The Wall Street Journal August 19, 2023

The Wall Street Journal


The 15 Best Curling Irons for Smooth Waves, Curls That Stay and More


Enjoy more good hair days with these pro-recommended curling irons

The right curling iron, when used correctly, can create every style from Beyoncé waves to tightly wound coils. If you’ve felt frustrated using one or shopping for one recently, this list is for you. The perfect curling iron for you largely depends on what it will be used for. Professional hair stylist and Joico artistic educator Mai Hernandez reminds you to pay attention to three factors: barrel size, barrel material and heat settings. Larger barrels tackle longer strands, ceramic and titanium barrels help mitigate damage and heat settings allow you to customize your experience. 

According to top hair stylists, these are the top 15 curling irons you should consider adding to your styling tool kit. 

Do-it-all, damage-free solution 

Airwrap Multi-Styler Complete Long

The beauty industry lends itself to exaggeration, but the Dyson Airwrap is one of the most revolutionary tools to hit the market in recent years. Other styling tools rely on heat to bend and flatten strands, but the Airwrap relies on air. “Its innovative technology uses the “Coanda effect“ to attract and wrap hair around the barrel, resulting in voluminous curls, waves and smooth styles without extreme heat damage,” says Abby Haliti, founder of the Abby Haliti Color Studio in New York City and master of the French balayage hair color technique. Not only does this tool prevent you from scorching your strands, it also eliminates the risk of accidentally burning your skin. If this price seems high for a curling iron, know that this multitasker’s kit comes with interchangeable attachments to blow dry, zap frizz and pump up volume. 

Quick heat up 

Professional Black Gold Marcel Curling Iron

Beloved by the pros, Hot Tools, with its hallmark black and gold styling surface, is one of the beauty industry’s best kept secrets: reasonably priced and incredibly effective. A great example is this Professional Black Gold Marcel Curling Iron. Los Angeles-based celebrity hairstylist Nikki Providence, who routinely handles Tori Kelly’s and Jenny Slate’s curls, keeps her kit stocked with Hot Tools irons. “They are workhorses,” she says. Providence prefers the marcel irons (these have a rod alongside of the handle) which functions as a manual clamp. Celebrity hairstylist and Pureology global artist ambassador Gregory Russell, who’s based in Los Angeles and has created tousled waves for clients like Jennifer Lawrence and Lily Collins, is also a fan of Hot Tools’ marcel irons because they “offer the most control.” 

For a softer curl 

Pro Pearl Ceramic Conical Curling Wand

For the most part, curling irons come in two variations: with a clamp and without a clamp. The ones without clamps are called curling or styling wands. Los Angeles-based celebrity extensionist Priscilla Valles explains that the difference lies in the outcome. Curling wands create a more “beachy, tousled look” and clamp irons deliver a smoother, more controlled “classic curled finish.” This Remington Pro Pearl wand’s barrel is infused with ceramic, which keeps heat even throughout and means less time is spent going over the same strand twice. Jennifer Korab, celebrity hair stylist and founder of Renaissance Salon and Spa in Hillsborough, N.J., appreciates the range of temperature settings and how it comes in different barrel sizes. At under $30, we can’t argue. 

Versatile pick 

Switch Kit Wave Trio

Size matters when you’re shopping for curling irons. “One inch will give you lots of texture and one and a quarter inch is perfect for most curls and waves,” says Jennifer Nast, a stylist at Sharon Dorram at Sally Hershberger Salon in New York City. “If you go larger, like a one-and-a-half- or two-inch barrel, the look will be softer, bouncier and less curly.” With three interchangeable barrels ranging from 1 inch to 1.5 inches, the T3 Switch Kit Wave Trio can help you achieve a lot of looks with just this one iron. Korab believes the real star is the advanced digital heating technology that delivers “precise temperature control” and minimizes damage to the cuticle. Also nice: Its size will help save room in your suitcase when traveling. 

For bobs or cropped styles  

Curling Iron

Weighing in at a slightly smaller barrel size, this iron from Ella Bella can easily create curls on shorter hair styles. Nast loves all the temperature settings (it ranges from 180 to 410 degrees), so you can customize to your exact preferences. The lower temps will do less damage to your strands, but the higher ones will finish the job quicker. 

For long locks 

GrapheneMX Curling Iron

Technically, any iron on this list can handle long locks, but this one, the Bio Iconic GrapheneMX, in particular makes it easier and quicker. Its barrel is 2 inches longer than average, so it offers more room for your hair to wrap around. “The length makes it easier to create an even curl,” says Stephen Thevenot, a hair stylist at New York City’s David Mallet NY. He’s also a fan of the tapered safety tip that sits atop the iron. “It gives you something to hold on to for more curl control,” he says. Beyond that, the barrel is infused with a proprietary complex of minerals and graphene which not only helps evenly distribute heat across the barrel but also locks in moisture and shine. 

