Curling Iron Sizes and Results

There is that tongue in the cheek saying, size doesn't matter. But it certainly doesn't apply when choosing the perfect size curling iron for that specific curl that you want, nay, crave.

There comes a moment in all our lives when we see a picture of someone with bouncing curls and we covet it. That then leads us to research who was the hairdresser for the model or movie star, and more importantly, which curling iron did they use to get that style.

In this article, we will explore the many questions regarding which size is best for which hair type, curl style, and other interesting facts about the size.

What size curling iron do I need?

beautiful girl curling her long hair

Firstly, a curling iron and curling wand are basically the same thing, except that wands don't have a clip to keep hair in place when curling. Therefore wands are also called “clipless curling irons.” The more manageable option for beginners is a curling iron as it's easier to use because it allows you to clip your hair and then curl it.

The barrel of the curling iron will determine the curl size. The barrel is that piece of ceramic or titanium that gets super hot. Basically, the bigger the barrel, the bigger the curl.

How to determine the curling iron size

My mother has this uncanny ability to look at something and just know the size, in inches. Me, I'm a, let's measure it to the closest millimeter type of person. So for your convenience, I'll use both inches and millimeters.

When choosing your curling iron or wand, the size will be written on the box. But, if you were gifted with a curling iron and it didn't come in the box, do the following. 

Firstly, make sure the curling iron is off. Measure the diameter of the barrel with a tape measure. If it's a tapered wand, measure around the thickest part of the barrel. Divide this measurement by six (which will give you the approximate radius), then times by 1.9 and you will know the diameter of the barrel. That is how curling wands are measured. The size written on the box is the diameter of the barrel.

What are the different sizes of curling irons?

Herewith a quick summary of the different sizes that vary from 3/8 inch (9mm) to 2 inches (50mm) and which one is best for what type of hair and what type of curl.

  • The 3/8 inch (9mm) is great for shorter hair to create tight, smooth, spiral curls.
  • The ½ inch (12mm) is a good choice for shorter to medium-length hair. It also creates tight curls.
  • The 5/8 inch (16mm) is a solid choice for thin, medium, or shoulder-length hair. It adds volume and styles straight hair easily.
  • The ¾ inch (19mm) is perfect for vintage curls for thin or thick hair, especially for shoulder-length hair.
  • The 1 inch (25mm) is a versatile choice and creates polished, loose beach waves, or corkscrew curls. It also gives volume to hair. This size can be used on all hair lengths.
  • The 1 ¼ inch (32mm), 1 ½ inch (38mm), 1 ¾ inch (45mm), and the 2 inch (50mm) is recommended for long, medium, or shoulder-length hair. It can create almost all types of curls and waves. 

Larger barrels create bigger curls and are very suitable for long, thick hair. Interestingly, these barrel sizes work well to add volume to short hair.

Should I get a 1 inch (25mm) or 1 ¼ inch (30mm) curling iron?

That will depend on the type and size of curls you desire as well as your hair type. If you want a big curl, go for the 1-inch (25mm). The 1-inch barrel is the most versatile size for most hair lengths and textures. It gives tighter, defined curls. If you have long hair, try the 1 ¼ inch barrel since the size of the barrel easily handles the long strands of hair.

Curling Iron Sizes: What is the best size curling iron?

compare curling iron sizes

Once you have decided which size will suit your hair, research a little more and look at the following features for example what material the barrel is made of and the temperature settings available.

Your choices are titanium, ceramic, and tourmaline. Titanium retains very high heat which will work for long and or coarse hair. Tourmaline fights the frizz and works very well on thick hair. Ceramic heats hair evenly and is best suited for fine hair.

Check if the curling iron has different temperature settings. The best option is a curling iron that has low, medium, and high-temperature settings so that you have the option to choose the right temperature that is best for your hair.

How long is a curling iron?

If you travel a lot, the length of the curling iron might be of importance to you. The length of most curling irons, including the barrel and the handle, is approximately 12 inches (300mm). The electrical cords vary from 4 feet (1.2 meters) to 5 feet (1.5 meters). Consider a cordless option to save on space and weight.

What is the largest size curling iron?

The 2 inch (50mm) is the biggest curling iron on the market. It does more than just curl your hair. You can add volume to your roots for a more voluminous look and it produces some of the best loose, flowing, and yet stylized curls with that unique definition of well maintained-hair.

What size curling iron is best for beach waves?

To curl the best beach waves, use a 1 ½ inch (38mm) or bigger barrel size. A smaller barrel will create more spiral-type curls. The method you use to get the wavy effect is also very important. Check out the video from Kayley Melissa where she shows how to get 3 different curls and waves using one curling iron.


In closing, when using a curling iron, always apply the utmost caution. The first time I used my curling wand, I accidentally touched my cheek with the barrel and a blister appeared almost immediately. Luckily it didn't leave a scar.

That heat is meant for curling your beautiful hair so that you look and feel hot, in the right way. Not the wrong, oh-my-goodness-my-flesh-is-on-fire, way. So please stay safe and keep the barrel away from all flesh.

Last Updated: March 27, 2021

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