Amidst all the beauty products rolling onto the market, a new curling iron seems nice to have, but not necessarily a must. But that’s not exactly the case, as the magic of a good curling iron is largely in its results.
With a curling iron, “you’ll always have a way to look good quickly,” says Leigh Hardges, hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. “It’s a pretty fast way to enhance body in the hair and create lift around your face.”
And, it’s worth investing in one that works well, which “will show in the smoothness and overall polished style of the hair,” notes Alex Brown, who’s also a hairstylist in Chicago.
What to look for in the best curling irons
For starters, the size of the barrel is one of the most important things to take into consideration. “The right size all depends on the density of your hair,” she says. “The smaller the barrel, the tighter of a curl it will be. If you have thick hair, you’ll want something that’s a little bigger in size so you’re not spending so much time taking smaller sections of your hair. My go-to barrel size is 1.25 inches or 1.5 inches, depending on the type of look you’re wanting to achieve.”
Then, you should consider the material of the barrel itself, as they’re not created equal. “Ceramic curling irons help smooth hair and reduce frizz as well as reduce potential heat damage,” says Brown. “Titanium curling irons are good for heating up fairly quickly and help retain the moisture in your hair strand.”
Seeking speed? Go with titanium. Those looking to smooth damaged hair are best left to ceramic models.
Also, always use a heat protectant before using your curling iron. “Think of reaching in your oven without a mitt on — you wouldn’t do it or you’d burn your hand,” Hardges says. “I do a light misting of heat protectant throughout the entire head before styling, and I suggest using one with some hold.”
She also stresses that the curl won’t last unless your hair is as hot as the iron — meaning that holding your hair taut for five seconds may not do the trick. “If your hair is fine it will heat very quickly, but if your strands are coarse, it takes more time,” she says.
Hardges’ number-one trick for curls that last? Be patient. Once you’ve released the curls from the iron in question, keep your hands off. “Always let the curls cool and set before disturbing them,” she says, comparing touching hot curls to cutting a steak before letting it rest. Otherwise, the curl can loosen or become fuzzy before it sets.
Finally, a curling iron is an investment that can pay off over time, as a good one can easily last seven to 10 years, according to Hardges. How do you know when it’s time to swap in a new model? “When your old curling iron’s original coating starts to wear off or if product build-up on the iron isn’t possible to remove anymore,” says Brown.
With that, consider one of the best curling irons below.
1. Ghd Curve 1” Classic Curling Iron
Best All-Around Curling Iron
You can’t go wrong with Ghd’s curling irons, which tend to carry a heavier price tag for their unmatched innovations. “They’re made so well technology-wise, and glide easily on your hair strand to achieve a polished, frizz-free look,” says Brown.
This one, for instance, features six intelligent sensors that guarantee a constant temperature of 365 degrees (the sweet spot for most hair types) across the barrel. That ensures even heat, seals in moisture and sets the pattern for long-lasting curls. Plus, it also features universal voltage for travel, a generous nine-foot cord and an automatic shut-off function which powers down the device after 30 minutes of inactivity.
2. Hot Tools Professional Gold Curling Iron
Best Curling Iron For Beginners
If you’re new to curling your hair, you’re in luck. “Hot Tools has great options, especially for those new to the game of trying to curl your own hair and need a basic curling iron to start,” says Brown. This no-frills model offers everything a newbie may need without the complicated bells and whistles. It features heat settings that go up to 430 degrees Fahrenheit (the thicker or more coarse your hair, the higher the heat), a swivel cord, and a supremely comfortable grip. It’s also available with four different barrel sizes, so you can choose what works best according to your hair length and texture.
3. Conair Double Ceramic 1-Inch Curling Iron
Best Curling Iron for Fine Hair
This curling iron offers an impressive 30 heat settings to accommodate all hair types — though those with fine hair should stick with settings one through five to avoid singeing their strands. Its ceramic barrel offers consistent heat, which can help minimize damage from overdoing it and creates curls that last for days.
Per one reviewer, “I was pleasantly surprised by this iron. It’s easy to handle because it’s super light, heats up quickly, and the size is perfect for barrel curls, or beach waves. I have super fine hair and the curls last all day, which rarely happens with my hair. I would order this brand again.”
4. Hot Tools Signature Series Gold Curling Iron
Best Curling Iron for Thick Hair
It’s not all about looks for this gold-plated model. “This is a good, sturdy iron,” says Hardges. “There’s a thermostat to prevent overheating hair, and it also has a nice, tight clamp for holding onto a thicker section at once.” (Those with thick hair can benefit from curling larger sections in one pass, which can help save time.) Not only that, but it also has a convenient swivel cord, a cool-touch tip and comfortable grip for easy wielding.
5. Babyliss Pro Titanium Curling Iron
Best Curling Iron for Textured Hair
Textured hair types tend to be more coarse, so they require a higher level of heat application. That’s why Hardges considers this a winner. “The heat is very even, and the clamp delivers great tension so it helps smooth textured hair,” says Hardges. “Bonus, there’s a turbo heat button so you can move that process along.” The titanium barrel also delivers negative ions to enhance shine, and the minimalist design keeps this one relatively lightweight. It also has an eight-foot cord on a swivel base for easy navigation in any space.
