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A hair dryer is a pretty straight forward purchase - at least, you would think so. Right? I mean, it’s just a hand-held spout funneling hot air to your head to dry your hair.
How can it get more complicated?!
Well, for one, when you actually go to actually buy one, there’s a lot of hair-drying jargon: Ionic! Tourmaline! Ceramic! Infrared! Wattage! Cool shot!
It can be pretty overwhelming at first - because, honestly, how am I supposed to know what all of those actually mean when they all claim to do the exact same thing? How will I know what is the best hair dryer forme? Which one’s the best cheap hair dryer?
They also come in all kinds of forms these days - you can get a brush hair dryer that smoothes while it dries, or a hair dryer with comb attachments (although, I think the second one is more for the men’s market.) To be honest, I think a hair brush dryer can be kind of limiting in what you actually need - so this time, I’m gonna keep the focus to traditional hair dryers.
There’s a hair dryer out there for every hair thickness, texture, need, and budget - so let’s break down a bunch of the buzzwords and understand what they do, so you know exactly what you’re looking for and how you will know what is the best hair dryer for your exact hair care needs.
Best tiny: BabyLiss Pro Nano Titanium
Best tiny: BabyLiss Pro Nano Titanium
Best for damaged hair: T3 Cura Hair Dryer
Best quiet: Panasonic Low Noise Ionity
Best affordable: Conair Pro Styler
Best for curly hair: Elchim Milano Ceramic
Best for fine hair: T3 Cura Luxe
Best for thick hair: Elchim Classic 2001
Understanding What’s What
For this one, I'm gonna need you to think back to high school chemistry (as painful as that might be…) and remember when we learned about molecules being positively or negatively charged? Any molecule that has a charge is called an ion. An ionic hair dryer will release negative ions which overall help to dry your hair faster so it doesn’t have to stay under the heat for as long - lessening the likelihood of heat damage. Handy, huh?
Infrared is basically a form of electromagnetic radiation that provides a warm, even heat. Hair dryers use convective heat, which makes hair prone to being burned because of the higher temperatures, so infrared technology is usually incorporated into hair dryers to minimize heat damage - leaving you with shinier, healthier hair.
Tourmaline is a semi-precious mineral (aka a fancy rock) that has some pretty unique thermal properties that have been harnessed into pretty much every single type of heat styling tool out there.
When heated up, tourmaline releases both negative ions and infrared heat, which can help dry hair up to 40 percent faster when compared to a hair dryer without tourmaline, while reducing the likelihood of heat damage to hair.
Ceramic is pretty similar (actually, really similar) to tourmaline in the way that it also releases infrared heat, more evenly distributing heat across your hair - so that parts of it don’t turn crispy with heat damage, while you’re still trying to dry those last few bits of hair.
Ceramic usually isn't as expensive as tourmaline but works just as well to preserve the overall integrity of your hair while drying for healthier hair.
You know how at the salon when you get a blowout, your stylist blasts cold air over your freshly styled hair? This isn't just to get the sweat off your scalp after using hot hair dryers - blowing cold air over just-styled hair seals the hair cuticle down, making sure that it’s silky smooth (no frizz here, thanks!) and to lock in the style.
So, you know that funny looking funnel with holes in it? That’s what a diffuser is. When this attachment on a hair dryer, it disperses the airflow from the device - that’s why diffusers are so good for curly hair. If you blow curly hair with a full-strength blast from a hair dryer, you’re gonna completely wreck and lose any gorgeous natural curl pattern you have going on. The only thing is, it’s hard to find a hair dryer with diffuser already in the box - they’re almost always something that has to be purchased separately.
This is that handy little nozzle that, depending on your hair dryer, closes down to an opening a quarter of an inch thick. A concentrator like this helps you focus the airflow exactly where you need it - and is what helps hair stylists get that perfect blowout for you.
