Consider the barrel size
There are a lot of different wand sizes to choose from: ¾-inch, 1-inch, 1 ¼-inch, 1 ½-inch, 2-inch, or bigger. “Choose your barrel size based on how tight or loose you want your curl,” says Michelle Cleveland, celebrity hairstylist and owner of Hair Addict Salon in Tom’s River, New Jersey. The general rule of thumb: the smaller the barrel size, the tighter the curl. Conversely, the larger the barrel, the looser the curl, she says. Hair length plays a role in choosing the right wand size, too, says Cleveland. “Smaller barrels are best for shorter hair styles to give volume as well as curl,” she says. The 1-1 ¼-inch wands are ideal for medium length hair; anything larger is best for long hair.
Choose the right metal
You should be picky about what your curling iron is made with, says Cleveland. Cheap metals won’t give you a lasting curl. Even worse, they can do damage to your hair. Cleveland’s top pick is a ceramic wand. “It heats up evenly, has a long life-expectancy, and is good for most hair types,” she says. Tourmaline is another popular choice. “Tourmaline produces negative ions along with infrared rays that are capable of penetrating the hair without minimal damage,” says Cleveland. As it curls, a tourmaline iron infuses hair with a bit of steam, which pumps up the shine factor. The only downside is that they tend to be pricey and often don’t last as long as ceramic irons. You may also see titanium on store shelves. Titanium heats up quickly and evenly, but some brands cut corners and coat inexpensive (and ineffective) aluminum irons with the high-tech material. That plating can chip over time, exposing your hair to uneven, damaging heat.
Look for an adjustable heat dial
If the curling iron you’re eyeing only has one or two standard heat setting, keep walking. Ideally, you want an adjustable temperature gauge with an LCD read out, says Cleveland. This not only ensures an accurate temperature, but it allows you to customize the temp according to your hair type, so you don’t get burned. In general, you want to keep the temperature below 300 degrees if you have fine or chemically-treated hair. Normal, medium hair can handle temperatures between 300 and 380 degrees, and coarse, thick strands require a heat range from 350 to 450.
Splurge for extras
Are they necessary? No. But Cleveland says that various accessories on curling irons can make your life easier and may be worth the extra dough. For example, she says an automatic shut off option can give you peace of mind when you’re sitting in your office wondering if you forgot to unplug your iron. A rotating barrel makes the curling process goof-proof, creating red-carpet-worthy waves in minutes. You can also look for a removable clip allows you to use your tool as a traditional curling iron, or as a clipless wand, yielding a more relaxed, modern wave. There are even irons with interchangeable barrels, so you can change up the size of your curls without having to own (and store) multiple irons.
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