Everything You Need to Know About Curling Irons

curling iron on a table

@t3micro

From ceramic to titanium, wands to triple barrels, there's a lot to consider when shopping for a curling iron (which, inevitably makes for decision fatigue). The truth is, though much of what you should consider depends on your hair length and texture (as well as the type of curl you're after), it's actually quite easy to understand if you know the basics. Below, discover the best curling iron material for your hair as well as the differences between barrel sizes, heat settings, and curling iron shapes. Plus, with the help of 901 Salon Riawna Capri and celebrity hairstylist Matthew Collins, we're dishing out how to use a curling iron, too.

Meet the Expert

  • Riawna Capri is the owner of 901 Salon in Los Angeles.
  • Matthew Collins is a celebrity hairstylist based in Los Angeles and a Global Styling Ambassador for Dyson.

Get to know the different types of curling irons with our expert-approved guide, ahead.

Ceramic Curling Iron

T3 Curl ID
T3 Curl ID $235
Shop

Ceramic is the most common curling iron material, as it spreads heat evenly and smooths out the hair. They work especially well for thin hair types that can't handle high temperatures, as they heat hair from the inside out. Collins says to go for a curling iron that has a full ceramic plate versus just a ceramic coating. "The infrared heat goes deep into the hair quick so it locks in the moisture to create less damage," he explains. "Heat will be even and create a smooth, shiny surface."

Titanium Iron

L'ange Any Titanium Lustré
L'ange Any Titanium Lustré $169
Shop

Used by professional hairstylists, titanium is the most durable, lightweight curling iron material and is able to hold high heat settings for longer. This material is ideal for thick hair types. "Titanium plates will heat up much quicker and are great for pros, but they heat from the outside in and for an inexperienced user could cause more damage over time," says Collins.

Tourmaline Curling Iron

Bed Head Curlipops 1'' Spiral Styling Iron
Bed Head Curlipops 1'' Spiral Styling Iron $30
Shop

While most hair aficionados find themselves choosing between titanium versus ceramic curling irons, there are several other materials available. Made from the stone of the same name, tourmaline curling irons emit negative ions to combat dull, dry, frizzy hair. It's great for thicker hair types that are difficult to manage. Collins says that when you use a tourmaline iron, it reacts with the positive ions in your hair to balance your hair, leaving it looking very smooth and shiny.

Gold-Plated Curling Iron

Hot Tools 1-Inch Spring Iron
Hot Tools 1-Inch Spring Iron $50
Shop

Gold-plated technology was used in the early days of flat irons. For curling irons, this material is able to tolerate high heat settings for a long period of time. They're best for coarse or thick hair, but Collins notes that this is the least preferred option as it does not balance the heat evenly over the blade.

3/4-inch Barrel Curling Iron

Conair Instant Heat Curling Iron
Conair Instant Heat Curling Iron $17
Shop

A small, 3/4-inch barrel size is used for creating tight ringlets. It's best for those with short hair and fine hair, and can also add definition to curly hair. Capri says that those with naturally curly hair can also use this size to touch up and enhance their natural curl texture no matter its length. 

1-inch Barrel Curling Iron

Moroccanoil Everlasting Curl Titanium Curling Iron
Moroccanoil Everlasting Curl Titanium Curling Iron $150
Shop

A 1-inch curling iron is the best all-around and can work for a variety of lengths and textures. "This size is best for creating a lot of texture on all lengths, and it’s especially good for short-haired people who want to create definition in their hair," says Capri.

1 1/2-inch Barrel Curling Iron

Hot Tools 24K Gold Curling Iron
Hot Tools 24K Gold Curling Iron $50
Shop

Long hair is easier to curl with a 1 1/2-inch barrel, as the full length of the hair is able to fit along the length of the barrel and be exposed to even heat. This size is also ideal for achieving loose waves. If you have shorter hair, Collins says it'll give a soft, blown out effect.

Heat Setting

Heat is crucial for ensuring your curl holds, but it's important to be mindful of creating a delicate balance in order to avoid frying your locks. Thin or damaged hair requires lower heat while thick hair types can afford to go higher. Whatever your hair type, never exceed 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and always apply a heat protectant beforehand.

  • Fine or chemically treated hair: Never use a heat setting higher than 300 degrees Fahrenheit if you have thin or chemically treated hair, as these hair types are prone to heat damage. Collins says you should also be using slow passes as opposed to several quick passes.
  • Healthy or medium-thick hair: If your hair is virgin or medium in thickness, opt for a curling iron that ranges in temperatures from 300 to 380 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Coarse, curly, or thick hair: Thick hair can get away with using curling irons that have higher temperatures ranging from 350 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Collins suggests working quickly, though, because using an extremely hot tool on any one section for too long can cause damage.

Traditional Curling Iron

BaByliss Pro Nano Titanium Spring Curling Iron
BaByliss Pro Nano Titanium Spring Curling Iron $50
Shop

Most traditional curling irons feature a clamp that holds your ends in place as you roll the iron up your hair shaft. Capri says this type allows you to create multiple different curls such as a soft wave, Hollywood glam, and beachy waves.

Clamp-less Curling Iron

Dyson Airwrap
Dyson Airwrap Styler $549
Shop

Unlike a curling iron that has a clamp, a curling wand has no clamp and instead works by letting you wrap a section of hair around the barrel. Wands are ideal for those with dry, damaged ends, as you can keep them from being exposed to high heat by leaving them unwrapped. Collins says this iron type is for someone who prefers the “beach wave" undone look to their hair, as a clamp-less design leaves your hair looking a little more disheveled.

Cone-Shaped Curling Iron

Paul Mitchell Neuro Unclipped Styling Cone Curling Iron
Paul Mitchell Neuro Unclipped Styling Cone Curling Iron $125
Shop

With a wider base and a narrower tip, cone-shaped curling wands create natural-looking waves that are looser at the root and tighter toward the ends. "This would be for someone who wants a tousled and textured style," says Capri.

Waver

Revlon 3-Barrel Ceramic Jumbo Waver
Revlon 3-Barrel Ceramic Jumbo Waver $25
Shop

Featuring two or three barrels, this type of iron creates looser S-shaped beach waves. "This can be used to create mermaid-looking waves and is a quick and easy way to get a natural texture to your hair," says Collins, adding that though it’s very easy-to-use tool, it can sometimes can make your hair look too uniformed and bumpy.

Related Stories