Flat Iron Buying Guide 101

Buying a Flat Iron shouldn’t be intimidating. These simple questions will help you narrow down your choices to set (and get) you straight. You might think it’s a good idea to buy the same iron your best friend has, but if your hair texture is different, your results may never be the same.

Babyliss Pro Nano Titanium Flat IronEveryone asks me “Which flat iron is the best?” and I always answer, “What is your hair type?” before I answer with a specific flat iron. Unless you’ve tried it firsthand, chances are the iron you are thinking of buying might not be the best one for your hair. Let’s narrow down the choices with a few key questions.

Which plate width?
Determine which plate width you need – one inch does not fit all. We have a great article on selecting a plate width for your specific hair length. Not all irons come in all sizes so this can help you narrow down your selection.

Fixed or variable temperature settings?
Flat irons come in fixed or variable temperature settings. The type that works best for you depends on your hair’s texture and your styling needs.

Is your hair thin, delicate, damaged or fine? Choose a flat iron with a variable temperature setting so you can control the heat and keep the iron from getting too hot.

Is your hair thick and hard to straighten? A fixed temperature would be a good choice for you so you can crank up the heat on those pesky pieces that just won’t straighten.

Is your hair is somewhere in between? Most likely you will be fine with either choice. My personal preference is a variable setting – I like control.

Does it create curls?
Most flat irons today will create curls, but (ahem) the curls are only as good as the user who creates them. Brush up on those curling techniques here.

Which Technology?
Ok, this is really the source of most flat iron confusion. Most flat irons on the market today have similar straightening technology, but which is best? Again, that depends on your hair type and styling needs.

Ceramic/Ionic
Almost all professional grade flat irons are Ceramic and Ionic these days. This technology is important in generating negative ions to smooth the hair cuticles. What you may not realize is NONE of the flat iron plates are 100% Ceramic. That’s a myth. All plates are infused with Ceramic (and/or other materials) to straighten and smooth the hair. I kid you not!

Industry research shows that pure Ceramic plates would be too soft to get the job done, so all manufacturers (this means CHI, T3, Maxiglide, HAI – all of them!) use Ceramic along with a much stronger, heat conducting surface such as Aluminum, Titanium, etc. to straighten the hair’s cuticles. And boy do they work.

Aluminum
Some older, lesser quality flat irons are pure Aluminum. These irons are usually referred to as the “drugstore variety” and do not contain Ceramic. This is why you notice a huge difference when you upgrade to a pricier iron – the addition of Ceramic. What’s so great about ionic activity? Click here.

So you know what Ceramic does, but what about all of those other materials you keep hearing about? Tourmaline, Nano-Titanium, Nano Silver, Nano anything? These are additional materials used in the plates to enhance the smoothness of the plate’s surface, generate additional negative ions to smooth your hair quickly, and create a snag free glide down the strands. Here’s a breakdown:

Nano
This is a process where the material, say Tourmaline, is micronized into superfine particles and infused into the plate surface. Whenever you see Nano, think teeny, tiny pieces of a smoothing material infused into the plates. Nano-Ceramic, Nano-Silver, you get the idea.

Ceramic and Nano-Ceramic
Smaller particles of Ceramic to contribute to your smoothing process. This is good for every hair type. Most flat irons with Ceramic technology provide silky, straight results but there are a variety of price points. As for most irons I’ve tried, the pricier Ceramic irons really are better. Plus the more expensive irons usually come with additional features and benefits so be sure to look into this if you are considering a Ceramic iron. (Best Buy: ghd. See also: HAI, Paul BrownCHI.)

Nano-Titanium
Super smoothing surface, great heat conduction, straightens hair up to 40% faster. Is it necessary? If your hair is hard to straighten, this is one of the best materials out there for you, newer technology but comparable to Tourmaline. If you want the latest technology you’ll like this. (Best Buy: Babyliss. See also: Hot Tools.)

Nano-Silver
A smooth surface that eliminates bacteria on the appliance creating a germ-free environment every time you use it. Great for a stylist, or germ-a-phobe. It straightens hair well, but do you have to have it? Probably not. (Best Buy: FHI Platform. See also: CHI Nano Silver.)

Nano-Tourmaline
Tourmaline is a semi-precious gemstone known for its negative ion generating and smoothing properties, and is infused into the flat iron plates. This is earlier technology than Nano-Titanium and Nano-Silver. I sometimes find that Tourmaline causes static, but still a very good material for smoothing most hair types. (Best Buys: FHI, Bed Head. See also: HAI EliteT3.)

Does it come with a warranty?
The warranty is another biggie to think about. Some manufacturers will only honor a warranty if you buy the flat iron in a salon. I would consider that a fine idea if the salon in my area carried every flat iron. Truth is, they don’t. But I have noticed the irons they do carry are way more expensive than online. What gives?

If you are buying a flat iron in a store or online, look for a flat iron that has a 1 year warranty or longer – think HAI, ghd, Babyliss. We’ve all heard the rumors about a certain flat iron that breaks after only a few months. Honestly, it does. You might want to think about it. ‘Nuff said.

If you use a flat iron every day you want it to last. Make sure you select a flat iron guaranteed to survive your daily styling habits. If you use a flat iron sporadically, go for a less expensive Ceramic iron without all the technological bells and whistles.

I hope you take the time to ask yourself these simple questions, the flat iron of your dreams is waiting for you!

-StraightBelle

Top Tips for Flat Iron Lovers

Start with a better blowout
The proper blowout with your hair dryer before you use a straightener will improve your flat iron’s performance and shorten styling time because there will be less contact with the hot plates. Look for a ceramic, ionic hair dryer to help you smooth your strands before you straighten. Read The Perfect Blowout for tips.

