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When it comes to curling irons, one size doesn’t always fit all. Choosing the right curling iron is just as important as learning how to effectively use one. So what constitutes an ideal curling iron? According to Leigh Hardges, stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, there are three things to look for when shopping for a quality curling iron. One, be aware of the thermostat and heat settings. Two, look for features that would make styling easier, like cord length and swivel function. Three, test out the clamp and see how much tension there is—the stronger the tension, the more it can even out and keep hair in place when styling.
With these tips in mind, we’ve cut through the clutter to bring you the best curling irons on the market.
Best Overall: Hot Tools 24K Gold Curling Iron
The name Hot Tools is synonymous with reliability. With a six-foot swivel cord, you have the flexibility to do your hair even in the tightest of spaces. Plus, it can reach up to 430°F, so it’s got the power to style thicker, coarser hair.
Best Budget: Conair Double Ceramic 1-Inch Curling Iron
The turbo heat feature makes it easy to style sections that need an extra boost of heat. And with its double ceramic plates, it evenly distributes that heat throughout your hair (read: no hot spots = no damage). For this affordable price, you may even want to buy a backup for your gym bag.
Best Drugstore: Revlon Salon Long Lasting Curls Curling Iron
Running late? The tourmaline ceramic barrel heats up in 30 seconds, which means there’s barely any wait time to start styling your hair. For flexibility, we recommend the 1-inch barrel as it can deliver both a tighter curl or loose waves.
Best Splurge: Dyson Airwrap Styler
When it comes to this innovative styler, many reviewers echo the same sentiment: it’s totally worth the investment. It does everything from curling and smoothing to drying your hair without the excessive heat that comes with traditional curlers. Plus, it’s clamp-free—it uses the Coanda effect to essentially bring the hair to the barrel and keep it there.
Best for Beach Waves: Beachwaver Co. Beachwaver Pro Dual Voltage
This patented curler developed by celebrity hair stylist Sarah Potempa still reigns supreme for gorgeous, beachy waves. Reviewers love how user-friendly it is—it rotates both ways, has a 9-foot cord, and automatically shuts off after 30 minutes.
Best for Beginners: CHI Air Spin N Curl Ceramic Rotating Hair Curler
Get the curls you want without the guesswork. This foolproof iron does most of the work for you—all you have to do is place your section through the barrel, press the curl button, and watch your hair automatically wrap itself around the barrel inside. Once you hear three beeps, pull the iron down to release the hair.
Best for Thick Hair: T3 SinglePass Curl 1.25-Inch
As someone with thick hair, the biggest benefit a curling iron could give me is being lightweight. And this fan-favorite iron is that and more. Style your hair with ease (no workout here) with a ceramic barrel that internally regulates its temperature to give you curls that last. Plus, it lives up to its name—no need to go over the same section twice.
Best for Fine Hair: Insert Name Here The Waver
The deep grooves of this waver not only provide a subtle wave, but also help to add some fullness to your look. It also features an LCD panel, which makes choosing your desired temp easy and precise.
Best for Natural Hair: BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium Spring Curling Iron
Natural textures are more prone to breakage, which is why it’s critical to use a tool that won’t cause heat damage. This curling iron from BaBylissPRO comes equipped with far-infrared heat that heats the hair from the inside out, minimizing the potential for damage. It also boasts a titanium barrel for even heat distribution and ionic technology to keep curls smooth and shiny.
Best Cordless: Lunata Beauty Cordless Convertible Curling Iron/Wand
For moments when the outlet is just a smidge too far (or you really just don't want to deal with another cord), this cordless tool swoops in and saves the day. Equipped with a rechargeable battery, this iron features four temperature settings and a removable clamp—so you can turn it into a wand for effortless beach waves.
Best for Long Hair: Bio Ionic Long Barrel Curling Iron
Long hair, meet your new best friend. Equipped with an extra-long barrel, this tool makes curling lengthier hair a breeze. It also helps keep moisture locked into hair thanks to the brand’s NanoIonic MX and Bio Ionic Moisturizing Heat technologies. Plus, it includes adjustable heat settings, an auto-shut-off mechanism, and a cool-touch grip.
Best for Short Hair: Remington Pro ½-1-Inch Pearl Ceramic Conical Curling Wand
The crushed pearl-infused barrel delivers a long-lasting curl that’s equal parts smooth and bouncy. A section of short hair easily wraps around the thinner barrel, which is about half an inch to an inch, for a consistent curl.
Best for Travel: Harry Josh Pro Tools Travel Curling Iron 1.25-Inch
Nobody wants to lug a heavy tool with them on vacation, which is where this convenient (and, may we add, adorable) mini iron comes into play. Small but mighty, this bite-size curler heats up in just 30 seconds and boasts a nano-ceramic and tourmaline barrel to keep curls and waves smooth and moisturized—ideal for humid beach getaways.
We’re giving top honors to the Hot Tools 24K Gold Curling Iron when it comes to creating gorgeous curls and waves. This tool is super wallet-friendly yet powerful enough to style thicker, coarser hair. Those with longer hair can benefit from the extra-long barrel of the Bio Ionic Long Barrel Curling Iron, while those with shorter cuts will appreciate the thin barrel on Remington’s Pro Pearl Ceramic Curling Wand. And if you’re looking for a multi-tasking tool, may we suggest the Dyson Airwrap Styler. It’s splurgy, yes, but for a device that can curl, smooth, and dry your hair, it’s totally worth the investment.
What to Look For in a Curling Iron
When it comes to curling irons, Hardges says the first thing to look into is the device's heat settings. "Temperatures should range between 290 and 450 degrees; you definitely want a range of settings, as finding the right temperature for your hair type is so important," she says. "You want to pay attention to the thickness of one strand between your thumb and forefinger. It's too low if there is no curl and the hair is barely warm; it's too high if you smell burning hair."
Not sure what temperature is right for you? Generally, she says that it's best to use a heat setting between 290 and 325 degrees for fine hair, between 325 and 390 degrees for medium hair, and between 390 and 450 degrees for coarser hair.
As Hardges mentions above, the tension of the clamp is vital for keeping the hair in place while styling, ensuring an even curl. The stronger the tension, the better—just be sure it doesn’t grip the hair too tightly, as that can potentially cause unnecessary damage.
Hardges says the material of the curling iron is also important, especially if your hair is textured. Per her advice, opt for devices made from titanium, ceramic, and tourmaline to keep curls nice and smooth.
Cord Length and Swivel Function
Functionality and ease of use should also be kept in mind when shopping for a curling iron, which is why Hardges says to look for a device with a long cord that swivels. “Using a curling iron requires a great deal of hand, arm, and wrist movements; being tethered by a cord makes it all the more cumbersome,” she says. “A long cord allows a bit of freedom in movement while styling, while the swivel function of a cord prevents it from wrapping around the iron while styling and turning.”
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any curling irons from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.