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    outside the labs

    Best Curling Irons

    The Bio Ionic Long Barrel gave us swoonworthy curls, while the Conair Double Ceramic snagged our baby hairs

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    three curling irons with illustrated pieces of hair wrapping around them Photo Illustration: Alisa O'Connor/Consumer Reports, Manufacturers

    A curling iron is one of the best ways to turn up the volume on your hair. But the market is awash in options: Titanium or ceramic? A ½-inch or 2-inch barrel diameter? Which is best for tight curls or loose waves? Do I really need one with the latest hair technology? What does that even mean???

    If you’re already feeling decision fatigue, you’re not alone. But you don’t have to wade through a thousand user reviews to find the right one. It all comes down to knowing your hair and the style you want to achieve. To help you, we’ve done a deep dive on the different kinds of curling irons and which work best with different types of hair. Then we go even deeper and share our results from a five-person evaluation of eight of the most popular curling irons in this Outside the Labs review. See how we evaluated the curling irons.

    Also see:
    How to Choose a Curling Iron
    What Is the Best Curling Iron Material?
    What Size Curling Iron Should You Get?
    What’s the Difference Between a Curling Iron and a Curling Wand?
    What About Additional Technologies?
    How to Avoid Damaging Your Hair While Using a Curling Iron
    How to Create Curls That Last
    Curling Iron Safety

    Editor's Choice: Bio Ionic Long Barrel

    Bio Ionic Curling Iron on colorful background
    Bio Ionic Long Barrel

    Photo: Laura Murphy/Consumer Reports Photo: Laura Murphy/Consumer Reports

    Price: $140

    Where to buy: Amazon, Bio Ionic, Ulta, Walmart

    Quick take: The extra-long barrel and multiple temperature settings produced bouncy, shiny curls that lasted for days for most users, but one tester felt the barrel was too long for her short hair.

    Read our full review of the Bio Ionic Long Barrel.

    Best Deal: BaBylissPro Nano Titanium Extended Barrel

    BaBylissPro Curling Iron on colorful background

    Photo: BaBylissPro Photo: BaBylissPro

    Price: From $67

    Where to buy: Amazon, BaBylissPro, Ulta, Walmart

    Quick take: At a little more than half the price of the Bio Ionic, the BaBylissPro’s extra-long titanium barrel delivered long-lasting Rapunzel-quality curls. But the lack of a barrier between the heated barrel and the handle makes it easier to burn your hand.

    Read our full review of the BaBylissPro Nano Titanium Extended Barrel.

    The Cordless Option: Belisa by Lunata

    Belisa by Lunata Curling Iron on colorful background
    Belisa by Lunata

    Photo: Laura Murphy/Consumer Reports Photo: Laura Murphy/Consumer Reports

    Price: From $107

    Where to buy: Best Buy, Lunata, Target

    Quick take: The lack of a cord was a game changer! But it takes at least 2½ hours to charge, and the charge runs out after 30 minutes.

    Read our full review of the Belisa by Lunata.

    Best for Thick, Curly, or Coarse Hair: GHD Curve Classic Curl

    GHD Classic Curling Iron on colorful background
    GHD Curve Classic Curl

    Photo: GHD Photo: GHD

    Price: $199

    Where to buy: Amazon, GHD, Sephora

    Quick take: Our evaluators with thick hair loved the bouncy, long-lasting curls they achieved with the GHD. But with only one temperature setting, many worried that it might damage their hair.

    Read our full review of the GHD Curve Classic Curl.

    Best for Fine, Damaged, or Thin Hair: T3 SinglePass Curl

    T3 single pass curling iron on colorful background
    T3 SinglePass Curl

    Photo: T3 Photo: T3

    Price: $150

    Where to buy: Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, T3, and Ulta

    Quick take: It really does take just one pass—which is especially important for those with fine hair, because excessive application of heat could damage fragile tresses. But the ceramic-tourmaline blend barrel can get too hot if you’re not careful.

    Read our full review of the T3 SinglePass Curl.

    Best for Loose Curls: Hot Tools 24K Gold Professional

    Hot Tools 24k Gold Series Curling Iron on colorful background
    Hot Tools 24K Gold Professional

    Photo: Hot Tools Photo: Hot Tools

    Price: $31

    Where to buy: Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Hot Tools

    Quick take: The gold barrel turns out looser curls for a more beachy style—but the style doesn’t last very long.

