There’s no hair tool that’s grown up with us quite the way flat irons have. In middle school, we used them to flatten our hair into poker-like strands, imitating of our favorite childhood TV stars. By high school, they were helping us slick down those trademark ‘00s side bangs.
Chances are good that you use your flat iron much differently now, mimicking the look of a blowout or angling it slightly to create soft waves. If you’ve long since abandoned the use of one, there’s good news on the horizon: Your flat iron has grown up, too.
We spoke to Sam Villa, Redken brand ambassador and bonafide hair guru, who explained what to look for in order to find the best flat irons on the market.
Although it’s easy to make the hunt all about the price tag, Villa warns against cheaping out on a hot tool. Instead, ensure the iron you choose has all the assets you want while guarding your hair against excessive damage.
If you’re looking for your first quality flat iron:
It’s a big leap from a drugstore flat iron to one with a recognizable brand name and reputation. If you’re just out of college and looking to invest for the first time, start with the CHI Ceramic 1'' Hairstyling Iron or the BaBylissPRO Porcelain Ceramic 1" Straightening Iron.
According to Villa, ceramic is an excellent starter choice because the clay-based surface easily maintains an even temperature. That means better control, and ultimately hair that looks healthier.
“We’ve been led to believe that the hotter something, is the better it works and the quicker it works. Yet, what we’ve discovered is the hotter something is, the more damage it can create,” Villa explains.
Stay safe and learn to use a salon quality tool properly with a starter iron. There’s always time to purchase tools with added bells and whistles later on.
If you’re in a rush:
One of the most frequent heat styling mistakes Villa encounters is women who rush through their routine, flat irons switched to the highest settings possible. Extreme temperatures can not only torch your hair, but also damage salon color.
Instead of impulsively buying the tool that gets hottest, Villa recommends you think about accuracy and slow styling.
“Learn to slow down to speed up, because [you] don’t need the intense heat,” he says. “[Customers] tend to believe that the hotter something is, the quicker it works—which is totally false.”
If you’re aiming to flat iron hair before work every day, choose a tool like the BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium Ultra-Thin Straightening Iron. Its 50 heat settings mean you’re guaranteed to find one that plays nicely with your heat protectant for maximum results with minimum damage.
If you have fine hair:
High temperatures can easily wreak havoc on delicate strands. To avoid undue damage, choose a flat iron designed to create results on sleek hair that often can’t hold a style.
“If your hair is fine, then you want an iron that’s going to give you not necessarily strong conditioning benefits, but something that’s going to disrupt conditioning,” Villa says.
He recommends choosing a flat iron made with titanium plates, like CHI’s G2 Ceramic & Titanium 1'' Hairstyling Iron or Theorie’s Saga Titanium Flat Iron.
“Titanium is a metal that is extremely strong but incredibly light, but because of its substance it heats up very quickly and it holds,” he explains. “Ceramic...it’s a material composed mainly of clay and it’s much more gentle on the hair.”
If you’re worried about both results and hair health, an iron that blends any combination of ceramic and titanium is the best choice.
If you’re coping with serious damage:
Every hair stylist will suggest that damaged hair should be kept far away from hot tools. However, those stylists don’t have bedhead at 7 a.m. and a big meeting to be in at 9 a.m. Heat styling can’t always be avoided.
Villa advocates ionic flat irons to minimize damage and frizz while helping to boost shine. The T3 SinglePass Luxe 1'' Straightening and Styling Iron, which features tourmaline and ceramic plates, is an excellent choice.
“Tourmaline is just simply a crystal and it’s ground into a very fine powder that’s infused into the ceramic plates,” Villa explains. “When it’s heated, it produces a huge amount of negative ions that counteract positive ions which are found in dry and damaged hair. The last thing you want in dry and damaged hair is positive ions.”
Even though your flat iron is equipped to help minimize the look of damage, there’s no excuse for skipping out on heat protectant. Be sure it’s the first step every morning—no matter how late to that meeting you are.
Try: T3 SinglePass Luxe 1'' Straightening and Styling Iron, $180.00 MSRP
If you value consistency:
We’ve all had to deal with a curling iron that just won’t heat up right or a flat iron that seems to have dead spots in one plate. It’s not a lifestyle we encourage you to live. Instead, spring for an iron that provides consistency every time.
“Clay and ceramic get to a temperature and they will stabilize at that temperature,” Villa says. “[Heat is] our best friend if you’re in control. If you’re not in control, it can be our enemy.”
We’re big fans of the CHI Lava Ceramic Hairstyling Iron, which features plates created with volcanic lava powders derived from lava rocks. Aside from heating up quickly, it will leave you with beautifully straightened strands—no lumps and bumps here.
Try: CHI Lava Ceramic Hairstyling Iron, $159.99 MSRP
If you’re looking for an all-in-one upgrade:
For many of us, owning a whole arsenal of tools is not going to happen. We’d rather invest our money in one tool that does it all. Enter the BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium Prima 3000 Styling Iron, which has more going for it than just a seriously imposing name.
Villa also sees versatility as an important asset of flat iron in a beauty industry that’s increasingly focused on natural finishes. Think “no makeup” makeup, but for your hair.
“A few years ago, we were picking up a flat iron to create various types of texture and movement—these organic types of finishes that people are looking for that are simple, easy, and timeless in terms of the amount of time they take,” he says. “A flat iron is going to be essential in the future because I think we’ll use it to do spot textures.”
The Nano Titanium Prima 3000 Styling Iron feature floating titanium plates to create both curly and straight styles. If you only clean out enough space for one new tool in your beauty arsenal this year, make it this one.
Tip: BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium Prima 3000 Styling Iron, $179.95 MSRP