Cheapism: Best budget hair dryers

Dec. 12, 2012 at 12:40 PM ET

The Revlon RV544 costs about $20 and comes with a diffuser.

By Kara Reinhardt,

If only we could all afford a blowout before every big interview or work event. A professional hair stylist can turn tresses from dull and flat to sleek and polished with little more than a brush and a blow dryer. Forbes reports that Drybar has built a $20 million business on this service. High-end hair dryers promise to replicate the look at home but can cost up to $300. These powerful, professional-grade tools are designed to speed up drying times, so they may get you out the door faster. But you can find some of the same technology in a model that costs less than a single Drybar blowout.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable hair dryers.

  • The Revlon RV544 (starting at $20) is an ionic hair dryer made with tourmaline, a static-fighting mineral that typically graces far more expensive models. Reviewers credit this dryer with creating a smooth coiffure in record time. It offers two heat settings and two speed settings. (Where to buy)
  • The Andis RC-2 (starting at $20) features a folding design and a retractable cord to make it easy to store and convenient for travel. This ionic hair dryer incorporates ceramic for fast, even heating and users who have reviewed it online consider it an excellent value. It has three settings: low, medium, and high. (Where to buy)
  • The Babyliss Pro Ceramix Xtreme (model No. BAB2000, starting at $41) lies at the high end of the budget range but impresses reviewers with its power: 2,000 watts compared with 1,875 on other hair dryers. Ionic and ceramic technology contribute to the rapid drying this model delivers. It may be too much for fine or damaged hair, however. Three temperature settings and three speed settings provide flexibility. (Where to buy)

Hair dryer packaging can read a bit like a physics textbook, with all the talk of ions and wattage. Ionic hair dryers have earned a reputation for fast, frizz-free results. The theory is that negative ions released by these models reduce drying time and add shine, although the evidence for this is more anecdotal than scientific. Tourmaline is said to magnify the effect.

In addition to their various settings, the hair dryers listed above each have a cool-shot button that switches off the heating element. The cool air helps set a hairstyle. All three also come with a concentrator attachment, which focuses the airflow onto a narrower section of hair to allow for more precise styling.

For women with curly hair, the Revlon RV544 includes a diffuser as well. This attachment (true to its name) diffuses the blast of air so that curls and waves can dry under gentle heat without turning into a frizzy mass of flyaways. The prongs that stick out help separate curls. In general attachments add value for consumers who would otherwise have to buy them separately.

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