Everything You Need to Know About Curling Irons

Updated 05/13/19
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Shopping for a curling iron can be overwhelming. From ceramic to titanium, wands to triple barrels, there's a lot to consider. Much of it depends on your hair length and texture, as well as the type of curl you're after. Here's what to look for in a curling iron to make sure you get exactly what you want and need.

Material

There are several options for the material used to make curling irons.

Barrel Size

Curling irons come in a variety of barrel sizes. You should pick one based on your hair length and texture, as well the size curl you want. 

  • 3/4-inch: A small barrel is best for short hair and fine hair, and for creating tight ringlets. It also gives curly hair definition. Try: Conair Instant Heat 3/4-Inch Curling Iron ($11).
  • 1-inch: A 1-inch curling iron is the best all around and can work for a variety of lengths and textures.
  • 1 1/2–inch: Long hair is easier to curl with a larger barrel so that the full length of the hair can fit along the length of the barrel and be exposed to even heat. This is also better for achieving loose waves.

    Heat Setting

    Heat is very important for holding a curl, but it also requires a delicate balance in order to avoid frying your tresses. Thin or damaged hair needs lower heat and thick hair can go higher. Whatever you do, never go over 450 F, and always apply a heat protectant like InstaNatural Thermal Protector Hair Spray ($13) beforehand. 

    • Fine or chemically treated hair: Never go to a heat setting higher than 300 F if you have thin or chemically treated hair. These hair types are prone to heat damage.
    • Healthy or medium-thick hair: If your hair is virgin or medium in thickness, you can work with a curling iron that goes to temperatures from 300 F to 380 F.
    • Coarse, curly, or thick hair: Thick hair can get away with curling irons with higher temperatures from 350 F to 450 F.

    Shapes

    All the funky shapes of curling irons really complicate things. Consider the following.

    • Clamp: Most traditional curling irons have clamps that hold your ends in place as you roll the iron up your hair shaft. Try: BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium Spring Curling Iron ($50).
    • Wand: A curling wand has no clamp and instead works by letting you wrap a section of hair around it from root to ends. This is much better for your fragile ends, as they're not as exposed to the high heat. However, these types of irons aren't as easy to use as ones with clamps. Try: Conair InfinitiPro by Conair Tourmaline Ceramic Curling Wand ($20).

    Shopping for a curling iron doesn't have to seem like rocket science. Keep these criteria on hand and find the curling tool that you'll reach for over and over.

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