Hair Style Tips

The 8 Best Curling Irons That Won’t Damage Hair, According to Stylists

Photo: W+G Creative
In breaking news to exactly no one, it can be hard to find a curling iron that won't damage your hair. Too much heat can crack your cuticle (the outermost layer of a strand), which can result in proteins leaching out, leaving hair dry, frayed, and brittle.

Best curling irons that won't damage hair at a glance

And yet, nothing quite says "I spent $60 on a professional blowout" (without actually having to spend $60 on a professional blowout) like knowing how to curl your own hair. Once you know how to give yourself effortless bends or bombshell waves, you'll want to style your hair yourself all the time. (For free!) And with the right curling iron on hand, that newfound hobby won't result in damage to your strands.

While you'd be hard-pressed to find any sort of hot tool that's actually good for your hair, there are certain things you can look for to lessen damage. Keep scrolling for the best ways to protect your hair from heat.

How do I keep my curling iron from damaging my hair?

Even the safest curling irons on the market still run the risk of doing some damage to your strands, so it's important to take certain precautions during the styling process.

1. Prep ahead of time: "If you know that you are creating a hairstyle that uses hot tools like a curling iron, you should prep your hair the day before to avoid heat damage," says Garnier hairstylist Millie  Morales. "I always recommend applying a hydrating mask and blowdrying hair the day before to have it ready for the curling iron." Her pick? Garnier Fructis Hydrating Treat 1 Minute Hair Mask + Aloe Extract ($6), which she says will leave hair "soft and hydrated" even after it goes under the iron.

2. Use a heat protectant: Putting a curling iron on raw, unprotected hair is going to garner the same results as trying to cook something in a non-greased pan—there's a potential for it to stick to the rod and burn. "Heat protectant is a must,” says Linsey Barbuto, owner Perlei Salon. "Many people don’t realize how much heat damage your hair takes with hot tools. Using a heat protector will not only help keep your hair healthy, but it will prevent breakage." Apply a serum like Oribe Royal Blowout ($69) or IGK Thirsty Girl ($32) before you blow dry to make sure your strands are protected.

3. Make sure your hair is completely dry: It doesn't take a haircare wizard to know that the crackling sound a curling iron makes when it comes into contact wet hair is not good news. "Make sure your hair is completely dry with zero dampness," says Glamsquad Creative Director Giovanni Vaccaro. "This will protect your hair follicle, as hair is most vulnerable and prone to damage when wet."

4. Don’t go too hot: "A lot of people put their curling iron on too hot, you do not need to put the curling iron all the way up to the highest heat,” says Stephanie Brown, NYC Master Colorist at IGK Soho. She suggests staying between 300 and 380 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on how thick and how processed your hair is), and controlling the heat intensity as needed. The general rule is the thicker hair is, the more heat it can tolerate; however, the more processed it is, the easier you need to be with it.

5. Don't hold for too long: If you've seen that video, you know what can happen when you hold a burning hot iron on your hair for too long (spoiler alert: it can burn it clear off of your head). Stylists suggest wrapping your hair, counting for five to seven seconds, then moving onto the next section.

How to find a curling iron that won't damage hair

A harsh truth, straight from Vaccaro: "There are no curling irons that are actually good for your hair," he says. That said, "there are definitely irons that are less damaging to your hair than others." To ensure you're getting something that will protect the integrity, there are a few key elements you can look for—namely, the right materials and temperature controls.

"Don’t go cheap on your blow dryer, flat iron or curling iron," advises Brown. "The cheaper tools don’t usually have temperature settings or a lot of power, so you are using them longer and over-heating." Here, the stylist-approved picks for the best curling irons that won't damage hair.

What to look for in a curling iron that won't damage your hair

When looking for a curling iron that won't damage your hair, look for heat settings, and specific types of irons.