This little number will tell you just how powerful a hair dryer is. For dryers available to the general public like you and I, stylists recommend sticking dryers no more powerful than the 2000W mark. Even if that sounds like a limitation, you might be surprised by what a 1400W dryer could do for you! There are more powerful ones out there, but they could be an absolute disaster for hair in the wrong hands.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll just take this opportunity to remind you of the three golden rules of hair drying:
The Three Golden Rules of Hair Drying
Always use a heat protectant
I know - it can be tempting to just skip this step and get straight into drying and styling. "Oh, it's only this one time," you say. And then all those just-one-times become all-the-times - next thing you know, you're spending all your coin on hydrating and protein treatments for your heat damaged hair, girl. Just use the heat protectant from the get-go, mkay?
Don’t try to dry soaking wet hair
I’ve made this mistake before (when I was very young) and tearfully couldn’t figure out why my hair just wasn’t drying! The key is to air dry to a certain point before actually using heat on it. Use a microfibre hair towel or an old cotton shirt as a hair turban for only about ten minutes, then let your hair air dry before going in with your dryer.
Use the right attachment for the outcome you want.
Hair dryers come with concentrators for a good reason, people. They help direct and streamline the airflow coming out of the dryer, helping to dry and smooth for tangle-free hair.
If you’re not looking to straighten or create a specific style with curly hair, a diffuser is a must. Diffusers redirect the airflow to dry curls while preserving natural curl and wave patterns for perfect curly hair. It’s a bummer that they’re considered an ‘extra’ and not included with a lot of hair dryers, but once you’ve got a good one - believe me, your hair will thank you.
So... What are My Hair-Drying Options?
Like I said before - there is a hair dryer out there for everyone, for every hair type, thickness, and need - got fine hair? Don't worry, we've got ya. Looking for the perfect dryer to tuck away in your suitcase? We've got you too - just read on to find out what's the cream of the crop in the hair drying world. Get ready to leave that cheap hair dryer you've had for years - because lets if it's giving you split ends frizzy hair, then it's not exactly sparking joy anymore, is it?
I know - sometimes you just can’t trust hotel hair dryers. They’re too weak to do anything more than periodically splutter warm air, let alone dry your whole head of hair, and sometimes they just plain smell weird.
So, why not pack your own travel hair dryer? The CHI Tech Travel model is super small, packable, and works just as well as a full-sized dryer - plus, it has a voltage switch.
You might be thinking, “Uhh, voltage? What’s that got to do with my hair?”
This is actually really important, especially if you do decide to travel to a country where the voltage for appliances is around the 220v mark, unlike the USA's 110v.
Not to confuse this with wattage, the voltage has to do with how much electricity charges into your device. To put it simply, if you don’t want your hair dryer to go out with an actual pop and a bang, make sure you get one that can handle overseas voltages. This CHI Tech dryer packs a lot into a travel-friendly package! It uses ceramic technology, so despite being technically lower-powered at 1400W than a dryer you would leave at home, it has the tech to dry your hair quicker and save it from heat damage.
And let’s be real - full-sized dryers are too much for us gals with small hands. They can also be so freaking heavy - so if this is your main gripe with hair dryers, consider looking for a compact hair dryer like this one!
An honorable mention goes to this BabyLiss hair dryer. It’s super tiny, especially when you fold down the collapsible handle. I'm pretty sure that this is the smallest hair dryer that I've ever seen, but that doesn't mean it can't get the job done. I won't lie - this is a really good contender for the title of the best travel hair dryer!
Even though it kind of looks like a toy, mini hair dryer, it works at 1000W and it dries hair incredibly fast, thanks to the infrared and ionic tech in BabyLiss’s Nano Titanium. It’s also incredibly affordable - so if you’re just looking for something that’s small and light on the budget, this could be a good option for you.
It’s no secret that when your hair is damaged, you want to baby it in every which way - all the treatments, all the shampoos, all the serums, and most important of all - minimizing the heat.
But you can't avoid the heat forever - sometimes, you do need to dry and style your hair before an event, or maybe you straight up showered to close to bedtime and can't go to sleep with wet hair. Don't worry - The T3 Cura has your back.
The number one key to minimizing any further damage to your hair is getting it dry as fast as possible - I know, that sounds like a recipe for damaged hair, but hear me out!
