Vanity Fair September 7, 2021

Vanity fair


A Guide to the Best Hair Straighteners: Sleek and Y2K-Approved 


The aughts-favorite hot tool now comes with a range of features, including smart technology, heat-protective plates, and settings for all hair types.

Just like clockwork, as TikTok teens latch onto the aesthetics of the near-distant past, early-aughts beauty codes have returned—and so have the hair straighteners. We’ve been primed for this revival, taking in updated iterations of frosted lips and pastel eye shadow, alongside candy-colored butterfly clips as seen on Olivia Rodrigo. But it’s the pin-straight hair on the Chanel fall 2021 runway that signaled a turn of events. Call it nostalgia or a return to polish after a year of hands-off styling at home—but either way, it’s tempting enough for many to reconsider the appeal of ultra-sleek hair. The timing couldn’t be better, as today’s straightening tools and flat irons are decidedly future-forward, offering customizable settings, cord-free styling, and heat-protective features.

Of utmost importance is temperature control. “It is crucial to use the proper heat setting so you don’t cause unnecessary damage,” says Leigh Hardges, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. “Using too high a temperature can melt the cortex of the hair, while not enough heat can leave hair looking unfinished with a style that doesn’t last long.” Determining the right temperature—which can range from 170 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, varying by model—depends largely on hair texture and weight. Thick or curly types call for more heat, whereas those with fine or thinning hair should keep it low and slow.

Then, next to consider is the material of the plates, as they are not created equal. “Ceramic is a more gentle heat, while titanium is more aggressive,” Hardges says of the relative conductivity and the effects on hair. Metals, such as copper or titanium, heat the cuticle first for faster straightening, so it’s best for those seeking speed. Ceramic plates, however, gradually warm the strands from within the hair shaft, causing relatively less damage and imparting shine.

Still, heat of any kind is liable to do some harm, especially on repeat. For that reason, it’s best to limit hair-straightener use to just once or twice a week. (Consider a dry shampoo to extend a style’s lifespan for an extra day.) And a heat protectant is a non-negotiable, adds Hardges, who uses Oribe Balm d’Or heat styling shield on her clients. “I apply the product from the mid-strand to ends of hair before thermal styling.” 

For the best results, Hardges recommends the “chase” method: Using a heat-resistant comb, pass through the section you aim to straighten and follow it immediately—chasing it, so to speak—with the flat iron. “This ensures that all strands get evenly straightened, and gives a sleeker, more polished finish,” she explains. 

It’s easy work with this collection of next-level hair straighteners. The overarching result is a preternaturally smooth look that lasts.

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T3 Lucea Id Smart 1-inch flat iron with touch interface

Few straightening irons can outdo this innovative design, which boasts a number of thoughtful features. The nine temperature settings allow for greater personalization with hair texture, while the smart microchip tracks and regulates heat fluctuations to ensure the plate temperature stays consistent, which promotes faster styling. A nice, though not necessary, perk: It’s lovely to look at, too.

Dyson Corrale straightening iron

While this is ostensibly a flat iron, it goes above and beyond your average hairstyling tool. It features manganese copper plates that actually flex with the pressure of each strand of hair, which allows for quick, effective straightening—meaning less heat and therefore less damage. The cord-free straightener also runs for up to 30 minutes between recharges.

InStyler Straight Up Max ceramic straightening brush

To reap the benefits of Hardges’s chase method without pro-level ambidexterity, consider a straightening brush. Each bristle is wrapped with a ceramic plate, which sections hair as you brush and guarantees an even, consistent temperature. Meanwhile, the bristles’ cool tips ensure that the scalp doesn’t overheat.

ghd Unplugged cordless styler

For those who consider straight hair a 24/7 non-negotiable, this cordless styler is a smart pick. It’s compact enough to fit in a carry-on or gym tote—and the lightweight design doesn’t necessitate a trip to the masseuse. It heats up in under a minute, charges via a USB cable for 20 minutes’ worth of styling, and comes with a heat-resistant bag for on-the-go travel.

Drybar The Tress Press digital styling iron

A frequent flier will appreciate this iron’s universal voltage, which negates the need for a separate converter when traveling internationally. The titanium plates purportedly help seal the cuticle, thus reducing frizz, and feature infrared technology that heats hair from within the shaft to minimize damage.

L'Oréal Professionnel Steampod flat iron & styler

Rather than deploying heat, this hair straightener harnesses steam to more gently straighten hair. Its built-in water tank doesn’t need to be refilled while styling, and the removable comb helps detangle. Perhaps best of all, you can use it to create waves and curls, too, eliminating the need for an array of various tools.

Amika Polished Perfection thermal straightening brush 2.0

This hybrid tool supplies heat to smooth and straighten, along with built-in infrared light to more quickly heat hair at its core, improving moisture retention. The bristles allow for both detangling and even application of heat for quick, easy straightening.

Lunata Cordless Styler Pro flat iron

Unlike some cordless straightening irons that top out at 30 minutes of styling time per charge, this minimalist new model packs a full hour of use. It’s also adjustable in temperature to increments of 10 degrees, for the most precise temperature settings yet. 

Harry Josh Pro Tools 1.25-inch ceramic flat styling iron

This cult-favorite iron has oversize ceramic plates to straighten large sections of hair in one pass—not to mention universal voltage and automatic shut-off for the absentminded among us.

ghd Gold Max 2" styler

This straightening iron is well-suited to those who grew their hair out amid the pandemic, thanks to two-inch plates that can handle a Rapunzel scenario in a reasonable amount of time. It’s preset to 365 degrees, generally considered to be the universal temperature to smooth hair with the least amount of damage.

Moroccanoil Perfectly Polished titanium flat iron

The titanium plates on this turquoise model heat up quickly and evenly for faster styling. The ergonomic grip and extra-long plates also allow users to wield it with comfort.

Bio Ionic 10X Pro 1-inch styling iron

Those stretched on time are bound to feel less rushed with this iron, which features vibrating plates to increase surface contact with hair. The plates are also infused with volcanic minerals that supposedly protect against moisture loss during styling. The result? Straight hair in a matter of minutes.

Hot Tools 1.25-inch digital flat iron

It’s inevitable that some strands of hair will get trapped in a flat iron, but this throws the odds in your favor with smooth ceramic plates, which are designed to allow hair to glide seamlessly without pulling or tugging. They also have rounded edges to allow for a variety of styles—waves included.

The Beachwaver Co. Coast Pro ceramic straightening iron

Few straightening irons are more exacting than this one, which features ceramic plates that heat up to 450 degrees in a mere 17 seconds.

Kristin Ess 3-in-One 1.25-inch flat iron

As the name implies, the curved plates on this pretty straightening iron allow it to be wielded to create waves and curls, too. Not only does the versatility set it apart, but it also features a generous 9-foot cord in order to accommodate various styling methods (not to mention far-away outlets).