You want to find a quality straightener that will get the job done effectively and without damaging your hair.
Straighteners, or flat irons, use heat to break hydrogen bonds in the keratin of a hair strand. This heat application allows the hair to be reshaped – in this case, into a straighter, smoother shape.
The heat is traditionally applied by two flat irons that clamp together to help compress and re-mold the hair into a flattened shape as it is heated.
While most straighteners operate under these core principles, there are a variety of different designs, strategies, and materials available, all aimed at obtaining straight, sleek hair.
To help in your search for the perfect flat iron for you, we have gone in depth with all the details that you will need to consider.
Let’s start with the basics – the different types of straighteners available on the market today.
Table of Contents
- A. Hair Straightener Types
- B. Hair Straightener Materials
- C. Hair Straightener Size
- D. Temperature Settings
- E. Automatic Shut-Off
- F. Steam
- G. Safety Shut Lock
- H. Swivel Cord
- I. Cost and Budget
- What is the Most Expensive Straightener?
- How to use a hair straightener
A. Hair Straightener Types
A variety of different straighteners exist, each with different selling points and benefits. Some are simple and classic in design, others are very modern takes on the classic straightening device. Check out the major straightener types below.
1. Clamp Flat Irons
Clamp-style flat irons are the most basic and traditional type of hair straightener – they are also the most popular.
These classic irons can be modified with different materials and settings, but the general set-up stays the same – a standard two-iron appliance that clamps together around the hair.
As the user squeezes the tool’s clamping handle, the two hot irons come together to compress and straighten the hair as the strands are run through it.
This type of styling tool is popular for a reason – they are simple to use and can be easily modified with materials and features that fit every need and budget.
Ionic hair appliances have become very popular in recent years.
Flat irons that use ionic technology emit negatively charged particles (ions) as they work to straighten your hair.
Because the ions are negatively charged and water is positively charged, these appliances work to heat and dry hair quickly.
These tools are also good at keeping your hair’s cuticle smooth. For this reason, people desiring hair with more shine and less frizz might find success with an ionic straightening tool.
3. Wet to Dry Straighteners
Source: Hammacher Schlemmer
Most flat irons cannot be used on wet hair. The hair must be dried with a hair dryer or allowed to air dry before straightening takes place. Skipping this drying step can mean serious and visible hair damage.
However, wet to dry straighteners were created specifically to be used on damp hair. Unlike their traditional counterparts, they will not damage the moist hair, and instead, work to dry and straighten the locks in a single go.
If you regularly find yourself short on time when styling, a wet to dry model can help save time and get you out the door quicker.
Some of these wet to dry appliances rely on heat alone to dry the hair – but have adjusted the design in such a way that the direct heat is not damaging. Adding ventilation holes for the steam that will form off wet hair is one method.
Other models incorporate moving air, more like a blow dryer. And still other designs use more complicated systems to both dry and straighten hair, including rotating barrels and brush-like bristles.
These are not the only type of straighteners that use brushes to get the job done, as we will see next.
4. Straightening Brush
Straightening brushes simplify the process by reducing the number of tools you have to manage when styling your hair. Instead of swapping between a brush and a straightener, you can simply use and hold this one device.
The brush can be run through the hair, removing tangles and smoothing as it straightens.
There are several different popular designs of straightening brushes. Some look just like a regular brush, except there is a power cord!
Others look more like a traditional clamp iron, except both flat metal plates have been replaced entirely with bristly surfaces. And some models will retain more of the traditional metal plates, but with the addition of some comb-like teeth.
B. Hair Straightener Materials
We have seen there are different options for the basic set-up and style of a hair straightener. These designs can each be modified even further with the inclusion of diverse materials.
Different flat iron materials will accomplish different things. What kind you should search for depends on your hair type and styling needs.
Source: Sally Beauty
Ceramic is a common tool in all sorts of hair styling appliances because of its ability to disperse heat evenly. This ability allows your hair to heat evenly, providing an improved ability to control style while also reducing the likelihood of accidental hot spots that could damage hair.
Straighteners using ceramic materials are also good at not just heating hair evenly, but also at tackling frizz.