To be able to dry and save your hair from heat damage, you will 100 percent need a dryer that has either tourmaline or ceramic tech. The best dryer for damaged hair should smoothe your hair and shield it from as much damage as possible by helping the hair to dry with radiant heat, instead of relying on burning convective heat.
The T3 also has super customizable settings - while other hair dryers have their heat and speed settings tied together (you can only use low heat on low speed), you can pretty much do anything you like with the T3. High heat, low seed? Sure. Low heat, high speed? A greater range of flexibility also gives super fine control on exactly how much heat you expose your hair to.
Because the T3 uses both tourmaline and ceramic in the Cura, it has a double dose of hair-protecting infrared and ionic technology - leaving your hair shiny, healthy, and uncompromised… Just don't forget the heat protectant!
If you’re tired of how all hair dryers drone on and on in your ears (and sometimes leave them ringing after), then this might be right for you. Yes, it has to come from Japan - but that’s because this model is literally only sold there. This is THE quiet hair dryer that you need in your life if you value a low-decibel model.
We all know that Japanese technology is usually light years ahead of Western technology - and this is no exception. I’m starting to think that actual sorcery was involved in developing this hair dryer - when you turn it on, it’s literally a whisper compared to pretty much everything else on the market. Believe me when I say this is the quietest hair dryer I’ve ever listened to.
Seriously, this dryer is so quiet that people use it on their young kids and pets, and it definitely won’t wake up any roommates if you need to dry your hair late at night or early in the morning. It’s really the best quiet hair dryer out there. But this hair dryer isn’t a slouch - it still packs 1200W of hair drying power, and uses ionic technology to dry your hair.
The catch is, you'll need a converter to actually use it. Remember the voltage thing I talked about before? Japan is the only country in the world where appliances are manufactured to be used at 100V. I know - it doesn't sound that far off the States' 120V, but it makes a big difference in how long this hair dryer will last you.
If you just go ahead and plug this hair dryer in without a converter, you really risk overheating it to the point where it could burn out the elements or actually catch fire - so, let’s not do that and just get the converter!
If you’re on a budget, or you’re just looking for a solid all-rounder hair dryer, this just might be the one for you. Just because you’re looking for a hair dryer on a certain budget doesn’t mean that you have to skip out on features that help your hair dry faster and prevent damage and split ends from happening - which is why this Conair hair dryer is on this list.
It’s really the entire package - tourmaline and ceramic technology release ions and infrared heat, drying hair way more efficiently while holding off on the heat damage having all these features at that price point? IMO, this is probably the best budget hair dryer on the list.
Plus it has independent heat and speed settings, perfect for tailoring it to the exact heat and speed settings you need for your hair texture. The only thing that this isn't is a small hair dryer. It's considered a full, pro-sized dryer (at least on the Conair website) so it could feel heavy after using it for a while.
In a way, a bio ionic hair dryer like this one is kind of the baseline for a decent hair dryer - unless, it has technologies that make up for not having ionic or infrared features. This Conair ticks all the boxes though - no compensating for anything here.
When you think of luxury Italian goods, high-powered supercars and legendary fashion houses come to mind… right? What I didn't know for the longest time was that Italy is well-known for its amazing hair dryers too - like the ones from Elchim. They make salon-grade hair dryers available for ordinary people like us to use - with super customizable heat and speed settings, plus that ever-essential Cool Shot.
The best hair dryer for curly hair will need a little more oomph to it - especially if you’re styling curly hair a silky straight, or smooth and wavy. That extra oomph will come in the form of a few extra watts - in this case, the Milano Ceramic has 2000W - perfect for styling all curl textures.
The Milano Ceramic is pretty intuitive to use with its minimal button layout, which is the same across all of the Elchim range. There are just two switches on the slim, ergonomic handle, one for temperature, one for speed - so all you have to do for a powerful cold shot is only turn the speed all the way up, or for a low-speed and low-temperature blast, have both switches on setting "1". This super simple layout makes the Milano incredibly easy to use - even for the most inexperienced among us.
