The key to creating head-turning perfect beachy waves or cascading curls is a great curling iron. You want one that’s easy to use and maneuver, heats up quickly to curl your hair fast, and reaches a high enough temperature to set curls without burning your hair — and fits in your budget. But with so many options on the market, from drugstores to department and beauty supply stores, salons, and everywhere in between, it can be difficult to know where to begin to find the best curling iron for you.
That’s why we tested curling irons in the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab: to find the ones that are actually worth your money. Our scientists and beauty pros evaluate hairstyling tools from flat irons to hair dryers in the Lab on factors such as speed of preheat, whether the tools actually heat up to (or exceed) the temperature settings indicated on the tool, and whether other parts of the iron get hot to the touch. We also have a panel of testers try them out at home and report on how well the curling irons create curls, how long the curls last, and how easy and comfortable the tools are to use.
- What is the best curling iron for hard-to-curl hair?
- How to find the right curling iron for your hair
- Why do Curling Irons Come in Different Sizes?
- What Type of Hair Works Best with a 2 inch Curling Iron and Why?
- What if I Pick a Size that is too Small or too Large for my Hair?
- I’ve Picked the Right Size, what Other Features Should I Look For?
- Tips for safely using and maintaining my curling iron
- Detailed Reviews of My Top Choices
What is the best curling iron for hard-to-curl hair?
A great rule of thumb is that the smaller the barrel, the tighter the curls will be. That means you should look for curling irons with a one-inch barrel if your hair doesn’t hold a curl. No matter what curling iron you pick, holding the it on each section of hair for a few seconds as you curl so strands are heated through (but not burned!) is essential or creating a curl that lasts and won’t fall flat. Make sure to set with a strong-hold hairspray for curls that stay put, and use heat protectant before styling to prevent damage to strands.
How to find the right curling iron for your hair
When shopping for a new curling iron, there are a few attributes and features you’ll want to look for to ensure you’re choosing the right curling iron for your hair type (and needs!). Here’s what to consider before you shop:
Barrel size: If you want relaxed, beachy waves, reach for a larger barrel (1 1⁄4-inch and above). The smaller the barrel, the tighter the curl will be.
Material: There’s a lot of debate around whether ceramic or titanium is better for heat styling tools. “We’ve found both ceramic and titanium curling irons are good conductors of heat,” and will work on all hair types, says GH Beauty Lab senior chemist Sabina Wizemann.
Adjustable heat settings: A curling iron with adjustable temperature is important. Lower temps are great for fine hair for those thinner hairs around the face, while higher temps are great for coarse or hard-to-curl hair.
Automatic shut-off: Our testers love irons with an auto shut-off feature. You’ll never have to worry about remembering to unplug your curling iron because it shuts off for you.
Below are our top picks for the best curling irons, from our testers’ favorites to stylists’ go-tos and beyond:
In the past, when I wanted to add some curl to my hair, I would always have to rely on my hair salon. I’d book an appointment and take an hour and a half out of my busy schedule. Although time consuming, at least I knew my hair would have plenty of body, bounce and importantly, curl. I did try to curl my hair at home, I tried using my GHD’s to create curls, I tried curling wands unsuccessfully and I even set my hair in rollers! Yes, I achieved some sort of curl but it would either fall out in a few hours or it just wasn’t the finish I wanted.
My hair is of medium length (just past my shoulders) and already has a natural wave to it, so you’d think it would curl up fairly easily (it doesn’t!). It’s also medium thickness and I’m lucky, I have plenty of it. I used to think that maybe the weight pulled the curl out. This was until I discovered 2 inch curling irons.
Since then, I’ve tried a few different curling iron types and most of them work well. They do create lasting curls that last in-between washes. I’ve included my three favorite 2 inch curling irons below.
- Hot Tools Professional Saloon Curling Iron
- Gold N Hot Curling Iron
- Gold Plated Curling Iron
Before I get into detail about each selection, you might want to know a little more about 2 inch curling irons and if they are right for your hair.
Why do Curling Irons Come in Different Sizes?
Don’t rush out and buy the first curling iron that you read about. You need to think about the right size for your hair. Generally, a 2 inch curling iron works on most lengths and most thicknesses, but if your hair is very short or very fine, you won’t need much more than 1/2 an inch or a 1 inch size model. The slimmer the barrel, the more hair you can wrap around for shorter hair. The bigger barrel sizes are suitable for long, thick hair. That’s why there are lots of different sizes available.
What Type of Hair Works Best with a 2 inch Curling Iron and Why?
As discussed above, the 2 inch curling irons are the most popular type on the market place because they’re suitable for almost all hair lengths and thicknesses. They work on hair that is mid length and mid thickness, so from chin length to shoulder length.
What if I Pick a Size that is too Small or too Large for my Hair?
Think carefully before you buy a curling iron, if you buy something too small or too large, you won’t get the best results, so read up on the right size for you first. Too small and you won’t be able to get wide, thick curls if you have long hair. Too large and if you have short hair, you won’t be able to wrap the length around the barrel.
I’ve Picked the Right Size, what Other Features Should I Look For?
