, is a friend to those with curly and frizzy hair. The appliance is purported to operate at 2000 watts, but in our lab, we were able to elicit a maximum of 1402 watts at the highest speed. This disparity does not seem to impact owner impressions of the dryer, however. People love the Rusk W8less.
The Rusk removed 14.1 ounces of water from our human hair wig within two minutes in our lab. The dryer's performance will vary for each user depending on hair type, of course, but its effectiveness is bolstered by the fact that it offers a choice of seven heat settings. Stylist Josue Perez recommends that people with thick, coarse hair use higher heat settings, while people with thin or fine hair should stick to lower heat settings.
Because the buttons are located on the inside of the handle (where fingers go), some users may find themselves inadvertently turning different settings on and off. This is a common problem among hair dryers. Interestingly, however, one of our testers favored this dryer in particular because the buttons are “sunken below the surface” and therefore less likely to inadvertently turn on and off. The long cord (eight feet) is a nice feature, and the included concentrator nozzle helps you fine-tune your style as you use the dryer. We note that although some people have complained about the nozzle flying off, the Rusk receives fewer complaints of this type than other hair dryers.
At just 1.2 pounds, the Rusk is light and maneuverable. (It ties with the Conair in terms of weight.) According to one tester, the Rusk is “not too heavy, not too big, not too small, but just right.” As such, it would be a good choice for users who suffer from muscle weakness due to stroke or other physical problems.
We note that this dryer, at a cost of $74 is comparable in price to the BaByliss. Interestingly, both products are manufactured by the parent company Conair. Given the choice between the Rusk and the BaByliss, we would choose the Rusk. It receives fewer durability complaints than the BaByliss, and using it typically results in smooth, shiny hair. Furthermore, it's got great ergonomics, a long cord, and a generous menu of seven heat settings.
The Good: Combines tourmaline and ceramic technology for outstanding visual results. Long cord.
The Bad: Uncomfortably heavy. Concentrator nozzles become quite hot.
The Bottom Line: A pricey dryer that yields salon-like results, if you can stand to hold it long enough to style your hair. (It's heavy.)
The Supersolano combines tourmaline and ceramic technology to speed the drying process and protect hair from moisture loss. Many owners agree that this combination allows them to achieve a shiny, smooth look that they're not able to get with other types of hair dryers.
We ran our two-minute drying test on the Supersolano three times to see how much water it actually removed. During our first two-minute trial, the unit removed 15.6 ounces of water from our human hair wig. This was the largest amount of water removed by any of our contenders.
However, the Supersolano removed significantly less during the second and third trials (13.5 and 12.2 ounces, respectively.) Because of this, we must conclude the Supersolano is not the fastest-drying tool on our list.
Nevertheless, it's a whopper of a tool at 1.9 pounds. We say this with tongue in cheek because the weight is not exactly a good thing. If you've ever wielded a two-pound can of beans above your head for an extended period, you'll understand what we mean. Prolonged use of this dryer could get uncomfortable. The manufacturer refers to the product as “perfectly balanced” and “lightweight,” but we beg to differ. Using this dryer would be particularly difficult for frail, handicapped, or elderly people who lack muscle tone in their arms.
In terms of features, users can take advantage of three temperature settings, two heat settings, a cold shot button, and an extra-long cord of 11.25 feet. The dryer also comes with two concentrator nozzles which—buyer beware—may become hot to the touch.
Some owners say that the Supersolano runs at a pleasant decibel level, but others have complained about an ugly screeching noise during use. We tested the decibel levels of all hair dryers on our shortlist, and all of them fell within the same decibel range. (The Supersolano emitted 80 db during testing. The only dryers quieter than that were the BaByliss and Rusk W8less at 79 decibels apiece.) We suspect that the customers who complained about the screeching noise may have received a faulty product.
The Supersolano Professional Hair Dryer is expensive at $168, and the number of complaints we've encountered about its weight and occasional malfunction concerns us. However, plenty of customers argue that the salon-like results are worth the price and the extra bicep/tricep workout. If you're looking for a way to enhance your shine—as well as your biceps—this could be the perfect dryer for you.
The Good: Inexpensive. Incorporates three types of technology.
The Bad: Not as comfortable in the hand as some competitors. Only two heat and speed settings.
The Bottom Line: While not outstanding, this dryer does a decent job for a budget price.
Revlon's Perfect Heat dryer combines three reputable technologies in one: tourmaline for reduced frizz, ceramic for gentle drying, and negative ions for faster drying. While the dryer may indeed contain all three of these components, it's not the best product available. Rather, it's a budget-priced item that will appeal to some budget-minded people.
According to the manufacturer, the Revlon puts out 1875 watts. We took this dryer into our lab and maxed it out at 1302 watts. All of the dryers we tested put out fewer watts than they were purported to, but notably, the Revlon had one of the lowest wattage outputs of all.
When we tested the amount of water the Revlon could remove in two minutes, it achieved the lowest score at just 10.8 ounces. If you have long or thick hair, you would probably find yourself using this appliance for several minutes longer than you would some others. However, as we've stated before, the time difference for many users would be negligible.
In terms of ergonomics, one of our testers referred to the Revlon's buttons as “intrusive to the fingers.” While it may not be the most comfortable dryer to hold and use, it's still quite light at 1.3 pounds.
With just two heat and speed settings and a cool shot button, this dryer offers the smallest selection of controls here. (Contrast this to the BaByliss's six settings and the Rusk's seven settings.) Our testers told us that the airflow is the weakest of the bunch; they also agreed that it looks the “cheapest.”
That's not surprising, because the Revlon is the cheapest hair dryer on our list at just $19. When you compare the Revlon side-by-side with pro-grade dryers like the BaByliss and Rusk, you're definitely going to see a difference. If you opt for the Revlon, however, you're definitely going to save some money.
