The Best Curling Iron
The best curling iron makes it simple and safe for you to get the style you want while protecting your hair from unnecessary damage. We dug into research and talked to experts to learn what heat settings and materials are best for hair, then tried out 15 of the most talked-about tools to find the ones that are intuitive to use and deliver on their frizz-less styling promises.
Keep your hair frizz-free long-term with the Anjou’s perfect balance of expert-recommended ceramic, transparent heat settings, and intuitive usability. Whether you’re looking for perfect ringlets or polished waves, this iron can do it all for just $25.
Hot Tools 24k Gold Curling Iron
Hot Tools’ classic $50 gold iron grips hair like a pro and allows fine-haired curlers maximum maneuverability. That grippy gold-plated surface isn’t the safest option for your hair’s health, so be wary if you're a daily curler whose hair is already damaged. That said, the curls and waves it yields makes it a standby fan favorite not to be ignored.
If your focus is on producing natural-looking waves and nothing else, the Remington ($23) delivers in spades. This clamp-less, tapered wand gives you the cascading results you want with only the features you really need.
Beachwaver Co. S1
If you’re willing to invest in a tool five times the cost of our top pick, the $120 Beachwaver S1 is worth considering. Its motorized rotating barrel produces impossibly uniform waves and curls, with intuitive buttons and straightforward rotation speed controls that make an intimidating tool approachable.
The Best Curling Iron
- Anjou 1 Inch Curling Iron -
- Hot Tools 24k Gold Curling Iron -
Most Versatile Runner-Up
- Remington CI9538 T Studio Pearl Ceramic Curling Wand -
Best for Achieving Natural Waves
- Beachwaver Co S1 -
Best for Automating Your Curl Routine
If you want an option for both curls and waves, you’ll be best served by a curling iron with a clamp. Our favorite is the versatile Anjou 1 Inch Curling Iron. The iron’s sleek design includes a digital display that allows users to customize heat without any guesswork, and its safety-focused extras — like a heat-resistant glove and automatic shutoff after 30 minutes — go above-and-beyond in instilling user confidence. The Anjou’s tourmaline-infused ceramic finish and perfectly snug clamp were unmatched in letting all hair types glide gently through without creasing or breaking off strands, producing frizz-less curls with ease. Bonus: At $25, it costs less than any of the other clamp irons we tested, and it comes in a 1 1/4-inch, long-barreled version that's perfect if you have long hair or want bigger curls or waves.
Some testers with fine hair preferred maneuvering their locks with the grippy surface of our runner-up, the $50 Hot Tools 24k Gold Curling Iron. It didn’t quite make the top spot because it lacks the expert-preferred ceramic coating, its clamp was too tight for testers with thick and coarse hair, and its temperature dial is less precise than the Anjou’s digital display. But if you’re looking for a big brand or have hair that’s especially hard to grip, the iron is the go-to for many salon and at-home stylists. It’s no secret why; The classic black-and-gold design feels familiar, the barrel material is unmatched in its grip, and it delivers results just as shiny and smooth as our top pick… as long as you’re not concerned with potentially causing a little more hair damage long-term. If your hair is already damaged or you're looking to maximize long-term hair health, you'll be better off with our top-pick Anjou.
Although it’s possible to produce waves by wrapping your hair around a traditional curling iron, you’ll need a tapered wand for the most natural-looking waves. The cone-like shape of a tapered wand will let your hair imitate the less-uniform tendencies of naturally drying waves. Ringing in at $23, the Remington CI9538 T|Studio Pearl Ceramic Curling Wand is a no-frills clampless option with straightforward settings and the ideal ceramic material for distributing heat and keeping hair healthy. While some testers complained about the Pearl’s slippery surface, the frizz-less results it yielded were enough to put those objections to rest.
Find curling tedious? We couldn’t get enough of the Beachwaver Co. S1's automatic rotating barrel. Surprisingly easy to control and quick to learn, the S1 fulfills every child’s dream of a personal in-home stylist, and it left our testers with remarkably uniform curls and waves. While our top pick Anjou offers the same versatility at a fifth of its $120 price tag, this is the time-saving tool worth shelling out for if you’re looking to fully automate your curling experience.
