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Whether 80s and 90s hair is a thing you actually lived through or just something you've seen pictures of on the Internet, you might be excited to hear many throwback hairstyles are having a comeback. One notable look is crimped hair—you know, the zig-zag crinkle effect you can only get from tight braids, plastic clamps, or hot hair tools.
If you ask us, the latter is the easiest and most effective way to nail this nostalgic 'do. Today's crimping irons can offer everything from retro sawtooth crimps to large deep waves. Short, long, thick, fine, natural, or curly—no matter your hair type, there's a crimper out there for you.
These are the best hair crimping irons for the ripples you crave.
Best Overall: Hot Tools Professional Micro 24K Gold Crimper
For a classic crimp, reach for the Hot Tools 24K Gold Crimper. The small metal plates have tiny grooves for creating a perfect zig-zag texture, whether you crimp your entire mane or just a few sections.
New York-based hairstylist Sky Kim of Serge Normant at John Frieda says she uses this crimping iron on clients with short, long, thick, and coarse hair. "The heat does go up to 430 °F, so it'll style your hair very efficiently, and you won't have to leave it on for too long," she tells Byrdie.
Best Budget: Bed Head Little Tease Hair Crimper
Hair tools aren't as cheap as they were in the 80s, but if you want something a little more budget-friendly, we suggest Bed Head's Little Tease. This crimping iron heats up within seconds to an impressive 400 °F. And the narrow ceramic rippled plates make it easy to get a perfect crimp.
Best Drugstore: Revlon Pro Collection Deep Waver Iron
Revlon's take on the crimping iron is this sleek waver tool. The ceramic grooved barrel delivers more of a bouncy, beachy wave, but you'll still get plenty of definition. It reaches up to 400 °F with evenly distributed heat, though you can set it to a lower temp for a softer look.
Best Splurge: Drybar The Mixologist Interchangeable Styling Iron
The Mixologist is a bit spendier than your average hair tool, but this all-star styler is a curling iron, curling wand, and waver in one. Hook on the waver attachment to add some beachy volume to your mane, and pump up the heat to the max 450 °F when you want a little more definition.
Best Pro-Level: ghd Contour Professional Performance Crimper
Hands down, one of the best things about this crimping iron is that it automatically switches off after 30 minutes—meaning you won’t find yourself in constant stress over whether or not you turned it off. Add a boost of volume and texture without damaging your hair, thanks to advanced ceramic technology. One user recommends crimping the roots for instant volume—no backcombing necessary.
Best for Fine Hair: Ion Automatic Crimping Hair Iron
For our fine-haired friends, we recommend this Ion crimper. It automatically feeds your hair through the rotating rippled plates, saving you time and energy. You can use it to tease thin tresses or create a fuller look by adding volume at the roots.
Best for Thick Hair: Gold 'N Hot Professional Ceramic 2" Hair Crimper Iron
All you need is a minute to get this crimping iron ready to go. Two-inch gold plates, with various heat levels, instantly heat the hair to your desired style. In fact, fans of this hot tool rave that it doesn’t take them long to style their hair—just press down onto the section of hair for a second or two and you’ve got textured waves. Bonus: The 6-foot-long cord conveniently swivels—ideal for those just-a-tad-too-far outlets.
Best for Curly Hair: DSHOW 4-in-1 Hair Ceramic Iron
This four-in-one tool is ideal for curly hair-folks. It has four interchangeable ceramic plates, including a flat plate for straightening, plus three different crimpers: one with four teeth, one with six teeth, and one with eight teeth. If your hair has a natural curl, straighten it first, then snap on a crimping plate to create a defined ripple effect.
Best for Natural Hair: Amika High Tide Deep Wave Crimper
Curly, coily, kinky—this volumizing hot tool works wonders on any hair type. Three tourmaline ceramic barrels help to create crease-free and flawless curls, all while sealing the cuticle to keep strands smooth. One user raves that although she’s a hair tool newbie, she found this crimper extremely easy to use—no practice needed.
"I love that this comes with an extra-long cord with 360-degree swivel, so you can really work it around you, plus negative ion technology that smooths hair, and a 30-minute turn-off feature," says Kim.
Best for Short Hair: Bed Head Waveaholic 2'' For Tight Waves
If you're working with short hair, your best bet is a waver tool, like Bed Head's Waveaholic. The 2-inch rippled plates are just the thing for achieving beachy, crimp-adjacent texture that doesn't stick straight out. It heats up to 450 °F and uses tourmaline ceramic technology, meaning you can style your hair fast without worrying about damage.
Best for Long Hair: Trademark Beauty Babe Waves The Hair Waver
For long-haired humans, we recommend Trademark Beauty's Babe Waves. The standard size has three 1-inch barrels, and the jumbo size has three 1.25-inch barrels. Either way, this waver makes it easy to cover a lot of ground in a little time. Plus, it heats up quickly and can be set from 0 °F to 450 °F depending on how much definition you're going for.
Best Time-Saver: Remington Wet2Waves Styler
Going from damp hair to gorgeous waves takes just one tool. The combo of ceramic and titanium plates—and their unique steam vents—can heat damp strands without damaging them. Because it’s a blow dryer and styler in one, it literally cuts your styling time in half. Before styling, make sure to towel-dry hair and remove excess water, then detangle with a brush. Section off hair as you normally would, then style.
If you want a classic crimped look, you can't go wrong with Hot Tools Professional Micro 24K Gold Crimper. The small plates and zig-zag ripples make it easy to create all-over texture or tease just a few sections. That said, the Bed Head Little Tease Hair Crimper is slightly more wallet-friendly, and it has similar narrow, rippled plates.
What to Look For in a Hair Crimping Iron
The most important feature of crimping irons is the plate shape. For a true crimp with a distinct crinkled look, opt for small, sharply angled ripples. If you want a more subtle effect, look for plates with larger (and usually fewer) ripples. For softer waves, you'll want a tool with multiple barrels or smoother, less angular grooves.
Unlike stylers from the 80s, the best hair crimping irons of today typically have ceramic plates, which protect hair from heat damage while creating a shiny effect with minimal frizz. Some are made with tourmaline ceramic, which helps seal in and smooth hair cuticles.
To achieve a high-definition zig-zag effect, your crimping iron should reach at least 400 °F, though some can get as high as 450 °F. If you want a more subtle style, look for an option that can be set to a lower temp.
Speaking of heat, we also appreciate crimpers that automatically shut off after 30 or 60 minutes. This means you'll never have to frantically wonder whether you remembered to turn it off when you're out and about.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Theresa Holland researched and wrote this roundup. Having dabbled in crimping and waving over the years, she's partial to Bed Head's hair tools. Theresa has been writing for Byrdie since 2020. You can find more of her work on MyDomaine and the Spruce.
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 crimping irons from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.