Shop TODAY is editorially independent. Our editors selected these deals and items because we think you will enjoy them at these prices. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. Learn more about Shop TODAY.
There's nothing like leaving the salon with a glamorous new 'do. Your step is a little lighter, your head is held high and your hair is blowing in the wind...until that wind undoes all of the greatness achieved in the chair. By the time you get home, you're left with fallen curls and are probably wondering how to get back that fresh-out-the-chair look.
To help you achieve salon-worthy curls at home every time, Shop TODAY asked a few hairstylists for their favorite curling irons, along with some helpful tips to use one effectively.
Tips for curling hair
Start with a quality curling iron
For the best results, you want the best products. Sadé Stewart, hair colorist and owner of Sirene Studio, advises to not be afraid to invest in a quality curling iron.
"If you are buying something that the plate is not good quality, you risk damaging your hair," Stewart told us. "You really want something that's going to glide and actually add shine and smoothness."
Blow out your hair before curling...sometimes
For soft, looser waves, New York City-based hairstylist Madison Sullivan recommends having your hair blown out before curling it. "If you're not as experienced and you just go in with the wand — if you don't blow it out previously — you're still going to have [lingering] texture if your hair naturally has a texture or curl to it."
However, Sullivan mentioned one reason why you wouldn't need to blow out your hair prior: If you have naturally curly hair! Curling irons and wands can be used to touch up any curls that may have become misshapen overnight. "If your hair is naturally curly, go with a smaller iron that matches your natural curl and you can [use] that just to touch it up."
As an alternative to blow drying, Stewart recommends air drying your hair before using a curling iron to reduce the amount of damage and heat you're applying to your hair.
Your desired barrel size varies depending on length and style
Hairstylists agree you should use larger barrels for looser curls and smaller barrels for tighter ones. For a standard curl, the length of your hair will also determine the barrel size you should use.
Davide Marinelli, hairstylist and owner of Davide Hair Studio, likes to use 1-inch barrels for bob-length and shorter hair, 1 1/4-inch barrels for bob to shoulder-length hair and 1 1/2-inch barrels for anything longer than that.
Sullivan likes to use smaller barrels — 3/4 inch to 1 1/4 inch — on shorter hair to create more texture. Both she and Marinelli recommend holding curling irons and wands vertically when styling.
Sara Yousif, a New Jersey-based bridal hairstylist, mentioned that while the size of the barrel impacts how tight or loose the curl will be, the size of the section you're styling also plays a part. "The smaller the section you take, the tighter the curl. So if you're looking for an overall tighter curl, taking that smaller section and going for that 1-inch size barrel helps it start off tighter," she said. For a loose curl effect, she recommends sticking with the 1-inch barrel and brushing it out.
Start curling your hair at the root
Instead of clamping your hair at the bottom and working your way up to the root, Marinelli and Sullivan advise doing the opposite. "Always start at the root because that's the healthiest and the middle part of the section is the strongest. Don't wrap your hair at the end and work up to the root because then you're going to keep your ends way too long in the barrel and you're going to fry [them]," Marinelli warned.
Leave some hair out below the clamp
Hairstylists recommend leaving some hair hanging out below the clamp when curling your hair. Sullivan recommends leaving out about an inch for looser waves. "If you curl the bottom up, it's going to be really bouncy," she said.
Don't leave the clamp closed
Marinelli recommends consistently opening and closing the clamp when the hair is wrapped around the barrel.
"If you leave the clamp of the iron closed the entire time, you're suffocating the heat and it's not getting hotter. You want to open and close the barrel so you get the most heat," he said. He explained that opening and closing the clamp also allows more air flow, which creates more heat while styling.
How to get (or remove) volume
If you want more voluminous curls, Marinelli recommends holding your hair up after wrapping it around the barrel. For the opposite effect, hold the curling iron down toward the floor. "With the tension, you're pulling it down a little bit and deflating the hair. Holding it up, you're creating a little bit more air [and] volume," he explained.