The Revlon tries to do all the things that more expensive hair dryers do, but in the end, it's just not the same. You're not likely to benefit from its tourmaline, ceramic, and ionic technology the same way you would from some of our more expensive brands. You won't have has many heat and air speed settings, and you may or may not find it comfortable to hold.
The Good: Suitable for frizzy hair. Lightweight and easy to use. Affordable price.
The Bad: Concentrator nozzle and diffuser tend to fly off barrel. Matte finish tends to wear off quickly.
The Bottom Line: A functional, affordable appliance that some would consider to be of "professional" quality.
The Conair 1875 incorporates tourmaline/ceramic technology to preserve hair's moisture and ionic technology to minimize frizz. In fact, the manufacturer claims that the Conair removes up to 75 percent of frizz during the drying process. We're happy to report that owners—even those who give the overall product a less-than-stellar rating—agree that the Conair successfully tempers frizzy hair.
The Conair is one of our weaker dryers in terms of water removal. (It removed an average of 12.4 ounces from our human hair wig. By contrast, the BaByliss, Xtava, and Rusk each removed an average of over 14 ounces.) Regardless of this disparity, we encountered no complaints about its drying time during our consumer research, and we believe the difference between our contenders to be negligible in this respect.
Consumers do complain about a few of the Conair's features, though. The dryer comes with a concentrator nozzle and diffuser, both of which tend to fly off the barrel when the dryer is on. This flaw is not unique to the Conair; we've also seen it on the reputable BaByliss and even the Rusk W8less. Nevertheless, it's an annoying (and potentially dangerous) problem to have.
Owners also complain that the appliance's matte finish wears off rather quickly. When brand new, it looks nice and feels smooth in the hand, but buyers shouldn't bank on the durability of this velvety veneer. Some owners have complained that the fragility of the finish causes the control labels fade long before the dryer gives out. If this happens to you, you'll find yourself using a hair dryer with unlabeled buttons.
But in spite of the fact that control labels may fade, we really like the construction of the Conair's heat and speed settings. The buttons don't just press down; they slide and click into place. Thus, they aren't likely to inadvertently click on or off during use. For consumers who like to feel in control of their hair dryer's buttons, the Conair is a stable and reliable product.
At 1.2 pounds, the Conair is the smallest dryer on our list. It's also one of the lightest. (The Rusk weighs 1.2 pounds as well.) With a sound output of 81 decibels, it's notably one of the louder hairdryers we tested. But truth be told, all six put out about the same amount of noise (within a range of 79 – 81 decibels). The Conair's cord, at 5.5 feet, is the shortest of all of our contenders.
This dryer costs $22, which is a decent price for an appliance that some would call “professional.” There are detractors who would argue that the Conair's slippery attachments and unreliable finish make it more of an “amateur” appliance, but they're in the minority. Most owners love this hair dryer for its price, ease of use, and ability to create a smooth, frizz-free look.
We decree the Solano to be the best overall hair dryer because of its solid build, reliable controls, and effective tourmaline/ceramic technology.
The Conair also incorporates tourmaline and ceramic technology, but the Solano's end results are much better overall. As we've seen, the quality of a hair dryer's inner components can significantly impact how hair looks after it has dried. The Conair is a cheap, functional hair dryer, but the Solano is an top of the line hair dryer that goes above and beyond mere functionality. Owners love the results, which include reduced frizz and smooth-looking hair.
It's a close contest between the BaByliss and Rusk W8less for our "Best Bang for Your Buck" title, but in the end, the BaByliss offers a bit more. Its biggest selling points are its seven heat settings, long cord, ergonomic design, and gorgeous styling results.
Both the BaByliss and the Rusk cost about the same amount, and truth be told, you'd likely be satisfied with either one. But because the BaByliss has had an edge on the speed at which it dried our test subject's hair, we give it a few more brownie points.
The Good: Dries hair quickly. Sturdy cord. Buttons don't get in the way.
The Bad: Heavy. Can be uncomfortable to use.
The Bottom Line: A hearty, fast-acting hair dryer that may be too heavy for some users.
The Xtava doesn't have the frizz-busting tourmaline technology of some competitors. Rather, it boasts an “ionic ceramic” technology that is purported to dry water molecules quickly. Indeed, the Xtava did remove more water in our two-minute test than any other dryer on our list. (14.6 ounces, to be exact.) This is an excellent result when you consider the fact that our human hair wig contained 15 ounces of water to begin with.
That being said, the other contenders on our list did a decent job of removing water, too—particularly the BaByliss and Rusk W8less. The Xtava might dry slightly faster than another product, but we're not convinced that the time difference would be meaningful.
The Xtava also claims a higher wattage than any other product on on our list (2200). We were only able to run it at a maximum of 1599 watts in our lab test, however. Bearing in mind the advice from celebrity stylist Richman, we believe this wattage disparity doesn't make a big difference in the end result.
What does make a difference is the fact that this dryer is a bit uncomfortable to use. At 1.8 pounds, our lab testers didn't particularly care for the way it feels in the hand. The setting menu (three heat levels, two speeds) is smaller than that of the Rusk and BaByliss. It's not skimpy by any means, but users don't enjoy the same number of choices.
On the positive side, the Xtava's air flow is “balanced” and the concentrator nozzle is “perfect,” according to one of our testers. The location of the buttons (including cool shot) doesn't pose a problem for most users, and the sturdy cord rotates 360 degrees for ease of use. At 81 decibels, it's as loud as any of the dryers on our list, but the noise is tolerable.
The manufacturer says that you will get a “salon-worthy” result from this dryer. Although heavy and a bit hard to find, the Xtava has some compelling benefits.
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High, Low, Cool