Ceramic straighteners can be either solid ceramic or a metal base covered with a ceramic coating.
A ceramic coating will still impart some of the benefits of the material, but may chip over time. Solid ceramic straighteners tend to be a bit higher quality, but as such, will set you back a few more dollars. However, the solid models generally are longer lasting.
Like ceramic, tourmaline is known for battling frizzy hair effectively and heating hair evenly. The material, which is a semi-precious stone, is actually often paired with ceramic to boost the common abilities of these two materials.
Tourmaline also helps create a very smooth and even straightener surface. A smoother surface can help reduce the uncomfortable snags and catches that can sometimes occur while straightening your hair.
Source: Sally Beauty
If you require high heat to straighten your hair, titanium might be a good option. This metal holds high heats very well.
Plus, it heats up quickly, which means no more waiting around for your flat iron to get hot. You can plug a titanium model in and by the time you grab your coffee from the kitchen, it’s ready to go.
People with coarse, hearty hair might find this material beneficial to getting a quicker style. However, this hot-tempered metal might be too much for people with damage prone or ultra fine hair that is more sensitive to heat.
C. Hair Straightener Size
Hair straighteners also come in a variety of sizes. Which size you will choose should depend on a couple of factors, including your hair length and style.
Small hair straighteners are best for people with short hair, or people whose main focus is straightening small areas of hair, like the bangs. They are easier to use with more precision and control than their larger counterparts.
Straighteners can be found in as small as a half-inch in width. Generally speaking, any size under an inch would be considered a small styling tool.
Source: Best Buy
Medium size straighteners are great for a large swath of people with mid-length or slightly longer hair. They allow for variety and ease of use in many situations.
They are small enough to be manageable when straightening shorter hair, but can also still tackle longer hair without it taking forever.
Typical medium straighteners are about an inch to an inch and a half in width.
If you have mid-length hair, or if you change your hair style and length often, a medium flat iron is probably a wise choice.
Large straighteners are best for people with super thick and long hair. If you have a ton of hair and find yourself always checking the clock when straightening it with a more moderate sized tool, a large size appliance might be a better option.
Straighteners starting at about an inch and three-quarters in width and up can be considered large tools. You can find flat irons that are two and even three inches across.
If your hair is difficult to straighten because there is so much of it, a large flat iron will probably be your new best friend.
II. More Details
Beyond basic style, material, and size, there is a world of other features available to you as you shop for a flat iron. The features (or the combination of features) that will be included in the straightener you decide to purchase is up to you.
It is easy to get lost as you click through page after page of hair straighteners online. And it is way too easy to get distracted by ad copy or flashy design and forget what you were after in the first place!
Focusing your attention in on what you really want and need in a product can make the process more straightforward.
As you consider these other details and features, as well as your overall straightener purchase, there are a few key things to keep in mind that will help you narrow it down:
- Your hair type: Is your hair thick or thin, coarse or fine?
- Your length of hair: Is your hair short, long, or somewhere in the middle?
- Concerns about safety: Do you have kids around? Are you concerned about burns or fire safety?
- Time constraints when styling hair: Do you usually straighten in a rush? Are you looking for ways to speed the process up?
- Goal budget: How much do you want to spend on a flat iron? Are you willing to stretch the budget for certain features or benefits?
Keep your answers to these questions in mind as we look at some of the other details available in modern hair straighteners.
D. Temperature Settings
Some flat irons will come with very simple controls. In fact, there may only be one setting – on or off!
Other tools will have a variety of heat settings available, and some will even let you input an exact temperature that you want the device to heat to.
If you like a high level of heat control, look for an option that provides a good deal of adjustment capability.
Getting a product with a lot of heat control is a smart move for people with sensitive hair who know they often need to be able to turn the heat down substantially. And it is also a good bet for people who know their locks require a ton of heat to straighten.
E. Automatic Shut-Off
Many modern flat irons will come with an automatic shut-off feature. This safety feature is a great tool for protecting your home, your bathroom countertops, and even your levels of stress!
Basically, this feature shuts the appliance off after a certain amount of time has passed.
