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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. If you’re looking to switch up your hairstyle, but don’t feel comfortable booking a salon appointment quite yet, then consider using a new curling iron to create Zoom-worthy curls at home. These hot tools are readily available at many Shopping reader-favorite retailers, including Amazon, Sephora, Ulta, Walmart, Target, Macy’s and even Best Buy (where you’ll find Dyson), another reader-favorite brand that also sells its iconic devices directly to you. You can also order top-rated curling irons such as T3 and ghd from department and specialty stores like Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Dermstore, Violet Grey and Birchbox.
SKIP AHEAD Best curling irons
So, what are the best curling irons professionals use in salons? To find out, we consulted eight hair stylists across the country, as well as one from London, to learn how to shop for the best curling irons. These hair experts — who count Marvel superheroes, Oscar winners and supermodels as clients — shared their all-time favorite curling irons, and explained the actual difference between a marcel curling iron and a regular curling iron and guided us through finding the best size curling iron for various styling needs. While you can splurge a few hundred dollars on a curling iron, you can also find salon-quality options for less than $20.
What types of curling irons are there?
Curling irons are the most popular and straightforward of the two types of curling irons.— they have a spring-loaded clamp or clip that makes it easy to hold your hair in place while you rotate the curling iron to wrap your hair around the barrel, according to said Annagjid "Kee" Taylor, a celebrity hairstylist and author of "All Hair Is Good Hair."
Stefan Bertin, a celebrity hairstylist in London, said the clamp also smooths the hair down while curling and it "results in shinier, more set, ringlet-type curls." Courtney Foster, a hair stylist in Manhattan, called traditional curling irons "easy to use" and said they produce average-sized curls or waves.
Marcel irons equip a clamp to hold your hair in place, but the clamp isn't spring-loaded. If you're not actively holding the handle down in place, the hair will fall loose, explained Taylor. "The marcel iron takes a lot more practice to use, but professionals love it because you ultimately have more control over the curl," she said.
Best curling irons of 2020
When shopping for the best curling iron for you, Trademark Beauty co-founder and celebrity hair stylist Joseph Maine advised considering both your skill level and desired results. "If you are not very skilled, then ease of use should lead your purchase — wavers and auto-rotating irons will be your best friend," he said. Maine also recommended ceramic irons to protect your hair and temperature control.
Dyson created the AirWrap curling iron to dry and curl your hair simultaneously. After sectioning your hair, choose a barrel — .8- 1.2- or 1.6-inch — 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. The Dyson AirWrap is compatible with 11 accessories and tools so you can customize your hairstyle depending on your hair texture, density and length. You can also choose from three colorways: Nickel / Fuchsia, Nickel/Red and Black/Purple.
"I have been a Hot Tools die-hard for years and I truly feel they don't disappoint," said Kristen Shaw, hair stylist to Hillary Swank, Jodie Comer and Shailene Woodley. "This is an industry-standard for beauty pros," said Amy Abramite, creative director, salon educator and stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. "The best feature is the long swivel cord for winding with ease so it does not tangle during usage.” This curling iron also heats up to 430 degrees Fahrenheit evenly, allowing you to create uniform curls.
Abramite called this a "great budget iron for at-home usage." She noted the ceramic barrel protects hair from damage and reduces frizz and static. The adjustable dial sports 30 heat settings and peaks at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. "The best feature is the 'turbo' button for an immediate increase in heat for resistant hair," she said. It is available in .25-inch increments, starting at .5-inches and up to 1.5-inches.
Caile Noble, who styles Cindy Crawford, Kirsten Dunst and Julia Roberts, relies on this mint green marcel curling iron from Harry Josh Pro Tools. "It's heat-adjustable so that 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 overall less damage to each section," he said. If you're not comfortable using a marcel iron, you can detach the clip and use the iron as a curling wand instead. Noble appreciates it comes with a heat resistant barrel sleeve, "which is ideal when I do hair and have to go in a hurry. I can pack it right up without wrapping it in a towel, keeping my kit light and hassle-free," he said.
Jill Engelsen, a hairstylist in New York, called this 1.25-inch curling iron the "most universal size" and noted it's what she uses on herself and clients. "It's gentle and effective on the hair and the spring is not as tight as other irons, so it ends up being easier to use without getting a kink in the hair if you tend to get those," she said of the "lightweight" iron. Notably, it has 50 heat settings, maxing out at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Leigh Hardges, a stylist and natural hair specialist at Maxine Salon, told us her favorite feature is the heat booster button to set curls quickly.
Hardges is a fan of this combination flat iron, curling wand and curling iron from Trademark Beauty. "You can smooth fly-aways and edges with the flat iron and create beach waves with your wand or get volume using the curling iron," she said. Notably, it has a push-button rotation to "make styling quicker" and you can toggle a lever to utilize the flat iron. The 1.15-inch ceramic barrel heats up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit within 60 seconds and displays the temperature on a digital dial.
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