The Elchim Milano Ceramic is perfect for both taming curls into silky waves thanks to it’s carefully designed nozzle that directs heat to exactly where you need it, smoothing and drying hair in record time. Or, with the help of the Elchim Cocoon Diffuser, it can give your natural curls life, bounce, and shine.
Blow drying thin hair can be a tricky line to walk. Because it's thin, it dries fairly quickly on its own - heat might damage it. But also because it’s thin, it’s probably gonna lie flat on your head - and not in a cute way, in a “Hey, I’m Gollum’s cousin!” way. The best hair dryer for thin hair has to combat both of those things - which, by the way, the T3 Cura Luxe totally does.
So, the key thing to look for in a hair dryer for thin hair is its ability to boost volume, as well as dry it without completely frying it - that's where the T3 Cura Luxe comes in. Yes, I know, I did just talk about the T3 Cura, but this is the bigger, more equipped sibling - but those further upgrades do come at a cost. It's also not going to win any awards for "most portable hair dryer" - it's a full sized, luxurious-looking device.
The Cura Luxe comes with a sensor that automatically turns the hair dryer off once you set it down and let go of handle - which I love because it makes hair drying super speedy. However, the standout feature that it has that's absolutely perfect for thin hair is its new Volume Booster Switch. All you have to do is turn it on with a press of a button, and direct the airflow to your roots - even better, do this with your head flipped upside down for unbelievable volume.
Plus, since the Cura Luxe is equipped with the best and latest in heat-protective tourmaline and ceramic technology, it’s perfect for ensuring that hair dries - without frying, causing roughness and split ends, that is.
Thick hair is both a blessing and a curse, isn't it? Pros: You’ve got luscious, voluminous hair for days. Cons: It takes what feels like HOURS just to air dry, and if you do decide to blow dry, your arms ache with the effort. Ugh.
This dryer is the perfect pick for all my ladies that have ever sat down in a hairdresser’s chair and heard “Wow, you have so much hair!” While it’s by no means a small hair dryer (it’s a full, pro-size dryer!), it’s lightweight enough to not make your arms feel like lead when you’re using it.
There’s a careful balancing act of drying thick hair - obviously, there’s a lot of it that needs to be dried. But, you need to be pretty careful about how you do this, or else you’ll end up with damaged and thick hair instead of healthy and thick. The best hair dryer for thick hair should be able to handle it - without any accidental frying.
The 2001 Classic boasts five temperature settings (including cool), and two speeds. Having a wide variety of temperatures and fan speeds to choose from is super helpful for helping you dry your hair and avoid accidentally toasting some of it.
Even though it’s the only dryer on this list that doesn’t boast any ionic or infrared technology, it has still been specially developed to dry hair as quickly as possible, without drying or roasting air. The 2001 combines a specially developed AC motor with a tapered nozzle specially designed for optimum airflow and concentration, allowing you to dry hair quickly and efficiently - not roasting it!
Girl, that’s a lot of dryers. Which one’s the best?
Okay - I know that was a lot to read about, and you’re probably wondering which one is worth bringing on a deserted island with you (because a cordless hair dryer or a battery operated hair dryer is probably not gonna cut it!)
For me, it comes to a tie - the Elchim 2001 and the Conair Pro Styler are both incredibly versatile hair dryers that can deal with basically every single hair type. I have to say that the Conair is one of the best affordable hair dryer models on the market, especially when you consider all the features packed into it. Seriously - it’s gotta be the best inexpensive hair dryer out there. It has ionic technology that saves your hair from (most) of the heat damage, it has an easy cool shot option to use - it’s foolproof.
The Elchim 2001, on the other hand, is a flawless, salon-quality hair dryer. Elchim promises 2,000 hours of work out of a single motor - that adds up to a lot of hair drying sessions! You can’t go wrong with a hair dryer that’s developed for salon pros - even though it’s developed without ionic technology, if it’s good enough for my stylist, then it’s good enough for me.
Now that you know exactly what you’re looking for in a hair dryer, you’ll never have another bad hair day again - here’s to good hair days head!
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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!