    Read our full review of Hot Tools 24K Gold Professional.

    Best for Sally's Beauty Devotees: Hot Shot Tools Gold Series Spring

    Hot Shot Tools Gold Series Curling Iron on colorful background
    Hot Shot Tools Gold Series Spring

    Photo: Hot Shot Tools Photo: Hot Shot Tools

    Price: $47

    Where to buy: Sally Beauty

    Quick take: It’s just like the Hot Tools one but costs $3 less. Sally Beauty Rewards members earn points with each purchase, so if you’re a loyalist, this one may be for you.

    Read our full review of the Hot Shot Tools Gold Series Spring.

    The One to Skip: Conair Double Ceramic

    Conair Double Ceramic Curling Iron on colorful background
    Conair Double Ceramic

    Photo: Conair Photo: Conair

    Price: $14

    Where to buy: Amazon, JCPenney, Target, and Ulta

    Quick take: At a super-low price, the Conair Double Ceramic curling iron still turns out nice, bouncy curls. But it has a short cord and a short barrel, and it snags on hair during styling.

    Read our full review of the Conair Double Ceramic.

    How to Choose a Curling Iron

    To find the right curling iron for you, Nilofer Farjo, a hair transplant surgeon and president of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, recommends that you consider hair type, the condition of your hair, and your hair length.

    To determine your hair type, here are the four main questions to ask yourself.

    • Is it thick or thin?
    • Is it curly, wavy, or straight?
    • Is it coarse or fine?
    • Is it fragile or damaged from highlights, heat, or the sun?

    Because curling irons are made from different materials and offer different features, knowing your hair type will help you choose an iron that will work well with your hair and incur less damage. Farjo says you’ll want to consider how heat is distributed by the curling iron, the maximum temperature it can reach (does it have a temperature range?), and the surface materials. It’s also important to look for safety features, such as automatic shutoff; a cold tip, so you don’t burn your fingers; a warranty; and electrical safety certifications.

    For more on your hair type and how to keep it healthy, see our related article, How To Determine Your Hair Type.

    What Is the Best Curling Iron Material?

    Today, curling irons are covered in one of four surface materials: ceramic, tourmaline-ceramic blends, titanium, and gold.

    Ceramic: Best for Fine, Delicate, or Damaged Hair

    Ceramic curling irons are best for people with fine, delicate, or damaged hair, according to Annamarie Parker, a senior instructor at Arrojo Cosmetology in New York City.

    “Ceramic is great for curling the hair without dragging or pulling and typically creates the smoothest results,” Parker says.

    According to Farjo, ceramic is probably the most popular curling iron material today because it spreads heat evenly. That characteristic does come with a caveat though. “It can take time to heat up,” she says.

    Ceramic irons we tried: GHD Curve Classic Curl, Bio Ionic Long Barrel, Conair Double Ceramic

    Tourmaline-Ceramic Blend: Best for Coarse Hair

    Because it minimizes static and frizz while creating a natural-looking shine, tourmaline-ceramic blends are best for coarse hair, Parker says. 

    Keya Neal, a colorist, curl specialist, and beauty brand diversity and inclusion strategist based in Gambrills, Md., likes tourmaline-ceramic blends because they’re friendly to hair cuticles and you can style the hair at lower temperature. 

    “Tourmaline is a gemstone that can be combined with ceramic to create better heat distribution,” Farjo says. “Hairs are positively charged, so the negative charge of tourmaline reduces surface tension of the hair, which will help the hairs to lie flat against each other thereby reducing frizz and static.”

    Tourmaline-ceramic blend iron we tried: T3 SinglePass Curl

    Titanium: Best for Thick Hair

    Titanium heats to higher temperatures more quickly, Farjo says, making it a choice for thicker hair. But she warns that on thin, short, or fine hair, titanium can quickly cause heat damage. 

    It can also smooth the hair, according to Neal, but the heat titanium can pack remains a concern. “I only use it in the salon as part of a system, where I may be using other products to treat the hair,” she says.

    Titanium irons we tried: Belisa by Lunata, BaBylissPro Nano Titanium Extended Barrel

    What Size Curling Iron Should You Get?

    Curling irons come in many barrel diameters from as small as ⅜ inch to as large as 2 inches.

    “The barrel size determines the size and tightness of the curl,” Parker says. Smaller barrel sizes will yield tight, corkscrew curls, while larger ones result in looser, bouncy curls. 

    Josh Marquette, a hair designer for Broadway shows in New York, says 1 to 1½ inches is a good size for beginners: “The wands are nice for self-styling and angling the iron in different directions.” 

    Lauren DeCosimo, a bridal hairstylist, agrees: “I typically recommend a 1¼ to a 1½ for most hair lengths. Longer hair can use a larger rod. One inch will be tighter and better for shorter hairstyles.”

    The longevity of the style is determined by the products used, not the curling iron size.

    Lauren DeCosimo

    Bridal Hairstylist

    What's the Difference Between a Curling Iron and a Curling Wand?

    Curling irons feature a clamp, which will hold your hair in place as you curl it. Curling wands, meanwhile, have no clamp—you simply wrap the hair around the barrel and then unravel it to release.

    “A wand only produces a wave,” DeCosimo says. “A curling iron is more flexible and can create both a curl and a wave.”

    Parker says a wand creates “more beachy” waves than the defined look you’ll get with a curling iron. Marquette, an expert in hairstyles across the decades, says contemporary hairstyles are “more carefree and undone”—a style curling wands are known to achieve. 

    We decided to start with the classic curling iron for this evaluation and move on to wands in a future Outside the Labs review.

    What About Additional Technologies?

    Many curling irons today advertise technologies designed to prevent heat damage, enhance your style, and even improve the health of your hair. This includes features such as variable heat settings, microchips that can detect heat changes and maintain the correct temperature, and far infrared technology—which supposedly penetrates deep into the hair shaft and heats hair from the inside out—as well as safety features, such as automatic shutoff.

    Of all these bells and whistles, the most important feature is heat control. Marquette, who styles hair and wigs for Broadway performers who may use a curling iron up to eight times a week, says that being able to turn down the heat on your hair is key when it comes to preventing heat damage. 

    Of the other claims? “They’re legitimate,” Parker says. “But how it works really depends on your hair type.”

    two images showing hair on two different types of curling irons
    Hair wraps around a curling iron (left) and a curling wand (right).

    Photos: Getty Images, Adobe Stock Photos: Getty Images, Adobe Stock

    How to Avoid Damaging Your Hair While Using a Curling Iron

    “There are two types of action caused by intense heat, which causes great damage to the hair,” says Tony Maleedy, a cosmetic scientist and lecturer at the University of Bath in England. “Firstly, a general evaporation of moisture from within the cortical fibers of the hair and a loss of protective cuticle scales from the surface of the hair. Secondly, the water in the hair can literally boil and turn to hot steam. This steam damages the cortex and allows it to break down, resulting in the hair breaking within a few days.”

    microscope image of heat-damaged hair strand
    Close up of an undamaged hair follicle (right) and a heat-damaged follicle (left).

    Photo: Tony Maleedy/University of Bath Photo: Tony Maleedy/University of Bath

    To protect your hair from this fate, every expert I spoke to emphasized the importance of having a good heat protectant spray. 

    ”The best ones work by forming a fine film on the hair,” Maleedy says. “This film reduces heat conduction and disperses it so it spreads over a wider area and it’s less concentrated in one spot. The best proven materials for doing that are silicones, PVP/DMAPA acrylates, a conditioning agents called Quaternium-70, and hydrolyzed proteins (usually wheat but others can work well too).”

    “Redken Hot Set 22 Thermal Setting Mist or Redken Iron Shape 11 Heat Protectant Spray are my favorites but there are many other brands to choose from,” DeCosimo says. She recommends the Redken 22 for more hold and the Redken 11 for finer hair types.

    Pro Tip: Neal suggests that people take their heat protectant for a trial run before using it on their hair with a hot tool. “Spray it on a tissue, then clamp the curling iron down on it,” she says, “If the tissue burns, then either your heat protectant isn’t good enough or you’ve got the temperature too high.”

    Keya Neal

    Colorist, curl specialist, and beauty brand diversity and inclusion strategist

    Marquette says the best way to apply heat protectant spray is to do each strand as you’re about to curl it, truly covering the hair. DeCosimo adds that she doesn’t recommend using hair spray until you’re done styling with heat. 

    “Heat protection sprays can be very helpful . . . to a point,” Maleedy says. “Some people think that if they use a heat protection spray, their hair is fully protected, but it’s not! The surface of the hair can easily reach 200° C [392° F] if the hairdryer is held in one spot for too long, and using a curling iron can take it over 250° C [482° F].”

    That’s why it’s so important to use the right heat setting for your hair. Most of the curling irons we evaluated came with a guide that recommends which heat setting to use based on your hair type. 

    “Pay attention to how your hair reacts,” Marquette says. “Don’t use a blazing hot curling iron on delicate hair. But thicker, straighter hair may be able to take more heat.”

    Pro tip: Move quickly through the hair so that the heat does not stay on any one spot too long. You should also minimize the number of passes.

    AnnMarie Parker

    Senior Instructor at Arrojo Cosmetology School in New York City

    “If you use a lot of heat, the ideal is to keep your hair in the best condition you can,” Farjo says. “Choose a pH-balanced shampoo. The pH of skin and hair is 5.5 (acidic), so a shampoo in this pH range is best. Some shampoos may state the pH [on the bottle], but if not, the best thing to do is go for a big brand, such as Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal, etc., as they spend a lot of money on research and development.”

    Farjo also says that products from hair salons and specialty stores are likely to be high-quality but more expensive. The difference between products at the convenience store and products at the salon is that the specialty ones tend to be more concentrated, so you can use less for the same benefit. 

    “With Afro-textured hair it is usually best to use a specialist shampoo, as the hair tends to be drier and more brittle,” Farjo says. 

    When it comes to conditioners, she recommends choosing one that says “moisturizing” on the bottle so that it doesn’t dehydrate your hair. 

    “One thing to look out for is high salt content,” Farjo says. “This is used as a thickening agent, but it’s not good for hair. If it’s nearer the top of the ingredients list, then there is more salt in the product, so beware.” 

    She also warns those trying to be extra gentle with their hair to skip baby shampoo. “It’s alkaline and designed so it doesn’t irritate the baby’s eyes.”

    How to Create Curls That Last

    Curls that last are paramount for DeCosimo’s clients—brides who want their style to hold up from the ceremony all the way until the end of the after-party. 

    “Without products, most textures will not hold a curl very long,” she says. “Layering mousse, setting spray, and hairspray creates the shape and longevity.”

    She suggests people looking for a long-lasting style start with mousse when the hair is 80 percent dry. Setting spray, also called heat protectant or thermal iron spray, should be applied to dry hair before using a curling iron. She recommends using about two to three sprays, then combing it through each section before curling.

    While curling, DeCosimo suggests setting the hair by pinning the curls to your head after you take them off the rod. Your hair will take about 20 minutes to cool down.

    “The longer it sits in the shape, the longer it lasts,” she says. “I usually recommend doing your makeup during those 20 minutes.”

    Curling Iron Safety

    It’s important to make sure that your curling iron has a warranty and has an electrical safety certificate from a trusted third party. You can typically find these certifications on the packaging—the curling irons we tested had certifications from MET Laboratories, Intertek’s Electrical Testing Laboratories (ETL) or TÜV Rheinland.

    “There are a lot of knockoffs with any electrical device,” Farjo says. “A warranty means that it should come from a legitimate company that has tested for heat stability and electrical safety.”

    Though curling irons are a common household device, safety is still an important consideration. 

    “There are many factors as to why safety risks may arise, such as overloading outlets with multiple adaptors, connecting an electric device with several extension cords, etc.,” says Ashita Kapoor, associate director of product safety at Consumer Reports. “Some minor flaws can also lead to burns and other injuries. Curling irons emanate excessive heat. If the curling iron is plugged in, it should never be left unattended. Users should always unplug the curling iron after use.”

    Most of the curling irons we evaluated came with detailed safety instructions. A study published in 2001 found that the most common injuries related to curling irons are burns. 

    It is also possible to shock, or even electrocute, yourself. That’s why it’s important to never use a curling iron in the bath or near water. Do not place or store your curling iron where it can fall or be pulled into a tub or a sink. If your iron does fall into water or any kind of liquid, unplug it immediately—do not touch the liquid. 

    Fires are also a danger. Always unplug your curling iron after use. Leaving it plugged in is a fire hazard. Using an extension cord is also a fire hazard. If you see that the cord on your iron is frayed or damaged, do not plug it in. 

    Never leave a hot curling iron unattended. When the iron is hot, do not touch the barrel with your hand and avoid touching your scalp or face. Ensure that the heated part does not touch any surface when the iron is on and hot. Children and people with certain disabilities should not use curling irons by themselves, or they should at least be closely supervised.

    The average age of pediatric injuries in children under the age of 11 resulting from curling irons was about 2½ years old, according to a 2019 study. Most of the injuries happened when the child touched the iron while it was within reach. But other injuries occurred because the child pulled the power cord to the curling iron; the child stepped, rolled, or jumped onto a hot curling iron left on the ground; or the curling iron fell, injuring the child. 

    We found that even after curling irons have been turned off, they can take up to 20 minutes to cool down. Be sure to warn anyone in your vicinity that might come near the curling iron that it’s still hot and they shouldn’t touch it. Store the curling iron only after it has completely cooled, to avoid setting anything that might be stored near it on fire.

    How We Evaluated the Curling Irons

    I selected eight curling irons based on search data; they were best sellers on popular sites such as Sephora, Sally Beauty Supply, and Amazon. I also looked for a range of prices and materials. 

    I decided to go with 1-inch barrels for all the irons so that we would be able to compare results. 

    Lastly, I recruited four co-workers to help me evaluate the curling irons. 

    Ginger has waist-length fine hair with medium density. It naturally falls into well-defined spiral curls. After straightening, her hair has trouble holding a curl without significant help. She’s looking for an iron that can give her bouncy, shiny curls that will last. 

    Angela has fine but dense hair that’s somewhat porous because she highlights it. It’s naturally pretty straight, with a slight wave to it. She’s a curling iron newbie—she’s never used a curling iron before! She wants a curling iron that’s easy to use.

    Perry has thin, fine hair with low porosity that’s straight, with a slight wave to it. She does not use any hair products aside from shampoo and conditioner, and she hasn’t used a curling iron since “middle school, maybe?” She wants a curling iron that’s easy to use and can deliver natural-looking results. 

    Daniela has thick hair that falls naturally into loose but well-defined S-shaped curls. She wants a curling iron that doesn’t take forever to style her hair, has great curl definition, and is easy to use. 

    I have highly porous, highlighted hair. It’s fine but has medium density. In the winter, when humidity is low, it’s straight, with a slight wave to it. In the summer, when humidity is high, it’s wavy. It curls easily and can hold a style for days. I want a curling iron that won’t damage or dry out my hair and yields shiny, soft-to-the-touch curls. 

    Over the course of many weeks, we each curled our hair with all eight curling irons. We looked at criteria including:

    • Whether the iron had adjustable heat settings.
    • How long it took to heat up and cool down.
    • How easy it was to use.
    • Whether we achieved the style we wanted.
    • Whether the iron incurred any damage on our hair.
    • Safety features such as a cool tip, a barrier between barrel and handle, and automatic shutoff.
    • Other features, such as specialized technologies, dual voltage, and cord length.
    • Whether the iron has a warranty.
    • And whether we would use it again in the future or recommend it to a friend.

    Notes to Manufacturers

    At a certain price, it strikes me that manufacturers should include nice-to-have accessories with their irons, such as a heat-resistant mat upon which to rest the iron, a bag for storage—or, even better, a silicone sleeve like the one the Belisa by Lunata provides. 

    Furthermore, a few of the user manuals describe medium or average hair—that which is neither thick nor thin, fine nor coarse—as “normal.” What is normal? The language here is unimaginative at best and vaguely insulting at worst.

    Which Curling Iron Are You?

    @consumerreports There’s a curling iron for every hair type and personality. Learn more about what we liked, our biggest gripes and the best curling irons for your locks and budget at #screenshotchallenge #curlingiron #haircare #curltip ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

    Snap a screenshot to discover your curling iron style

    CREDIT: Consumer Reports TikTok

    Headshot of CRO Author Laura Murphy (v3)

    Laura Murphy

    Just like you, I'm a consumer. I love to shop, and I'm obsessed with finding the highest-quality item at the best price. I want my products sustainably made with fair labor practices, and built to last, so I don't have to replace them every two years.