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Ok, let's get one thing straight - the thought of brandishing a curling iron brings me back to high school prom night, when everyone's idea of gorgeous curls was piecey ringlets with ZERO styling or brushing out.
*cue horror music*
We’ve come a looooong way since those very dark times for our hair. Whether you’re after Boho, tousled waves or trying to recreate a vintage glamour look, styling hair with the best curling iron (combined with the best hair dryer) is easy and doesn’t have to leave you with chunky sausage curls.
So how do you know which curling iron should you choose?
These days, curling irons come with clips, without clips, some automatically rotate, and there are some that are kind of shaped in a way that might get a few giggles out of the airport staff x-raying your luggage. Seriously - those bubble wand curling irons look… Suggestive. Just have a look:
But let’s go back to the idea of an automatic curling iron - yes, it’s exactly what you think it is! If you’re not super confident twisting the curling iron itself, there is such a thing as a rotating curling iron that will twist for you once you’ve clamped a section of hair between the wand and barrel.
Wait, what's the difference between a curling wand vs curling iron? A curling wand is basically a curling without clips, and they require a little bit more finesse but are perfect for a gal that's more experienced at curling her own hair. Because there's no clip, you need to use your own hand to keep your hair to the heat. I know what you're thinking - "I have to use my bare hand?!”
No, you don’t - all curling wands come with a handy heat-resistant glove for your hand, to avoid any burns on your precious hands. Although, I have heard that as you get used to it and you’re way more confident wielding your curling wand you don’t necessarily have to use the glove… that’s brave!
Size matters, too - a smaller wand lends tighter, springy curls while a larger barrel is perfect for creating beachy, mermaid-like waves. However, this also works relative to your hair length - someone with a Dua Lipa-esque bob is going to have a hard time wrangling a 1 ½ inch barrel around her short hair. Longer hair can deal with a larger barrel, and the ideal curling iron for short hair is going to have a smaller barrel.
An not to mention all the shapes - bubbled curling iron, taper curling iron, spiral curling iron... There's a lot to choose from! The bubble and spiral-shaped wands help guide your hair exactly where it needs to go for uniform, flawless waves - perfect for someone who might not be the most confident curler around.
Will a curling iron damage my hair?
The truth is, any kind of heat on your hair can damage it. It’s just how heat and proteins work together - remember, your hair is made of a protein called keratin. Excess heat damages proteins - and keratin is no exception. Luckily, there are ways that you can minimize the damage caused by heat to your hair.
So first off, because you’re wrapping your hair around something that is really, really hot, you don’t want to a) wrap too tightly and b) heat your hair for too long.
Remember this girl?
Yep, you don’t want to do a repeat of that!
When you’re curling your hair - whether you choose a wand or traditional-style curler - you need to give your hair room to slide off the curler when it’s ready. It should not be so tight that you can’t pull the tool away easily. This leads on to the next critical mistake - letting your hair sit too long in the heat! Part of the trick to getting a perfect curl is balancing the heat on that section of hair - moving it around the barrel distributes it evenly for a flawless, burn-free curl.
Other mistakes to avoid…
Your curling iron is just too hot
If your hair tends to drop after curling, it can be tempting to ramp up your new curling iron to the hottest temperature possible, because higher heat means better curls, right? The truth is, hotter isn't always better - the only thing a higher temperature always is, is more damaging.
You’re starting by clamping the ends, not the mid-lengths
There are two things that happen if you start your curl by clamping your ends. First, it’s a surefire way to fry your ends by exposing them to too much heat. Secondly, it’s kind of unwieldy to roll your hair up all the way from the bottom - leaving more chances for the clamp to leave a tell-tale crimp in your hair.
You’re not letting the curls cool before styling
This is kind of a big one. Remember how I said before that we were all too keen to just curl our hair and leave it? Now, we curl our hair and get frustrated that it doesn’t look exactly like what we’re looking for in the final style. All it takes is a little bit of patience and letting hair cool down before tugging and styling. You can do one of two things for the best bounce and volume - cup the curl in your hand until it cools, or carefully pin it up right after curling. This video shows what a huge difference in letting the curls cool can make.
You're not using a heat protectant
I touched on this one in my last post, but it’s again super important if you want to protect the integrity of your hair and prevent split ends, a quality heat protectant is the way to go.
