Way too many guides on how to curl your hair begin with the painfully obvious: Finding the best curling iron for you. Even if you’re a total beginner at curling your hair, that step is kind of a no-brainer. Having the right-size (and -shape) barrel makes a world of difference in the type of curl you’re looking for—but so does your hair type, the products you use, how hot the iron gets, and how you hold the tool. Fortunately, we asked the experts for tips on how to get the perfect curl (or wave, depending on your preference).
What types of curling irons are there?
First things first: You want to distinguish between the different types of curling irons out there. The most common curling irons are made with ceramic barrels; those tend to spread heat evenly to ensure smooth, shiny results—and are a great pick for people with finer hair. “I recommend selecting an iron with ceramic barrels and customizable heat settings,” celebrity hairstylist Joseph Maine tells Glamour. Those tend to be less damaging on hair, while the adjustable temperature allows you to tailor it to your hair type’s needs for lasting results. (Thin or fine hair requires less heat than thick hair; the ideal temp for thin hair will be no more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit while thicker or coarser hair textures that can handle high heat from 350 to 450 degrees.)
Then there’s titanium iron, which professional stylists tend to love for thicker hair since it’s more durable and able to style curls at higher temps for longer. Tourmaline is another material that crops up in product descriptions—it tends to be a solid pick for people with frizzy or damaged hair since it emits negative ions that react with the positive ones in your hair to minimize dullness and frizz. “And for those with long hair, find a long barrel length to ensure you have enough space around the barrel,” he adds.
Finally, if you like wearing your curls in various sizes and hairstyles (think: bouncy ringlets, tight curls, beachy waves), you might also want to consider a styling tool with interchangeable barrels. This way, you don’t have to buy multiple hair tools to achieve different looks.
What’s the best way to use a curling iron?
“Your hair should be completely dry before curling it,” Maine says. He also suggests using a heat protectant both while the hair is wet and once it’s dry. “A leave-in conditioner or protectant like Color Wow’s Dream Coat works well while well, but on dry hair you want to use a dry thermal protectant that isn’t sticky like Color Wow’s Style on Steroids.” If you prefer sprays, Maxine Salon stylist Raven Hurtado recommends DryBar’s Hot Toddy Heat Protectant Mist. “It’s a super lightweight mist that you apply onto dry hair before you style with hot tools,” she says.
The techniques and barrel sizes you use will differ depending on the look you’re after. “The smaller barrel size curling iron you use, the tighter the curls will be while the bigger barrel size will let you achieve a loose wave,” Hurtado explains. “To style while using any size curling iron, place the hair in the middle of the clamp and curl away from your face to achieve a standard formal curl.”