How We Found the Best Curling Iron
One thing that makes curling a little complicated is a classic catch-22: You want frizz-less curls from your curling iron, but your curling iron uses heat, which causes frizzy damage. Our first priority was finding irons with temperature settings and materials that keep your hair split-end-free.
Experts gave us their hot takes on hair safety
In order to keep your curled hair shiny and strong, two things about your iron matter: heat and the metal that’s conducting it. In terms of temperature, lower is better. According to Dr. Trefor Evans, Director of Research at TRI Princeton, curling enthusiasts run into trouble because cranking up the heat often means better curls, but it also means more damage (AKA frizz, breakage, and puffiness galore). You’ll find tons of resources online that’ll guide you to your ideal temperature range based on hair type, but we found those to be pretty inconsistent. Rather than adding another confusing chart to the mix, this advice from Dr. Evans is refreshingly obvious and works for any hair type:
“Start at a low temperature, then work up to the minimum possible heat setting it takes to achieve a curl.”
Simple enough. In order to strike a balance of style and safety, a curling iron should put you in control of its temperature and give you the ability to gradually find the heat setting that’s right for you and your locks.
The ideal type of a metal for a curling iron isn’t quite so clear-cut. Stylists differ on their go-to irons; Some we spoke with prefer titanium, while others mentioned gold-plating as a passable option. But there was one metal on which they all shared an opinion: Ceramic rules. Why? Some stylists told us that ceramic heats more evenly than any other metal, and Dr. Evans reasoned that its slippery surface means less tugging and tearing on hair strands that are already vulnerable due to heat. But while ceramic is clearly the cream of the crop, no expert drew a hard line saying it’s the only option. We focused our search on irons made of any material our experts told us is safe for hair (ceramic, titanium, and gold-plated), but kept in mind the extra benefits of using ceramic.
We scoured the scene for the most talked-about irons
For such a straightforward styling tool, there are a lot of curling irons out there. Finding the best meant cutting through the noise and narrowing the field to only the truly buzz-worthy. We pored over “best of” lists on beauty websites like ELLE and Allure, plus Amazon’s bestseller list, to find the irons that have the most people talking and are made of expert-approved materials. Then, to be sure we weren’t missing any super-popular brands, we called on expert stylists for their recommendations, which added BaByliss and CHI to the ranks. At the end of our sleuthing, we had a list of 19 irons, wands, and interchangeable iron sets that are made of the right stuff and have people talking — ranging from a $16 Conair wand to the $270 T3 Whirl Trio.
Then we scrutinized for heat safety
With your hair’s health in mind, we took a closer look at our top 19 irons. The models on our list from NuMe, Sultra, and fan-favorite GHD offered only on/off switches. That doesn’t allow you any control whatsoever over how much damage is done to your hair, so we cut the four models from those brands from the list. That left us with a healthy mix of 15 tools that put you in control of their heat. To do any further testing, we needed to get those irons in our offices and put them to the test. So we ordered in the top 15 contenders and dove a little deeper.
The first thing on our agenda once we had the irons in-hand was to make sure they were telling the truth about their temperatures. So we set all 15 irons to 350 degrees and used an infrared thermometer to test their temperature truthfulness.
Fourteen of the irons passed (we allowed them to bounce within 25 degrees above or below their stated temperatures), but one failed: the elegant, luxe, and much-acclaimed T3 Whirl Trio Interchangeable Styling Wand. No matter how many times we tested it or how many settings we tried, the iron’s temperature consistently rose to a full 75 degrees hotter than it claimed. At its highest setting (stated as 410 degrees Fahrenheit), the T3 heated up beyond the decomposition point of hair (465 degrees Fahrenheit). Yikes. While we can’t say every T3 is so far off, we were forced to leave our model behind.
Finally, we took the top 14 for a spin
Our finalists were all made of the right materials, had transparent heat setting options, and were honest when it came to temperature. Check, check, and check. But the best curling iron doesn’t stop there. We knew the only way to find the truly intuitive irons was to run them through our own hair. To find our world-class curling tool, we looked for:
- Buttons and setting features that are intuitive to use when you need them and out of the way when you don’t.
