The key to creating head-turning perfect beach waves or cascading curls is a great curling iron. You want one that's easy to use and maneuver, heats up quickly to curl your hair fast and reaches a high enough temperature to set curls without damaging your hair — and fits in your budget. "A curling iron with a 1 and ¼ inch barrel is a good size for everyday curls, no matter what look you are going for," says Eugene Toye, stylist at Rita Hazan Salon in New York City. But, he says, choices can vary greatly "depending on the texture of the hair and the type of curl you are looking for." With so many options on the market, from titanium to ceramic, tourmaline and even clamp-less curling wands, it can be difficult to know where to begin to find the best curling iron for you.
That's why we tested curling irons in the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab to find the ones that are actually worth your money by evaluating features like preheating, temperature and overall settings, just to name a few. We also have a panel of at home testers who report on factors such as the quality of their curls and ease of use.
For more information on what to keep in mind as you shop for the best curling irons (including material, barrel size, temperature and more), scroll to the bottom of this article. In the meantime, these are the best curling irons you can buy.
Our top picks:
Best Overall Curling IronGolden Titanium 1 ¼" Curling Iron Ion Read More
Best Value Curling IronDouble Ceramic 1" Curling Iron Conair Read More
BEST LIGHTWEIGHT CURLING IRONTitanium Pro 1" Curling Iron Ion Read More
Best Curling Iron for Beach WavesBeachwaver PRO 1" Curling Iron Beachwaver Co. Read More
Best Curling Iron for Long HairLong Barrel Styler Pro 1.25" Curling Iron Bio Ionic Read More
- Adjustable temperature 300ºF to 450ºF
- Top Beauty Lab scores for performance, ease of use and style
- Suitable for all hair types, from thick and coarse to short and thin
- Took 160 seconds to reach temperature
- Second-heaviest in Lab tests
For a classic clamp curler, give the 1 ¼ -inch, highest-temp Ion a whirl — it won for forming lasting curls, even on coarse, thick hair. This iron blew away the competition, scoring highest in nearly a dozen categories including grip and maneuvering, easy controls, compact size and producing curls that stay put. Users loved that "that the clamp is as long as the barrel," which is particularly useful for shorter cuts and the shorter handle length "keeps my hand in a perfect position to reach the thumb grip."
- 30 heat settings up to 400ºF
- Reviewer-favorite on Amazon
- May not last as long as other picks
Though we haven't tested this pick in the Lab, you can't beat the price of this 1-inch classic curling iron (currently less than $10!). Despite its eye-popping bargain price, is racking up the five-star ratings on Amazon. It's barebones, but for the price, it's a solid choice — just ask the 4,300+ five-star reviewers who say it works great on fine and thick hair alike.
- Adjustable heat up to 450º
- Available in sizes from ¾- inch to 1 ½-inch
The winner of a past Lab curling irons test, this one-inch model proved to be lightweight, comfy to grip and snag-free. "I loved how quickly this curling iron heated up," one tester raved. "It easily clamped my hair and curled it in just a few seconds." It also rated highly for forming smooth, frizz-free curls and has an automatic shut-off feature after 60 minutes for peace of mind.
- Rotating mechanism curls hair for you
- Adjustable heat up to 410ºF
- Best for long hair; testers with short hair found the small clip difficult to use
- Lower Lab scores for ease of use
Created by hairstylist Sarah Potempa, this time-saving, automated curling iron is the only one GH's Beauty Director April Franzino uses. "It rotates away from your face, taking the guesswork out of curling hair," she says. "All you have to do is clamp a section of hair at the bottom, press the button and watch as it winds around the curler. Hold for a few seconds, release and you have a perfect loose curl." It also comes in two sizes: One-inch for tighter curls and 1 1⁄2 inch for looser waves. Lab testers noted that "it grips hair well," and the resulting "curls are well defined and stay in place" for "beautiful, natural looking curls in no time."
- Adjustable heat up to 430ºF
- Extended barrel is great for longer hair
Sick of running out of space on your wand to curl your long hair, or having to wrap hair multiple times over itself? This one-inch wide tool works especially well for longer hair thanks to the extended length of the barrel, which the brand claims is 2 inches longer than most curling irons. Though we haven't tested this pick in the Lab, fans love that their style lasts for hours, with one reviewer saying her "curls last the whole day and I still can have loose curls the next day."
- Compact barrel is easier to maneuver on short hair
- 3-in-1 capability
- Adjustable temperature 240ºF to 430ºF
This clever iron is actually three tools in one: A flat iron, a curling wand and a curling iron. The 1 ¼-inch barrel is perfect for glam waves and curls, and in Lab tests, it scored in the middle of the pack in everything from ease of use to performance to user satisfaction. Our short-haired testers particularly loved it, saying "it was easy to maneuver and keep from touching the face or scalp," and that it felt the safest of all options with a low burn risk. Plus, the short barrel and compact design makes it foolproof to use on shorter tresses.
