Types of Curling Irons

By Lea WhiteFeather

The present-day curling iron evolved from the Marcel tongs famous for creating classic waves on old Hollywood starlets. While the waves were attractive and are still worn to this day as a vintage style, the early Marcel irons made use of primitive technology that literally cooked the hair and led to damaged locks. In contemporary times, a variety of curling irons are available on the market, offering consumers a wide range of styles and prices to suit different needs and budgets.

Types of Curling Irons

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A curling iron is a thermal hairstyling tool used to create waves or ringlets. The part of the iron that actually curls the hair is a heated barrel which you wind the hair around to reshape individual locks as desired. A curling iron can give you loose curls, tight curls or spirals, depending on the kind of barrel you use. The smaller the barrel, the tighter the curl. To get precisely formed coils, you specifically need to use a spiral curling iron. This kind has grooves along the entire length of the heated cylinder.


Curling irons are classified not only by the kind of curls they produce, but also by the material that coats or lines their barrels. Chrome or metal-plated barrels generate positive ions that coax the hair shaft open, causing damage and dryness. For this reason, chrome curling irons are the cheapest. This type is recommended only for those who seldom use thermal hairstyling tools.

Gold or titanium barrels are slightly better than chrome ones as they heat up more evenly and are better conductors of heat, requiring less time to curl the hair.

Teflon-coated barrels have a hair-protecting mechanism unlike both the chrome and gold varieties. Teflon keeps the hair from snagging on the barrel--however, the lining can chip away over time, defeating the purpose of why you would want to use it in the first place.

Ceramic and tourmaline barrels are widely praised by users and hairstylists as being the healthiest curling iron options. They give off negative ions that repel the positive charge of the hair shaft, resulting in smoother tresses.


Regardless of the material lining the rod, the basic curling iron is available as a wand. It has a handle that allows you to manipulate the iron even while the barrel is hot. Some models, however, come with interchangeable detachable barrels. The attachments usually included are a grooved spiral barrel, which is typically an inch to 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Regular smooth barrels help you create curls or waves of varying sizes. Diameters for regular barrels range anywhere from 1/2 inch to 2 inches, although larger ones can be purchased at beauty supply stores if you prefer looser curls. A clamp that crimps the hair or serves as a flat iron is also a standard attachment that may be used with such a tool. When purchasing a curling iron, look for one that has a knob or switch that puts you in control of the heat settings.

Cheaper units allow you to put the heat on only "high" or "low," while those of better quality let you choose specifically how hot you wish to go. This gives you the option of turning the temperature up if your hair is coarse and does not curl easily or down if your hair is fine and sensitive to heat. These models can be turned to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit for the lowest heat setting, all the way up to more than 400 degrees Fahrenheit for the highest.


Regardless of the type of curling iron you use or favor, do not risk the health of your hair. Before using any curling, crimping or flat iron, prep hair with a setting lotion or heat-protective serum. You should also take note of the condition of your hair before subjecting it to heat styling. If your hair is color-treated or perhaps permed, think twice about using thermal tools or at least take care not to use them so frequently. If you choose to use a curling iron on a daily basis, at least invest in a ceramic or tourmaline one. It may be pricey, but it will keep your hair healthier and more attractive.


The styling products on your hair will build up on the barrel of your curling iron if you do not make a habit of cleaning it after every use. Any residue creates substandard results as the heat has to make its way through the product before it reaches your hair. When you are finished using your curling iron, turn it off and unplug it. Allow it to sit for about a minute or two before checking if the temperature of the barrel is merely warm and no longer hot. Be careful because curling irons can cause burns.

With a damp paper towel, wipe away the build-up on the cylinder. The lukewarm temperature ensures that the hairstyling product on the barrel is still fresh and effortless to clean off. For any stubborn remnants or thick residue from a long time ago, you will need to clean the barrel with cotton balls soaked in rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover. Either of these substances should thoroughly eat away at hardened hairspray or serum. When you are through, wipe the barrel again with a damp paper towel to remove traces of the solvent used.