You’re turning the curling iron the wrong way
If you're trying to go for that gorgeous, old-school Hollywood glam look, but always seem to end up with tousled waves instead - check which way you're turning your curling iron. Glam, old-school waves all basically curl the same way into each other - which is what makes the look so classy and cohesive. Beachy, boho waves don't all necessarily need to curl the same way, which creates that undone, relaxed look so well.
You’re trying to curl wet hair
What happens when you try to curl wet hair is the water turns to steam and has to forcibly escape the follicle - when I say forcibly, I mean it! The hot steam splits and cracks your hair, leading to rough, damaged tresses - the opposite of what you want.
What else? Here's the full list of curling iron mistakes to avoid!
The Best Curling Irons to Splurge On
Now, there are curling irons out there for everybody. But which one do you choose? Which one is the best curling iron? Well, dear reader, I’m glad you’re here. Here’s the rundown on 6 amazing curling irons, and one of these is sure to be your Goldilocks match - it’s just right.
1. T3 Whirl Trio
Uber-versatile curling wand with multi-sized interchangeable attachments
Besides being incredibly aesthetically pleasing (white and rose gold, hellooo!), the Whirl Trio offers the greatest flexibility with its multi-sized interchangeable attachments. This uber-versatile curling wand comes with a tapered barrel, 1” barrel, and a 1.5” barrel. And that’s only three of the possible seven barrels that fit this base. Yep, SEVEN. I’m just as amazed as you, girl. The other possible attachments include a flared barrel (it’s basically the opposite of a tapered barrel), 1”, 1.25”, and 1.5” clip barrels.
It also has five super-smart heat settings ranging from 260°F at its lowest to 410°F at its highest, so there’s a heat setting for every hair thickness and texture. Each attachment is tourmaline AND ceramic coated to help minimize heat damage as much as possible and leave hair with a faultless gloss and shine. It’s also made with T3’s trademark SinglePass technology, which assures consistent, even heat to curl your hair for the best and healthiest results.
Plus, if you’re the type of person (like me) that leaves the house and wonders if they turned off their curling iron, don’t worry - the Whirl automatically turns itself off an hour after first being turned on.
2. Lumabella Keratin Touch Wand
Best curling iron for short hair
Not gonna lie, I am a little intimidated at the idea that I'm supposed to just use my hand on a hot curling wand to curl my hair - but not with the Lumabella Keratin Touch Wand. Unlike some curling wands, the grip at the end of the barrel is actually easy to hold onto - no singed fingers here! Its 1" diameter also makes it a serious contender for the "best curling iron for short hair" award!
In addition to the actual numbered heat settings, it has a “Pro+” heat setting that is set to exactly 365 F, the perfect temperature for styling hair at, according to science. Tbh, even though it has other heat settings, I would set this to the Pro+ setting every time I use it.
The barrel itself is infused with almond oil and keratin as ‘micro-conditioners’, as Lumabella puts it. This is probably the best curling iron for thin hair because it has fortifying ingredients built right into the barrel. The keratin and almond oil also lend healthy shine to hair, so it's perfectly polished and curled. Another thing that I dig about the barrel is that it's grip coated - I need all the control over my hair that I can get, and I'm not a fan of hair just slipping and sliding out of where I need it to be. I mean, think about it - the better control you have over your hair (especially when it comes to heat styling!) the better everything is going to turn out.
3. T3 SinglePass Curl
Best curling iron for thick hair
Another luxuriant offering from T3, the SinglePass Curl hits the perfect sweet spot of size with a 1.25” barrel - perfect for any hair length. Like the Whirl series, it’s made with T3’s proprietary SinglePass technology. That’s basically T3’s guarantee that you won’t need to go over any section of hair twice to get the curl that you’re looking for - a struggle that I have sometimes! Getting it right the first time saves you time and heat damage to your hair. I love anything that that will help me get ready faster! With this SinglePass tech, this could very well be the best curling iron for thick hair.
Plus, this combination tourmaline and ceramic curling iron is super gentle on hair - it has enough to slip to let hair go quickly to avoid burning, but isn’t so slick that hair won’t stay wrapped around the barrel while curling. Plus, tourmaline and ceramic coatings smooth hair down with infrared heat - promising you polished curls that will last all day. Seriously - all day.
