The 6 Best Curling Irons, Tested in Our Lab

The Hot Tools Professional Gold Curling Iron is the clear winner

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Curling Irons

Byrdie / Nick Kova

Curling irons have been around since the dawn of time, though they’ve certainly evolved with the latest style trends and technologies. This evolution, beneficial as it may be for us and our strands, can be overwhelming to navigate. “Curling irons, and all hot tools in general, are essential for manipulating the shape of our hair,” says celebrity hairstylist Nikki Providence. However, with repetitive use over time, these hot tools can also cause some damage, so finding an iron with the right heat setting for your hair type is of the utmost importance. There are also plenty of other factors to consider when selecting the right iron, such as its grip, safety, clamp, style retention, and more.

Byrdie Tested & Approved

Our testers are giving top honors to the Hot Tools Professional Gold Curling Iron, a straightforward hot tool that, while not the fanciest, is easy to use and yields reliable results. Another favorite is the BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium Spring Curling Iron due to its quality design and surprisingly affordable price point.

Fortunately, Team Byrdie has put the best curling irons to the test at The Lab, located in Industry City, Brooklyn, to make your shopping selection easier. We tested curling irons on short, medium, and long hair, as well as on thin, thick, curly, relaxed, and straight hair. Using a scale of one to five, we rated each iron’s ease of use, styling ability, clamp tension, and curl hold to help you make a more well-rounded, informed decision.

Read on for the best curling irons on the market, as well as more information to help you select the right one for your needs and budget.

Best Overall: Hot Tools 24K Gold Curling Iron

4.7
Hot Tools 24K Gold Curling Iron

Ulta

Our Ratings
  • Ease of Use
    4.6/5
  • Styling Ability
    4.5/5
  • Clamp Tension
    4.1/5
  • Curl Hold
    5/5
What We Like
  • Quick to create a lasting curl

  • Convenient swivel cord

  • Built-in stand for safety

  • Easy to use

What We Don’t Like
  • Doesn’t have an automatic shut-off

  • Clamp may cause creasing with stalled movements

There are a lot of new technologies in the curling irons available today, but sometimes keeping things straightforward (in terms of an iron’s design and performance) can offer the most reliable results. That’s what our testers found in the Hot Tools Professional Gold Curling Iron—simplicity at its best. 

Despite the lack of automatic shut-off, digital temperature display, and other high-tech design features, “what you see is what you get,” says one of our testers—and we believe that’s exactly why the Hot Tools brand has remained a staple in hair tools for as long as it has. The iron, rated at an average of 4.6/5 for ease of use, will reach up to 450 degrees for thicker, more heat-resistant hair types while its lower temperatures on the manual dial are just as effective for finer strands.

All of our testers—with varying hair types, lengths, and densities—gave it a noteworthy 5/5 for its curl hold and each noted a smoother, frizz-free finish. With its ease of use, promising results, user-friendly design, and reasonable price point, it was easy to conclude that this iron was our best option overall.

Auto Shut-Off: None | Heat-Up Time: 2:34 | Cord Length: 8 feet | Temperature Range: Up to 430 degrees F | Size: 1 inch

Hot Tools Curling Iron Test

Byrdie / Nick Kova

What Our Testers Say

“This iron works great on thin hair and produced a tight, defined curl. It was easy for a beginner like me to use and had a straightforward design/concept.” —Kelsey Lentz,  Editorial Commerce Producer

Best Budget: BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium Spring Curling Iron

3.9
BaBylissPro Nano Titanium Spring Curling Iron
Our Ratings
  • Ease of Use
    4.2/5
  • Styling Ability
    3.8/5
  • Clamp Tension
    4/5
  • Curl Hold
    3.8/5
What We Like
  • Comfortable grip

  • Extremely lightweight

  • Easy temperature control

  • Titanium barrel

What We Don’t Like
  • Doesn’t smooth out frizz

  • Short-lived results

While there are other curling irons available at a similar price point, this Babyliss Pro Curling Iron was our best choice for budget, especially considering its titanium barrel. According to celebrity hairstylist Sally Hershberger, titanium is considered a quality material in a curling iron: “Titanium irons heat up fast and help retain moisture, preventing hair from becoming dry or brittle,” she said. The heat-up time on this iron wasn’t jaw-dropping (at just over two minutes), but its ease of use certainly was. “It was very easy to use and maneuver," noted one tester, who added that it was also "extremely lightweight and allowed for a lot of flexibility and different ways to curl the hair."

