Glamour January 12, 2023

Glamour

Hair

The Best Curling Irons for People Who Can’t Curl Their Hair

 

We tested dozens of options and narrowed the best down to these.

Way too many guides on how to curl your hair begin with the painfully obvious: finding the best curling iron for you. Even if you're a total beginner at curling your hair, that step is kind of a no-brainer. Having the right-size (and -shape) barrel makes a world of difference in the type of curl you're looking for—but so does your hair type, the products you use, how hot the iron gets, and how you hold the tool. Fortunately for you, we asked the experts for tips on how to get the perfect curl (or wave, depending on your preference).

What types of curling irons are there?

First things first: You want to distinguish between the different types of curling irons out there. The most common curling irons are made with ceramic barrels; those tend to spread heat evenly to ensure smooth, shiny results—and are a great pick for people with finer hair. “I recommend selecting an iron with ceramic barrels and customizable heat settings,” celebrity hairstylist Joseph Maine tells Glamour. Those tend to be less damaging on hair, while the adjustable temperature allows you to tailor it to your hair type's needs for lasting results. (Thin or fine hair requires less heat than thick hair; the ideal temp for thin hair will be no more than 300°F while thicker or coarser hair textures that can handle high heat from 350°F to 450°F.)

Then there's titanium iron, which professional stylists like for thicker hair since it's more durable and able to style curls at higher temps for longer. Tourmaline is another material that crops up in product descriptions—it tends to be a solid pick for people with frizzy or damaged hair since it emits negative ions that react with the positive ones in your hair to minimize dullness and frizz. “And for those with long hair, find a long barrel length to ensure you have enough space around the barrel,” he adds.

Finally, if you like wearing your curls in various sizes and hairstyles (think bouncy ringlets, tight curls, beachy waves), you might also want to consider a styling tool with interchangeable barrels. This way, you don't have to buy multiple hair tools to achieve different looks.

What’s the best way to use a curling iron?

“Your hair should be completely dry before curling it,” Maine says. He also suggests using a heat protectant both while the hair is wet and once it's dry. “A leave-in conditioner or protectant like Color Wow’s Dream Coat works well while wet, but on dry hair you want to use a dry thermal protectant that isn’t sticky like Color Wow’s Style on Steroids.” If you prefer sprays, Maxine Salon stylist Raven Hurtado recommends DryBar’s Hot Toddy Heat Protectant Mist. “It’s a super-lightweight mist that you apply onto dry hair before you style with hot tools,” she says.

The techniques and barrel sizes you use will differ depending on the look you're after. “The smaller barrel size you use, the tighter the curls will be, while the bigger barrel size will let you achieve a loose wave,” Hurtado says. “To style while using any size curling iron, place the hair in the middle of the clamp and curl away from your face to achieve a standard formal curl.”

For a glamorous red-carpet wave in particular, Maine advises using a one-inch iron. “Set very tight curls all in the same direction, and once they cool down, brush them into themselves for a gorgeous red-carpet finish,” he says. “For a beachy wave, use a larger iron and alternate directions. Once finished, shake it out and apply hair serum to the ends.”

Ready to curl? Scroll on for Glamour’s 17 best curling irons, wands, and hair-curling tools, including three Beauty Award winners that rise above the rest.

Best Overall: Dyson Airwrap

Not to be dramatic, but my life changed when I tried the first-generation Dyson Airwrap. At the time I had just gotten curtain bangs, and the interchangeable attachments made it so easy to switch according to my styling needs, delivering salon-level smoothness and blowouts in less than half the time. I wasn't alone with my obsession—you've probably seen the viral TikTok videos and marveled at it's eye-popping price tag. But the styler is completely worth it, and the latest model only drives the point home. With a whopping 13 styling attachment options and game-changing features like an airflow switch, flyaway-smoothing attachment, and extended curling barrels for long hair, my Airwrap love affair is still going strong. —Ariana Yaptangco, senior beauty editor