Pay attention to the temperature settings
Sullivan, Marinelli and Stewart said to be wary of the temperature settings you're using. Instead of keeping a consistent temperature throughout your entire head, each area may require more or less heat. "In your crown area, you might have stronger hair that can take up to 375° or 400°. When you're working around the hairline you want to maybe set it to 250° or 275°," Marinelli said.
Sullivan warns against going over 390°. "At 390°, if you have hair color, it can break [it down], disrupt your natural curl pattern and lead to damage," she said.
Yousif recommends starting at a lower temperature setting if you're new to curling your hair. "This way, if you don't have the motion down pat yet, you're not damaging your hair. Once you have that motion mastered, then you can raise up the heat a little bit," she said.
Best curling irons and curling wands, according to experts
Marinelli calls Hot Tools' curling irons a reliable option. "Most professionals use Hot Tools because the metal part of it stays hot [along] the entire rod. You want to make sure that the heat is nice and even throughout the hot tool so it's consistent on the hair," he said.
Sullivan likes this curling wand for beginners. "It doesn't have a clamp or anything complicated so they can just wrap their hair around," she said.
"I'm also really obsessed with...the three-barrel iron," Stewart said before recommending this option from Amika. "Those give you more a natural beach wave."
Yousif called this curling iron her go-to. "It's a longer barrel so you're able to curl the hair faster, especially if you have longer hair. It's definitely easier that way," she said.
Marinelli and Sullivan both mentioned the BaBylissPRO curling iron. Sullivan recommends this one for anyone who feels more experienced and better at styling their hair. "I think [it's] the standard curling iron that we see. It has the full clamp and it's spring loaded," she said.
Marinelli and Yousif are both fans of the ghd curling iron. When she's not using the Bio Ionic curling iron, Yousif likes this option for a curling iron with a shorter barrel.
Sullivan said this wand is also good for beginners, but considers it a slight level above her Hot Tools recommendation. "[This] one is good because it can take the hair strand and clamp it into that little one inch clamp that it has. There's a button and when they press the button, the hair rotates and curls for them."
Sullivan is a big fan of this three-rod deep waver, especially for the loose wave/tousled look that's trending right now. "[You] just want to make sure that the clamp is on the top [of the hair] when they're holding it and the rods are on the bottom," she said.
Best heat protectants, according to experts
Each hairstylist emphasized the importance of using a hair protectant before curling your hair. Aside from general protection against damage, Marinelli said you need the moisture from a heat protectant to get your desired style.
"You can't iron clothes if you don't have water in the iron. You need that steam and that moisture to get out the wrinkles. [It's the] same thing with hair. You need to put in a leave-in cream or leave-in spray on dry hair before you take the hot tool to it," he explained.
When using heat protectant, Marinelli especially focuses around the hairline, baby hairs and nape of the neck, calling them the most sensitive and weakest areas of the hair.
Marinelli called this heat protectant a favorite that he uses on wet and dry hair.
Marinelli likes this spray because it reactivates the product you already have in your hair. "Instead of you adding more and more product, you're adding a reactivator just to bring out whatever product you have from the previous day. So when you go back to recurl your hair...you're not weighing your hair down. You're sealing the cuticle and protecting it from the heat."
This Kérastase cream recommended by Sullivan is meant to be applied while hair is still wet. "It's for moisture, but it [also] has heat protectant," she said. The heat protectant properties are activated when heat is applied via blow drying or other heated styling tools.
Sullivan likes this heat protectant for dry hair before styling. "You can just spray [it] like 10 inches away from your hair over the section before you curl it," she recommends.
"[This is] a wet styling spray that also has a little bit of a hold to it, so you wouldn't necessarily need to add a hairspray layer depending on the layer you're going for," Yousif said about this Kenra heat protectant.
For more stories like this, check out:
- 13 curl creams hairstylists love for defined, bouncy ringlets
- Hairstylists share why you should wear satin-lined hats — plus 6 options to shop
- From copper locks to sweater scrunchies, stylists share fall's hottest hair trends
- 7 stylist-approved hair straighteners for every hair type and budget
- Get to the root of your hair problems: 11 stylist-approved touch-up products to try