However, the resulting curls never lasted very long on our testers. Holding the iron in place for a few seconds helped each one find their desired results, but ultimately, this iron still gave a looser curl, with an average curl hold rating of 3.75/5. For roughly $60, that’s nothing the right temperature and a little hairspray can’t help with, though.

Auto Shut-Off: None | Heat-Up Time: 2:05 | Cord Length: 8 feet | Temperature Range: Up to 450 degrees F | Size: 1 inch

BaBylissPRO Curling Iron Test

Byrdie / Nick Kova

Best for Long Hair: Bio Ionic Long Barrel 1.25" Curling Iron

3.9
Bio Ionic Long Barrel Curling Iron
Our Ratings
  • Ease of Use
    4.2/5
  • Styling Ability
    3.3/5
  • Clamp Tension
    4.7/5
  • Curl Hold
    3.5/5
What We Like
  • Good range of heat settings

  • Ergonomic design

  • Auto shut-off

  • Cool-touch finger tip

What We Don’t Like
  • Can be tricky to maneuver

  • Short lifespan for curls

  • Pricey

One standout feature of this Bio Ionic iron is its length. The Long Barrel Styler is 2 inches longer than most of your average curling iron barrels, which is one of the key reasons why we’ve rated it the best option for longer strands. Not to rule it out for shorter to medium-length hair, but for our testers who didn’t have longer strands, they reported the barrel was a pretty big adjustment and that it felt tricky to maneuver, resulting in a 3.3/5 for styling ability. 

Heating up this iron does take up to three minutes, but the auto shut-off, which goes into effect after one hour as the brand claims, is a saving grace for those of us who rush to get ready and have a tendency to forget whether we’ve turned off our hot tools.

Our testers also reported the clamp tension felt like the perfect balance between not too tight and not too loose, offering control for the section being curled without so much clamping that it left a crease in the hair. But a high rating of 4.7/5 for clamp tension didn’t make the difference when it came down to curl hold. Though bouncy, defined curls were an immediate result, one fine-haired tester said they, unfortunately, did not stay put very well. But for longer, thicker hair types, a little prep or finishing product will assist with curl hold and longevity.

Auto Shut-Off: 1 hour | Heat-Up Time: 3:00 | Cord Length: 9 feet | Temperature Range: Up to 430 degrees F | Size: 1.25 inches

Bio Ionic Curling Iron Test

Byrdie / Nick Kova

What Our Editors Say

“In terms of effectiveness and utility, this tool exceeds expectations.” —Erika Reals, Associate Fashion Editor

Best for Fine Hair: ghd Curve Classic Curl Iron

4.6
GHD curve classic curl iron

Sephora

Our Ratings
  • Ease of Use
    4.8/5
  • Styling Ability
    4.8/5
  • Clamp Tension
    4.5/5
  • Curl Hold
    4.5/5
What We Like
  • Easy to use

  • Lasting hold

  • Quick to heat up

  • Auto shut-off

What We Don’t Like
  • Only one temperature option

  • Clamp may be difficult for beginners

  • Pricey

Many hair types experience difficulty finding an iron that offers curls that last, though that wasn’t the case for our testers who tried the ghd Curve Curling Iron. “Most irons don't work on my thin hair,” said one tester. “But this one did a great job and created a natural-looking curl.” Between fine hair and curlier hair, the curl hold rating on this iron came back as one of the strongest at 4.5/5. 