Best Classic: GHD Classic Wave Oval Curling Wand

I typically curl my hair with a straightener. My last attempt at using a curling iron (years ago) ended in burning out a huge chunk of hair and a lot of tears. But this iron, which comes at the recommendation of dozens of celebrity stylists, was a 10-out-of-10 experience for me. It's straightforward to use, and it's got even heat and a cool and touchable tip. On day one I attempted a “normal” curling iron experience by using the spring lever. My hair was shiny, and the curls were perfect; a girl stopped me on the subway to gush and ask whether I was genetically blessed. On day two I used the iron as a wand without the clamp to even greater results: There was a wonderful unfinished quality about the curls, and my hair was so voluminous. As great as that intense heat is, though, it's tough on your hair. Invest in a heat protectant. —Meg Adams, contributor

Best for Beginners: The Beachwaver Co. S1 Dual Voltage

The TikTok-viral Beachwaver is worthy of the hype: It's really the only curling iron I can actually use. The barrel rotates, meaning that it's as easy as one, two, three: One, clamp a section of dry hair at the end, two, press the arrow button facing away from the face, and three, allow your hair wrap to wrap as it revolves and release the wrapped hair after about 10 seconds. Et voilà: Your hair is curled! Plus, its user-friendliness doesn't mean it compromises in quality. My Beachwaver-styled curls stay put for days. —Danielle Sinay, associate beauty editor

Best Triple-Barrel Curling Iron: Hot Tools Pro Artist 24K-Gold One Three Barrel Waver

I absolutely love this waver for second- and third-day hair. If I wake up with sections that need a little boost, I just give them a refresh with this tool. It’s like a crimper, but it gives you soft waves without the creasing. And it revives waves in seconds. —Erin Reimel, contributor

Best Heat Settings: T3 Curl ID 1.25" Curling Iron

The first time you pick up this iron you'll notice something is missing: buttons. That's because the T3 Curl ID is a smart device that uses touchscreen technology when you plug it in. It comes with nine heat settings, but instead of making you guess how many degrees is just right for your hair, it uses a complex algorithm based on your hair type, length, and color to automatically determine the best setting. All you have to do is input this data the first time you use the iron, and it'll remember it. And if you cut your hair or bleach it? You can easily update your profile. On top of that, it uses ion technology to minimize frizz, boost shine, and keep your curls in place all day. In other words, it's genius and it makes curling your hair so much easier. —Lindsay Schallon, contributor

Best for Curly Hair: GHD Curl Thin Wand

This is a versatile iron. I have fine, kinky, curly hair, and I loved that the lower temperature settings reduce my risk for breakage. My curls were long-lasting, and I was able to comb out the tight curls for a gorgeous wavy look that lasted almost two days. Since I’m a busy physician, the rapid heat-up time was a game changer for my schedule. —Michelle Henry, contributor

Best Curling Wand: T3 Whirl Trio Interchangeable Styling Wand

My style is really laid-back, so I've struggled to find a wand that doesn't curl hair in a way that looks too precious. Hi, finally found it. I love that this curling wand has interchangeable barrels. I can easily go back through and add some variance in size to my waves, which make them look more lived-in. The tapered end is also perfect for leaving your ends a bit straighter or less styled for that realistic, effortless flippy-wave look instead of uniform spirals. —E.R.

Best for Straight Hair: Sultra AnhxSultra Curling Iron 1.5"

Who says curling irons have to be difficult to use? This iron has the same high quality the pros use but requires none of the master skills. The barrel is made of Korean ceramic, which heats up quickly, prevents heat damage, and doesn’t snag on strands. Heat settings range from 250°F to 450°F, providing options for all hair types. My straight hair easily held a curl and looked as close to professionally done as I’ve ever experienced using a curling iron. —A.Y.

Best Budget: Conair Double Ceramic 1-Inch Curling Iron

I've never quite mastered the art of curling my hair—especially since my chin-length waves are usually tucked into some sort of three-day-old bun or claw clip type of situation. But I realized the beautiful, beachy waves I so desperately wanted (and constantly went to the salon for) could be done at a fraction of the price and time with this Conair ceramic curling iron. Perhaps when I get much better and my hair doesn't look like it came out of a Shirley Temple machine, I'll invest in a high-tech curling iron, but for right now I love how beginner-friendly the Conair one-inch barrel is. Plus, it's on Amazon. —Ana Escalante, editorial assistant

