A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.
A great curling iron takes the pressure off of a rushed early-morning routine: It’s light in the hand, easy to manoeuvre (even for true curling dummies), creates a curl that won’t drop by lunchtime, and doesn’t fry your hair. We know there are a lot of them to wade through, though, which is why we turned to a dozen hairstyling professionals to get their opinion on which curling wands are really worth investing in. Here, we’ve assembled a range of options — from the drugstore-budget range to some heavy hitters that professionals use to make waves on famous clients.
Best overall curling iron
The clear favourite among the hairstylists we polled for this story was a one-inch curler from GHD, with everyone mentioning how intuitive this iron is at minimizing hair damage — it maxes out at 365 degrees. “They have done extensive studies into the correlation of heat against elasticity of hair, which concluded in the GHD irons not going above 365 degrees,” says New York–based hairstylist Helen Reavey. “The material allows heat to distribute evenly, creating the perfect wave without damaging your hair.” It’s her top recommendation for serial curlers, and others — like stylists Benjamin Muller and Nunzio Saviano — tend to agree. “The temperature is perfect, the hair never smokes or smells like burn, and the curl is perfect after four to five seconds from root to end — shiny and elastic,” says Saviano.
Best curling iron with high heat limits
The devilish appearance of this FHI ceramic iron might give away the fact that it can be scorching: Temperatures on this curling iron range from 140 degrees Fahrenheit to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, which celebrity hairstylist Tym Wallace — whose clients include Taraji P. Henson and Mary J. Blige — deems perfect for his curling needs. “Thus far, its the hottest curling iron I have used.” He likes that it also has three layers of ceramic plates infused with tourmaline-producing negative ions that seal in moisture, repel humidity, reduce frizz, and help eliminate static. “It makes the hair shiny and holds good curl memory for all hair lengths and styles. Also, it travels light in my kit.”
[Editor’s note: Please note this price is converted from USD. Shipping not included.]
Best curling iron for minimizing heat damage
Celebrity hairstylist Kendall Dorsey uses this iron regularly on his clients, which include Solange, Yara Shahidi, and Justine Skye. In addition to using tourmaline plates (which seal in the hair’s moisture and minimizes frizz), it also uses what they call “an exclusive Infared Smart Technology,” which apparently infuses the hair with “micro-moisture particles to prevent the damaging effects of high heat tools.” We can’t speak to the micro-moisture particles, but Dorsey feels it’s the best iron on the market when it comes to preserving hair health.
[Editor’s note: Please note this price is converted from USD. Shipping not included.]
Best ionic technology curling iron
Cassadi Currier, a stylist and extension specialist at Pembly Joon, loves hot tools with ionic technology because it makes the hair super-shiny. She has previously recommended a flat iron to us that uses negative ion technology to seal the hair’s cuticle, and this curling iron “works by using nano ionic technology which breaks the water molecules down into small particles so moisture can penetrate the hair, which leaves you with silkier, shinier, more conditioned hair,” she says. All of Bio Ionic’s hot tools use this technology, but she likes this model specifically for its size. “I love their extra-long barrel curling iron because I do a lot of hair extensions, and have hair extensions myself, so having an extra two inches really helps for a quicker curl.” And if you’re someone who typically uses a wand, this curling iron might be a good transition tool. Currier says lots of her clients use wands, because it takes a little coordination to open the clamp and curl at the same time with a traditional iron, but those who she has converted to this curling iron say that even though this one has a clamp, it glides through the hair very easily.
Best rotating curling iron
Marcel irons are the go-to for celebrity hairstylist and author of Stunning Braids Monae Everett because they’re easy to use and get hot from the base of the barrel to the tip, which is key for creating an even curl and reducing frizz. This curling iron is also a favourite of hairstylist and founder of A Curl Can Dream Daryce Brown-Willis, who likes how light it is. “It doesn’t hurt my wrist with continuous use,” she says.
[Editor’s note: Monae’s preferred model is not available in the UK, however the Titanium Brilliance by Babyliss is equally lightweight and also distributes heat across the whole barrel.]
Best curling iron for textured hair
Dorsey recommends the Hot Tools 24K Gold Curling Iron for textured hair because it gets hot quickly (it only takes a few seconds to reach 430 degrees, he says), maintains its temperature for the duration of styling, and has a gold barrel, a material he feels works best on textured hair. Although the iron comes in a variety of barrel sizes (three-eighths of an inch, three-quarters of an inch, an inch and a quarter, an inch and a half, and two inches) Dorsey prefers the one-inch curler, which he says works well on a wide range of lengths and creates “beautiful, natural-looking curls.”
Best curling iron for long, thick hair
If you have longer, thicker hair, chances are, you need a curling iron with a slightly bigger barrel, like this inch-and-a-quarter Babyliss Pro Nano Titanium. This one comes recommended by Dorsey, who likes its 50 heat settings (it goes all the way up to 450 degrees) and ceramic barrel, which helps to evenly distribute heat without damaging hair. “The ceramic in the curling iron creates a far-infrared heat that penetrates deep into your hair to preserve its natural moisture and shine,” he says. “It also helps your hair glide through easily so there isn’t breakage when you are pulling your hair through to start a curl.”
