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When it comes to finding a great curling iron, there's a lot to consider. You'll want to find one that's easy to use without creating kinks or snagging hair; it should heat up quickly so you're able to style and curl hair fast; and it should be make it easy to create perfect beach waves or pristine curls with enough heat to set the style without damaging your hair. And of course, it should do all that at a reasonable budget.
That said, your choices can vary greatly "depending on the texture of the hair and the type of curl you are looking for," says Eugene Toye, stylist at Rita Hazan Salon in New York City — and with so many options on the market, from titanium to ceramic, tourmaline and even clamp-less curling wands, hair rollers and heat-free hair curlers, it can be difficult to know where to begin finding the right hair curler for you.
That's why we put all types of curling irons to the test in the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, to help you find the best curling irons that are actually worth your money.
Our top picks:
During their evaluations, our Beauty Lab pros assess features like preheat time, temperature range, overall settings and ease of use. We also had a panel of at-home testers try the irons at home and report back on factors such as the lasting power of the resulting curls and ease of use. All told, our scientists and beauty pros parsed through more than 103 measurements and 836 survey answers to find the only curling irons worth your money.
For more information on what to keep in mind as you shop for a curling iron (including material, barrel size, temperature and more), scroll to the bottom of this article. In the meantime, these are our reviews of the best curling irons you can buy.
How we test curling irons
In the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, we test curling irons for factors such as speed of preheat, whether the tools actually heat up to (or exceed) the temperature settings indicated on the tool and whether other parts of the iron get hot to the touch.
We also have a panel of testers try them out at home and report back on how well the curling irons create curls, how long the curls last and how easy and comfortable the tools are to use.
To put together this list of the best curling irons on the market, our scientists and beauty pros parsed through over 103 test measurements and 836 survey answers. We also consulted hairstylists and our own beauty editors for additional insight on what makes the best hair tool, and considered online reviews and recommendations from GH staffers.
How to find the right curling iron for your hair
There are a few features and considerations you'll want to look for to ensure you're choosing the right curling iron for your hair type and goals. Here's what to keep in mind as you get started with shopping:
✔️ Barrel size: "Depending on the texture of the hair and the type of curl you are looking for, then you would determine which size barrel to use," says Toye. If you want relaxed, beachy waves, reach for a larger barrel (1 ¼-inch and above). The smaller the barrel, the tighter the curl will be. If your hair is hard to curl, look for a 1-inch barrel for a curl that is less likely to fall flat through the day. Want a do-it-all size? "A curling iron with a 1 ¼ inch barrel is a good size for everyday curls, no matter what look you are going for," says Toye.
✔️ Material: The GH Beauty Lab has found both ceramic and titanium curling irons are good conductors of heat and will work on all hair types, so try not to get persuaded by marketing claims that state one is better than the next. Toye, however, says that stylists tend to opt for titanium irons, since he finds they are lighter-weight than ceramic and can more effectively hold high temperatures, although ceramic irons can be more user-friendly due to their ability to evenly distribute heat.
✔️ Clamp: For ultimate versatility, look for an extended clip that spans the full length of the barrel. This way, the curling iron can also be used to somewhat smooth hair too, if you need. Some models can be used as wands by wrapping hair over the clip for looser curls and waves. "Clamps tend to leave marks in the hair if they are not properly used," says Toye, which is why some "prefer a clamp-less wand: because it is more user-friendly."
✔️ Adjustable heat settings: "I recommend a curling iron with adjustable heat settings," says Toye. Lower temps are great for fine hair for those thinner hairs around the face, while higher temps are great for coarse, natural or hard-to-curl hair. As a rule of thumb, our Beauty Lab experts say you should use low heat on fine, chemically processed or fragile hair (180ºF to 370ºF); medium heat on easy-to-curl, healthy hair (375ºF to 395ºF); and high heat on thick, wavy or natural hair (400ºF to 420ºF).
✔️Cord: It might not seem important, but a good cord can make or break the styling experience. A professional-length cord on a curling iron is nine feet long — anything shorter may make it difficult to maneuver when styling. We also love a swivel mechanism, which prevents the cord from getting tangled or wrapped up as you style.
✔️Automatic shut-off: Our testers love irons with an auto shut-off feature. You'll never have to worry about remembering to unplug your curling iron because it shuts off for you.
What curling iron do stylists use?
There's a lot of debate around whether ceramic or titanium is better for heat styling tools, but when it comes to the in-salon choice, Toye says, "Titanium would be the most preferred by stylists, and tourmaline and ceramic are more popular among the average consumer.
Why? He explains that titanium barrels are usually lighter than ceramic and can hold high temperatures longer, while ceramic barrels distribute heat more evenly and are less likely to damage hair, so they are more suitable for at-home consumers with different hair textures.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
Deputy Editor Jessica Teich teamed with Beauty Lab Senior Chemist Sabina Wizemann for this article. Wizemann led Lab and consumer tests, analyzed the data and compiled the results in a technical report, and Teich then distilled the findings, gathered additional recommendations, interviewed celebrity hairstylist Eugene Toye and wrote this roundup.
An authority on (and a guinea pig for) new-to-market tools on curly hair, Teich has over 10 years of experience formally researching, testing and writing about haircare products, hair tools (like hairdryer brushes, curling wands and flat irons) and styling tips (like how to get beach waves, how to use a diffuser and how to cut your own hair).
With a background in hair dye research and synthesis, Wizemann loves everything hair-related. Over her years in the GH Beauty Lab, she has led Lab and consumer studies on at-home hair dyes, shampoos and conditioners, hair serums, hair volumizers, hair dryers and more.
Jessica (she/her) is a deputy editor at the Good Housekeeping Institute and a longtime product tester, reviewer, writer and editor of beauty and lifestyle content. She has over a decade of industry experience, previously as beauty editor at USA Today's Reviewed where she launched the Beauty vertical and tested hundreds of products and has covered trends for publications like The Boston Globe and The New York Times. You can usually find her sorting through piles of beauty products — and testing the best ones on camera.
Sabina (she/her) is a senior chemist in the Beauty, Health & Sustainability Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, where she has overseen skincare, haircare and makeup testing since 2012. She also reviews applications, substantiates claims and evaluates products for the GH Seal and the Beauty Awards and Sustainability Awards programs. She has a B.S. in chemistry from Ithaca College and more than 16 years of experience working in the pharmaceutical and personal care industries.
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