Shopping for a heat styling tool these days is more complicated than ever. Options are a great thing, but understanding the differences between all of these choices can be a bit paralyzing. You may be wondering why “ceramic” is plastered all over the box, or just what in the heck an “ionic” tool does for your hair. Are expensive tools really worth the price? What your hairdryer, flat iron, and curling irons are made of actually make a huge difference. As a hairstylist, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years; below is a glossary of materials and features commonly found in heat styling tools to help you be an informed consumer. I’ve also included a product that is a great example of each, although most of these tools fall into multiple categories.
Heat Styling Tools: A Buyer’s Guide 1 of 24
Ionic 2 of 24
In the world of heat styling, "ionic" refers to tools that generate negative ions, which neutralize positively charged hair to smooth the cuticle and prevent frizz. Negative ions also decrease drying time by splitting water drops into smaller molecules.
Solia 1875W Thermal Ionic Hair Dryer $89.99
Ceramic 3 of 24
Ceramic tools distribute heat very evenly and are, by nature, ionic. In dryers, look for models with ceramic heaters to ensure consistent heat for healthier hair.
Jose Eber 100% Ceramic Flat Iron $119.95
Ceramic/Tourmaline Coated 4 of 24
Irons that have a ceramic and/or tourmaline coating are great, but beware that the coating will eventually wear down to expose metals underneath. Solid ceramic irons are preferable, but are the most expensive.
Revlon 3-barrel Jumbo Ceramic Perfect Waver $27.99
Far-Infrared 5 of 24
Also referred to as "infrared," this type of heat wave penetrates the hair strand consistently, preventing your hair from overheating and becoming damaged. Ceramic and tourmaline heaters are both far-infrared generators.
Solano Ultralight Professional Hairdryer $130
Tourmaline 6 of 24
This semi-precious stone is the best ion and far-infrared generator available. High-end tools are often constructed with tourmaline because they cut down drying time while sealing in moisture and shine at the same time.
Amika 19mm Tourmaline Clip-Free Curler $115
Ionic Switch 7 of 24
Some hair dryers have an ionic switch that allows you to turn off the negative ion output. Since negative ions are smoothing, turning them off helps create more volume.
CHI Cameleon Ionic Hair Dryer $179.95
Nano-techology 8 of 24
The word "nano" just implies "really small particles," so you have to pay attention to what word "nano" is attached to. Nano silver, nano titanium, and nano titanium oxide are all beneficial.
BaByliss Pro Nano Titanium 1" Ultra Thin Flat Iron $100
Titanium 9 of 24
A popular material for heat-styling tools, this metal heats very quickly and evenly. It's also quite slick, so it prevents snags when ironing. Titanium is not as healthy for hair as tourmaline or ceramic, but it creates long-lasting curls.
Theorie 4-in-one Titanium Curling System $175
Gold 10 of 24
Heat styling tools made with gold (usually 24 karat gold plated) heat quickly and evenly, but are not as good at preventing frizz or damage. However, they are generally less expensive than ceramic or titanium tools and work well for occasional use, especially on hair that is healthy or coarse.
Gold n' Hot 24K Gold Plated Professional Spring Irons $39.99
Silver 11 of 24
Tools made with silver or nano silver are great for stylists because they inhibit bacterial growth and ward off any unpleasant odors that may build up over extended use.
Cricket Crazy Straight Nano Silver Ceramic Straightening Flat Iron $80
Chrome 12 of 24
Hot tools made with this material are easy to find and are generally the least expensive. However, they are not recommended as they do not heat evenly and are quite damaging to hair with repeated use.
Vidal Sassoon Chrome Curling Iron $7.99
EMF 13 of 24
Electomagnetic fields, created by all appliances, produce harmful side effects. Look for tools that emit low EMFs through insulation and tuning.
FHI Heat G3 Original Black 1" Styling Iron $79.99
Wattage 14 of 24
When shopping for blow dryers, you'll want to look at the wattage or amount of power it uses. Higher wattage products (1,600 2000) will dry hair faster and are best suited for thick or coarse hair. However, if your hair is fine or thin, you actually want to choose a dryer with less power (1,200 1,500) to prevent damage.
Sedu Revolution Pro Tourmaline Ionic 4000i 1875W Hair Dryer $174.99
Dual Voltage 15 of 24
If you travel to Europe or other countries that do not have 110/120 volt plugs, you may want to opt for tools that come with an adapter.
X5 Superlite Tourmaline + Ionic Ceramic Mini Travel Dryer $58
Diffuser 16 of 24
If you have wavy or curly hair or like to pretend that you do, you should choose a hair dryer that comes with a diffuser attachment, which dries curls without frizz.
Devacurl Dryer & Devafuser $160
Concentrator 17 of 24
Many hair dryers come with a concentrator attachment that fits over the nozzle. These direct the air to create smooth and sleek styles in less time.
T3 Featherweight 2 $200
Heat Settings or Dials 18 of 24
Every heat styling tool you own should allow you to adjust the heat. Always use the least amount of heat you need to achieve the look you are after. If you hair is thin and you have your iron cranked to 400 degrees, you are asking for damage!
Sedu Pro Ionic Ceramic Tourmaline Flat Iron $129.99
Cold Shot Button 19 of 24
These buttons come on many hair dryers, but I find most people don't know how to use them. Blasting your hair with a shot of cold hair after heating it helps set the style. I find it particularly useful when trying to achieve volume or bend.
BaBlyss Pro 2800 Super Turbo Hair Dryer $69.95
Weight 20 of 24
Another really important consideration when purchasing any heat styling tool, but especially a dryer, is the weight. Choosing a lightweight model with a plastic body will dramatically reduce arm fatigue.
Bio Ionic Whisper Light Dryer $105.99
Auto Shut Off 21 of 24
If you are as forgetful as I am, you can appreciate how important this feature is for flat irons and curling irons.
Solia Digital Diamond Flat Iron $94.99
Size 22 of 24
When choosing a flat iron, choose wider plates when you have a lot of hair to straighten and thinner plates when you want more control and versatility. With curling irons, the diameter of the barrel increases the size of the curl. Choose thinner barrels for tight or spiral curls, and larger barrels when you want more subtle waves.
Hot Tools Professional Spring Curling Iron $29.99-40.99
Barrels 23 of 24
Two-barrel curling irons create figure-8 waves, while three-barrel irons press in waves.
Remington Wrap to Waves Styler $27.99
Clipless 24 of 24
Clipless or wand curling irons do not have a clamp to hold hair in place. Instead, you use your hand to wrap the strand around the barrel and hold in place. It's tricky to get used to, but once you have the hang of it, these tools create great, modern-looking waves and curls without damaging ends. Look for a model that comes with a heat glove to protect your hand.
Rx7 Superlite Pearl Clipless Curling Iron $69.99