- Comes with 1-, 1 ½-, and 1 ¾- inch barrels
- Adjustable heat 260ºF to 410ºF
- Controls and switching barrels can take some getting used to
- Very expensive
Get all of the impact of three separate tools in one neat package: This interchangeable iron comes with three barrel sizes ranging from 1 inch to 1 ¾ inches, with even more barrels available for separate purchase including tapered barrels. Testers found the interchangeable mechanism and lock impressive, saying "the barrels did not wobble once locked in." This pick scored highly for long-lasting curls and easy release of hair without pulling or snagging for super smooth styling.
- Available in barrels ranging from ¾- inch to 1 ½-inch
- Adjustable temperature 280ºF to 430ºF
- Temperature control dial; no alert when tool reaches temperature
Scoring tops for easy maneuverability and ergonomic design, this curling iron is great for beginners — plus, it won't break the bank for first-time users. Testers loved that "the clamp is long and clips hair well; it does not pinch it at the end," making it easy to use for novices. At 0.9 pounds, testers also found it lightweight and easy to control with "a classic design, simple and functional," and a slimmer-than-average handle that's comfortable to hold. It's also the go-to curling iron for salon pros: "I use Hot Tools curling irons both at home and in salon," says Toye.
- Adjustable temperature 250ºF to 450ºF
- Scored tops for long-lasting curls in Lab tests
- Smooth barrel and ergonomic operation
- Testers found the thumb grip a little hard to press
This solid iron scored high in ease of use, performance and satisfaction and earned the highest mark of all irons for creating curls that lasted throughout the day. It scored highest for releasing hair from the clamp without snagging or pulling hair, including a perfect score for its clamp: Testers said, "the barrel is smooth and clip works well." This iron also reaches the highest temperature that we tested, a whopping 450ºF which is ideal for forming long-lasting curls in even thick, coarse, natural textured, or hard-to-curl hair.
- Adjustable temperature 225ºF to 425ºF for all hair thicknesses
- Easy-to-follow instructions
- Cord is short at only 5.8-feet long
Fine hair is fragile and can be difficult to curl for fear of breakage as well as its tendency to fall flat. That's why this iron from Revlon is a great pick for those with thin hair: Its adjustable temperature reaches the lowest number in our roundup at 225ºF, and it performed toward the top of the pack for long-lasting curls and curling without snagging. It scored high for ergonomics and intuitiveness, and our Lab pros found it had good instructions that may be helpful for fine haired users to prevent over-experimentation (a.k.a. increased risk of damage).
- Top scores for speed of styling and consumer satisfaction
- Available in barrels ranging from ¾- inch to 1 ¼-inch
- Easy to accidentally switch iron off due to poor button placement
Another top performer in past Lab tests, this pick performed well across the board, scoring most highly in speed of styling, as well as top ranks for consumer satisfaction. Testers noted that it heated up fast loved how speedy it was when styling: “It worked super-fast and my curls were locked in all day, which is hard to achieve with my heavy, straight hair." Others said hair was "noticeably shiny and a little less frizzy.”
- Three attachments: 1-inch wand, 1 ¼-inch curling iron, 3-pronged waver
- Adjustable temperature 200ºF to 450ºF for all hair types and textures
- Heat element rests very closely to the counter
We haven't tested this exact model formally in the Lab, but Drybar's wand performed well in our Lab tests, so it's no surprise this new three-in-one pick is already a fan favorite. It has three useful attachments for all of your curling needs and then some: A 1-inch wand for undone beach waves, a 1 ¼-inch curling iron for polished curls and a three-pronged waver for messy texture. Plus, the clamp on the curling iron is heated so you can also use the larger barrel as a wand or a smoothing flat iron, of sorts. A GH editor says the mechanism to switch the attachments is easy to use and feels secure and safe, the display is bright and the rubberized buttons are intuitive and simple to press. The tool heats up quickly on every mode and every barrel is smooth and snag-free for glossy, smooth styling.
- Adjustable heat up to 425º
- Carry-on friendly at only 6.4 ounces
- Universal voltage and 60-minute auto shut-off
- Barrel may be too short for long hair
You don't have to sacrifice efficacy for travel size: A top seller at Dermstore, this mini 1 ¼-inch barrel version of the now-iconic Harry Josh curling iron has all the features of the original, just in a more portable package. It heats up in 30 seconds, has a swivel cord and adjustable temperature settings and weighs only about half a pound! Keep in mind the shorter barrel is best-suited for short hair, though it'll work on any length with a bit more elbow grease.
