Essential Hairdressing Tools: Curling Iron Knowledge Guide

by GONG-FU JHANG
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curling iron

Of all the hairdressing tools used today, the curling iron is likely one of the most well-known because everyone has heard of it. That being said, many people think that curling irons just curl hair and nothing else, and that isn’t correct. The truth is, curling irons are amazing tools that can help transform your hairdo in a short period of time. They are easy to operate, not terribly high in price, and most importantly, there are types for all different kinds of hair.

What Is a Curling Iron?

A curling iron is a device made out of materials such as ceramic and titanium that usually has a barrel and is made to put curls into people’s hair. They can also be used by people who want their hair a little straighter, as long as they buy a curling iron with an extra-wide barrel. Curling irons heat up usually to around 450 degrees Fahrenheit and therefore get quite hot, but most of them are made with several settings should you decide to use it at a lower temperature.

The best part about using a curling iron is that they come in so many sizes and widths that anyone can use one, including those with short hair or long hair, fine hair or thick hair, and straight hair or curly hair. You can style and design your hair with one of these tools as you’re using it, so whether you’re trying to get small ringlets or larger and lusher curls, they can help you achieve the look you want. Indeed, you can play around with curling irons to get any type of look you see in a hair salon, and you’ll be paying a lot less money for it.

Even better, while these irons come in a variety of price ranges, you can typically buy a basic one for around $20 or $30. If you’re interested in a more expensive one, it behooves you to search the Internet for sales and discounts, and to comparative-shop. This can save you a lot of money when it comes time to buy your own curling iron, even though most customers consider their prices to be very reasonable.

The Different Types of Curling Irons

Now we get to the fun part – learning the many different types of curling irons. Regardless of how high-maintenance you think your hair is, you can easily find an iron that will do it some justice. Each type of curling iron is good for a specific hair concern, so pay close attention to the details below.

1. Ceramic Curling Irons

At one time, curling irons were made out of some type of metal or stainless steel, but no more. Ceramic irons are the most-common material when it comes to curling irons. Why? Because it does a great job of spreading the heat out evenly while making the hair extra-smooth. They also heat hair from the inside out, which makes them perfect for customers who have thin hair and therefore can’t handle high temperatures.

If you’re interested in ceramic curling irons, look for the ones that have a full ceramic plate, not just one that has a ceramic coating. It emits infrared heat that goes into the hair quickly and therefore, there is more moisture and less dryness in the hair strands.

2. Titanium Curling Irons

As you can imagine, titanium irons are super-durable and can hold a lot of heat for longer periods of time. This is one of the main reasons why so many professional hairdressers choose titanium curling irons. If you have thick or coarse hair, a titanium curling iron is what you should look for. Instead of heating the hair from the inside out, they do the opposite – heat from the outside in. They also heat up very quickly, which is why so many professionals use them.

If you’d like to be the proud owner of a titanium curling iron, it’s recommended that you take your time learning how to use it and don’t start out with a super-high heat setting. They get very hot and get hot quickly, so it may take you some time to get the hang of it. In other words, go slow and be safe.

3. Tourmaline Curling Irons

Interestingly enough, tourmaline is a stone that is used to make these types of curling irons, and they offer many different advantages. Their biggest advantage is that they emit negative ions to get rid of dry and frizzy hair. If you have thick or frizzy, dull-looking, or difficult-to-manage hair, a tourmaline curling iron is an excellent option. What happens when you use this type of iron is that the negative ions released react to the positive ions already present in your hair. This balances your hair and leaves it looking shiny and very smooth.

4. Gold-Plated Curling Irons

Gold-plated curling irons are made mostly for coarse or thick hair. They do not balance heat over the blade as well as other irons do, but they can tolerate very-high heat settings for long periods of time. When you make the curl with this type of curling iron, keep it in the palm of your hand until it is cool before you release it. This helps the curl to last longer because it has a chance to “set” first.

