The Ultimate Guide to Curling Irons

When it comes to shopping for a tool designed to curl your hair, you can choose from a wide array of options including a curling iron, a curling wand (which is basically a clipless curling iron), a set of rollers, or a curling machine. Each one offers something different from the others, so it’s always recommended that you do your research before you start shopping.

But among the options available, however, the most popular ones are the curling irons. These tools have varying shapes, sizes and price ranges, providing ample options to those who are looking for the best curling irons in the market. Choosing one can also be a bit overwhelming, so to help you out, here’s the ultimate guide to curling irons that will make your search a lot easier.

Curling Iron vs. Wand

Oftentimes, a person looking to buy a curling tool has to decide whether to get a curling iron or a curling wand. While these tools are similar in what they can do, they still have a particular dissimilarity that makes a huge difference in terms of results. Their biggest difference: the clamp.

Curling irons come with a clamp attached to it to secure hair during the curling process. With wands, you have to manually wrap your locks around the barrel, which can get tricky if you’re not particularly skilled just yet. However, while clamps are very useful, it can also press the hair down and create unwanted indentations that can prevent the curls from looking natural. Wands are also more ideal for those with thick hair, as clamps can slow down the curling process.

Amanda from showing the difference between the curls made a curling iron and a curling wand.

However, for those with fine, thin hair, using a curling iron is more ideal. Fine locks will find a way to slide off the barrel if not held in place, making clamps essential in ensuring that the hair stays in place during the process.

So, in choosing between a curling iron and a curling wand, carefully consider your hair’s features. If it’s silky straight with very fine strands, a curling iron may be more suitable for your needs. If your hair is thick with coarse strands, a wand might work better for you.

Different Kinds of Curling Irons Based on Barrel Type

The first thing you need to know about curling irons is that they come in different kinds of barrels. These barrels are the parts that heat up and wrap your hair making it the most basic component of these styling tools. You can find different types of barrels in the market today, but those made of ceramic, tourmaline, titanium, and gold-plated are the most commonly used and recommended by experts.

1. Ceramic

Ceramic barrels are best known for its ability to tame frizzy hair because they release ions that can neutralize static and seal your hair strands, leaving it less prone to frizzing. They are also some of the most popular materials for styling tools as the material heats evenly, ensuring that there are no hot spots that can burn the hair during the styling process. They also heat up immediately, making them ideal for those who want a shorter preparation time.

2. Tourmaline

Tourmaline barrels are considered as top-of-the-line styling tools as they use a combination of ceramic and the gemstone tourmaline to provide the right amount of heat to curl your hair. It is a step up from the ceramic barrels as they can produce ions up to six times more than the latter, making it a more effective product to counter frizz. It also heats up faster than other materials and promises more uniform and long lasting curls. The only downside here is that they are typically more expensive than others.

3. Titanium

Titanium barrels are most preferred by those who use hair products when styling their hair. With its metallic properties, it can resist corrosion that is a major problem for those who style their hair with sprays and other products. It also offers fast heating and even heat distribution, allowing you to get beautiful curls every time. With the metal plating, the hair is also protected from tangles and scathing. It can also preserve the hair’s moisture, protecting your locks from drying and dryness.

4. Gold

As for the gold-plated barrels, they’re a lot more affordable than other options in the list. They heat up fast and stay hot for a long time. They’re also very pretty, so if you like that extra shine in your vanity area, one of these tools may just be the best options for you.

With today’s technology and most manufacturers’ commitment to offering something new to their customers, you can also expect other curling irons that come with barrels made with two or three materials combined. Innovation is always a great thing, especially when it comes to beauty tools, so don’t hesitate to explore your other options.

Different Curling Iron Sizes

curling iron sizes & curl patterns
Here’s a helpful infographic from

Another important consideration when buying a curling iron is the size of its barrel. As these tools come in various barrel sizes, picking the right one for everyday use can really get confusing. What you need to know, though, is that the right curling iron size for you will be based on two things: the length of your locks and the look you are going for.

The length of your hair is a major factor in choosing the right curling tool size for you because it can dictate the length of your styling time.

If you have long tresses, experts suggest you get a bigger sized barrel so you don’t have to wrap your hair so many times on a small barrel. Unless you want really kinky curls, a 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inch barrel is considered the best curling iron size for long hair. As for those with shorter hair, smaller barrels measuring ¾ to 1 inch can be the best size curling iron for short hair. For those with medium locks, you can opt for 1 to 1 ¼ inch barrels.

