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Creating a salon-worthy blowout or hairdo at home isn’t easy, but there are a variety of tools that can help you out, from hair dryers to curling wands. Specifically, flat irons are a versatile tool that can help achieve multiple hairstyles with just one device — you can straighten or curl your hair and create beach waves, among several other popular looks. And flat irons can also save you some space when traveling since they can perform the same functions as a round brush or curling iron.
SKIP AHEAD Best flat irons to shop
When a flat iron is properly used for styling, “it provides sleeker, longer-lasting looks that smooths the cuticle [and] locks in the style with minimal tension and less repetitive passes on the hair fibers,” said Bridgette Hill, a certified trichologist. “The tensity the heated flat iron plates have on the hair fibers elongates and flattens the cuticle more effectively than other styling tools.”
To help you determine the right hair straightener for you, we spoke to a variety of hair stylists about what to look for when shopping for a flat iron and how to protect your hair when using one. We also gathered their recommendations for the best flat irons to shop.
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
Stefan Bertin, a London-based hair stylist, told us 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. However, the plates often need to be routinely checked since the coating can wear and chip away, said Tina Malhotra, a stylist at Mia Wagner Salon in New York City. When the metal — usually aluminum — is exposed, it can cause damage to your hair, according to Bertin. Courtney Foster, a licensed cosmetologist and owner of Courtney Foster Beauty, said ceramic flat irons provide fairly even heat distribution, glide through the hair smoothly and leave behind a glossy sheen. However, both Foster and Bertin agreed that those with thick, coarse hair should pass on ceramic flat irons since they don’t typically reach high enough temperatures to straighten thicker hair. Instead, Bertin said ceramic flat irons are “ideal for those with dry, damaged or fine hair” that don’t need as much heat.
Tourmaline flat irons
Tourmaline irons generally use ceramic-based plates with a tourmaline mineral coating that “offers an extra layer of protection and smoothness,” according to Hill. Tourmaline-infused plates can help straighten the hair by emitting negative ions, which help counteract the positive ions in dry or damaged hair. This process, which smooths the hair cuticle and locks in moisture while using less heat than other types of flat irons, results in silkier hair with “no frizz or flyaways,” said Foster. You’ll also typically need fewer passes to get your desired straightening effect because the heat distribution of tourmaline is the best of the three types, according to Bertin.
“Tourmaline plates are the step above the ceramic plates when hair type and texture are medium with loose waves and nominal frizz,” Hill added. She noted tourmaline provides a barrier to excessive heat and, as with most modern heating tools, “the ability to adjust the temperature settings makes this iron a great choice for the majority of hair types and textures.”
Titanium flat irons
Titanium is a strong, durable metal best suited for professional salon use. These plates typically heat up the quickest and more evenly distribute heat compared to ceramic plates, which allows for fewer passes over the hair, a smoother finish and “much better results than the ceramic iron,” said Foster.
Though these irons work best on coarse thick, curly and coily hair because of the high heat transfer, Hill told us titanium flat irons can cause the most damage to your hair and recommended avoiding these if you have fine or damaged hair.
“The heat transfer from titanium is intense, quick and, if used frequently or improperly, can create irreversible heat damage and breakage,” Hill said. She recommended “leaving titanium to the professionals” and touching up at home with a tourmaline or ceramic iron when needed.
Best flat irons to shop in 2022
We consulted experts about what to look for when shopping for a good flat iron and highlighted their recommendations below with varying plate types and sizes for different hair types and textures.
The Dyson Corrale hair straightener is a favorite among our experts. "The quality and price tag makes this flat iron like the Rolls Royce of hair tools," said Foster. Kyle DeToure, a Washington-based hair stylist and hair colorist, told us the cordless design is a “game changer” that makes styling faster and effortless. Instead of the traditional ceramic or titanium plates, the Dyson Corrale equips magnesium copper alloy plates that the brand says can easily shape around your hair and gather it. The flat iron 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, according to Dyson.
Both Foster and Shawn Harvey, a hair stylist and owner of ShawnCutMaster Inc., recommended this 1-inch tourmaline-infused ceramic iron from CHI. Foster called this flat iron "a nice introductory iron that is priced reasonably and provides a nice finish to the hair." It takes 60 seconds to heat up to the maximum temperature of 425 degrees Fahrenheit and automatically shuts off after an hour of no use, according to the brand. “Its sleek design also makes it easy to straighten, curl or wave effortlessly,” Harvey added.
Malhotra recommended T3 as a quality high-end hair tool brand. This highly rated option from the brand has nine heat settings and a digital display to help select and control your preferred temperature. The flat iron also includes a smart microchip that monitors heat fluctuations and maintains a consistent temperature while in use, according to T3.
