Flat irons, curling wands, blow dryers — there are endless ways to apply heat to our hair. You might be hesitant to use any of these if you spent years undoing heat damage. But those with curly hair know there's one heated tool that makes all the difference: diffusers.
Shop TODAY asked stylists to break down everything you need to know about diffusers, including how to get the most out of the experience and which ones are actually worth your money.
What does a diffuser do?
A diffuser is a blow dryer attachment with “fingers” that allows a softer, more diffused airflow to the hair instead of applying direct heat from the dryer, explained curl specialist Shawn Harvey and New York City-based stylist Jasmine Burnside.
“A diffuser replicates air-drying but in a faster, more controlled manner,” added Chicago-based hairstylist Jenna Spino.
Benefits of diffusing hair
While people with curly and wavy hair are likely most familiar with diffusers, Harvey, Spino and Burnside agreed that one of the main benefits of using a diffuser is a reduced amount of frizz for all hair types.
Diffusers are also used to enhance curls you already have or, in some cases, discover waves you didn’t even know were there if your hair is typically straight or slightly wavy, Spino and Burnside both noted.
Another benefit Burnside pointed out is the reduced amount of damage to the hair when you use a diffuser. “I think because you’re not actually running through the hair with a brush, there’s less tension on the strands so it’s actually not as damaging because there’s less friction,” she said.
Best hair diffusers, according to stylists and shoppers
Shark recently went viral on TikTok for their multi-attachment air styling tool but did you know they also have a version for curly hair? It's a favorite of Shop TODAY deputy editorial director Ali Deabler when she diffuses her wavy hair. The attachment has retractable prongs so you can customize it to work best for your hair length and type.
Last month, Pattern released their first hot tool with the goal of reshaping the relationship between curly hair and heat. Aside from the beautiful neutral tone that's consistent throughout the tool down to the literal wire, it comes with four different attachments designed with curly girls in mind.
I received this blow dryer from the brand to try and was immediately impressed when I used the diffuser. It easily gets to my roots and I've also found that it's wide enough to dry a decent chunk of hair at once which helps save time. Plus, the dryer itself isn't deafeningly loud so you can safely dry your hair at night without disturbing anyone.
Harvey mentioned this popular diffuser from Xtava. It has fingers in multiple sizes for an all-encompassing drying session, leaving no area unaddressed.
Both Harvey and Burnside sang the praises of the Dyson blow dryer with the diffuser attachment. Harvey called it "one of the most efficient" tools she's used for diffusing hair and Burnside called it one of her "holy grail" diffusers. The standard blow dryer is $400 but for $30 more, you can get this all-in-one set with the blow dryer and five additional pieces including a diffuser. It's cheaper than buying the original dryer and diffuser attachment separately.
Burnside likes this diffuser for both professionals and the everyday consumer. It attaches to any blow dryer and can easily be packed away due to its soft mesh material. "It diffuses air flow, I would say, even more than any other diffuser that I've used," she raved. She added that it's often used on sets and during Fashion Week events due to its portable nature and good quality. If you want to maintain a glossy look but need the hair to be dry, she recommends this diffuser.
This highly-rated diffuser has more than 7,800 verified five-star ratings and comes in seven different colors so you can add a personal touch to your new blow dryer attachment. It fits onto dryers with a nozzle diameter of 1.7-2.6 inches and can adapt to over 90 percent of hair blower designs on the market, according to the brand.
Designed to mimic the shape of a hand, this DevaFuser will give your frizz-free volume in no time. “You'll be ahead of your peers and you'll get lots of other clients turning their heads to look at your cool gadget,” one hairstylist commented in an Amazon review.
Best products to use before diffusing hair, according to stylists
Harvey recommends using a microfiber towel to remove excess water from your hair, which will help with frizz and cut down overall drying time. With this option from Well Tressed, you can twist your hair inside the towel and tie it to keep it in place or use it for a quick and gentle pat dry.
When prepping your hair before diffusing, Burnside likes to use this invisible oil as a leave-in conditioner. “It’s really nourishing without being heavy,” she said.
This styling cream from Virtue touts six benefits including heat protection, softness, shine, light hydration and strengthened and polished hair. Burnside likes that it helps tackle frizz and has a hold factor. “I like to use something that has a little bit of style memory, just to encourage the overall styling goal to hold throughout the day,” she shared.
Spino also recommends following up with a cream or a mousse. She likes this “whipped créme” from Sebastian, which is actually a mousse that can help give your hair some volume and bounce.
Tips for diffusing hair
Prep with the right products. Burnside’s key tip for diffusing is to make sure you start with properly prepped hair, starting from when you hop into the shower. She recommends brushing your hair before you get in the shower, followed by using a nourishing shampoo and conditioner. You should also comb the conditioner through your hair in the shower for even distribution.
Once your hair is washed, apply a conditioning product like a leave-in conditioner or something that “has a hold factor,” Burnside said, followed by a moisturizing cream or hydrating mousse. Both she and Spino recommend scrunching the product into your hair instead of raking it through to avoid too much friction.
Try to touch your hair as little as possible. We know how difficult it is to not mess with your hair all the time, but every stylist strongly advised against touching your hair with your hands or with the diffuser. “I think a lot of people tend to…touch the diffuser with the hair which can encourage more frizziness as the hair dries. You don’t want the hair to touch the diffuser at all,” Harvey said.
If you absolutely must make contact with your hair post-wash and product application, Burnside recommends using a wide tooth comb instead of a brush.
Tilt your head to diffuse. Harvey recommends tilting your head forward or to the side and diffusing your hair from the bottom, holding the dryer four to six inches away from your hair and letting it rest there. Leaning forward and allowing your hair to flip over can also help the hair dry more evenly and get more coverage with the diffuser, she added. If you’re going to flip over, she recommends getting the ends of the hair somewhat dry first before doing so.
Avoid overdrying your tresses. Spino suggests stopping once your hair is about 80 percent dry. Despite the concentrated airflow a diffuser provides, it’s still possible to overheat the hair, which can cause it to become frizzy. She recommends using high heat on a low blow setting to start, then finishing up with a quick blast of cool air to “set the shape.”
Meet the stylists
- Shawn Harvey is the co-owner of Curls, Kinks and Coils Curl Studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Jasmine Burnside is a New York City-based hairstylist that specialized in editorial, commercial and wedding hair.
- Jenna Spino is a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in long layers and soft curls.