The size of your curling iron should also depend on the kind of curls you want to achieve. If you want small, tight curls, you should go for a smaller barrel. If you want some loose waves, big diameter barrels are ideal. The biggest curling iron size measures 2 inches in diameter and can create some of the nicest beach waves for those with long hair, but for short length tresses, it can create an excellent blown out look, freeing you from having to double wield a blow-dryer and a round brush at the same time.

Small Barrel vs Big Barrel Curling Iron

To further help you in picking out the right curling iron size for your needs, let’s look at the different barrel sizes available in the market today.

  • 2-inch barrel 
    The biggest size among curling iron barrels, 2-inch barrels are mostly used for long tresses to achieve a blowout look or tousled beach waves. For medium and short length hair, they’re great in giving you a laid back, pulled together look. They may not exactly be for curling medium and short length locks, but if you want the blown out look and can’t work a round brush to save your life, a big barrel curling iron may just be your best option in getting the same look.
  • 1 ½ inch barrel
    If you’re more keen on getting some waves instead of actual curls, this barrel size might just be the right choice for you. For shorter lengths, it can create a nice tousled look, perfect for a sexy, just-got-out-of-bed vibe. For long hair, you can achieve a nice boho beach babe look.
  • 1 ¼ inch barrel
    The most versatile barrel size, the 1 ¼ inch barrels can create tight and loose curls easily, depending on the length of your hair and how you use it. Create a romantic hairdo or an old Hollywood look with this barrel size no matter what your hair length is.
  • 1-inch barrel
    Universally flattering, 1-inch barrels are perfect for any type of hair length. It is even commonly recommended for the first time curling iron shoppers as they can instantly create soft curls for locks in short and medium lengths.
  • Small barrel(3/4″, 5/8″, 1/2″, and 3/8″)
    Small diameter barrels are more appropriate for naturally curly locks to create extra bounce and volume. They’re also recommended for short hair as they can provide more defined curls. Finish your look with some mousse and you’ll surely enjoy voluminous locks all day long.


What Type of Curling Iron Should I Use Based on Hair Type?

Aside from the barrel size, another important thing to consider when shopping for a curling iron is your hair type. Some locks are harder to curl than others and certain types of hair can get damaged easily. This is why learning more about the compatible curling tool for your hair type is ideal, so you can always be sure that styling won’t hurt your locks’ health.

Fine Hair

So if you have fine thin hair, it means your hair do not have a lot of volume and will lay flat if left alone. Curling your hair can be the best way to change up your look, as curling can add volume to your hair and give you a whole new dimension.

For such hair, ceramic barrels that have lower heat thresholds are the most ideal. With fine strands, you won’t need much heat for the curls to set, as that can only damage or even burn your fine locks. Stick with 200F and work your way up carefully if the heat isn’t enough to style your tresses.

Normal Hair

Those with normal hair are the luckiest as they don’t have to worry too much about the tool type they need. Any kind of tool may work best, but you might need to go more than 200F for the curls to set.

Thick Hair

The challenge is really for those with thick and coarse locks. You’ll need something that can get really heated up as low temperatures will not cut it for this hair type. 300F or more is required for the curls to set, but you have to be careful as too much heat can also damage your locks. Titanium curling irons are best recommended for this hair type as it can reach really high temperatures and lock in moisture into your locks so you can avoid frizz. Tourmaline and ceramic can also be considered if you’re not too fond of metallic materials.

Types of Curling Iron Based on the Kind of Curls You Want

Curling irons also come in various barrel shapes that can help create different curl shapes and sizes. Each design offers a different benefit from the others, making them worth looking into. Here are some of the more common barrel shapes:

1. Straight barrel

These curling irons are the most common varieties available in the market today. They are pretty straightforward with a linear, undistorted shaped barrels where you wrap your hair. They offer consistently sized curls from top to bottom.

2. Conical rod

Cone-shaped barrels are also pretty popular curling iron shapes in the market as they offer more defined curls. Curling tools that are shaped like a cone decreases in diameter as you reach the tip, so the size of the curls become smaller as you reach the ends of your tresses. You can even use it upside down and create bigger curls, offering more versatility and functionality to the product.

3. Reverse cone barrel

Reverse cone curling irons are a lot like the regular conical rod except for its shape where the diameter increases as you move to the tip of the tool. They make increasingly bigger curls towards the ends, giving you fuller hair.

