One of my fondest, earliest childhood memories is that of my aunt dressing me up like a living doll for random photo shoots around the house, complete with bright red lipstick, a frilly dress and roller curls. With her camera around her neck, she’d encourage me to try different poses: standing stiffly by the television, sitting on the couch with my hands on my lap, or holding my favorite doll in my arms.
Although there were others things I would have rather been doing than posing for pictures, I never complained because I LOVED having curls, which were more like waves on my hair. They instantly made me feel pretty and glamorous and were a nice vacation from the texture I was born with. Post-photo shoot, I could never resist running my fingers through my hair, feeling spirals instead of straightness for once (and probably flattening out my curls in the process).
In adulthood, I still look to curls and waves as my go-to hairstyle when I want to really look and feel my best, but I always go for curling irons now since they always produce longer-lasting curls than rollers do for my super-long, thick but fine hair.
Recently, I’ve been in search of one that’ll give me the hair of my dreams to use when it finally feels warm enough in New Jersey to go outside without a sweater, because curls and waves, in my mind, automatically make me think SUMMER.
I tested eight curling irons in different widths, shapes and lengths. All are under $100 (because I reserve my luxury beauty purchases for makeup).
Since testing out all these curling irons involved subjecting my hair to a lot of potential heat damage over a short period of time, I prepped my hair with Chi 44 Iron Guard, a heat protectant that smells faintly like a sexy cologne. When I used this, I noticed it a) cuts down on the weird burnt-hair smell, b) helps cut down on frizz, and c) gives me more defined curls.
This creates large, loose waves. If you want these curls to last, coil them around your head while they’re still hot so you can let the curls set. When I did this, I ended up with more defined curls with better staying power. It comes with a 1 ½" removable clamp, but I preferred using it without the clamp to avoid hair dents.
This wand starts off at 1 ½", then tapers down to 1" at its narrowest point to produce medium curls at the bottom and voluminous waves on top. You’ll also want to set these curls, which loosen up to become big, beachy waves. When using this curling iron, my hair sometimes bunched up toward the end of the wand, so I highly suggest you use the glove it comes with to adjust your hair and protect your hands!
This curling iron is just as wide and just as long as the Remington 2-in-1 but it somehow curls more of my hair and produces tighter curls. The curls were pretty and even in width, but they were more defined on the ends, which makes sense since the ends were curled the longest. I had to set these curls, too, because curls that start off wide are just more prone to falling flat faster.
I like the width of this curling iron since it gives more of a glamorous large-curl look. The curls were big, but not too big. While it produced tighter curls than the wider curling irons I tested out, I didn’t find the curls to be more long-lasting. There was definitely some effort required to get the curls to last throughout the day, so it was important to set these curls.
Of all the curling irons I tested out, this is the only one meant specifically for long hair. It’s genius. The longer length means more of my super-long hair can be curled, and of course, I’m happy with that. I mean, who only wants curls from the ears down? With this, I ended up with medium-sized, defined curls that could easily last DAYS before falling flat.
This is the same width as the Revlon one, and performed similarly in terms of staying power and curl style. This produced loose, not-too-big curls that looked glamorous. However, I prefer this one design-wise because the slimmer handle is easier to grip.
Of all the curling irons I tested out, this is the simplest. It has just one button — the on and off switch — meaning you can’t adjust the heat for your hair type. I thought this curling iron heated up pretty fast, and it left me with defined, medium spiral curls that could last a couple of days. Since there aren’t adjustable heat settings, I think this would be more suited for people with thicker hair.
This was my first time trying a spiral styling iron. The result: beautiful, very springy, tight, defined curls that would work for a beachy-waves look. I recommend this only for people with shoulder length or shorter hair though, since you have to wind your hair around the wand and place your hair under each spiral. I could only wrap a few inches of hair around the wand before reaching the end because my hair is really long. This also only had one heat setting: 400 degrees.
For those of you wondering about the design, all of the curling irons I tested out had swivel cords, which is a feature that comes in handy if you’re accident-prone.
As for adjustable heat settings, most of the curling irons I tested out had a dial to select the temperature. The exceptions were the two Bed Head ones, which didn’t have adjustable heat settings, and the Remington T Studio Advanced 1"-1 ½" Wide Wand, which had flat buttons placed lengthwise to change the temperature. I sometimes accidentally pressed those buttons while curling my hair.
[For my hair type, I noticed I had the best results with clampless irons. My favorite overall was the Pro Beauty Tools 1" X-Long Gold Curling Wand. It was long enough to curl most of my hair without creating dents, and the curls it produced were defined and very long-lasting.
I also liked the Remington T Studio Advanced 1"-1 ½" Wide Wand for the big, beachy waves it gave me. And despite its simplicity, I was also pretty impressed by the Bed Head Curlipops 1" Tourmaline Ceramic Styling Iron.
- What’s your favorite curling iron?
- Are you pro- or anti-clamp?