It may be hard to believe, but women have been curling their hair since 2,000 B.C. However, it was centuries later that the first curling irons came into existence.
Today, the humble curling iron comes in many different forms, shapes, and sizes—to the extent that it can be extremely confusing (especially to those of us whose earlier styling of our manes extended to hastily brushing and tying it up before rushing to work!).
When you want those effortless beach waves, do you turn to Marcel or a spinning hair curler? And what about those glossy ringlets for the evening’s soiree?
Worry not—your learning (and your hair!) is in safe hands because here’s the guide to curling irons that you didn’t know you needed.
Types of Curling Irons
We’re not kidding when we say there’s a curling iron for every conceivable type of curl there is! While it may not be possible to have all of these in your armory, it definitely helps to know what you should consider investing in while looking for a particular result.
Here are all the types of curling irons that you need to know about.
Let’s start with the most basic—the OG curling wand. This old-school, spring-loaded styling tool, also known as a basic spring-loaded curling iron, was probably the very first version of a modern, efficient curling iron, and the facts that it still works and is commonly used are testament to its timeless design.
This curling iron features a spring-loaded clamp that literally locks your hair in place (it closes shut), as you wrap your hair around the barrel, working your way up from the ends to the root. Curling wands with clips are great for those bouncy, defined curls extending downwards from the mid-shaft, but curling the hair closer to the root may be a bit of a challenge.
However, with the clamp and some careful maneuvering, you can have excellent, well-defined curls around your hair roots as well.
To create those stunning beach waves with this iron, section your hair into thin segments. Use the tool’s clamp to clamp the top of the sectioned0ff strands, twisting it gently and holding for a few seconds before releasing. You’ll need to do this at both the top and the bottom of each hair section to create your waves.
Beware, though—those ugly indentations usually caused by clamps are a very real threat to the overall aesthetic with this type of curling iron.
An upgrade from the traditional, clipped variety, this increasingly popular tool has really come into its own in the last decade or so, and is now deemed a basic must have for styling.
Curling wands (as they are usually referred to) feature hot barrels, typically between three-fourths of an inch to two inches in size, and are to be used manually, as they don’t have a clamp or clip to keep your hair in place.
Using these is as simple as wrapping your hair around the wand and holding it in place for a few seconds, till the curls set. Et voila! Loose, voluminous, beach waves without any ugly clamp-caused creases!
However, that’s not all you can do with this curling iron—curling wands without clips come in a range of different shapes and forms, which lets you create a beautiful range of curl patterns.
The size of the barrel also lets you define how thick and big your curl is; bigger barrels are better suited to thick, long hair and vice versa.
Factors such as how you hold the wand, how you wrap your hair around it, and the direction in which you wrap it will also influence the style and size of your curl. For the perfect curls, start wrapping your hair, from the root, around the wand and work your way to the tip. Keep the wand and hair in place for 10-20 seconds and then release.
Lightly scrunching the curl in your palm will also help create more definition.
Two extremely popular types of clipless curling wands are the tapered and the bubble irons.
Tapered Curling Iron
As the name suggests, this curling iron tapers, extending from a wide base into a narrow tip, and features spaced-out, raised material all around.
This hot tool is an excellent, versatile styling device to own—it lets you create small, tight curls with its narrow tip, voluminous, loose, S-shaped curls with the wider section of the wand near the base, and everything in between!
This makes tapered curling irons quite cost-efficient and extremely suited to beginners who may want to learn and experiment before investing in more professional tools.
Using the tapered curling iron is extremely simple. Start by wrapping a section of your hair, from the root, around the wand, going all the way from the wide base to the tip. This will give you loose, blown-out curls at the top that end in tighter ringlets. Based on this, you can play around, alternating your curl sections to create different textures.
If you’re looking for the vintage outcome that the glamorous divas of Hollywood sport/sported, few tools work better than this curling iron.
This adorably named curling iron is perfect if you identify as an Amy Santiago—someone who never breaks the rules and follows every instruction to the “T”!
