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The Best Curling Irons, According to Professional Hairstylists

Photo: Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

A great curling iron takes the pressure off of a rushed early-morning routine: It’s light in the hand, easy to maneuver (even for true curling dummies), creates a curl that won’t drop by lunchtime, and doesn’t fry your hair. We know there are a lot of them to wade through, though, which is why we turned to seven hairstyling professionals to get their opinion on which curling wands are really worth investing in. Here, we’ve assembled a range of options — from the drugstore-budget range to some heavy hitters that professionals use to make waves on famous clients.

Best overall curling iron

The clear favorite among the hairstylists we polled for this story was a one-inch curler from GHD, with everyone mentioning how intuitive this iron is at minimizing hair damage — it maxes out at 365 degrees. “They have done extensive studies into the correlation of heat against elasticity of hair, which concluded in the GHD irons not going above 365 degrees,” says New York–based hairstylist Helen Reavey. “The material allows heat to distribute evenly, creating the perfect wave without damaging your hair.” It’s her top recommendation for serial curlers, and others — like stylists Benjamin Muller and Nunzio Saviano — tend to agree. “The temperature is perfect, the hair never smokes or smells like burn, and the curl is perfect after four to five seconds from root to end — shiny and elastic,” says Saviano.

Best curling iron with high heat limits

The devilish appearance of this FHI ceramic iron might give away the fact that it can be scorching: Temperatures on this curling iron range from 140 degrees Fahrenheit to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, which celebrity hairstylist Tym Wallace — whose clients include Taraji P. Henson and Mary J. Blige — deems perfect for his curling needs. “Thus far, its the hottest curling iron I have used.” He likes that it also has three layers of ceramic plates infused with tourmaline-producing negative ions that seal in moisture, repel humidity, reduce frizz, and help eliminate static. “It makes the hair shiny and holds good curl memory for all hair lengths and styles. Also, it travels light in my kit.”

Best curling iron for minimizing heat damage

Celebrity hairstylist Kendall Dorsey uses this iron regularly on his clients, which include Solange, Yara Shahidi, and Justine Skye. In addition to using tourmaline plates (which seal in the hair’s moisture and minimizes frizz), it also uses what they call “an exclusive Infared Smart Technology,” which apparently infuses the hair with “micro-moisture particles to prevent the damaging effects of high heat tools.” We can’t speak to the micro-moisture particles, but Dorsey feels it’s the best iron on the market when it comes to preserving hair health.

Best rotating curling iron

If you’re an occasional curler who doesn’t want to splurge on an expensive curling wand, Reavey suggests this Marcel Iron from Hot Tools, because it’s particularly easy to use. “The handle, which rotates, allows you to wrap hair around the iron with ease.” Its 24-karat-gold-plated barrel also means that it heats up superfast, and it has ten heat settings (and goes all the way up to 430 degrees).

Marcel irons are the go-to for celebrity hairstylist and author of Stunning Braids Monae Everett because they’re easy to use and get hot from the base of the barrel to the tip, which is key for creating an even curl and reducing frizz. This curling iron is also a favorite of hairstylist and founder of A Curl Can Dream Daryce Brown-Willis, who likes how light it is. “It doesn’t hurt my wrist with continuous use,” she says.

Best curling iron for textured hair

Dorsey recommends the Hot Tools 24K Gold Curling Iron for textured hair because it gets hot quickly (it only takes a few seconds to reach 430 degrees, he says), maintains its temperature for the duration of styling, and has a gold barrel, a material he feels works best on textured hair. Although the iron comes in a variety of barrel sizes (three-eighths of an inch, three-quarters of an inch, an inch and a quarter, an inch and a half, and two inches) Dorsey prefers the one-inch curler, which he says works well on a wide range of lengths and creates “beautiful, natural-looking curls.”

Best curling iron for long, thick hair

If you have longer, thicker hair, chances are, you need a curling iron with a slightly bigger barrel, like this inch-and-a-quarter Babyliss Pro Nano Titanium. This one comes recommended by Dorsey, who likes its 50 heat settings (it goes all the way up to 450 degrees) and ceramic barrel, which helps to evenly distribute heat without damaging hair. “The ceramic in the curling iron creates a far-infrared heat that penetrates deep into your hair to preserve its natural moisture and shine,” he says. “It also helps your hair glide through easily so there isn’t breakage when you are pulling your hair through to start a curl.”

Best mini curling iron

For tighter curls, Muller uses a small, five-eighth-inch barrel from BaByliss Pro. “To create a tight curl, you always want a curling iron with high heat but a small size,” he says. “For this, the spring system makes it easy to manipulate the hair, and with the heat from the BaByliss, I can also lock in the curls and bring definition to hair.” If you travel often, a big perk is that this one is dual-voltage and won’t burn your hair if you’re flying across the pond.

Best curling iron wands

If you struggle with clamps on curling irons, celebrity hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons — who frequently works with the Kardashians — tells us that he’s been using this clipless Paul Mitchell three-in-one curling iron lately and loving it. “It has three interchangeable barrels (a rod, a cone, and a small cone), so you can create loose waves, natural-looking curls, and ringlets with just one tool,” he explains. As someone who frequently hops around for work, he likes that it allows him to travel light.

Best curling iron wand for minimizing heat damage

The Airwrap styler is one of few curling irons you can use (safely) while your hair is wet. Here’s how it works: rather than curling hair with heat, the Airwrap uses high-speed airflow — you wrap hair around the barrel, and jets of air create the curls. Though pricy, it comes with a slew of attachments, including a pre-styling dryer for wet hair , brushes for straightening and volumizing, and 1.2- to 1.6-inch Airwrap barrels for creating specific-size curls. According to editorial hairstylist Joey George, it lives up to the hype and the best thing about it is that you’re able to create a full head of curls without any heat damage at all.

And if you’re serious about beach waves, T3 is another name to know. It’s the same brand Blake Lively’s hairstylist, Rod Ortega, uses to create her signature wavy hair (more on that below) and came recommended by Samantha Shepard, the lead stylist at blowout salon Glam + Go. Considering that the salon’s most popular styles require a tousled, natural-looking wave — and that the premise of a blowout bar is speed — she finds this tapered T3 Singlepass wand ideal for its light weight (“as stylists, our job is basically one long arm workout”) and speedy heat-up time.

T3 Whirl Trio

Or, if you want the exact style of wand that Ortega uses, here’s the T3 whirl trio, an interchangeable medley — similar to the Paul Mitchell one — that helps tackle everything from tighter spirals to flowing Veronica Lake waves. Celebrity hairstylist Cheryl Bergamy is also a fan, saying it’s “so easy and smooth to use,” especially for soft waves or loose curls.