Curling irons offer styling versatility — you can create voluminous bombshell curls, loose beach waves, cascading spiral curls and bouncy ringlets, depending on the size of the barrel you utilize. But what are the best curling irons, and what should you look for when shopping for one? To find out, we asked professional hairstylists to share their favorite curling irons, along with tips on how to shop for one and hacks to achieve the look you want.
The three main types of curling irons
There are three main types of curling irons to know about: spring-loaded clamp curling irons, clipless curling irons and marcel curling irons.
- Spring-loaded clamp curling irons are the most popular and easiest to use, according to hairstylist Courtney Foster, owner of Courtney Foster Beauty in New York. A thumb lever opens the clamp to hold your hair in place while you rotate the curling iron starting from the ends of your hair to the roots. “It doesn’t require a lot of hand manipulation,” she explained.
- Clipless curling irons, or curling wands, are simply a heated wand around which you manually wrap your hair, starting from the root. The advantage of winding from root to end — opposite from a clamp iron — is that you avoid any split-end damage. This type of iron also creates a looser, more natural curl without any worry of a “clamp crease,” according to our hair experts. A clipless wand takes a bit of getting used to, but it can quickly be mastered with a little bit of practice.
- Marcel curling irons equip a clamp to hold your hair in place. However, the clamp isn't spring-loaded, so you must actively hold the handle down. “These are typically used only by professionals,” Foster said, explaining that while the marcel iron provides a tighter, shinier curl, it takes practice to properly use it.
Best curling irons to consider
From hydrating hair curlers to self-wrap models, here are our hair expert’s top picks for curling irons, all of which come with adjustable temperature ranges, per expert guidance.
“This is the ultra-luxe curling iron,” Foster said. Dyson’s new AirWrap Multi-Styler Complete comes with reengineered attachments that self-wrap hair both clockwise and counterclockwise with one barrel, the brand says. (The original AirWrap had separate attachments for clockwise and counterclockwise styling.) The Dyson AirWrap Multi-Styler Complete comes with six attachments, including three brushes for smoothing and volumizing. After sectioning your hair, choose a barrel — .8 inches, 1.2 inches or 1.6 inches — wrap your damp strands around it and hold for about 15 seconds to dry and curl your hair. Follow up with a cool shot of air to help lock your style in place and release for curls or waves.
“Hot Tools is my tried-and-true,” said Jessica Lewis Davey, a hairstylist at Avanti Salon in New Jersey. This curling iron, with its 24K gold iron barrel, heats up to 430 degrees Fahrenheit evenly, allowing you to create uniform curls, according to the brand. It’s also one of Foster’s favorites — “It’s easy to use,” she said, explaining that the even heat distribution allows for faster styling.
“It looks strange at first and takes some practice, but the Conair Infinito Pro produces the most uniform curl, like magic,” Foster said. This curling iron, made of ceramic tourmaline, heats up in 30 seconds and has three temperature settings. It automatically draws the hair into its chamber, where it’s rolled into a curl and heated. An automatic beep indicator tells you the curl is ready to be released. For looser curls, Conair says to adjust the timer so the hair is released sooner.
This mint-green marcel curling iron from Harry Josh Pro Tools is heat-adjustable so you can turn it down low for finer hair and up for thicker, more coarse hair. The ceramic barrel eliminates frizz, adds shine and allows heat to be distributed evenly so you can achieve consistent curls or waves with less damage, according to the brand. If you're not comfortable using a marcel iron, you can detach the clip and use the iron as a curling wand instead. It also comes with a heat-resistant barrel sleeve so you can store it away as soon as you’re done.
Foster is a fan of this BaByliss for home use because of its titanium barrel, which she said is great for all hair types. She even uses the BaBylissPro Nano Titanium Marcel Curling Iron in her salon because it creates a precise curl. “[However], the dual handle makes it a little more complicated to use at home,” she noted.
This professional hydrating hair curler is designed with 128 apertures on the titanium barrel, which release millions of aqua ions and anions that penetrate the core of the hair, the brand says. “This protects the hair from heat damage and leaves the hair smooth and shiny,” Foster explained. It has five temperature settings and an auto shutoff feature that activates after 60 minutes.
The “3” in T3 represents the three interchangeable clip barrels included with the base: a 1-inch barrel for tightly defined classic curls; a 1.25-inch barrel for full, glamorous curls; and a 1.5-inch barrel for big, bouncy curls. Though it’s on the pricier side, this curling iron boasts the brand’s SinglePass technology to ensure even, consistent heat, according to T3, which allows for faster styling and therefore less damage to your locks. Its five heat settings make it suitable for any hair type. The T3 also has a one-hour auto shutoff feature and a swivel cord so it doesn’t get wrapped up around the base.
How to shop for a curling iron
“Nowadays it’s all about what the curling irons are made with,” Foster said. According to the hair experts we consulted, tourmaline, titanium and gold plating are all excellent because they can tolerate high heat. Ceramic irons are better for fine or processed hair because they don’t get quite as hot, experts said.
When shopping for the best curling iron for you, Foster said it’s important to consider is the look you are going after. “[If you want tight curls], buy a small pencil-size barrel iron. For large curls, buy a large barrel iron.”
And regardless of your ideal curl, Foster said it’s important to look for an iron with a temperature range versus an on/off switch. “This will allow you to adjust the temperature based on your hair texture,” she explained. According to hair care brand Redken, those with fine, thin hair should set the temperature below 200 degrees Fahrenheit; those with thick, coarse hair should set the temperature between 200 degrees and 300 degrees Fahrenheit.