Depending on the brand and model, this may be 30 minutes or an hour after the tool was first turned on.
If you are worried about fire safety, this option can provide you with some peace of mind. Even if you do forget to turn the appliance off, the automatic shut-off feature will take care of it for you.
This feature can also help protect the countertops and other surfaces in your home from accidental heat damage caused by a forgotten hair straightener!
Some hair straighteners function by using a steam feature.
While steam will probably be created when you use a wet to dry style straightener, this steam feature is something else entirely.
The steam seen in this type of appliance is not created when heat comes into contact with wet hair, but instead is produced by the flat iron itself.
This controlled amount of moisture can have a protective effect on the hair being styled.
This feature represents a departure from the dry heat present in most styling tools and often associated with hair damage.
And while straightening wet hair with a typical iron can cause damage, this steam component functions differently than exposing soaked hair to heat.
You can think of this function as somewhat of a middle ground to these two extremes – it supplies a bit of moisture while still protecting the hair.
G. Safety Shut Lock
Another optional feature is a safety shut lock. This feature allows you to lock your flat iron clamp in a closed position.
There are a couple of benefits to being able to close your hair straightener completely.
First of all, it makes for easy storage. With the clamp locked closed, the appliance is more compact and easily storable.
Secondly, the lock can help prevent burns. You can close and lock the clamp when you are done using the hot iron. As it cools, it remains shut.
A lock feature can reduce the likelihood that you accidentally pick up a hot iron (expecting it to be cool) by the hot metal plate. If you do grab it and it is locked shut, you should not come into contact with a hot surface!
This safety benefit can be very reassuring, especially if you have small children around or others who might not know to expect a hot iron in the bathroom!
The safety lock feature can also protect your counters and surfaces from damage in the same way. A closed flat iron should prevent contact between the hot surfaces and other materials.
H. Swivel Cord
A swivel cord is another great feature you can find on many of today’s hair straighteners.
Using these styling tools often requires maneuvering them around the head and in many different directions. With a traditional power cord, this can mean tangles, twists, and catches.
A swivel cord allows you to rotate the appliance as freely as you would like. The cord attachment simply swivels and pivots along with the movement.
This means you are free to move the tool with ease as you style your hair, and the power cord remains firmly plugged into the outlet.
It also might mean you are able to reach your hair and still see into your vanity mirror without twisting and tweaking your neck!
I. Cost and Budget
Now that we have discussed the major styles, materials, details and features you can find in modern flat irons, all of these factors must be weighed with one more topic in mind – your cost and budget.
First of all, it is wise to consider whether you want a minimalist tool that gets the job done simply or a more complicated appliance with lots of bells and whistles.
And it is also wise to ask yourself whether you will be relying on this straightener day in, day out for years to come, or if you just want to play around with a new styling tool and try some different looks on occasion.
If you are thinking a budget flat iron is the best fit, you can easily find one for $20, or maybe even less!
However, these models probably won’t come with a lot of longevity or very high-quality materials.
If you want something that’s of a little higher quality, but still doesn’t break the bank, there are lots of options available between $25 and $55.
Shopping for hair straighteners at around the $60 to $100 will get you even more quality, protection for your hair, and likely a more extensive list of features.
If you are willing to spend between $100 and $200, you will get a much higher quality tool – many professional-grade flat irons fall into this price category.
But, if you really want to get the best of the best, there are hair straighteners available that sell for around $400. Such high budget straighteners will not be worth the price for every user, but the materials and features they offer will make the price tag worth it to others.
What is the Most Expensive Straightener?
In fact, you can spend even more than $400 on a flat iron! It has been reported that you can find hair straightening tools that are decorated with diamonds and 18-carat gold.
The straighteners also have diamond material incorporated into the straightening plates. What will such a lavish tool set you back? You’re looking at a $17,575 hair styling appliance.
Needless to say, a straightener with this price tag is by no means a necessity to achieving the sleek hairstyle you are after. For most folks, spending between $35 and $80 will afford them a straightener with plenty of quality, longevity, and ease of use.
How to use a hair straightener
Below is a one of the best video tutorials on how to use a hair straightener.