- Comes with 1.2-inch, 1.6-inch barrels
- Styles and dries hair at once
- Prevents excessive heat damage
- Extremely expensive
Our Beauty Lab was impressed with this Dyson product: Like a hair dryer and curling iron in one, this high-tech styling tool uses six powerful streams of hot or cool air to magically style your hair from damp to dry. "I admire the genius air jet design, which makes hair strands, as if by magic, wrap themselves around the curler attachment,” says Birnur Aral, Ph.D., Director of the GH Beauty Lab. The result: Bouncy bends that rival a professional blowout. "It gives salon-level styling using lower heat, which can minimize damage as well," she explains.
- Maintains a steady temperature of 365º
- Prevents excessive heat damage
- Auto shut-off after 30 minutes
- No adjustable heat settings
This sleek one-inch model has universal voltage and earned dozens of raves with reviewers, including those with thin hair. "I have fine hair and it is wonderful to find a curling iron that actually does what I need it to," one Nordstrom reviewer said. We haven't Lab-tested this iron, but it's a consistent top-seller with a cult following (and a GH editor fave!). While no heat tool can be "damage-free," in our Beauty Lab's test of flat irons, we found the ghd tool maintained a steady temperature of 365º which helps prevent excessive heat damage, unlike other models that can exceed 450º.
In the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, our scientists and beauty pros parsed through over 103 measurements and 836 survey answers. In the Lab, we test for factors such as speed of preheat, whether the tools actually heat up to (or exceed) the temperature settings indicated on the tool and whether other parts of the iron get hot to the touch. We also have a panel of testers try them out at home and report on how well the curling irons create curls, how long the curls last and how easy and comfortable the tools are to use.
When shopping for a new curling iron, there are a few attributes and features you'll want to look for to ensure you're choosing the right curling iron for your hair type (and needs!). Here's what to consider before you shop:
✔️ Barrel size: "Depending on the texture of the hair and the type of curl you are looking for, then you would determine which size barrel to use," says Toye. If you want relaxed, beachy waves, reach for a larger barrel (1 ¼-inch and above). The smaller the barrel, the tighter the curl will be. If your hair is hard to curl, look for a 1-inch barrel for a curl that is less likely to fall flat through the day.
✔️ Material: There's a lot of debate around whether ceramic or titanium is better for heat styling tools. "Titanium would be the most preferred by stylists, and tourmaline and ceramic are more popular among the average consumer," says Toye. Why? Titanium barrels are usually lighter than ceramic and can hold high temperatures longer, while ceramic barrels distribute heat more evenly and are less likely to damage hair, so they are more suitable for at-home consumers with different hair textures. That said, the GH Beauty Lab has found both ceramic and titanium curling irons are good conductors of heat and will work on all hair types, so try not to get persuaded by marketing claims that state one is better than the next.
✔️ Clamp: For ultimate versatility, look for an extended clip that spans the full length of the barrel. This way, the curling iron can also be used to straighten hair. Some models can be used as wands by wrapping hair over the clip for looser curls and waves. "Clamps tend to leave marks in the hair if they are not properly used," says Toye which is why some "prefer a clamp-less wand: because it is more user friendly."
✔️ Adjustable heat settings: "I recommend a curling iron with adjustable heat settings," says Toye. Lower temps are great for fine hair for those thinner hairs around the face, while higher temps are great for coarse, natural, or hard-to-curl hair. As a rule of thumb, you should use low heat on fine, chemically processed, or fragile hair (180ºF to 370ºF); medium heat on easy-to-curl, healthy hair (375ºF to 395ºF); and high heat on thick, wavy, or natural hair (400ºF to 420ºF).
✔️Automatic shut-off: Our testers love irons with an auto shut-off feature. You'll never have to worry about remembering to unplug your curling iron because it shuts off for you.
Deputy Editor, Jessica Teich has over 10 years of experience formally researching, testing and writing about haircare products, from hair tools (like hairdryer brushes, curling irons and wands and flat irons) to styling tips (like how to get beach waves, how to use a diffuser and how to cut your own hair) and hair products, including dry shampoo and the best curly hair products. An authority on (and a guinea pig for testing) new-to-market tools on curly hair, she regularly teams up with GH's Beauty Lab to synthesize its data in putting together product reviews on the very best haircare on the market, according to testing.
With a background in hair dye research and synthesis, Senior Chemist, Sabina Wizemann loves everything hair-related. Over her years in the Health, Beauty and Sustainability Lab, she has fashioned lab and consumer studies on at-home hairdyes, shampoos and conditioners, hair serums, hair volumizers, dry shampoos and more. She also tests hairstyling tools like hairdryers and curling irons while continuously checking for the latest innovations in hairstyling.