Bubble wands are named for the bubbles on the wand, between which your hair is wrapped, guaranteeing consistent, foolproof, bouncy, tight results every time. This makes the bubble wand a reliable tool to fall back on, except for the fact it may work better for longer hair—longer hair can make maximum use of the bubble space.
That doesn’t mean that bubble wands are best saved for long-haired folks—our short-haired readers can use them just as well with the right hair parting.
Bubble wands are great for rookies, too, since they’re so easy to use. It’s recommended that you apply a heat protectant on your hair and then section it before using the curling wand.
After sectioning your hair, hold the barrel upside down, and starting from the root, wrap a section of hair around it. Hold this for around 10 or 20 seconds and then gently unwrap your hair. The bubble shape of the wand will have evenly curled it.
Since the barrel can get really hot, most curling wands come with protective heat-resistant gloves that prevent burns on your fingers.
Also known as the Marcel wand (aptly, we think—this iron does weave magic on your mane!), Marcel irons are a staple in hair salons of all sizes and levels—and best left there, we think.
These irons are manual as they don’t have a spring in their clamps, unlike traditional curling irons. This means that they remain shut only as long as they’re held shut; they spring open as soon as the hand is removed.
Because of this, and the fact that you need to retain complete control of your iron from the root to the end of the hair, it can be tricky and slightly challenging to use a Marcel iron, but not impossible; a little practice is all you need.
Additionally, manual control provides more space for versatility, letting you create a ton of wave and curl patterns that achieve the exact results you want. Marcel irons also don’t leave behind the indentation that traditional irons do.
Once you nail using the Marcel wand, it’s highly likely that you won’t look at purchasing another curling iron for quite a long while! Pro tip—use your thumb and pinky to work the clamp while holding the iron at its base, and work your way up from here.
Also, be careful—there isn’t a plastic covering on the tip of the wand, making it easy to burn yourself.
Yep, you can use your flat iron to also curl your hair! On days when you want to sport curls instead of straight hair, your flat iron will be your savior.
Flat irons are extremely versatile tools and reduce the need to buy more tools. With a flat iron, you can achieve several types of curls simultaneously, giving you a more natural-but-extremely-aesthetic outcome.
Several newer flat iron models now come designed to make curling easier. However, like the Marcel wand, a flat iron also takes some practice. How fast you move up and down your hair will determine the tightness of your curls. And remember—if you don’t want to crease or burn your hair, you’re going to have to keep the iron constantly in motion.
Triple Barrel Curling Iron
This iron, as the name suggests, contains three curling barrels, set parallelly, that large sections of the hair can weave between—a clamp holds the hair in place.
This is a step up from its double-barrelled cousin and creates the same beautiful, Insta-worthy waves of loosely crimped results on any hair type, similar to the waves that form once you unbraid your hair.
Triple barrel curling irons are extremely beginner friendly. To use this, you’ll need to hold the iron horizontally and keep moving downwards and clamping until waves are created. However, if you’ve got long hair, it can be tough to run down the entire length and create waves.
Double Barrel Curling Iron
If there’s a triple barrel iron, you can rest assured that there’s a double-barreled version, too!
This curling iron is a must-have if effortless, beachy waves are a huge part of your styling routine. For those to-die-for, loose S-shaped waves, you’ll need to wrap a section of your hair around each of the heated barrels, tracing a figure-8 pattern.
Make sure you hold the tool horizontally, keeping it in place for a few seconds before releasing it to create the perfect wave.
However, this curling iron presents the maximum use for those with hair that’s at least mid-length.
Brush irons aren’t very popular today, but nothing can replace them when you want soft, effortless, loose curls that are bouncier and more voluminous than traditional curling wands.
Brush irons have brush bristles all around the curling iron, which makes it function similarly to a bristle brush. The bristles not only comb through the hair easily but also make it smooth, shiny, and voluminous, even if it’s extremely frizzy.
