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Sure, blow dryers are useful for drying your hair and can get your strands relatively straight. However, working with a round brush and blow dryer to create a salon-worthy blowout at home isn't the easiest task. You have to get the right technique down, which can take weeks to master. Blow dryers are also clunky, heavy and can become cumbersome to hold for extended periods. That's where flat irons come into play. Hair straighteners offer versatility — with just one device, you can straighten, create beach- and S-waves and curl your hair. This also means that you can save money and space when traveling.
SKIP AHEAD Best flat irons of 2021
Flat irons also may be the secret to frizz-free, sleek straight and glossy hair due to ionization. According to Stefan Bertin, a London-based hairstylist, the process helps close the hair cuticle, giving it a sheen. However, he noted that "there's no real substantial, scientific evidence of that, but I feel like there is a difference."
Flat irons are readily available at a variety of Shopping reader favorite retailers, ranging from Walmart and Amazon to Sephora and Target. They’re also available at Best Buy, Ulta, Dermstore and Bed Bath & Beyond. Hair straighteners, like the 1-inch Remington iron, can cost as little as $18 at Amazon, while a top-of-the-line model like the Dyson Corrale can cost nearly $500. Popular flat iron brands range from Conair and Rusk to Sedu and NuMe.
We spoke with seven celebrity hairstylists who work with everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Octavia Spencer to find out everything you need to know before buying a flat iron in 2021.
The plate size won't affect the finished product, but it will affect the speed at which you get there.
Stefan Bertin, Celebrity Hairstylist
Ceramic vs. tourmaline vs. titanium flat irons
The three most common flat iron plates are ceramic, tourmaline and titanium. Each one will straighten hair, but different attributes make each more beneficial for certain hair textures, ranging from fine wavy hair to kinky coils.
Ceramic flat irons
Bertin said that ceramic irons are the most affordable option out of the three types of hair straighteners. They don't get as hot as titanium and tourmaline, which can be a good thing, depending on your hair’s health and texture.
- Hairstylist Courtney Foster and Bertin agreed that ceramic flat irons heat up "fairly quickly," provide even heat distribution, glide through the hair smoothly and leave behind a glossy sheen.
- They also agreed that those with thick, coarse hair should pass on ceramic flat irons.
- After the ceramic-coated plates wear down or chip away, "the not-so-safe-metal" — usually aluminum — is exposed, which "can really wreck your hair."
- Ceramic flat irons are ideal for those with dry, damaged or fine hair, said Bertin.
Tourmaline flat irons
According to the pros, tourmaline plates contain silicate and straighten the hair with less heat.
- Tourmaline hair straighteners smooth the hair cuticle and add moisture-locking ions to the hair. "These ions help balance out dry and damaged hair, leaving the hair silkier with no frizz or flyaways," Foster said.
- Because the flat iron plates are coated with tourmaline, Bertin advised that you keep an eye out for wear and chipping to avoid potential heat damage.
- Bertin added that you need fewer passes to get your desired effect because the heat distribution of tourmaline is the best of the three.
Titanium flat irons
Titanium is a strong, durable metal best suited for professional salon use, said Bertin.
- Titanium flat iron plates heat up the quickest, he said.
- Foster, founder of Courtney Foster Beauty, added that a titanium iron also heats evenly, which allows for fewer passes over the hair and gives "much better results than the ceramic iron."
- Bertin added that even if you have hair with minimal damage from heat or chemical processing, titanium flat irons can mess up your hair.
Best flat irons of 2021
Once you’ve determined which flat iron works best for your hair’s natural texture and fullness, where should you start looking? We consulted experts and found 11 celebrity hairstylist-approved flat irons in various price points.
Foster's favorite ceramic iron is the 1-inch version from CHI, which she called "a nice introductory iron that is priced reasonably and provides a nice finish to the hair." The flat iron uses negative ions to add moisture and shine to your strands. It takes 30 seconds for the hair straightener to reach a pre-set temperature of 392 degrees Fahrenheit. The ergonomic design helps make it easier to curl, wave and straighten your hair. The CHI ceramic flat iron boasts a 4.5-star average rating from more than 5,900 reviews on Amazon, where it is currently marked down nearly 70 percent off.
"The BaByliss almost needs no explanation, as it's compact, thin and perfect for all those trouble spots where your normal flat iron can't reach, like your temples, part or neckline," said celebrity hairstylist Kristen Shaw. At just under $30, you get a powerful 6-inch-long flat iron with .5-inch-wide plates that heat up to 430 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the hair straightener into your weekend bag or purse for quick touch-ups on the go. The Mini Nano flat iron earned a 4.4-star average rating from nearly 4,700 reviews on Amazon.
Caile Noble, the hairstylist to Julia Roberts, Cindy Crawford and Kirsten Dunst, called the Revlon Salon Straight Copper Smooth his "one-stop and favorite flat iron" for all hair types. The adjustable heat ranges from 180 to 455 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows you to tailor the temperature to your hair texture. (Remember: The coarser your hair, the higher the temperature you can get away with using.) "The added attachment works wonders on thicker hair to give added control and better results while styling," he said. "And the copper plates evenly distribute heat, resulting in less damage and added frizz control. Who doesn't want that?" If you prefer larger flat iron plates, then go for the XL version that is 1.5 inches wide or the 2-inch option. It boasts a 4.5-star average rating from nearly 1,600 reviews on Amazon.
Kiki Heitkotter, hairstylist to Busy Phillips, Michelle Williams, Reese Witherspoon and Lili Reinhart, "loves" using this "versatile" hair straightener on clients. The flat iron has nine heat settings, "making it very easy to customize the amount of heat for your specific hair type [and] causing less damage, which is a huge bonus for our hair," she said. Heitkotter also likes the flexible plates, which "allow the flat iron to grip the hair with even tension." The T3 Lucea is the No. 1 bestseller in its class on Sephora and it received a 4.8-star average from 75 reviews on the site.
Shaw, who works with Chloe Sevigny and Emma Watson, keeps this ceramic flat iron on rotation. "It's one of my favorites due to its semi-rounded edges, which increase the preservation of your hair's integrity and strength, so you don't accidentally repeat creases with frequent styling, which ultimately breaks your hair," she said. The flat iron heats up in 30 seconds to one temperature setting — 365 degrees Fahrenheit— and shuts down after 30 minutes of non-use. This ghd hair straightener boasts a 4.5-star average rating from nearly 1,600 reviews on Amazon.
Foster's favorite tourmaline iron is the Dyson Corrale hair straightener. "The quality and price tag makes this flat iron like the Rolls Royce of hair tools," she said. Shaw, who helps Hillary Swank, Jodie Comer and Shailene Woodley primp for the red carpet, also keeps this hair straightener in her pro kit. The cordless flat iron "will straighten your hair at the fastest speed without burning it and leaves your strands shiny," she said. It offers 30 minutes of cord-free use, three pre-set heat seeings — 330, 365 and 410 degrees Fahrenheit — and automatically shuts off after 30 minutes.
Bertin, who works with Letitia Wright, Katy Perry and Cara Delevingne, is also a fan of the L'Oreal Steampod. The ceramic flat iron uses steam — rather than dry heat like other hair straighteners — to achieve sleek strands. "This infusion of moisture (water) conditions the hair while straightening and allows for a longer-lasting style that will stay frizz-free," he said.
Bertin "loves" the Cloud Nine flat iron, which is available in four sizes — Micro, Touch, Original and Wide. It also has seven temperature settings, ranging from 212 to 392 degrees Fahrenheit,which he noted is “really helpful to pinpoint all hair types." The ceramic plates are infused with minerals, "so you get a gorgeous, snag-free glide," Bertin added. If you're unsure of which size hair straightener is best for you, then follow Bertin's tip: "Smaller plates are better for short hair, whereas larger plates are better for longer hair. The plate size won't affect the finished product, but it will affect the speed at which you get there."
"This flat iron has beveled edges, making it user-friendly and less likely to get bends and creases in the hair," said Heitkotter. With 1.25-inch titanium plates and four pre-set temperatures that heat up to 440 degrees, you can "glide (the flat iron) smoothly through your hair, giving you a shiny end result." There's also a 9-foot-long swivel cord and automatic shutoff after 30 minutes of non-use. This 3-in-1 Kristin Ess flat iron is a top three bestseller on Target.
Ruslan Nureev, who works with Jessica Alba, Karlie Kloss, Bella Hadid and Jasmine Tookes, is "obsessed" with the Bellami Triple Shine flatiron. The hair straightener, which is available in three sizes — .5-, 1- and 1.5-inches — heats up to 430 degrees in 60 seconds. It also has graphene, black diamond and ceramic plates, which "makes the hair very shiny in one pass," he said.
Do flat irons damage hair?
Foster said that flat irons do not damage hair. However, improper use, like utilizing a temperature too high for your hair type, can "run the risk of damage." Bertin agreed, adding that heat damage is "irreparable and has to be grown out." That means it's safest to start with a lower temperature and increase if necessary. He said the cuticle, or outer layer of a hair strand, can "very easily" become damaged by heat over 356 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 degrees Celsius, "if care isn't taken to do quick passes on a low or medium temperature with a flat iron." Damaging that cuticle layer will make your hair more porous, which means it will struggle to hold on to moisture, explained Bertin. When heat is applied to hair, he noted, its moisture content begins evaporating, which causes dryness and breakage.
Although hair straighteners are safe to use, hairstylists we consulted advised against using flat irons — or any hot tool, for that matter — every day. “Even with the best heat protectants in the game, heat, whether that is from a flat iron or a hair dryer, is not something you should be exposing your hair to every day,” added Bertin. He said those with afro-textured hair should consider flat ironing their hair at most once a week because "our hair is naturally more fragile and dry, so flat ironing any more than that is a huge no-no." Depending on the health and dryness of straighter hair types, you can get away with flat ironing more often, but Bertin advised against everyday use if you want healthy hair.