- A cord that doesn’t get in the way or force you to curl too close to the outlet.
- Safety features that are comforting and convenient to use.
- The ability to produce shiny, frizz-less waves or curls in one pass.
- A clamp that’s not too tight (hello, creases) and not too loose (ugh, slippage).
We had testers with different hair types, hair lengths, and curling experience levels produce a few curls to see if our finalists could check every box. By the end of it all, a few winners separated themselves from the rest.
Our Picks for the Best Curling Iron
We approached Anjou’s iron like we approached every sub-$30 iron we tested: bracing ourselves for deal-breaking flaws that come with a low price tag. But Anjou was one step ahead at every turn and left us grasping for something, anything to complain about. For people who want the versatility of a clamp iron that will deliver frizz-less results and is made of materials that’ll help keep any hair type healthy, this tool is a worthy addition to your styling arsenal.
Thoughtful extras greet you when you open the box, like a heat resistant glove — which inexperienced users especially appreciated — and clips for separating hair into manageable portions. The iron itself radiates femininity through a pearly rose and black finish, but stops itself from going overboard with minimalistic buttons that blend neatly into the handle’s design. Even the cord adopts an “I’ve got you covered” vibe with a thick black-matte coating that prevents it from twisting into awkward knots and an attached velcro strap for storage.
When it came time to curl, testers fell in love with the Anjou’s features. The biggest standout was its digital display — a frustratingly rare feature — that keeps no secrets when it comes to heat and lets you track temperature from the second you turn it on. This rose to the top of a sea of vague dials and confusing systems that had us reaching for instruction manuals to determine exact temperatures (looking at you, BaByliss). And as for safety features, the Anjou left even the most paranoid testers feeling comfortable. It’s got the standard cool tip and kickstand to protect you and your counter from its heat, plus that heat-resistant glove and a 30-minute auto shutoff — a feature that’ll soothe any “did I leave my iron on?” anxiety after you leave the house.
One aspect of other irons was a minefield of complaints: the clamp. Testers with hair that trends toward coarse and thick found that our runner-up Hot Tools had a too-tight clamp that left creases, the Drybar 3-Day Bender’s clamp was obscenely loose and worked better as a flat iron, and the Conair Infiniti Pro iron subjected testers to a creaky-door noise with every open and close. But when we asked our testers for clamp complaints on the Anjou? Radio silence. Instead, one tester described its expert-preferred ceramic barrel as just the right amount of slippery and the clamp as “perfectly snug.” No slipping, no creasing, no problems.
Early on, we thought we’d uncovered one flaw: the power button that takes an abnormally long press to turn on. Most testers figured this out after a bit of experimenting, though, and the extra-long press became second-nature in no time. The Anjou proved our assumptions about affordable curling irons wrong. Again. In the end, the Anjou emerged as the winner because there’s simply nothing to complain about. It checked our boxes, it’s easy to use, and that price ($25) is hard to beat. But before you buy, consider the length of your hair. Long-haired users might be better served by the same iron in the 1 1/4-inch size; The longer, thicker barrel will fit more hair and produce bigger waves and curls than the one-inch we tested.
Most Versatile Runner-Up
This iconic iron gave the Anjou a run for its money and fulfilled most testers' every expectation. After the Anjou fit all of our criteria perfectly, a few nitpicky flaws in the Hot Tools’ metal type, features, and clamp kept it out of our top spot. However, it’s a solid option to consider; especially if you have fine hair or are most comfortable buying from a time-tested, recognizable brand.
Nearly every tester who got their hands on this iron said something like, “I think my hair stylist has this.” Or “Oh, my mom had this when I was growing up.” It’s no secret that Hot Tools’ gold-plated barrels are a hair styling mainstay; When you use one, there’s an inherent feeling of familiarity that other brands can’t quite match. The company’s years of experience shine in details like its easy-to-hold cool tip, soft matte handle, and durable cord (nearly identical to the Anjou cord we fell in love with). As classic as the design is, though, the look was polarizing: For some testers, the purple and bright gold was just a little too eighties glam-rock and old-school.
