Which Type of Curling Iron Should You Really Be Using?

Caitlin S. Miller

curling iron type

Photo: ImaxTree

The curling iron. Very obvious as to what it does, but somehow using this hair staple still mystifies. I mean, how often have you seen a celebrity with fabulous curls and tried to mimic the look at home only to end up with Shirley Temple ringlets? Between clamps, wands, barrel sizes, and various widths, knowing the difference between curling iron types is basically an algebra equation in and of itself. For anyone who’s ever taken the time to curl their hair only to be sorrily disappointed by the result, listen up. We spoke to two experts to get to the bottom of the curl conundrum.

For voluminous, bouncing curls, use a clamp iron:

Big, blowout-type curls are some of the most sought after in the biz. But if you’re not patient enough for rollers or aren’t sold on the ’60s look, using a curling iron with a clamp will get the job done in half the time. Look for an iron with a thicker barrel—think 2-inches—to avoid the tight ’90s prom look. Ultimately, the benefit of a clamp wand comes is it’s ease and speed and ability to work with all hair types, says hairstylist Kristan Serafino. Just remember to divide the hair in sections to get even distribution of heat. Serafino recommends creating sections no wider than the width of the curling irons barrel for best results.

For natural, loose curls, use a wand:

If volume isn’t your style, try a loose, wavy look instead. To achieve this particular style of curl, opt for a wand with no clamp. Because of the freedom from a clamp, a wand gives you a wider range of motion for curl shape and size. A wand with a mid-size barrel—think 1 to 1 1/2-inches—held straight up and down will give you a casual, loose curl. You can even opt for a tapered wand like BaByliss Nano Titanium ConiCurl Tapered Curling Iron to give added variety to your look.

For bohemian waves, use a wand:

Sure, we’d all like to wake up with perfect boho waves à la Vanessa Hudgens, but most of us have to put forth a little effort to get the woke-up-like-this look. Master this look at home with a clamp-less wand again and alternate the direction you rotate each section of hair around the barrel, says Serafino. However, if a wand still gives you anxiety, you can turn to your trusty flat iron to get the same look. Andrea Veigas, stylist at Dop Dop Salon in New York City, suggests starting close to your scalp, wrapping your hair around the iron, and gently pulling downward the entire length of your hair. “My favorite thing about this look is that it is best when not all of the pieces are perfect and the same,” she says. Finish with a light-weight texturing spray to complete the look.

For glamorous curls, use either:

We get it. Go big or go home, right? When it comes to creating glam curls, it doesn’t matter whether you use a clamp or a wand iron. The secret lies in the size of a barrel, says Serafino. The larger the barrel, the softer and more voluminous the curl. The smaller the barrel, the tighter, more refined the curl is. To try this look yourself, Veigas suggests opting for a 1 1/2-inch curling iron. Wrap hair around the iron going away from your face and hold the iron horizontal while curling. If you notice your curl is too tight, Serafino says grab the end of the curl (once it’s been release from the barrel or wand, of course—no burns, please!) and pull hair straight for five to seven seconds to allow hair to cool in a looser shape.

For retro curls, use a Marcel curling iron.

It might be one of the most lovely styles of curl, but it’s also a bit of a challenge to get at home. (Raise your hand if you’ve attempted this look only to wind up throwing your hair into a ponytail ultimately?) Reaching for a Marcel curling iron like Harry Josh 2-in-1 Ceramic Marcel Curling Iron is your best bet for this look. Although it takes some dexterity to master this hot tool, the end result is worth it. To use (and not burn yourself), hold the iron horizontal to the head for each individual curl, says Serafino. Rotate the section of hair onto the barrel by rotating the barrel downward. Once heated, remove hair from the barrel and secure each section with a clip and let cool.

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