Best mini curling iron
For tighter curls, Muller uses a small, five-eighth-inch barrel from BaByliss Pro. “To create a tight curl, you always want a curling iron with high heat but a small size,” he says. “For this, the spring system makes it easy to manipulate the hair, and with the heat from the BaByliss, I can also lock in the curls and bring definition to hair.”
Best interchangeable curling iron
If you are not exactly sure what size curls you want to make, or just like switching up your look, this T3 option would be good to have on hand. “This set comes with three size barrels that are interchangeable, five adjustable heat settings (260 degrees to 410 degrees) and creates defined and voluminous curls,” says Kadeisha Placide, the manager and lead stylist at Classic Beauty Studio. “The size of the barrels included are one inch, an inch and a quarter, and one and a half inches.” She also says that these T3 irons won’t leave your hair damaged, and they will even reduce frizz and create shine. Placide notes it’s safe enough to use on a variety of textures, including natural hair, and her only recommendation is that you use it on prestretched or smoothed hair, meaning its been blow-dried or flat-ironed beforehand. (If you prefer curling wands to clamp irons, T3 makes a similar interchangeable set — more on that below.) [Editor’s note: T3 barrels are sold separately.]
Best curling iron wands
If you struggle with clamps on curling irons, celebrity hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons — who frequently works with the Kardashians — tells us that he’s been using this clipless Paul Mitchell three-in-one curling iron lately and is loving it. “It has three interchangeable barrels (a rod, a cone, and a small cone), so you can create loose waves, natural-looking curls, and ringlets with just one tool,” he explains. As someone who frequently hops around for work, he likes that it allows him to travel light.
And if you’re serious about beach waves, T3 is another name to know. It’s the same brand Blake Lively’s hairstylist, Rod Ortega, uses to create her signature wavy hair (more on that below) and came recommended by Samantha Shepard, the lead stylist at blowout salon Glam + Go. Considering that the salon’s most popular styles require a tousled, natural-looking wave — and that the premise of a blowout bar is speed — she finds this tapered T3 Singlepass wand ideal for its light weight (“as stylists, our job is basically one long arm workout”) and speedy heat-up time.
Or, if you want the exact style of wand that Ortega uses, here’s the T3 whirl trio, an interchangeable medley — similar to the Paul Mitchell one — that helps tackle everything from tighter spirals to flowing Veronica Lake waves. Celebrity hairstylist Cheryl Bergamy is also a fan, saying it’s “so easy and smooth to use,” especially for soft waves or loose curls.
A few Strategist staffers are also partial to this pink curling iron, which writer Lauren Ro says is the closest she’s come to mimicking the natural waves of a digital perm. It has a tapered tip that creates a range of curls, depending how you wrap it. “Instead of fussing with getting your strands into the clip, as with a traditional curling iron, all you [have to do is] wrap your hair around the barrel of the wand, hold for a few seconds, then release it,” explains Ro.
[Editor’s note: Lauren’s preferred model is not available in the UK, however the Proluxe Curling Wand also by Remington has the same temperature range and tapered shape.]
Best curling iron wand for minimizing heat damage
The Airwrap styler is one of few curling irons you can use (safely) while your hair is wet. Here’s how it works: rather than curling hair with heat, the Airwrap uses high-speed airflow — you wrap hair around the barrel, and jets of air create the curls. Though pricy, it comes with a slew of attachments, including a pre-styling dryer for wet hair , brushes for straightening and volumizing, and 1.2- to 1.6-inch Airwrap barrels for creating specific-size curls. According to editorial hairstylist Joey George, it lives up to the hype and the best thing about it is that you’re able to create a full head of curls without any heat damage at all. [Editor’s note: This product is currently sold out.]
Best curling wand for textured hair
For textured hair, Bergamy’s go-to is the Amika Jack of All Curls Wand Set, which, like the Dyson and Paul Mitchell wands, comes with five different barrels to help you control curl size and shape. “These wands are amazing for creating tight curls with high volume,” she says, adding that for textured hair, she likes to set the temperature somewhere between 325 and 375 degrees, depending on coarseness. Bergamy also noted that the wand offers consistent heat (which is important for avoiding damage and creating smooth curls) and can get up to 450 degrees.
[Editor’s note: Begamy’s preferred model is not available in the UK, however the Chameleon Kit also from Amika offers the same range of barrel sizes and temperature.]
For “super-boho hair,” Currier likes this waver. She says it makes your hair look like you just took it down from braids and can give anyone with naturally wavy hair a nice, polished look. Currier herself has wavy hair and has tried several wavers, but says this Amika one is her favorite. “Wavers are kind of heavy, depending on the brand that you go with because they’re big tools, so I like this one because it’s a little bit lighter in your hands, and it doesn’t feel as awkward when you’re clamping it,” she explains.
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