These are the basic types of curling irons when it comes to the materials they’re made of, but now let’s talk about some basic shapes and designs of irons. The four main types of curling irons are as follows:

  • Traditional curling iron. Everyone will recognize this type of curling iron. It has a barrel like the others do and a clamp that sits on top of your hair after you wind it around the barrel. Because of this clamp, you can get as creative as you like when creating your curls and waves.
  • Cone-shaped curling iron. These irons have a wide base and narrow tip. When you use them, they create a more natural-looking wave. The waves are tighter at the ends and a little looser at the roots, creating a very textured but slightly wind-blown look that many women love.
  • Waver curling iron. These irons can have two to three blades and are very easy to use. They are good for people who want a looser S-shaped wave in their hair. The larger S-shaped waves look great and can be created in no time, even if you’ve never used this type of curling iron before.
  • Clampless curling iron. Instead of clamping your hair down, these irons only require that you wrap the hair strands around the blade. Since there is no clamp, they are perfect for people who have dry ends simply because the strands stay looser than the clamp-style irons. These give the hair a much more natural and almost disheveled look.

The Differences Between the Various Sizes of Curling Irons

Next to the materials used, the size of your curling iron is important if you want to get the look you were aiming for. Curling irons range in size from 3/4 inch to 2 inches, and we’re talking about the diameter of the barrel here. As you can imagine, the shorter your hair is, the smaller curling iron you’ll need, but let’s take a closer look at each of the sizes available.

  • 3/4-inch barrel. Good for all hair lengths but especially for short hair, these irons make perfect corkscrew curls that are a little tighter than other types of curls.
  • 1-inch barrel. Good for all hair lengths and is considered a “standard” size. These irons can provide you with very defined waves and classic-looking curls.
  • 1 1/2-inch barrel. Especially good for medium to long hair, these irons add grip to your updos and give you a very casual, almost disheveled look.
  • 2-inch barrel. Best for long hair because more hair can fit around the barrel, this allows the roots of your hair to have a little more volume and can produce large, very loose curls.

If you’re not picky about the type of curl you end up with, choose a 3/4- or 1-inch iron for short hair; a 1- to 1 1/4-inch iron for medium hair, and a 1 1/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch curling iron for long hair. Remember that the bigger the barrel is, the looser and larger your curls will be.

How to Use a Curling Iron

So, you just bought what you consider to be the perfect curling iron and you think you’re ready to use it. Not so fast! The fact is, many people are using their curling iron incorrectly, which is why they aren’t getting the results they so desperately want. If you’ve been using this tool for years but still aren’t happy with the way your hair looks, the first thing you need is a refresher course on how to properly use your curling iron. For the best results and to increase the odds that you’ll absolutely love your curls when you’re done, follow these simple tips:

Step 1: Prepare your hair

What is meant by this is simple: your hair should be two things before you start using your curling iron. First, it should be completely dry. While it is tempting to use this tool when your hair is wet or damp, it’s never a good idea to do so. When your hair is wet, the cuticle is open and exposed, meaning the heat will do more damage to your hair than when it is dry. Make sure your hair is completely dry before exposing it to any heated hair tools.

Second, you want to make sure your hair is healthy enough to survive the heat. If you have split ends or your hair feels dry and damaged, this is no time to use a curling iron on it. Save these types of heated tools for when your hair is healthy enough to take it.

Step 2: Choose the right size and type of curling iron

We covered these steps earlier, so before you get started curling your hair, make sure the iron you choose is the right one based on the type and texture of your hair and the results you want to achieve in the end.

Step 3: Use a heat protectant in your hair

Even if your hair is healthy, it needs a protectant so that the heat doesn’t damage it. These products can be found just about anywhere and are usually either spray-on treatments or serums. Simply follow the directions on the package and apply it every time you use your curling iron on your hair. Otherwise, your hair won’t look as good when you’re done and it could possibly damage the hair strands, especially if you use the iron regularly.