Beyond Straight Temporary StraightenerSafety First
Use a heat protectant! I say it all day long. There are tons of great products on the market today that are heat activated and created specifically to work along with the excessive high iron temperatures to protect your hair while styling. You can avoid a lot of unnecessary damage with a heat protectant. Think of a heat protectant as your flat iron’s Best Friend. Left: Beyond Straight Temporary Straightener.

Go for Quality
Use a quality flat iron. Notice I didn’t say expensive? I said quality. Look for a flat iron with some form of technology dedicated to keeping your hair damage-free while you straighten and smooth.
There are so FHI Heat Professional Flat Ironmany advancements now, that it’s almost hard to find a bad flat iron! Which is great, right? Look for the terms Ceramic, Ionic, Tourmaline, Nano-Silver, Titanium – they are ALL good, in any combination. They all have different technologies and selling points, but all are dedicated to keeping your hair in good condition because they eliminate multiple passes down each hair strand. One-step straightening is what you want. Shown: FHI Heat Ceramic Flat Iron.

How LOW can you Go?
Use a Lower Temperature: Find the lowest possible temperature for your specific hair type, no need to crank your iron up to 400+ degrees if your hair will get smooth at 350 degrees. Yep, that makes sense. With temperature, less is really more in terms of healthy hair. It’s the main reason there are so many irons out there with fixed temperatures – they keep the iron from getting too hot. If you think hey, if 400 degrees is good, 475 degrees must be better – step away from the flat iron and think – even cookies bake at 375 degrees.

CHI 3/4Smaller is Better…
For you shorties, use the smallest plate width for your hair type/length: Less full contact with the plates is always better. Let’s face it, your flat iron is HOT and your hair strands are delicate. There really is no need to pick a 2″ width if you can get away with a 1″ (or smaller) instead. 
Plus, if your hair is shorter, a 2″ plate width is harder to style with and maneuver.
You never want to struggle with a flat iron, you really want the ultimate control with a hot appliance. Learn it. Live it. Shown: CHI 3/4″ Volume Flat Iron.

Wider is Better…
For you long haired ladies, be honest, if your hair is long and thick, just go for the 1-3/4″ or straight for HAI 2 2-1/4the 2″ flat iron. Don’t be concerned that it might be slightly more expensive. You’ll save time straightening with a wider iron and you’ll cause less damage. Too many times over the same section of hair wreaks havoc and causes breakage and let’s face it, if you have a lot of hair, that’s not a great look. Capice? Shown: HAI 2 2-1/4″ Flat Iron.

Of course, if you’re in the market for a new flat iron, our Best Flat Irons section features the most-wanted irons around, and aways, always, always use a heat protectant! You’ll thank me later.
-CurlyBelle

Which Plate Width is Best for Your Hair?

Choosing the correct flat iron plate width for your hair length makes all the difference in your hairstyling time. With such a large variety of flat irons and hair straighteners on the market today, you might be wondering which plate width is best for you? The answer depends on your hair length more than your hairstyling needs. Most flat irons come with a standard 1-inch plate width, and you might be tempted, but if you match your hair length appropriately, you’ll make the smarter decision.

CHI Original 1One Inch for Everyone?
Sure, the 1-inch plate width will accommodate most hair styling needs, but it is really recommended for ‘medium’ length hair only. If your hair length is past your ears yet above your shoulders, (hint, it isn’t considered ‘short’) the 1-inch plate width is probably your best bet. If your hair touches your shoulders or is longer, you should take your time to find a flat iron with a larger plate width. Not only will it cut down on your styling time, it will eliminate the need for multiple passes with the iron, thus reducing damage. If your hair is above your ears, find a plate width less than 1-inch, yes they do exist. But if your hair is medium length, the 1-inch is perfect for you. Some 1-inch irons you should check out are:
CHI Original 1 Inch Flat Iron (pictured), GHD MK4 Hair Straightening and Styling Iron, FHI Technique 1-inch Flat Iron.


HAI 2 Ceramic 2-1/4Long Locks, Larger Plates
For hair that sits on and below the shoulders, or is very thick, A) I’m jealous, and B) you should definitely choose a flat iron that’s either 1-1/4-inches or more. I’ve seen them go as wide as 2-1/4 inches and these larger plates are great for creating smooth styles in seconds. Why go over a small section of hair with a 1-inch iron when you can plow through a chunk with a 2-inch bad boy? The styling time you save by using an iron with larger plates will free up a few extra minutes in your day and will reduce the damage you normally cause by going over the same section of hair multiple times. Some of my wide-width wonders are: HAI2 Ceramic 2-1/4 Inch Flat Iron (pictured), GHD Ceramic Salon 2 Inch Hair Straightener, CHI Turbo Ceramic 2 Inch Flat Iron, HAI Convertable 1-1/4 Inch Flat Iron.


CHI Turbo .7Short Styles, Slim Widths
Slimmer plate widths are perfect for shorter hairstyles. If your hair is above your ears or if you have bangs, a slim 3/4 inch plate width (or thinner) is perfect for you. When styling hair so close to your skin and scalp you should make sure you have the control a thinner plate width provides. If you hair is only a few inches away from your head, you wouldn’t want to go any larger than necessary. Too much hair-to-heat contact will only fry those delicate strands. Plus, if you’re a guy with unruly curls, give it a try…(umh, hello SANJAYA), you might be pleasantly surprised! Check out these fab finds: HAI Twig 3/8 Inch Flat Iron, WEE CHI 1/2 Inch Flat Iron, CHI Turbo .7 inch Flat Iron (pictured), Miniglide.

Though the size of the plates you choose really depend on your personal preference, by taking the time to do a little research, you might find there is a better flat iron more suited for you and your hair length.

If you’d like to learn more, our Best Flat Irons section will set (and get) you straight.

-Straight Belle