  • Temperature control:  "When searching for a curling iron, one of my biggest tips is to find a curling iron that allows you to control the temperature," says Emily Boulin, a professional Hairstylist and DIY color & styling expert for Sally Beauty. "Having the ability to turn down the heat will help avoid hair breakage long term."
  • Titanium vs. ceramic: "There are two different kinds of curling irons to look for that are less damaging on the hair. One is a titanium curling iron and the other is ceramic curling iron," says Nunzio Saviano,  a stylist and owner Nunzio Saviano Salon. Saviano says they both are less likely to damage the hair if used properly because they distribute heat evenly, which is better when creating a long lasting curl or wave formation. He notes that titanium irons get much hotter, "making them great for thicker, course hair that can handle heat more than thinner, fragile hair but also need the higher temperature to get a better curl." Ceramic irons tend to get less hot than titanium ones, so they're better for finer, thinner hair.

Ahead, find the best curling irons that won't damage hair, all approved by stylists.

Best curling irons that won't damage hair

Bio Ionic Stylewinder 1”
Best for thick hair: Bio Ionic Stylewinder 1” — $145.00

For thicker hair, try titanium. “Since titanium is a lightweight metal, it heats more quickly and evenly,” says Barbuto. “This means you get to hold your hair on the iron for less time for the same style.” And of course, when it comes to preventing damage, the less time you’re spending with a hot tool, the better. Stylists recommend titanium irons for thicker hair types, since they distribute heat faster. It’s also extra long, which is helpful for those who have hair past their shoulders.

What reviewers are saying: My stylist recommended this for me, and it is awesome! Cuts my curling time down by at least 25 mins. Amazing.”

Pros

  • Self-rolling barrel
  • Locks in hair moisture
  • Digital temperature control up to 440°F
  • Automatic shut off

Cons

  • Reviewers say it may make a while to learn how to use it
GSQ by Glamsquad Adjustable Curling Wand
Best fast heating: GSQ by Glamsquad Adjustable Curling Wand — $31.00

This adjustable titanium wand heats up quickly (in under 30 seconds, according to the brand), and combines a titanium barrel with a ceramic heater for uniform heat throughout the iron. Pro tip: For natural-looking waves, start your curl in the middle of your head, hold for a 10-count, and release.

Pros

  • Tapered from 1″ to 1.25″
  • Heats up in 30 seconds
  • Heats up to 400°F
  • Automatic shut off

Cons

  • Reviewers say it may make a while to learn how to use it
BaBylissPRO Porcelain Ceramic Spring Curling Iron
Best for thin hair: BaBylissPRO Porcelain Ceramic Spring Curling Iron — $50.00

If your hair is on the finer side, you’ll want to look for something with a ceramic barrel. These don’t get as hot as their titanium cousins, and stylists say they’re safer for thin or processed hair that might suffer when coming into contact with excess heat. BaByliss’s techy irons have been favorites among stylists for years. This one, in particular, combines the heat distribution capabilities of ceramic with infrared and ionic technology to cut down styling time while still being kind to your hair.

What reviewers are saying: “I never used to curl my hair with anything, because my rather course, long hair has never held a curl for more than a few hours. However, this product has changed all that. I love it! My hair holds curl for more than a day—a little touch up the next morning, & I’m good to go again.

Pros

  • Even heat distribution
  • Reduces static electricity
  • Heats up quickly
  • 30 heat settings, heats up to 430°F

Cons

  • Reviewers say it may be hard to maneuver and easy to burn your fingers
  • No automatic shut off
GHD Curve Wand
Best lower temperature: GHD Curve Wand — $199.00

“I love GHD irons, they are extremely user friendly and the curling irons slide through the hair so easy because there is low tension in the hair clamp,” says Aaron Grenia, co-founder and master stylist at IGK Soho. This tool in particular uses ultra-zone technology, which keeps the heat consistent throughout the iron for an even curl pattern. It also goes into “sleep mode” after 30 minutes of non-use, so you’ll never have to stress about leaving it on after you’ve left the house for the day.