Step 4: Start by using the lowest temperature on your curling iron

While many curling irons can get up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit without any problem, it’s still recommended that you start out with a much lower temperature. This is especially important if this is your first time using this type of tool. You should definitely start with a temperature of under 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and you can increase the temperature once you see how well your hair does with the lower temperatures. If your curling iron only has one temperature, make sure you use lots of heat protectant on your hair before using it.

Step 5: Use hair clips and section your hair into different sections

You’ll want to do one section at a time, using small amounts of hair. If you put too much hair on the barrel at a time, the heat might not go all the way through. You can change the position of the clip as you work with each section, but working with one section at a time is much easier.

Step 6: Use your curling iron the right way

While you can hold a curling iron in numerous ways, the pros recommend that you hold it vertically with the narrowest end (usually the tip) pointing toward the ground. Vertical holds usually result in looser curls, so if volume at the roots of your hair is what you want instead, you can go ahead and hold the curling iron horizontally.

Step 7: Be careful where you put the clamp of the iron

Many people clamp the hair right at the tips, but when you do this, it’s a lot easier to see a clamp mark on your curls when you’re done. To take care of this problem and prevent it from happening, close the clamp near where the roots are instead. It may take some practice at first, but it’s pretty easy once you get used to it.

Another thing you should try to avoid is tugging at the curls. Hold the curling iron on the curl for five to eight seconds and no longer. Afterward, you can hold the curl in your hand for roughly three to five seconds so that it has time to cool off. Also, don’t pull the iron out quickly and let the curls fall because your curls may lose their shape quickly. Not tugging at the curls is crucial, and so is not keeping the curling iron on your hair for too long.

If you want to brush your hair, make sure the hair is completely cool before doing so. If you use a brush made specifically for curly hair, it’s a lot easier to make sure it is brushed correctly. Once you brush your hair, you can use a little hairspray to keep those curls even longer.

Curling Iron Use Precautions

Curling irons are great hair-care tools, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be dangerous to use. These are heated styling tools that you plug into the wall, so there are a lot of ways they can be dangerous to the user. If you want to make extra-sure your iron works properly and doesn’t put you in harm’s way, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Always buy the iron from a reputable store, and always follow the manufacturer’s directions to the letter.
  • Make sure you register the iron online with the manufacturer. This way, it’s not only easier to return the product if you need to, but you’ll be notified if there’s ever a recall or something else happens that’s important for you to know.
  • Make sure you regularly check the socket and the plug for anything that could be harmful. This includes burn marks, a crackling sound, or if they are too hot to touch.
  • When you’re done using your curling iron, always unplug it and let it cool on some type of heat-resistant surface.
  • Never use your curling iron anywhere near water – even a tiny bit of water.
  • If the iron does fall into some water, don’t reach for it. Instead, immediately unplug it from the wall then remove it from the water.
  • Never let the cord or plug get wet, and keep them both far away from any heated surface.
  • Never leave the iron on and unattended when you’re not using it.

Most of these tips are common sense, but they’re still very important to follow. The most important thing you need to do with a curling iron is to read the directions and follow them exactly as they are printed. If you ever think there’s an electrical problem with your iron, it’s best to just throw it out and buy another one. You simply can’t take a chance with something this potentially dangerous.

That being said, curling irons are made very safe these days, and many of them even have an automatic shut-off feature that turns the iron off after a certain length of time. Nevertheless, if you own one of these tools you’ll need to be very careful with it every time you use it.

Curling Iron Damage to the Hair

As much as we like to think otherwise, and regardless of the precautions we take, curling irons can do a lot of damage to the hair. The intense heat is one reason this happens, and as mentioned earlier, you should never start out with a super-high heat. In fact, here are some recommendations you should keep in mind when curling your hair with a curling iron:

  • If your hair is fine or chemically treated, you should use heat that is no higher than 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If your hair is healthy and medium in length, you can use heat between 300 degrees and 380 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If your hair is coarse, thick, or curly, you can use heat from 350 degrees to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Just because your iron gets up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t mean you should use that temperature every time you curl your hair. In fact, unless your hair is thick, curly, or coarse, you should never get up to that temperature because it is just unhealthy for the hair strands.