Design aside, testers found that the iron kept a few too many secrets. The temperature dial is somewhat unclear, with vague space between increments (annoying after using Anjou’s digital display). The minor annoyance gets leveled up by a lack of indication that the iron has reached the desired temperature. It’s also the only one of our top picks that’s missing the nice-to-have auto shutoff safety feature; That wasn’t a dealbreaker, but it did give the Anjou an edge. And while some testers — particularly those with fine hair — found that the clamp and grippy gold surface held hair at the perfect strength, others with coarser hair found it entirely too tight, leaving them with a few creases. Another pass could typically solve this issue, but one of our criteria for a top-of-the-line iron was that it should produce shiny curls in one go.
The gold plating that makes the Hot Tools grippier than the ceramic models we tested also makes the iron less ideal for keeping your hair healthy. While you won’t ruin your hair by using an iron with gold plating, Dr. Evans told us its grippy surface may lead to more breakage. In the words of Kylie Harris, who’s been teaching hair stylists for nine years, it’s “fine… [but] not ideal.”
What kept Hot Tools in our top picks was its results and our testers’ overwhelmingly positive feelings toward the iron after all was said and done. In the end, most testers were pleased with the consistently shiny and smooth tendrils the iron left in its wake, and felt like the grippiness of the gold gave them complete control over their curls. A few testers said they preferred the curls from the Hot Tools iron over those from our top pick, Anjou; Though, truthfully, the difference was too subtle for us to pinpoint.
Best for Achieving Natural Waves
Either of our top clamp iron picks can function as a wand by leaving the barrel closed, but some people prefer the streamlined simplicity of a tapered wand that will consistently produce natural-looking waves. Enter the Remington Pearl.
The bubblegum-pink and eggplant-purple scheme makes the Pearl an exceptionally girly wand, which testers found charming. The dark purple also gives off a regal impression that makes it look more expensive than it is (you can find it on Amazon for $23). Pretty colors aside, the wand itself isn’t anything fancy (let’s face it, a curling wand is essentially just a hot stick). But that’s what a wand is all about: no frills and no unnecessary parts (read: clamps) if all you want is waves.
Hair won't hold a curl? Expert stylist Kylie Harris gave us this hack: Spray your hair with sea salt spray and let it dry before beginning your routine. The grit helps your hair retain its new shape.
Much of the Pearl’s intuitive simplicity lives in its heat settings and buttons. The ever-transparent digital display was easy to adjust and didn’t make things more complicated than they had to be. When compared to the Conair Infiniti Pro wand’s five-setting system, this was an easy win. And when it came to delivering shiny, natural looking waves, the Pearl was consistent and unbeatable. The one complaint that came up for testers was that the shape of the Pearl (and every tapered ceramic wand) immediately directs hair to the thinnest part of the barrel. Compared to the similarly designed Conair Infiniti Pro, though, testers reported this one as less slippery and easier to handle. Plus, the tester who was most put-off by the Remington’s slick surface approached us later to reiterate just how much she loved the perfectly sized, cascading waves it put in her waist-length mane. With those results as our priority, we’re willing to chalk slippage up to an occupational hazard.
Best for Automating Your Curling Routine
Beachwaver Co S1At five times the price of our top pick, this automatic rotating barrel iron is a splurge-worthy timesaver that produces consistent results. Consider it if you want to save time and put your curling in the hands of capable, twirling tech.
This much-buzzed-about, as-seen-on-TV automatic curler tipped the scales from gimmicky to genius the moment we unclamped the first curl. We expected a knot-ridden ordeal but got a device that was hard to pry out of the hands of even the most low-maintenance testers. After comparing it to the more expensive Beachwaver Pro and CHI ARC Automatic Rotating Curler, both of which were strikingly similar in philosophy and design, this one came out on top as a true MVC (Most Valuable Curler). If you’re a newbie to curling who wants to bypass the learning curve or an every-day curler looking to save time, for $120 this is a splurge worth considering.