The bristles also help keep the hair in place around the wand, negating the need for a clamp. In doing so, unwelcome creases in the hair are avoided. Significant amounts of heat damage and styling time are also reduced. Another great advantage is that this iron can also be used on damp hair.
However, if you’ve ever used a bristle brush before, you know what a nightmare it can be if your hair gets tangled in the bristles! The same can happen with this curling iron, so we suggest leaving this one to the pros.
Spinning Hair Curler
Spinning hair curls have hot barrels that rotate—with your hair, of course (that’s how the curls are formed). Once the curls are set, the rod will beep, indicating that it’s time to release the curl.
Using this curling iron is as simple as “hair in, curl out”!
Rotating Curling Iron
The latest innovation to hit the hair-styling industry, rotating curling irons make curling your hair unbelievably simple and ridiculously quick! (Heaven sent for those of us who barely make it to work in time each morning.)
These styling tools, like a spinning hair curler, curl up your hair—all you need to do is feed your hair to the iron (it’s not as scary as it sounds, we promise!), switch on the device, and sit back as it does all the work.
There are several types of rotating curling irons in the market, each engineered for a different purpose.
Though they’re not really irons, hot curlers are an indispensable part of any conversation that features curling tools! These are what you see in almost every sitcom that shows you a lady enjoying some downtime—curlers in the hair and a face mask on for good measure!
Curlers are simple to use and extremely versatile. You just need to roll them hot into your hair, leave them there while you finish your chores or binge-watch some Netflix or finish the rest of your getting-ready routine, and then take them off for perfectly curled hair.
Hot curlers are a cheaper and less damaging way to achieve those flawless curls.
What to Look For in Curling Irons?
While the type of curling iron will majorly influence whether or not you purchase a particular iron, several other factors also play key roles and are indications of the iron’s quality.
Here’s what you should keep in mind when looking for a curling iron.
Curling irons can be made from a range of different materials, such as tourmaline, ceramic, and even titanium and gold.
Ceramic is the most commonly used, as it heats evenly and doesn’t dry out your hair (the negative ions that it emits lock the moisture in your hair strands). They’re also perfect for all hair lengths.
Tourmaline is the next most commonly used and is now favored for its superior moisture-locking abilities (it emits more ions than ceramic). Many irons nowadays feature both tourmaline and ceramic.
Gold and titanium are popular choices for coarse, thick hair since they reach very high levels of heat very quickly and hold heat for long periods, which means significantly reduced styling time. Your curls also last longer and are shinier and smoother.
However, the extreme amounts of heat make a heat-protectant a must.
The bigger the barrel, the bigger and bouncier your curls. Anywhere between three-fourths of an inch to an inch is ideal for all lengths and hair textures, while barrels between an inch and an inch and a quarter are great for medium-length hair.
Anything smaller than three-fourths of an inch is great for tight ringlets and extremely fine short hair, as well as for naturally curly-haired folks seeking better curl definition.
For longer hair, a barrel size between one and a quarter and one and a half inches is ideal, just as it is for creating loose waves.
Curling irons come in a variety of sizes and each one will help you achieve a different type of curl.
If you’re someone who travels a lot, you’re probably going to carry your curling iron with you to keep your hair looking its best! Make sure then that you invest in a dual-voltage curling iron so that your iron doesn’t malfunction and burn your hair off at a different voltage.
The heat setting is important, as high temperatures are necessary for thick, coarse hair, but the same temperatures could easily burn fine hair, which is less resistant.
For chemically treated or fine hair, look for heat settings below 300℉, whereas for normal hair, temperatures between 300℉ and 380℉ work best. For thick, curly, and coarse hair, heat settings between 350℉ and 450℉ are necessary.
The Final Word
If you’ve always longed for beautiful curls but weren’t one of those naturally blessed with them, a curling iron is going to be your best friend! However, remember the golden rule—a heat protectant is non-negotiable.
Even with a heat protectant, never exceed 450℉ while styling. While you want your hair to look beautiful, you also want to protect it and make sure you have a full head for as long as possible!