6. Trademark Beauty Babe Waves Hair Waver
Best Curling Iron for Beach Waves
Those seeking beach waves should look no further than this hair waver, which is a three-barrel curling iron that quickly creates a summer-ready look no matter the season. The ceramic barrels work with all hair textures, heat up quickly and are paired with crease-free clamps to prevent a crimped look, which is why Hardges keeps this one in her arsenal. And, with three barrels, it gets the work done quickly. “You can use larger sections so styling is quicker,” she says. “Just be sure to let the hair cool completely before manipulating the waves.”
7. Bestope Curling Iron Set 6-in-1 Curling Wand
Best Interchangeable Curling Iron
Seeking a variety of styles? Consider this set of six curling wands, which can create a wide number of looks and accommodate a range of hair lengths, ideal for the person who loves to experiment with dramatic chops. “The three-fourths-inch barrel is for short to medium-length hair, a one-inch is great for shoulder-length hair, and the 1.5-inch or larger barrel is for long hair,” says Hardges. The barrels heat up within 30 seconds, and even come with a heat-protective glove for safe, comfortable styling.
8. Kristin Ess 1” Curling Iron
Best Affordable Curling Iron
Celebrity hairstylist Kristin Ess is known for her supremely pretty (yet wallet-friendly) hair-care products, and the same goes for her tools. “Kristin Ess’s curling irons are really good,” says Brown, “They’re reasonably priced and also have adjustable heat settings.”
This one offers a digital display so you don’t have to guess the temperature and a smooth barrel that prevents friction (and therefore minimizes frizz). It’s also comfortable to use, with a heat-resistant cool tip and an ergonomic thumb grip that keeps cramped hands at bay. And let’s not forget the titanium barrel, which helps retain moisture in the strands.
9. Hot Tools Professional 24K Gold Marcel Curling Iron
Best Professional Curling Iron
For those comfortable with curling hair, take things to the next level with a marcel curling iron. A favorite among pros, these don’t have springs. Rather, they’re constructed more similarly to scissors, making them more ergonomic and generally comfortable on the hands and wrists. Take it from a reviewer who stuck with it despite the learning curve: “The difference is huge. First, a spring iron is actually a lot of work to use after getting used to a marcel. Second, the control and quality of curl with this iron is so much better. It’s definitely worth the cost. If you don’t curl your hair a lot or aren’t comfortable with a normal iron, a marcel might not be worth it. But if you curl your hair regularly and have decent coordination and hand dexterity, this is a great iron.”
10. Dyson Airwrap Styler
Best Curling Iron for Damaged Hair
The Dyson Airwrap is a game-changer for a reason. Instead of manually wrapping your hair around a barrel or having the barrel rotate, this tool uses air to gently pull the section around the barrel. Its intelligent heat control is smart, too, measuring air temperature more than 40 times per second to prevent heat damage while you’re styling. Plus, it’s one of the best hair dryer brushes — so you don’t have to bother with blow-drying it first, either.
11. Chi Lava Ceramic Hairstyling Wand
Best Curling Iron for Short Hair
This super-skinny wand allows you create curls from a cropped cut, so those with bobs and lobs can still get movement and bounce. The tapered design can create a variety of curl sizes, and the blend of volcanic lava and ceramic in the wand offers gentle, consistent heat — while also allowing for adequate styling at a lower (and thus less damaging) temperature.
“I used this curling wand to fancy up my naturally curly hair and it did the job perfectly,” says one reviewer. “In about 10 minutes, I had touched up my hair that is a little past shoulder length. Curls were smooth and still there after sleeping on them.”
12. The Beachwaver Co. Beachwaver Pro 1
Best Curling Iron for Long Hair
Curling long hair can take days — or so it feels — but this innovative tool has figured out a shortcut. With the push of the button, the barrel spins either to the right or the left, taking the hair with it and making it easier to create a variety of waves and curls. The extra-long, 6.5-inch barrel can also accommodate very long hair without having to double-wrap it, so each section of hair gets an equal amount of heat from root to end. It also heats up in 30 seconds, has a nine-foot cord and delivers up to 450 degrees of heat — allowing it to handle even thick, long hair.
13. T3 Lucea 1” Professional Straightening & Styling Flat Iron
Best Flat Curling Iron
A flat iron that can also curl? It’s possible with this model, which has floating plates that allow the user to create bends and waves in the hair. It’s a safe bet for those who want more versatility from a styler without needing two separate tools. Not only that, but it also features nine heat settings, an insulated clamp for greater comfort and a microchip that monitors and regulates heat to guarantee an even temperature while styling.
14. Lunata Cordless Convertible Curling Iron
Best Cordless Curling Iron
Forget messing with a long cord with this entirely cordless model, which runs for up to 40 minutes at high heat on a single charge. (An included clip can turn it into a straightening iron, too, giving it added versatility.) This curling iron also comes with a heat-protective sleeve that unrolls into a mat, offers a titanium barrel for quick heat distribution and reaches up to 450 degrees, making it ideal for travel and touch-ups alike.
15. Drybar The 3-Day Bender 1.25″ Digital Curling Iron
Best Automatic Curling Iron
Bringing the Drybar salon to your home, this curling iron does all the work for you. The rotating clamp pulls the section of hair as it spins, so you don’t have to twist your wrist around the way you would with a stationary barrel. As one reviewer puts it: “This iron is so easy to use. The little paint knob makes it so simple to twist the barrel without having to twist your entire wrist. Makes incredible curls quickly. Highly recommend!”