Also, if you’re looking for something high-tech that's still user-friendly, the ghd Curve’s features include a mere 22-second heat-up time and a proven 30 minutes to turn off automatically—which justifies the price tag, in our opinion. Aside from its ease of use (which came in with a rating of 4.75/5), the automatic temperature setting of a fixed 365 degrees can prevent all hair—including finer strands prone to more fragility—from incurring any damage, making it an obvious best choice for fine hair types.

Auto Shut-Off: 30 minutes | Heat-Up Time: 22 seconds | Cord Length: 8 feet | Temperature Range: Up to 365 degrees F | Size: 1 inch

ghd Curling Iron Test

Byrdie / Nick Kova

What Our Testers Say

“I was pleasantly surprised with how well that this curling iron worked on my natural, curly hair. The tension is just right and I like that the temperature is automatically set at 365 degrees—that way I'm not accidentally using too much heat. The curls came out very defined. I felt magazine-ready.” —Danielle Ransom, Editorial Commerce Producer

Best for Relaxed Hair: Kristin Ess NanoBlack 1.25'' Curling Iron

4.3
Kristin Ess Hair NanoBlack 1.25'' Curling Iron

Ulta

Our Ratings
  • Ease of Use
    4.7/5
  • Styling Ability
    4/5
  • Clamp Tension
    4.5/5
  • Curl Hold
    4/5
What We Like
  • Perfect clamp tension

  • Sleek design

  • Silky, smooth finish

  • Digital temperature display

What We Don’t Like
  • Results have short lifespan

  • Pricey

A fancy-looking, high-performance iron doesn’t need to come with an outrageous price tag—or worse, a major learning curve. Thanks to its sleek design and ease of use (which came in at an average rating of 4.7/5), one tester remarked that because it felt pretty high-end, she was "surprised" when she saw it was priced at about $60.

Additionally, with features like an easy-to-adjust digital temperature setting, a 9-foot swivel cord, and an automatic turn-off feature, this iron was extremely straightforward and user-friendly. The silky-smooth finish and easy glide through a nicely balanced clamp were some of the favorite takeaways that our testers noted. Though all three testers did claim that their curls fell out a bit not long after styling, they were still pleased with the results—our tester with natural hair, in particular, was impressed: "It was very effective," she said. "Because it wasn't complicated to use, I could get results very easily and quickly. My hair looked great."

Auto Shut-Off: 30 minutes | Heat-Up Time: 1:07 | Cord Length: 9 feet | Temperature Range: Up to 425 degrees F | Size: 1.25 inch

Kristin Ess Curling Iron Test

Byrdie / Nick Kova

What Our Editors Say

“For the price, this is definitely a great value. It felt more expensive than it was and I loved the all-black look and the soft-grip handle made it easy to maneuver around while curling.” —Erika Reals, Byrdie Associate Fashion Editor

Best for Beach Waves: T3 SinglePass Curl 1.25" Ceramic Curling Iron

3.8
T3 SinglePass Curl 1.25" Ceramic Curling Iron

Ulta

Our Ratings
  • Ease of Use
    4.3/5
  • Styling Ability
    2.9/5
  • Clamp Tension
    5/5
  • Curl Hold
    3/5
What We Like
  • Easy to hold

  • Sleek design

  • Smooth glide

  • Ceramic barrel

What We Don’t Like
  • Curls fall or loosen with time

  • Pricey

If you’re looking for an iron that can help you achieve that perfectly imperfect beach wave, look no further than the T3 SinglePass Ceramic Curling Iron. The 1.25-inch barrel size offered our testers a less defined, more relaxed, and more elongated finish in their curls. However, the more loosely curled results didn’t alter the perfect tension in this iron’s clamp, which came in high with a rating of 5/5. “You can barely feel the clamp on the hair,” said one tester, who added that “the glide of this curling iron was smooth as butter.” 

