Friday, September 30, 2011

Ask Ink: Choosing the Right Hair Straightener

Author: MelBivDevoe

Here's this week's question:
"I need a new straightener! I hate mine! It doesn't get hot enough and the plates are too wide (thick? big?)! What do you all use or recommend?

I've been blessed (read: cursed) with naturally wavy, super thick hair that frizzes at the mere mention of humidity. So it's been a struggle to find the perfect hair straightener that will give me smooth, shiny straight hair. There are a TON of tools out there that all claim to be the best, and it can be overwhelming when you're standing in the hair care aisle, staring at all the flat irons and wondering which one is best for you.

While all of the products out there list countless different features that they claim will help you, there are really only a few things you need to look for - what material the flat iron is made of, the size of the plates, and the heat settings.

Materials: Most hair straighteners are made of one of three different types of material (or some combination thereof) - ceramic, tourmaline, or metal (like titanium).
Ceramic straighteners heat up quickly, heat evenly (no "hot spots" on your head), and smooth your hair using infrared heat - they heat from the inside of the cuticle out.
Tourmaline, which is a gem, also uses infrared heat and produces negative ions. Here's a mini-science lesson for you: Dry, damaged, and/or frizzy hair is full of positive ions, atoms that have a positive charge. When you use a flat iron that has tourmaline, you're using negative ions, which neutralize the atoms in your hair and essentially lock in moisture into the hair follicles. 
Metal flat irons don't usually smooth or lock in moisture like the other flat irons do - metal heats up very quickly and can get very, very hot. Most metal flat irons will have a ceramic or tourmaline coating to help smooth your hair, but I don't recommend these coated straighteners - the coating has a tendency to chip and flake off with repeated use.
I recommend straighteners that are a combination of ceramic and tourmaline, so you get the best of both worlds, like this one from Sedu.

Size: When you straighten your hair, you want to do small chunks at a time, relative to the amount of hair you have. Figuring out what size flat iron you need is pretty simple - the thicker/longer/curlier your hair, the larger size plates you'll need. So if you have fine or normal hair, you can use a straightener with 1" - 1 1/2" plates. If you have thicker/curlier hair, I'd recommend 1 1/2" to 2", depending on length. The longer your hair, the bigger the plates should be. If your hair is longer than your shoulders, go with the larger plates. For example, I use a 2" plate because my hair is super thick and hangs past my shoulder blades.

Heat Settings: Hair straighteners overall have two options for heat settings: some are a fixed temperature, meaning they always heat to the same temperature point, while others have a dial that allows you to choose your heat from a range of temperatures. I prefer the flat irons that let you choose your heat - some of the fixed ones heat up too much and can be damaging to your hair. By choosing an iron that lets you pick your heat, you can figure out exactly what temperature works best for your hair. I recommend starting on a low heat first, and if that doesn't get your hair perfectly straight, adjusting until you find the right temperature. If you have fine or thin hair, you might find that a lower temperature works for you, while those with thicker hair will probably need a higher setting.

So... now that you have the info, what straightener do you need?
  • Ceramic is the best. If you have dry/damaged/frizzy hair, you'll want to add tourmaline. Stay away from metal - it's cheaper, but you pay for that by either damaging your hair or when the coating chips off.
  • The thicker/longer your hair, the bigger your plate size should be.
  • Variable heat setting are much better than a fixed temperature. Look for irons that allow you to choose from a range of temperatures. Start low and work your way up to the heat you need.
As for brands, I've found that Sedu, CHI, and Helen of Troy are all reputable brands. You can find these brands at most major beauty retailers like Ulta or Sally Beauty or at other stores like Target.* I'm using an old Helen of Troy flat iron that's about 3 years old and isn't being manufactured anymore, but it still works perfectly - heats quickly and stays hot. The higher quality the iron, the longer it will last you - my first flat iron was metal and didn't last a year. It'll cost you more for the ceramic and the tourmaline, but it's a worthwhile expense if it gives you gorgeous, shiny, straight hair with minimal damage!

* I realize that I've linked to Target in almost all of my reviews. I'm not getting any kickbacks, I swear - it's just where I like to shop!


  1. I have very curly hair and I use this one:

    It's ceramic and has the range of temperatures to choose from. My hairdresser has used it on me for years and I'm very happy with it.

  2. I swear by my Sedu straightener. It's pricy and I bought mine from Folica, but it's totally worth it! Granted I have straightish long hair, but it makes my hair ready for work in 5 minutes.

    Great article!

  3. Ooh, good article--and while we're on the topic, anyone have any recommendations for a cordless straightener? I have a (corded) Avanti tourmaline ceramic one that I like quite a lot, but would like something that I could just use to straighten my bangs when I'm traveling. Doesn't have to be heavy-duty, but I'd like to get something decent.