Most Versatile: Drybar The Mixologist Interchangeable Styling Iron

I always love options, and I've got plenty with this set from Drybar. There are three attachments (a waver, a wand, and a clamp iron) that you can easily swap in and out to create beach waves or classic curls. I'm sometimes a little skeptical of hot-tool sets because the options often don't work equally well, but that's not the case here. Each one is easy to use and heats up to the perfect temperature to keep my waves set for an entire day. As long as I pair it with a good heat protectant, my bleached, highlighted hair stays in healthy shape. —Sarah Y. Wu, contributor

Best for Thick Hair: Paul Mitchell Express Gold Curl Marcel 1¼" Curling Iron

My hair is really thick and has a lot of volume, but because it's also so straight, I have a hard time finding irons that'll hold a curl—except for this. Thanks to the titanium barrel, which helps distribute heat evenly, it was the quickest, easiest experience I’ve had in doing my full head of hair. The iron has a second flexible handle, which made it easier to style one-handed. And no sizzling or excess steam came off my hair, even at 430°F, its highest heat setting. I was able to give myself the exact look that I would have gotten if I had paid a professional stylist: loose, natural-looking curls. —Smriti Sinha, contributor

Best for Textured Hair: 5-in-1 Professional Curling Iron and Wand Set

I've been using this set for years now, and I love how it comes with a range of barrel sizes that give different looks. To touch up face-framing curls that are being uncooperative, I use the smallest one to blend in with my natural texture (which is a 3B-3C curl type). But when I'm going for a ’70s-inspired moment, I'll size up and brush it out a bit to channel Donna Summer. —Erin Parker, contributor

Best for Tight Curls: Mint Tools 3/8" Curling Wand

The number of times I've seen stylists whip this iron out on set is well into the dozens. That's because nothing helps define tight spirals and coils like it. The ceramic barrel heats up quickly, the wand comes with a styling glove to prevent burns, and because the wand is extra long, it's great for working with both cropped and longer lengths. —L.S.

Best for Boho Waves: Amika Hide Tide Deep Wave Crimper

As someone who came of age in the early aughts, I never in my life would think that I'd let something called a crimper near my head again. But this wand doesn't leave you with the awkward zigzags you remember. Instead, it creates the most effortless boho, ’70s-style waves that look like you truly woke up with them. The trick is to start a few inches down from your roots—right at your earline—so your waves look lived-in and not poufy. (See it in action here.) —L.S.

Most Lightweight: Amika Le Marcel 2-in-1 Swivel Curler

The first time I learned to curl my hair, I used a flatiron instead of a wand, so I've always been a little biased toward this style of hot tool. Amika's titanium barrel edition is kind of the ultimate. The material is super lightweight, which makes the iron easy to maneuver around my head, and it makes my waves look extra shiny and smooth. It's got all the features I could possibly want too: a rotating clip handle, ionic technology for less frizz, precise temperature controls, a rotating cool tip, and a heat-proof swivel cord. Whether I'm currently in a short hair phase or growing out a longer style, this is the best for creating loose curls and waves. —S.Y.W.

Best Low-Heat: Chi Volcanic Lava Ceramic Pro Spin ‘N Curl

This thing looks intimidating as hell, but it's surprisingly easy to use. All you do is section your hair into one-inch pieces (smaller sections is key), feed it into the chamber, press a button, and—boom—curls. (See it how it works here.) It's a little heavy and clunky-looking, but the design is great if you're someone who always burns yourself, since the outside chamber stays cool. The lasting results were what really sold me, though. I purposefully tested the iron right before bed to see how the curls would match up against a night of sleep. The next morning I woke up to see that my hair still had modern, thick waves. —Halie LeSavage, contributor

Best Marcel Iron: Harry Josh Pro Tools 2-in-1 Ceramic Marcel Curling Iron 1.25 Inch

Marcel irons are definitely not for the curling iron novice, since they require more coordination to use. But the on the flip side, hairstylists love them because they give you more control to manipulate your hair exactly how you want it. This iron designed by Gisele Bündchen's mane man gives you the best of both worlds. The clip detaches easily from the barrel, making it easy to experiment with both to see which delivers your favorite curls and waves. Bonus: The longtime fave recently underwent a makeover and now delivers more even heat throughout, so your curls will hold longer. —S.Y.W.