Like the other curlers in the T3 line, it has a microchip in the handle itself to ensure that heat is regulated across the entire barrel - perfect for protecting hair from heat damage. I also really like that this is a great option for a travel curling iron - there’s no converter necessary if you’re traveling outside of the US, all you need to pack is the appropriate travel adapter and you’re set up for flawless waves, no matter where you are.
4. Hot Tools Professional Extra-Long
Best for extra thick or extra long hair
If you have extra thick or extra long hair, that’s where this comes in. The Hot Tools Extra Long curler is a full 2” longer than your regular curler - more room for more length. That extra 2” doesn’t sound like a lot, but it definitely makes a huge difference. Based on that alone, I would say that this is the best curling iron for long hair.
Because the barrel and the clamp are made of the same material, if you feel like skipping the clamp altogether and using this as a wand, you totally can! Now, I'm a girl that loves a two-for-one kind of deal - so I really, really like this. The grip at the end of the barrel actually swivels freely, so it's super easy to use this any way you like.
And let's get to the whole gold thing - it's not just for appearances! The 24k gold plating helps to make sure every bit of the barrel is heated evenly, crucial for perfect waves without damaging hair. Although I do like the fact that the curler is gold - it brings a little bling every time I style my hair with it!
5. Bed Head Rock N' Roller Curling Wand
The best curling irons for my gals on a budget
So, this is one of those nifty bubble wand curling irons. I know, I know - it does look kind of weird and out of place as a hair styling tool, but the bubbles make it totally fool-proof. Trust me - if you don’t really have a lot of experience or aren’t as confident curling your hair, this is the best curling iron for you. The whole point of the bubbles is to create perfectly even waves for extra volume and tousle-ability - also making it the best curling iron for fine hair that needs that extra lift!
For super beachy waves, wrap hair around the rounded shapes - for tighter curls, wrap your hair around the narrower parts. The narrower parts of the curler also make it the perfect defining curl iron for short hair. Bed Head isn't a company to forget protecting hair from heat, so they've infused the curler with tourmaline to smooth hair with that super-handy infrared heat, keeping hair healthy and glossy.
6. Conair Instant Heat 1 1/2" Curling Iron
Best hair curling iron for the gal that just wants to keep it simple
Sometimes you just can't go wrong with the classics. Red lipstick, winged eyeliner, Conair Instant Heat. The Conair Instant Heat belongs in this category, and for good reason. It comes in sizes from ½ inch all the way up to 1 ½ inch, so there's a version of it for every hair length and type. To me, one of the best things about this curling iron is that it has 25 heat settings. That's right - twenty-five! It sounds like a lot, but what that tells me is that it’s incredibly versatile - perfect for every hair type.
You can adjust the temperature from the dial at the base of the barrel for your perfect level of heat - remember, hotter isn’t always better! Plus, it has Conair’s own Smart Technology that ensures the heat is constant throughout the barrel - an essential if you want to avoid overcooking your hair! It also has a strategic Turbo Heat mode which would come in handy for curling more unruly sections of hair, like that annoying cowlick that seems to never flick the way you want it to. Or is that just me?
This is the best hair curling iron for the gal that just wants to keep it simple, stupid.
Which Curling Iron Couldn’t I Live Without?
Honestly, all of these are such great options, it’s kind of torture to just choose one. But, I think for its versatility and hair protective technology, the T3 Whirl Trio has my heart. I mean, its basically six types of styling products in one - do you have the room for seven different types of curling irons in your apartment, or would you rather have room for six attachments for one curling iron? Cause I don’t. Not when that space could be taken up by all my skincare - I mean, huh?
But anyway. I don’t think that anyone, with any hair type will be disappointed with the T3 Whirl Trio. It has protective technologies to keep hair soft and undamaged (for the most part, at least). I also really dig that it’s overseas voltage friendly because girl, I am tired of either looking busted without my curling iron. And don’t even mention trying to pack a voltage converter with me! I don’t have the room in my suitcase for that.
I’m looking forward to collecting all the attachments for the T3 for quite literally the best hair days of my life - here’s to good hair days ahead!
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About the author Stephanie Morin
NYC-based beauty and skin care blogger, Stephanie delivers a healthy dose of practical beauty tips for some serious skin care inspiration!