Flat irons had a rocky start with older models producing less than satisfactory results or worse, left the hair dry or damaged. Flat irons have since become the quintessential hair styling tool for women looking to straighten their curly or wavy hair. Only, with the all the options available today, it’s no wonder that finding the best flat iron for your hair has become more challenging.
No doubt you’ve had one in your style toolset since high school, but technology has rapidly advanced and today there’s a flat iron for every hair type. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the different considerations you’ll need to make when deciding on the right straightener for your needs.
The heating plates are arguably the most important element in a straightener. The best plate technology will produce that sought after salon look.
Ceramic flat iron plates have a smoother surface than aluminum plates and other outdated technologies. This ensure that your hair won't get caught while passing through the plates. Ceramic is an organic crystalline material material which produces negative ions for retaining moisture in the cuticle instead of drying out during the heating process. When paired with a tourmaline coating, produces the most negative ions for ultra-moisturized hair.
Titanium flat iron plates have the quickest heat up time, create even heat distribution, have an ultra-smooth surface and produce more negative ions than other materials. Titanium also has better heat recovery; the plates return to the preset temperature quicker after each pass through the hair. Due to these benefits, Titanium plates are best suited to salon stylists and very thick/curly hair types. However, they tend to be more expensive than ceramic options, so only go with this if you truly need the extra benefits.
Tourmaline coated plates are especially sought after for its ability to generate more negative ions than ceramic alone. The Tourmaline starts as a semi-precious crystal, is ground up into a fine powder and applied on top of the ceramic plates as a coating. The final surface is smoother than plain ceramic plates. The end result is silkier hair with a faster styling time.
Without getting too technical, ions are a particle commonly found in the air. Ions can either be negatively charged or positively charged. Negative ions help lock in moisture in the cuticle, reducing frizz, shortening styling time and providing shinier results. Positive ions do just the opposite. Aluminum and plastic plates generate more positive ions, while ceramic, tourmaline and titanium counteract positive ions and produce the best results. Finally, irons with more negative ions tend to keep your hairstyle lasting longer.
Infrared technology heats the hair from the inside out. Together with the surface of the heating plates, this creates a more even in/out heating action. This helps avoid overheating the hair and makes the overall styling process that much quicker. Ceramic plates will naturally produce infrared heat, but the more ceramic used in the plates, the more infrared energy will be produced, so it’s important to get plates with as much ceramic as possible.
For those that want to curl using a flat iron, go for plates that have beveled edges and a rounded outer casing to ensure a snag-free curling experience.
Plate alignment is essential to avoid getting hair strands caught while flat ironing. High quality models tend to have the best plate alignment. More advanced models also include “floating plates” which flex as your hair passes through. This offers more flexibility to style the hair in different ways. If you’d like to use your iron to also curl your hair, choose a model with floating plates.
Straighteners come in a range of different plate sizes for different hair lengths. Generally speaking, narrow plates are best for short hair and wide plates for long hair. Keep in mind that with wider plate sizes, it will be more difficult to reach the roots and will also be harder to curl.
Conversely, narrow plates allow you to reach the roots most effectively and allow you to create all kinds of crazy curls. A 1” to 1.5” plate is perfect for an average hair length. Of course, you can always straighten longer hair with narrow plates, but it will take more time to complete the hairstyle than with wider plates.
The thickness of your hair is the primary factor determining the need for heat. Thinner and naturally straighter hair types need to be careful to avoid high heating temperatures, while thicker hair requires the upper range heat.
Typical flat irons have a heat setting between 140 and 400 deg. F, but all HSI Flat Irons go all the way up to 450º so they can handle even the thickest of hair that refuse to be straightened. Higher temperature settings can also speed up the straightening process, but this comes with the risk of damaging your hair if your hair is on the thinner side.
Tip: Whenever using a hair iron for the first time, start out at the lowest temperature setting and gradually work up the temperature until you’re able to get sleek results in 1-2 passes while not producing heat damage or breakage.
Flat irons come in digital, analog and fixed temperature options. Fixed temperature models style at one constant heat setting and cannot be adjusted. While this can make it simpler to use, the lack of control will not work if you have thinner or thicker hair.
Analog models provide an adjustable heat setting, but won't display the actual temperature status. Models with a digital LCD will display the exact temperature control allowing you to monitor the heat to help prevent damaged hair.
Heat Up Time
Typical home users may not require the fastest startup time, but for salon stylists, every minute counts. If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t have time waiting around for the iron to heat up, this is an important feature to look out for. The range here varies widely. Some models can take several minutes, while HSI models heat up in under 30 seconds.
Even Heat Distribution
Regular flat irons tend to have “hot spots” since the underlying heating elements “blindly” heat the plates. This is where the latest advancement in technology comes in. Professional styling irons have sensors on each plate that monitors the exact temperature in multiple zones and sends that info to an on-board computer that continuously adjusts the temperature in each zone separately.
This keeps the entire surface one constant temperature as the hair passes through the plates (which tends to cool the plates as it passes through). This is especially helpful with thicker hair that tends to cool the plates more.
The best designed flat irons will be comfortable to hold, even for hours on end. They’ll also be lightweight and have an even weight distribution to avoid wrist fatigue. An integrated swivel cord on certain models are great for avoiding tangled wires as you pass the hair iron around from one section to another.
Stay safe with an Automatic Shutoff feature. This is essential in case you forget to turn off the hair iron. An Auto shutoff of 10-20 minutes is ideal.
For the globetrotting crowd, a straightener with dual voltage (110-220v) will be necessary to avoid having to use power converters (although a plug converter may still be needed). A mini straightener can also be very convenient as it can be easily transported in your bag.
Professional stylists naturally tend to have higher standards. Professional flat iron models are essential for salon stylists, but are also a great choice for thicker curlier hair, as they tend to get unruly hair under control more effectively.
Wet To Dry
Generally, it’s not a good idea to use a flat iron on wet hair as this can boil the hair and result in heat damage. Some flat irons make the claim of being able to straighten wet or damp hair, but most reviews have not been positive. It’s a good idea to stick to a regular flat iron, unless you need a faster washing & styling routine and can live with less than perfectly straight hair.
A Flat Iron Stand is a great solution for holding your flat iron – whether you’re in middle of the styling process or as a place to store the iron when not in use.
Heat Resistant Gloves help protect your hands from being burned if you accidently touch the heating plates and is especially critical for new flat iron users.
Straightening Heated Brushes
A straightening hair brush Helps straighten curly hair and detangle and provides fast results. With a heated brush, you won’t have to struggle trying to hold a brush or comb with one hand and a flat iron in the other, however the results are not as straight as with a flat iron.
A good warranty is great for peace of mind. Make sure to to choose a model with at least a 1 year warranty and you can even purchase an extended warranty from HSI.