Just what can curling irons do to your hair? For one thing, they often remove moisture from the hair, causing dry and damaged ends, split ends, and hair that is hay-like and “crispy.” This is why people who tend to have naturally dry hair often choose the tourmaline curling irons, because these irons emit negative ions to get the hair soft, shiny, and very smooth.

Again, never even think about curling your hair without using some type of heat protectant. There are plenty of them to choose from!

How to Reduce Damage to the Hair with Curling Irons

If you use curling irons regularly, you may start to notice that your hair is changing – and not in a good way! To reduce the damage that these heated tools can cause on your hair, here are some tips to follow that allow you to protect your hair and reduce the chances of serious damage:

  • Always use a heat protectant. We know, you’re tired of hearing this, but it really is a very important rule to follow. Heat protectants are like sunscreens because they protect your hair, keep it nice and healthy, and will even help your hair color last a lot longer.
  • Yet another repeater: don’t set the temperature of your iron too high. It can fry your hair and make it so damaged you’ll have to wait a long time before using your curling iron again.
  • Use the “one and done” rule. When you’re working on a section of hair, don’t keep running the curling iron over and over the same section. Use the iron once over that piece of hair, then move onto the next piece.
  • Don’t use curling irons too often. It’s best not to use them every day, and many experts recommend only using them two to three days per week. This is especially important if you use other heated tools such as blow dryers and rollers on a weekly basis.
  • Use a hair mask regularly. Hair masks are great for putting back the moisture that many heated hair tools take away. If you use them once or twice a week, your hair should stay good and hydrated.

It’s good to remember that even under the best of circumstances, curling irons can damage your hair. That being said, you can greatly reduce those damages or avoid them altogether simply by following the simple rules mentioned above. Taking good care of your hair – with regular shampooing and conditioning, plus a weekly deep conditioning – is one of the best ways to reduce the damages that can occur when you curl your hair.

The closer you stick to these rules, the more likely you can use your curling iron without any serious damage to your hair. It takes a little time to remember all of these things, but it is well worth it in the end.

What to Do After Being Scalded by a Curling Iron

Unfortunately, regardless of how careful you are when using your curling iron, accidents do happen. One of the most-common injuries with curling irons is a burn to the neck, and it can be quite painful. In fact, you can get either a first-degree burn, which is a burn to the top layer of skin and which usually causes pain and redness; or a second-degree burn, which burns the two upper layers of skin and can cause blistering in addition to redness. Both can hurt quite a bit.

The good news is that for the most part, you can treat this injury at home, and it should only take a few weeks for the burn to disappear completely. In the meantime, here are some things you can do to make the skin feel a lot better:

  • Take a cool, wet compress and put it on the affected area. If the burn is on your hand or wrist, run it under cool (not cold) water. Do not put ice on the burn.
  • After the burn has cooled down some, apply a moisturizing lotion so the area doesn’t dry out. This also helps to relieve pain.
  • If you get blisters, never break them. These blisters protect the area from getting infected. If they accidentally break, clean the area with water, then apply some type of antibiotic ointment.
  • Take some sterile gauze – not cotton – and cover the burn loosely. Don’t put any pressure on the burn area.

Even after the burn is healed, continue to apply your moisturizer so the skin feels and looks better. You may also consider using sunscreen on the area to protect the skin, which is often sensitive and tender by this point.