4. Double barrel

A new type of styling tool, a double barrel curling iron has two barrels to curl your hair with. This barrel style produces the most natural looking messy waves like the Olsen twins’ signature hairstyle. It might seem daunting for personal use at first, but with the help of heat resistant gloves, you’re sure to get quick, gorgeous waves without a fuss. To get you started, Marie Claire magazine suggests the Remington Wrap to Waves Ceramic Hair Styler. They’re sturdy and extremely affordable, making this particular product a great option for first timers.

5. Triple barrel

Upping the ante is the triple barrel curling iron. Like the double barrel variety, this also comes with multiple heating barrels that are designed to create a uniformly sized, repetitive wave pattern. Styling your locks with this tool will make it look like your tresses have been in braids for days as it creates tight uniform curls. The results also appear natural and bouncy, making them great tools for styling your hair in a jiffy.

The Hot Tools 3 Barrel Waver is a great choice if you’re looking into taking a triple barrel curling tool. This product is affordable and can instantly create the highly coveted Mermaid hairstyle. It heats up fast and because it has 3 barrels, it can curl your hair quickly whatever length you may be sporting. The curls are also long-lasting, making it perfect for date nights, cocktail parties, or even a hectic day at the office.

6. Marcel handle curling iron
Hot Tools Marcel Curling Iron

While the Marcel curling iron technically doesn’t have a different wand shape, it has a different handle than the regular spring loaded curling irons available in the market today. For these products, the clip is springless and rotates 360 degrees around the rod, so the user has to clamp down the hair manually.

This means that you have full control in the amount of pressure to put in clamping the hair down, which can also affect the curls as a result.

A popular choice among professional hairstylists, the Marcel curling iron might be a bit tricky to operate at first, but you’ll surely get the hang of it with a little bit of practice.

7. Auto rotating curling iron
T3 Twirl 360
T3 Twirl 360

Like the Marcel curling iron, the auto rotating iron is also not exactly a curling iron with a different shaped barrel. Its barrel can actually be straight or cone shaped, but what makes it different is its technology. With just a press of a button, your curler will automatically rotate. Some models can also automatically change directions in curling your tresses. Perfect for those who cannot remember which way they should twist their wrist to achieve uniform curls, auto rotating irons are worth trying if you want an easier way to style your hair.

For a good auto rotating curling tool, you can consider the T3 Twirl 360 Curling Iron. Made by a world renowned styling tools manufacturer, the T3 Twirl 360 is not just your regular auto rotating styling tool. With its patent pending motion sensing technology, you don’t have to press anything anymore to rotate the barrel and create curls as it has a motion sensor that will detect your desired direction and create beautiful and uniform curls. High quality, beautifully designed, and very easy to use, this automatic curling iron is definitely a solid choice.

If you want more convenience and ease of use, you can also opt for a cordless curling iron. Perfect for those who are always on the go, these styling tools will let you curl your locks whenever and wherever you need it.

Curling Iron Safety

Before you shop for a curling iron, you should also learn more about how you can safely use this tool. When using a curling iron, please remember the following:

1. If your curling iron doesn’t come with a cooling tip, get a heat resistant glove.

Even if you’re already quite adept at handling a curling tool with one hand, there may be times that you’ll need to get a better hold of it for tighter curls. A heat resistant glove will provide better grip to the iron and keep you from burning your hands and fingers.

2. Get a curling iron stand.

This will prevent your curling iron from burning your surfaces and other items in your prep area. It can also help prevent burns from the hot barrel when picking the tool up as you can be sure to only touch the handle. Some products come with a rest, while others have a built-in kickstand, so you might not need to buy a separate stand for such items.

3. Always start on low temperature and work your way up.

Starting with high heat puts your hair at higher risks of getting burnt, so start patiently until you’ve found the right heat setting for your hair.

4. Consider getting a model with an auto shut-off feature.

Irons with automatic shut off features are great picks if you tend to forget to unplug your styling tools after use. Some people can be quite forgetful, so if you’re one of these folks who never remember to unplug the appliances they use, you should look for a curling iron with an automatic shut-off feature. These products automatically turn themselves off after an hour or so of non-use, making them a bit safer for your home.

5. Always remember that you are working with a lot of heat, so caution is strongly advised.

Curling irons are great styling tools that are perfect for everyday use. Don’t get overwhelmed by all of the options available online and in physical stores, because you can always narrow down your choices by finding out what kind of tool you really need, what your hair type is and what kind of curls you want to have.

You can also spend some time reading various tutorials and product reviews online so you’ll know which products are best for your specific needs. It might require a bit of effort on your part to find the best curling tool for you, but we’re sure you will find that one curling iron that has all the features you could possibly need.