What reviewers are saying: “It glides so beautifully! Also, the tip of the iron shape makes it so easy two work the clamp and loosen curls.

Pros

  • Spring-activated lever
  • Sleep mode
  • 365°F across the entire barrel
  • Ceramic coating

Cons

  • No temperature control
dyson hair wrap
Best splurge: Dyson Airwrap — $600.00

For types of hair, you can’t go wrong with the Dyson Airwrap. It’s really the only curling device on the market that doesn’t use an actual iron to get the job done.

“It uses air [like a blow dryer] instead of heat to style and shape your hair,” says Vaccaro, who calls it one of his “favorite tools for women to use at home.” The price tag is undoubtedly hefty, but you can’t beat the safety it gives strands. Plus, you’re technically getting eight hair tools for the price of one… in case you need more of a reason to invest.

What reviewers are saying: “Amazing! I find it hard to keep my hair styled for long without it turning dry/frizzy, and this product not only keeps my hair fabulous with salon-quality + shine, but it also eliminates frizz & maintains all day long. My hair is much healthier now than other hair tools which overheats and dries my hair out. It’s a one-stop shop for everything you need, without a doubt worth the splurge. The only hair tool I use now!

Pros

  • Multiple functions in one: Curls, dries, smooths
  • Doesn’t use extreme heat
  • Multiple attachments available for different hair types, lengths, and styles
  • Airflow attracts hair to the tool

Cons

  • Expensive
T3 Singlepass Curl
Best lightweight: T3 Singlepass Curl — $170.00

The T3 Singlepass Curl comes in different size barrels, from 0.5″ to 1.5″ and uses technology to keep your curls lasting all day long. The iron has five heat settings controlled by a microchip to keep temperatures from fluctuating. “This is helpful because you won’t accidentally have it set too high causing damage,” says Jenna Spino, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. “The barrel is ceramic which is more gentle on the hair keeping hair shiny,” she adds.

What reviewers are saying: “This is hands down the most versatile curling iron I have ever owned. It smoothes my flyaways, adds volume, and creates beautifully long lasting curls and waves. Since getting this lightweight curling iron, I do not need to travel with several styling tools anymore. It heats up very quickly and it is very easy to use.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • 5 adjustable head settings, from 260-410°
  • Microchip for consistent heating
  • Ceramic coating

Cons

  • Expensive
Hidden Crown Curl Bar
Best for longer hair: Hidden Crown Curl Bar — $45.00

This curl bar is a favorite of Bradley Leake’s, an LA-based celebrity hair stylist, who recommends looking for irons with ceramic barrels and adjustable heat. It has a wide heat range, from 170–450°, and an extra long barrel, which is great for longer locks. It comes with a protective glove and heat resistant pad, so you don’t have to worry about burning your hands or countertops.

What reviewers are saying: “Pretty, beautiful, amazing curls! Glam and beach waves. Love the extra long barrel and the grips on it. It guides my hair and holds it in place so it does not slip. So happy with this purchase.”

Pros

  • Extra long barrel
  • Includes protective glove
  • Heats up to 450°
  • Ceramic coated

Cons

  • May take some time to learn how to use it
ion Titanium Pro 1 Inch Curling Iron
Best affordable: ion Titanium Pro Curling Iron — $45.00

Boulin recommends this ion titanium curling iron, which has ceramic heaters inside and an extended barrel. “It comes with temperature control and you can choose from a variety of diameters for your ideal curl size,” she says. It automatically shuts off after 60 minutes, and the extra long 360° swivel power cord will let you use the iron from almost anywhere in your house.

What reviewers are saying: “Works great, heats up quick, perfect size. Nice swivel cord.”

Pros

  • Extended barrel
  • Titanium coating
  • Extra long, swivel power cord
  • Heats up to 450°
  • Auto shut off

Cons

  • Some reviewers say it’s heavy

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