How to Buy a Good Curling Iron

We’ve already talked about the designs, types, and sizes of curling irons, and we’ve talked about the temperatures you should stick with according to your hair type. In addition to these things, if you’re in the market for a good high-quality curling iron, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself first:

  1. What do you want your hair to look like when you’re done? Do you want tiny spiral-shaped curls or large, loose curls? Or do you want something in between curls and waves? Once you answer this question, it’ll be easier to determine which curling iron to buy.
  2. What is the thickness of your hair like? Is it super-thick, super-thin, or somewhere in between? Always remember that the thicker your hair is, the higher the temperature can be on your curling iron. You’ll want to look for an iron with multiple temperature settings to make it easy on yourself.
  3. Do you want a standard iron or a professional brand? You can purchase either of these types, but just keep in mind that professional irons can cost a lot of money and that consumer irons can be almost as good. In the end, of course, the choice is up to you.
  4. What is the texture of your hair like? Is it baby-fine or coarse and thick? Always use curling irons with lower temperatures for thinner hair and higher temperatures for thicker hair.
  5. What is your budget for this item? Unfortunately, most of us have a budget we have to stick to when researching curling irons. But if you do your due diligence, you can usually find one that’s perfect at a price you can afford.

By now, you should have at least an idea of what type of curling iron is right for you. Let’s face it, there are so many irons available these days that it’s almost as if there’s one out there with your name on it. To be sure, curling irons can feel like they’re personalized to meet your specific needs, and in a way, they are! By considering the type of hair you have, the results you’re expecting, and how much you have available to spend on the iron, it should be easier than you thought to get one that suits your fancy.

Curling irons are a necessity for anyone’s arsenal of hair-care accessories, and since most of them are now well-built and reasonably priced, you shouldn’t have any problems finding one you love.

Curling Iron Cleaning and Maintenance

It’s no surprise that curling irons need regular cleaning. After all, they are usually full of gunk from heat protectants, leave-in conditioners, and other items, and sometimes this gunk can be quite thick and difficult to remove. Nevertheless, there are several ways you can clean your curling iron, but the first thing you’ll need to do is unplug your iron and make sure it is completely cool before you get started. Afterward, you can use one of the following methods to get it nice and clean once again:

First, you can use either nail polish remover or pure acetone. To start, saturate a clean towel or cotton pad with the acetone, then rub it all over the barrel. Make sure the towel or cotton isn’t so wet that the acetone seeps into the cracks and crevices, where it might ruin the internal components of the iron. When you’re done, take a clean dry towel and wipe the excess gunk off before using it again.

A second option is to use baking soda. To do this, simply make a solution of two parts baking soda and four parts water. Take a clean cloth and rub the mixture onto the barrel of the curling iron. If you have extra-tough stains, use a fine-toothed toothbrush to get them out. Next, use either a clean towel or paper towels to wash off the baking soda mixture, and it should be clean. NOTE: Never leave the baking soda on the iron for too long or it could ruin the ceramic or titanium materials.

Third, you can use a professional cleaner, such as Goo Gone or even an oven cleaner. Just prepare the cleaner according to the directions, then use it to wipe or scrub the stains off of the iron, using a cleaning cloth in the process. Once it’s as clean as you want it to be, use a damp cloth to remove any excess traces of the cleaning agent. You’ll want to use several towels for this method because these types of cleaning products can be messy. Both of these products are excellent in removing hairspray and other gunk off of your curling iron.

As far as maintenance goes, cleaning your curling iron regularly is important. Just how often is “regularly”? If you use your iron a lot, you should go ahead and clean it once or twice a month. This allows the barrel to remain fairly clean and not have too much gunk built up the next time you go to clean it. If you only use your iron a few times a month, you can just clean it as needed. It won’t be hard to tell when you need to clean your curling iron. It will look slimy or you’ll start to notice gunk building up, and you’ll want to clean that as soon as possible so it doesn’t become more difficult later on.

The more often you clean your curling iron, the longer it will last. Since the process takes only a few minutes and is very simple, you won’t have any excuse for not cleaning it regularly so that you can keep it much longer.


Other Recommended Reading

1.Essential Hairdressing Tools: Hair Dryer Knowledge Guide

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