Beginner-friendly design 

Classic Curl

In a sea of removable attachments and multiple heat settings, the Classic Curl from GHD (which aptly stands for good hair day) stands out by sticking to the basics and doing them well. All of the brand’s irons are equipped with only one temperature setting of 365 degrees, which prevents you from creeping into the tempting-but-damaging 400-plus-degree Fahrenheit territory. The familiar spring clamp glides over hair without snagging stray strands in the process. For all of this and more, Laurabeth Cabott, a celebrity stylist who splits time between Los Angeles and Kansas City, Mo., believes this is “the best ceramic curling iron on the market.” She isn’t the only one. Haliti also keeps this iron close because of the even heat distribution. 

For beach waves 

Jumbo High Tide Deep Waver

It may not be a curling iron in the traditional sense, but for fresh off the beach tousled waves, Thevenot believes there is nothing better than this triple barrel iron. “It produces the perfect beach wave with little effort,” he says. To do so, it uses infrared technology to heat each strand from the inside rather than just the surface. This method seals in moisture and eliminates frizz. Plus, this iron also comes in this smaller size if you have shorter hair or want a tighter wave.

Curly hair companion

Thin Wand Hair Curler

If you are looking to enhance your curls, Providence suggests using a thinner barrel. “The key to the right curling iron for naturally curly hair is matching your natural curls with the barrel size,” says Thevenot. This ultra thin option from GHD allows you to touch up and define curly and coily curls by keeping frizz at bay. In classic GHD fashion, this iron only has one temperature setting to minimize as much damage as possible which is a high priority when styling curly hair.   

Nice-price solution

Perfect Heat Ceramic Curling Iron

If you are trying to refresh your styling tools, but don’t want to break the bank, this tool from Revlon is perfect for you. The under $15 iron offers many of the same features as pricier options on this list, which is in part why Korab includes it in her collection of favorites. It has a ceramic barrel, heats up quickly, has various heat settings and it comes in sizes from ¾ inch to 1½ inch.

Rotating revolution  

Dual Voltage Rotating Curling Iron

Celebrity hairstylist Sarah Potempa invented this iron so users could get a perfect curl with every use. Unlike other irons on this list, the Beachwaver’s clamp holds your hair close while the barrel rotates at the push of a button. It sounds complicated, but it is surprisingly simple—even for beginners. One Buy Side’s editor has been using this iron for years. For a smooth start, the brand’s website is full of easy to follow tutorials to help you get the hang of it. Beyond its rotating abilities, the ceramic and tourmaline barrel limits damage to hair and has the versatility to create any type of wave. 

For durability 

Nano Titanium Spring Curling Iron

BaBylissPRO is among the favorite brands of top hairstylists. Ric Pipino, celebrity stylist at Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger Salon in New York City, has relied on BaByliss tools for years and keeps coming back for their durability and resilience. Raven Hurtado, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, loves this iron in particular because it’s suitable for all hair types. The turbo heat button sends an instant surge of warmth to lock in curls and the lightweight barrel—the iron is just 1.5 pounds—feels comfortable when maneuvering a full head of hair. 

1-inch barrel option 

Professional Gold Curling Iron

A 1-inch barrel is one of the most versatile iron sizes. Hot Tools’ curling irons come in a variety of barrel sizes and the quality remains consistent across the board. Louise O’Connor, a hairstylist and owner of Louise O’Connor Salon in New York City, notes how easy it is to wrap the hair around this one. If the marcel iron mentioned earlier feels like more than you want to shell out, Hurtado stands firmly behind this lower-price and easy to use spring clamp option. 

A gentle, ceramic option 

SinglePass Curl Ceramic Long Barrel Curling and Wave Iron, 1.25”

Not every barrel is created equal, and our stylists agree: Ceramic irons evenly distribute heat across the barrel and preserve your hair’s moisture. Not only does this ceramic iron work on all hair types and textures, but it also has a smart chip that monitors and prevents heat fluctuations, meaning you won’t have to keep going over the same pieces over and over again. Not to mention, the 1.25-inch barrel gives you the best variety of curl types according to Nast.  

Quick styler 

Titanium and Ion Curling Iron

Besides ceramic, titanium is the most common styling iron material. It heats up in a flash and leaves behind a smooth, frizz-free style according to Hurtado. This iron includes two separate heaters on either side of the iron, so you get twice the power faster. Also nice: It has an automatic safety shut off after 30 minutes of inactivity, so you can leave the house without that nagging anxiety about leaving your iron on.