Fast-acting heat and ergonomic design. Versatile styling results with one barrel.
Some owners received faulty products, but they are in the minority. Iron gets extremely hot.
A clamp-less, conical wand with a great reputation for beautiful results.
Learning to use a clamp-less wand can be a challenge, but Internet tutorials are available.
Clamp reliably holds hair to the heat source without slippage.
Rare complaints from owners that the clamp is too tight.
Creates tight ringlets and natural-looking waves.
Protective glove is flimsy and has been known to melt. No heat gauge; no automatic shutoff.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
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 available: 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.
As beauty tools go, a curling iron is quite simple. There is 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.
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.
Ultra-small: (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.
Small: (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.
Medium: (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.
Large: (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.
Metal: The least-expensive curling irons usually have metal barrels, but they can be rough on your hair.
Ceramic: Ceramic barrels are far easier on your hair. Ceramic heats evenly, won’t pull or snag strands of hair, and is scratch-resistant.
Tourmaline: 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: 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.
Barrel-heating speed: The faster your curling iron reaches full heat, the sooner you’ll be styling your hair. While less-expensive models might take a couple of minutes to heat up, quality curling irons heat quickly. Some reach full heat within seconds.
Variable heat: 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.
Temperature: 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.
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.
Interchangeable barrels: 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.
Spiral barrel: Spiraling ridges on these curling irons guide your hair into place and create romantic spiral curls.
Waves barrel: These curling irons have double or triple barrels. You weave your hair around the barrels, creating beachy waves or looping curls.
Rotating barrel: Clamp a lock of hair, press the button, and the barrel rotates, drawing your hair into even, bouncy curls.
Conical barrel: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.