It's also worth noting that this ceramic barrel is a huge plus for hair types looking to reduce frizz and heat damage. Plus, this iron's modern design and lightweight grip were easy to work with, as was the rotating temperature setting at the bottom of the barrel, which helped it score a 4.3/5 rating for ease of use. According to one tester, this iron was perfect for achieving different types of waves, but overall, all testers agreed that if you’re looking for a tighter curl that will hold a defined shape over a long period, this isn’t the iron for you.

Auto Shut-Off: 1 hour | Heat-Up Time: 1:22 | Cord Length: 8 feet | Temperature Range: From 260 to to 410 degrees F | Size: 1.25 inch

T3 Curling Iron Test

Byrdie / Nick Kova

Final Verdict

The Hot Tools Professional Gold Curling Iron didn’t have a lot of fancy features, but its straightforward design, ease of use, and reliable results came in top-ranked by our testers. On the other hand, if you’re a curling iron newbie, the sleek design of the Kristin Ess Hair NanoBlack 1.25'' Curling Iron is a surprisingly affordable option with easy-to-use digital temperature settings that’ll give you a perfectly soft finish.

Meet the Expert

  • Nikki Providence is a celebrity hairstylist whose clients include Jenny Slate, Tori Kelly, and Alison Brie among others.

How We Tested

We spent hours researching curling irons, interviewing experts, and reading product reviews to land on the product selection. Once we narrowed down the tools selected, we put each iron to the test. Each curling iron was rated on a scale of one to five for ease of use, styling ability, clamp tension, and curl hold. We tested these attributes on short, medium, and long hair that varied in texture (from thin and fine to thick and straight and from curly coils to relaxed).

During the testing process, we took note of each iron’s temperature in the top, middle, and bottom of the iron barrel. We measured its heat-up time and auto shut-off time (when applicable) for accuracy and took note of its cord length. We also tested for durability by dropping each iron on the floor to see if any damage would occur. Thankfully, all the irons listed here passed with a 5/5 durability rating. 

Once we collected our data, our editor compiled all the categorical information and finalized the best-of list. All of our testing took place at The Lab in Industry City, Brooklyn.

How We Test

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Other Options We Tested

Beachwaver Pro 1.25 Dual Voltage

Having a do-it-all tool can be advantageous at times, but when it comes to curling their hair, our testers found that they liked to have more control over the process. The automatic curl feature on the Beachwaver Pro 1.25 Dual Voltage may be unique, but our fine-haired testers found it difficult for the hair to glide through smoothly without getting tangled. The shorter clamp also made it difficult to grab sections on thicker hair types. Given the learning curve required on this iron, we decided it wasn’t a worthy top choice.

Beachwaver Curling Iron Test

Byrdie / Nick Kova

Moroccanoil Everlasting Curl Titanium Curling Iron

One of our fine-haired testers reported that Moroccanoil Everlasting Curl Titanium Curling Iron left a smokey result on her strands. Although there was no noticeable damage, another thicker-haired tester experienced some frizzing to her curls after using it, too. While the clamp had great tension and the curls from this iron offered good hold, it may be too tight for effortless-looking results. Overall, testers with both thick and fine hair types weren’t getting the desired curl they hoped for, regardless of how long it lasted. For $150, we didn’t think the results were worth the price.

Moroccanoil Curling Iron Test

Byrdie / Nick Kova

Meet the Expert

Sally Hershberger is a celebrity hair stylist and owner of her namesake salon and product line.


What to Look For in a Curling Iron

Barrel size

When it comes to selecting the size of your curling iron barrel, your hair’s length and desired results should be your top considerations. If you desire looser curls or beachy waves, choose a larger barrel, says Hershberger. For tighter curls or shorter hair length, go for a smaller barrel size, which Hershberger notes can also help amp up your style’s volume.

Adjustable temperature settings

To avoid heat damage, you want to select a curling iron that has adjustable temperature settings. This customization tool will help you cater to your hair type’s specific needs. “Generally speaking, if you have fine or treated hair, keep the temperature below 300 degrees," says Hershberger. While normal or medium hair types can tolerate a bit more heat, Hershberger notes you’ll need a heat range of 350-450 degrees for coarser, thicker hair. 

