How to Choose the Right Curling Iron

Thursday, March 10, 2011
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Looking to purchase a curling iron but don't know where to start? I know - you want to try out some of my awesome tutorials, right? Like this one and this one and, of course, this one. Before you buy, there are definitely a few factors to consider including the type of iron, the diameter, the materials it’s made of, and its control features.

Basic Curling Iron Types

1.       Marcel irons are primarily used by professionals. These irons have clamp but the clamp is not spring loaded, which means it needs to be held shut. They are tricky to master, especially when you are working on yourself. For this reason, I don’t recommend them for personal use at home.

2.       Spring-loaded clamp irons are generally what people think of when they think “curling iron.” They are very easy to use because the clamp holds the strand in place for you, making winding the hair on the iron easier.

3.       Curl wands or sticks do not have clamp feature at all. You simply wrap the hair around the cylinder, holding on to the end of the strand. Some curls sticks are conical so that you have some options in terms of curl size. Most come with a protective glove to prevent burns.

4.       Specialty irons include spiral stylers for creating spiral curls, double or triple barrel curling irons for creating waves, triangle shaped curling irons for creating crimpy looking waves, etc. While there are certainly some nifty gadgets out there, I don’t find them necessary unless you really a sold on one particular look. I personally prefer the versatility of more traditional irons.

Curling Iron Diameters

When it comes to curling irons, the larger the barrel, the larger the curl or wave. If you want tight ringlets, go for an iron that is about 3/8” in diameter. On the flip side, if you want big, bouncy waves on long hair, choose one that is 2” or more.  Another consideration is hair length. If your hair is shorter, a 2” iron isn’t going to be able to more than put bend in your ends. The rule of thumb for curls is that you should be able to wrap the strand around the barrel at least 1 ½ times.


  • Chrome or metal irons are the least expensive. Unfortunately, they are also the worst for your hair as they put off positive ions that open the cuticle and cause damage.
  • Gold, titanium and Teflon coated are all better choices than chrome. Gold and titanium heat evenly to prevent damage and a Teflon coating protects your hair. Beware that the Teflon coating eventually wears off, exposing the metal underneath.
  • Ceramic and tourmaline irons are the best options. Both materials give off negative ions that help smooth the cuticle, creating less damage and more shine. Solid ceramic or tourmaline is preferable to models that are simply coated with these materials because, just like Teflon, they will eventually erode.

Control Features

  • If possible choose an iron with multiple heat settings or a temperature dial. This allows you to curl your hair at the lowest possible temperature while still getting results. Your hair will thank you.
  • Another nice option is the auto-shut off feature, just so that you can breathe easier if you’re half way to work and can’t remember if you shut your iron off.

So, now I suppose you want some recommendations. Oh man, it’s so hard because there are so many makes and models. Of course, I have not road-tested the majority of them. Now that you know what to look for, you can make your own informed decision. But because I love you, I did look up a few that seem like safe bets in regard to popularity, specs, and reviews.

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1 Response

  1. […] producing plates, preferably solid ceramic, tourmaline, or titanium. Read the materials section of this post for more details. An adjustable heat dial is also essential and you should always use the lowest […]

  2. […] depending on how much bend you want on the ends. For more help choosing an iron, please refer to my post on curling iron materials and construction. This entry was posted in Q&A, Styling, Tools and tagged answer, blow dry, blow dryer, […]

  3. just what I needed! thanks for the advice!

    (now to decide which of your recommended tools to buy…)

    Jenny T

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