All automatically rotating barrel irons are intimidating. Their seriously substantial handles, overall heaviness, and mechanical noisiness while spinning are all pretty counter-intuitive. Yet, the S1 still manages to look like a Barbie toy. That playful vibe persists while you use it, thanks to its lineup of features that make it a lot less imposing than the other, similar irons we tested.
The S1’s home button (missing from the Beachwaver Pro), automatically brings the clamp back to a usable position after each curl and was crucial to helping our testers feel like they were in control. And while the Pro has a covert way of letting you change the barrel’s rotation speed (you have to read the instructions to find out how), the S1’s simple “fast/slow” slider makes it even easier to adjust. The large, easy-to-find control buttons on the S1 were also much-preferred over those of the CHI and the Beachwaver Pro, both of which had testers accidentally hitting buttons and turning the barrel the wrong way. That may not sound like a huge deal, but one tester cited it as the culprit for a panic-induced scalp burn.
An unexpected perk we found in automatic rotating barrel irons in general is their sheer versatility. We guessed that they were a one-trick pony with their fancy tech and robo-stylist vibe, but we were pleasantly surprised to learn that they can produce their consistent results in the form of “defined curls,” “loose beachy waves,” and “glam waves,” depending on how you hold the iron (check out Beachwaver’s YouTube tutorial for proof).
After our testers finished curling — they chose the “defined curls” tactic — they were in awe of the ridiculously consistent, shiny results of all the automatically rotating barrel irons. But with such a foreign tool, especially at a high price, usability is paramount. Try as we might, we’re pretty stumped as to why the Pro costs ($70!) more. And the Iron-Man-esque CHI, while it made a more pleasant “whirring” noise than the S1, missed the boat with its tougher to manage buttons.
Did You Know?
Thicker irons produce bigger curls.
That might seem obvious, but here’s a handy key in case you want a different size than the versatile one-inch models we tested, courtesy of advice we got from Assistant Campus Director and instructor at Evergreen Beauty College, Kylie Harris:
Smaller (<1 Inch)
Ringlets, touching up naturally curly hair
Versatile styling, from beachy waves to polished curls
Bigger (>1 Inch)
Big waves in longer hair, faking a blowout
Only you can prevent frizz.
No matter how much we force them together, heat and hair will never be friends. But we’ve got a couple tips from the pros for minimizing heat’s frizzifying effects (or at least masking them).
- Never curl wet hair. That’s crazy damaging, and experts are quick to confirm that fact. But here’s a real head-scratcher: Some irons are advertised as “wet/dry.” Don’t fall for it! Despite those advertisements, you’ll usually find fine prints that says something like “don’t use on wet hair.”
- Always use a thermal protectant. And let it dry before you apply any heat. Brands that were recommended by our pros include Joico, Mizani, Oribe, and Leonor Greyl.
- Use a good conditioner. Dr. Evans gave us this analogy: “The surface of hair is like tiles on the roof of a house. The structure gradually gets beaten up over time. Tugging makes those scales stand up.” While that damage can’t be undone, Dr. Evans advised that conditioner can at least smooth over those tiles and hide the evidence.
Make your curling tool last longer with simple maintenance.
Katya Gudaeva, a hair stylist with seven years of experience curling hair for commercials, photo shoots, red carpet events, and weddings, knows a thing or two about getting the most out of a styling tool. Her advice for keeping your curling iron in tip-top shape is simple: “When you see there is hair product buildup, just clean it with a towel and mild soapy water.”
But wait, your cord also needs some TLC if you want to make it last. Experts say to wrap your cord the way it comes in the package — not around the handle — to avoid fraying it and prematurely rendering your iron useless.
The '90s called, and they’re giving us back our hair contraptions.
In our initial stages of research, we encountered a bunch of scary “curl chambers” that claimed to suck your hair into a robotic curler, then spit it out in a perfect ringlet. We were skeptical, but reviewers and beauty sites alike are loving on them, so we decided to give them a chance. We ordered in the Infiniti Pro by Conair Curl Secret and put one brave tester’s locks on the line. To her delight, the curl chamber did what it claimed and didn’t leave her with bald spots. The lack of concrete temperature settings kept it out of our top picks, but if you’re a beginner or want to experiment with your curling experience, you might be curious: