Your Ultimate Guide to Curling Irons

As we head into the middle of summer, wavy, beachy, natural-looking curls seem to be everywhere. If you’re looking to get in on that hair action, you need to know your way around a good curling tool but there are so many different kinds to choose from figuring out which one to bring home can be confusing. Here, The Lowdown on how to find the right one for you (and most importantly, how not to fry your hair!).


Let’s start with the 3 types of curling tools

  1. The classic clamp iron

These irons are usually held so the cord hangs down. The clamp holds onto your hair, allowing you to keep it in place as you wrap the hair section you want to curl down the barrel. This option will create a curl that is a uniform diameter all around and will result in a wider, flatter curl than those you’ll get from a curling wand.

  1. The curling wand/rod

This is an increasingly popular option. The main difference between it and an iron is that wands don’t have clamps and the cord is usually up when you use it. Depending on what type of wand you get, your hair can come off in a cone-like shape or a traditional barrel shape. The curling wands often come with a glove to protect your hand from the heat as you wrap your hair around the wand. You will want to use a little tension so that the hair doesn’t fall down the barrel to the smallest section of the wand. By wrapping the hair, you will get a puffed curl.

  1. A three-barrel iron

Super-easy to use, these weird-looking things have two barrels on the top and then one that’s sort of embedded in the middle of a bottom plate. They come in different barrel sizes: The bigger barrel tools give you those big, loose, beachy waves; the smaller ones produce vintage-style finger waves.


Now let’s talk materials

            Titanium. This metal is best for those who have coarse, thick hair because it gets incredibly hot.

            Ceramic. If you have fine to medium hair, go with ceramic. If you can, look for styling tools in 100% full ceramic rather than ceramic coated, which can chip over time.

            Tourmaline. This is a material that can be layered over either ceramic or titanium and can dramatically reduce frizz when styling.


What to know about barrel sizes*

When choosing your perfect barrel size, it is important to think about what kind of look you are going for and then how many rotations you can get out of the curling iron (meaning how many times you can wrap your hair around the barrel). That’s because the more rotations you have, the curlier your hair will be. For example, on medium-length hair, a 2” barrel will probably make about two full rotations and a 1- ¼” barrel can make 3 full rotations. The fewer the rotations means the less curly and more wavy your hair will be.

Here, the most popular curling iron barrel sizes and their outcomes:

            ⅜” — Small tight, springy curls that create a lot of volume

            ¾” — Tight curls, think Taylor Swift circa 2008

            1” — Popular size for full curls

            1½” — Large, bouncy, voluminous curls

            2” — Very loose curls mostly at the ends of the hair

*Note: It seems obvious but it’s worth pointing out that the bigger the barrel is, the bigger sections of hair you can wrap around it at once because of an increased surface area. The smaller the barrel, the smaller the sections of hair that should be selected.


How hot is hot enough

Temperature matters. Too low of a temperature means that your curls probably won’t hold very long. That being said, putting the temperature too hot won’t necessarily make the curls better, it’ll just scorch your hair.

            For thin hair 

If you have thinner hair, you don’t want to expose it to excessive heat otherwise it could easily get damaged and break off. That is called heat abuse and we don’t want to have to report you for it! It would be best to not set your curling iron much above 200°. (Not all tools come with temp settings. Look for one that does.)

            For thicker hair 

Your locks can withstand a little more heat and need more heat for the styling to stick. To solidify those perfect curls, those with thicker hair should set their curling irons to between 200° and 300°.


Timing is key

The length of time that you keep your hair wrapped in the curling iron can dramatically change how your curls come out. For real.

            5 seconds = loose waves

            7 seconds = slightly loose curls

            10+ seconds = tight curls

Before you do anything, protect that hair!

Heat damage is a legit concern when styling hair with any type of heat tool. It is important to invest in a heat-protect spray, serum or cream to defend your hair from frying and becoming frizzy. These protectants will also help replenish moisture that can be lost in the styling process. The main ingredients to look for are silicone. Other helpful ingredients include (but are not limited to): Phytantriol, Polyquaternium -4, hydrolyzed wheat protein and PVP/DMAPA Acrylates Copolymer.


Happy curling!