Look for the following features on your curling iron:
- Auto shut off – always useful if you’re forgetful because it will stop your hair tool from over-heating and also stop potential fires starting!
- Extra-long cord – useful for getting to those hard-to-reach places and good to use if your outlet is far away from your mirror!
- Dual voltage – especially useful if you travel a lot.
- Cool-tip – This stops you burning your hands on the tip.
- Safety glove – useful to use when your curling iron is very hot, you won’t burn your fingers.
- Heat Resistant Mat – Protects hard surfaces when you put your curling iron down.
- Ionic technology – this helps to lock moisture in and deliver shiny, sleek hair.
- Storage bag – useful for packing your curling iron away when not in use.
- Multi-heat settings – so you can select the right temperature setting for your hair type.
Tips for safely using and maintaining my curling iron
If you do not have an auto-shut off button you must remember to switch your appliance off for safety. When you’ve finished using your iron, switch it off, allow it to cool down and then wipe it down with a soft cloth. Always wipe down the plates because otherwise styling product and dust builds up which will affect the performance of your iron. Store it in its safety bag (if you have one) when not in use.
Detailed Reviews of My Top Choices
Hot Tools Professional 2 Inch Salon Curling Iron
Delivering plenty of volume and body, this model provides almost instant heat. Cool tip (that’s extra-long so extra-safe) and heat setting memory, so this curling iron instantly goes to your favored setting. The grip is extra comfortable too and with a long, tangle-proof swivel cord, you can style from a distance! I also like the gold barrel which makes this a very aesthetically pleasing product.
- Variable heat settings.
- Extra-long power cord.
- Comfort grip.
- Long cool-tip.
Gold N Hot 2 inch Curling Iron
The Gold N Hot model offers a cool tip and a power indicator light plus it boasts variable temperature right up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s suitable for all hair types. The cool tip protects your fingers and the very long swivel cord means you can style from a distance if required. It even comes with a safety stand so you don’t have to worry about your surfaces. It’s a good, solid product that delivers shiny, bouncy and defined curls.
- Safety stand.
- Cool tip.
- Extra-long swivel cord.
- Variable temperature settings.
- Good, all-round curling iron.
The Hot Tools 2” Gold Plated Salon Curling Iron/Wand
Hot Tools is one of my favorite hair tool brands. I trust their technology and they produce high quality products. This salon curling iron/wand has something called “Pulse Technology” which promises even heat distribution and instant heat recovery. I particularly enjoy using this iron because it creates real definition with no frizz.
My curls are shiny and stay in for days – they don’t just drop out after a few hours. You get the added benefit of being able to use the wand or the clamp iron – just make sure you use a glove too so you don’t burn your fingers! The Hot Tools Curling Iron is suitable for longer hair.
- Easy grip soft-touch hand.
- Long, cool tip (so great for longer hair styles too).
- Fantastic variable heat settings up to 430 degrees Fahrenheit (use less heat if you have fine hair).
- Heats up really fast and there’s a power indicator light so you know when it’s reached your desired temperature.
Ceramic Tourmaline 2 Inch Spring Iron
Built out of ceramic and tourmaline, this option provides a good heat conductor and really boosts shine. It also boasts ionic technology which locks in moisture, reducing flyaway and banishing frizz. The cord is generous and the handle is comfortable plus it has a cool tip at the end to save your fingers from being burnt! The temperature goes up to around 430 degrees Fahrenheit, so there’s choice of heat settings depending on hair type.
- Gets hot, stays hot performance.
- Multiple heat settings.
- Comfortable handle.
- Extra-long power cord.
- Ionic technology.
- Comes with easy-to-replace spare springs.
Note: these final two options are not available in 2 inch models, but I think they are still worth considering.
Conair Double Ceramic Curling Iron
If you suffer with the dreaded frizz (and I battle with it regularly) this banishes it really quickly so no more frizzy hair, just smooth, defined and shiny curls. It’s got a huge number of heat settings; you can choose from 30 which means that no matter what your hair type is, there is definitely one to suit your style. Use this on medium thickness hair and medium length hair or choose a lower heat setting if you have fine hair. You won’t burn your fingers either because it comes with a protective glove which proves very useful!
- Ceramic technology for even heat distribution, this means no hot spots which can burn parts of your hair.
- 18 hour curl control (with my personal guarantee – even in very humid conditions!).
- A high heat of 375 degrees fahrenheit
Revlon Perfect Heat Curling Iron
This was the first curling iron I bought and I am always delighted with its results. In stylish silver and black, it was a smart addition to my hair styling tools and it creates really gorgeous large curls or loose, beachy waves. It’s crafted using ceramic technology which means it administers plenty of heat without damaging hair.
This unit offers 30 different heat settings to choose from and it’s suitable for all hair types. For added safety, there’s an “on” indicator and it will automatically shut-off if you forget to do it yourself. Easy to use, I simply wind my hair around the barrel and clamp it shut for a few brief seconds and it creates instant curls with the most beautiful shine. I always get comments when I use this and my curls last – even when it’s very hot and humid.