David Jones-Muñoz, a stylist and owner of Salon Dumbo in Brooklyn, said he keeps this flat iron from ghd handy and loves that it has a small curve to help create a beachy wave. Although this one does not have a digital display, it does reach a preset temperature of 365 degrees Fahrenheit and uses the brand’s smart technology to maintain that temperature throughout styling, according to ghd. The tool also automatically shuts off after 30 minutes when it’s not being used, the brand says.
Harvey is a fan of this ceramic flat iron from Paul Mitchell due to its easy-to-read digital temperature display and its ability to “heat up fast and cool quickly.” It features 1.25-inch plates that heat up to 410 degrees Fahrenheit in 60 seconds, according to the brand. Paul Mitchell says the flat iron also features an automatic shut-off after one hour for safety.
Bertin "loves" the Cloud Nine flat iron, which is available in three sizes — Micro (0.5 inches), Original (1 inch) and Wide (1.5 inches). It also has seven temperature settings ranging from 212 to 392 degrees Fahrenheit, which Bertin noted is “really helpful to pinpoint all hair types." The ceramic plates are infused with minerals (including tourmaline), "so you get a gorgeous, snag-free glide," he added. The tool takes 20 minutes to reach its maximum temperature and automatically shuts off after 30 minutes of inactivity, according to the brand.
Malhotra recommended this flat iron, which she said she’s been using at her salon “for years.” It features 1.25-inch titanium plates (the brand also offers a larger 1.5-inch version) and heats up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit in 45 seconds, according to Paul Mitchell. It also equips a customizable auto shut-off setting that allows you to set a time up to 120 minutes for added safety, the brand says.
Jones-Muñoz called this flat iron a “workhorse” and said he likes using it at his salon due to its thick, durable plates. He noted the temperature — which can be adjusted in five intervals and reaches 450 degrees Fahrenheit — works well for his clients, and he prefers the brand’s ceramic plates over titanium because it offers a better “pull” on the hair, making it easier to style.
How to shop for a flat iron
In addition to the plate materials noted above, our experts recommended looking at some additional features, including the size of the plates and a digital display to monitor the temperature.
Plate size and shape
If you're unsure which size hair straightener is best for you, follow Bertin's tip: "Smaller plates are better for short hair, whereas larger plates are better for longer hair.” He added that the plate size won't really affect the finished product, but it will affect the speed at which you get there.
Jones-Muñoz is a fan of smaller 1-inch or 1.5-inch plates. He said once the plate gets to above 2 inches wide, there’s less versatility and less of a chance that you’ll move the straightener “quick enough without burning the hair.”
If you’re looking to use a flat iron for curls and beach waves, Jones-Muñoz also recommended flat irons with rounded backs that allow you to curl your hair onto the back of the straightener without much tug and pull.
Flat irons vary in price based on multiple factors, including plate quality, size and brand recognition. To determine whether you should splurge on a straightener or save your money, Jones-Muñoz suggested figuring out how many times you’ll be using it on a weekly or monthly basis.
“If you’re using it for a quick touch-up or once a month, then you could go with something that's a little less expensive,” he said. More durable straighteners (like those with titanium plates) are on the pricier side, but they will be less likely to wear and chip with frequent use.
Flat irons typically feature different ways to select and maintain your desired temperature — and some methods are easier to read than others. Our experts agreed that flat irons should equip a button or knob that easily displays the temperature you’re using. Harvey recommended flat irons with a digital display, which indicate the exact temperature the irn reaches and any fluctuations.
Do flat irons damage hair?
Our experts agreed that improper use, like utilizing a temperature too high for your hair type, can definitely damage the hair. “Hair is a fabric and, like any material, heat can deteriorate and break down the hair structure,” said Hill.
Bertin noted heat damage is "irreparable and has to be grown out," which means it's safest to start with a lower temperature and increase if necessary. The cuticle — the outer layer of a hair strand — can "very easily" become damaged by heat over 356 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 degrees Celsius. Damaging that cuticle layer will make your hair more porous, which means it will struggle to hold on to moisture, causing dryness and breakage.
Determining the safest heat setting depends on your hair type and texture, according to Foster. “Thick hair can use a higher setting while thin hair should use a lower heat setting,” she explained. Experts emphasized that you should always use a flat iron in quick passes on low or medium temperature and you should always use some kind of heat protectant when using any hot tool.
Although hair straighteners are safe to use when used properly, the hair stylists we consulted advised against using flat irons — or any hot tool — every day.
“Even with the best heat protectants in the game, heat is not something you should be exposing your hair to every day,” said Bertin. Those with afro-textured hair, for example, 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," he added.