Bio Ionic Curling Iron Test

Byrdie / Nick Kova

High-quality materials

The material your curling iron is made from will greatly impact the results you desire for your specific hair type and concerns, according to Hershberger. If frizz and/or heat damage are your main concerns, she suggests seeking out a ceramic or tourmaline iron. Thicker hair types that need high temperatures for effectiveness should turn to titanium irons. Not only will titanium heat up fast and help retain moisture, says Hershberger, but it will prevent the hair from becoming too dry or brittle with regular use.

Built-in safety stand

Having a bevel built-in to your curling iron for the ease of putting it down on your counter between sections is crucial. This small feature will prevent any accidental burns to your countertop and keep the hot barrel lifted above other items that could catch fire.

Swivel cord

A cord that swivels will allow your curling iron to move with ease as you style your strands and avoid getting tangled up or crowding your view as you go. 

Clamp

Finding the right clamp is an important factor that considers your hair type. A clamp that’s too tight may pull on or even crease finer hair that’s quicker to react to heat and tension. Thicker hair types may need a clamp with more tension to keep the hair from slipping out of the iron. The right clamp tension can offer a smoother glide and curl finish.

FAQ
  • When and how should a curling iron be cleaned?

    “If there’s a lot of product in the hair, that gets on the iron,” says Providence. “If you don’t clean it off pretty much right away, it can get baked on and become impossible to clean.” Providence offers two cleaning solutions: She uses a professional grade all-purpose cleaner called Ship Shape, “or I use straight 71% alcohol on a microfiber [cloth], and clean the iron while it’s warm but not hot.”

  • How do you use a curling iron?

    “Always use on 100% dry hair,” Providence notes. You can graze over your natural curls with a curling iron to plump them up again or use the iron to completely transform your look. No matter what approach you take, Providence suggests, “let the hair cool off in the shape you’re going for,” and that may require clipping up into its new shape if you’re morphing the hair entirely. “The cooling-off period will offer your style more longevity.” 

  • What size curling iron should you use?

    This depends upon the desired result. To enhance natural texture, you want to select a barrel size that’s as close to the shape of your waves or curls. To sculpt the hair, a 1” iron is a safe bet for creating glam waves, or for offering a tighter hold to finer hair types. For looser waves or curls, 1.25” is a great place to start for providing a shape that isn’t too tight, but not so loose that it will fall flat.

  • How do I know what temperature to use?

    According to Providence, starting at a medium-low heat setting is a safe place to begin to gently encourage the hair into its new shape. Finer hair types may experience exposure to damage at higher temperatures, whereas thicker hair types may be more resistant to heat and need to go in at the highest temperature available. Regardless, easing into the right temperature and using a heat protectant beforehand will help give your strands an added boost of protection.

  • How often do I need to replace my curling iron?

    “When the heat becomes inconsistent,” advises Providence. “It’s essential to have good control over your heat because that’s what causes the damage. When the thermostat starts to be uneven, the iron can get too hot for the hair and cause a lot of damage.”

Why Trust Byrdie 

Byrdie contributing writer Ashley Rubell has more than a decade of experience as a professional hairstylist and seven years of experience as a beauty writer, focusing specifically on all aspects of hair styling, cutting, and coloring. She extensively tests tools, products, and remedies for hair woes daily. Rubell also interviewed fellow celebrity stylists in her network for a well-rounded analysis of each tool and additional expert-derived advice for our readers to consider.

For this story, we recruited four testers with varying hair types, lengths, and textures: Editorial Commerce Producer Kelsey Lentz, Associate Fashion Editor Erika Reals, Editorial Commerce Producer Danielle Ransom, and Senior Project Manager Yves-Berthe Saint-Louis. Every iron was tested on the same scale for ease of use, styling ability, clamp tension, and curl hold.

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 contact@byrdie.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.

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