The 10 Best Hair Straighteners
10. BaByliss Pro Porcelain
9. Hai Classic Convertible
8. TurboIon Rbb Croc
7. Conair Infiniti Pro
6. Karmin G3
5. Rusk Professional
4. Bio Ionic Onepass
3. GVP Digital
2. HSI Glider
1. BaBylissPro Nano
It's All in the Materials
Flat irons may get the kinks out of your hair, but trying to distinguish among them -- to attempt an intelligent purchase decision -- can threaten to tangle your mind! A quick review of packaging reveals numerous heady claims -- and a long list of materials and techniques. You'll find the terms ceramic, tourmaline, and ceramic tourmaline. You'll come across references to ionic, infrared, and nano technology. What does it all mean, and why does any of it matter? Below is an attempt at explanation, along with some common-sense cautions.
The term ceramic refers to plate material. According to product manufacturers, ceramic plates distribute heat more evenly. Therefore, even at higher temperatures, so they say, a ceramic flat iron will be kinder to the hair than, for instance a stainless steel tool. Some industry professionals insist ceramic plates heat the hair "from the inside." Other stylists claim ceramic plates offer a more intense heating experience and are therefore more likely to damage hair. Whose advice you'll accept depends upon your inclination.
Here's the rub: Some lower-priced irons offer a ceramic coating over metal plates. You'll get some of the benefits of ceramic material when the product is new. But over time, the coating can chip off which can lead to uneven heat distribution. Irons that are made of solid ceramic are more costly but both the product and the even-heat benefits will last longer.
Titanium became a preferred material in a range of consumer products - including eyeglass frames -- in the 1980s and 1990s. In flat irons, according to manufacturers, titanium plate coating allows the plates to pass through the hair more smoothly. This helps cut down on frizz and reduce damage, so the claim goes. Titanium plates are also lightweight, heat quickly and retain heat well, making them great for traveling...or just taking to work!
Tourmaline -- yep, the gemstone, ground for industrial use -- helps make the plates of a flat iron smoother, discouraging snags and therefore, damage. Some claim tourmaline also helps the iron maintain heat longer. Tourmaline is typically used in combination with ceramic material. Most of all, tourmaline generates negative ions which help keep moisture in the hair. It also allows for greater shine. Tourmaline, therefore, leaves your hair healthier -- and shinier than other materials.
Ionic packaging claims may be a bit misleading here. There is no specific "technology" that is "ionic." It's just that tourmaline as a material produces negative ions. So if your plates are coated with tourmaline, you'll get the positive benefit of those ions, namely less frizz and "poufiness."
Infrared technology allows heat to penetrate the cortex of the hair, according to manufacturer claims, without negatively affecting hair's structure. Infrared rays also allow the cuticle to lay more flat. It all adds up to less frizz and less damage.
According to flat iron product materials, nanotechnology amounts to creating billions of particles from a single particle. This helps improve the performance and functionality of any material. In flat irons, nano technology may be applied to any number of coatings. Sometimes, even silver is added to another coating, like ceramic, to buttress performance and create more shine in the hair.
So there you have it. An exhaustive (whew!) review of materials and technologies.
Hair-Altering Implements: Centuries of Conceit
Even ancient Egyptian ladies heated flat iron plates over a fire to straighten their tresses. But it was not until the 19th century that Europeans devised instruments to alter their natural hair texture. Sometime in the 1870s, Frenchman Marcel Grateau -- working in the slums of Paris-- crafted a pair of hinged rods. Heating them and applying them to hair acted to alter its native look. Marcel's iron could be used not only to straighten but also to crimp the hair. Believe it or not, Marcel's early clients were prostitutes. All the same, the craze for the marcelled look went into overdrive and lasted nearly 50 years!
The next advance emerged from the very top of society when, about 40 years later, an Englishwoman named Lady Jennifer Bell Schofield developed her own tool, quite similar in design to that of Grateau. The plates were attached to longer handles, the better to keep the hot metal of the irons away from the face. All the same, both Grateau's and Schofield's implements often led to injury -- burns on the scalp, face, neck, -- as well as the singeing of the hair.
Some historians report when you entered a middle-class English home in the 1920s, the smell of burned hair was an unfortunate reality. One of the chief drawbacks of these early tools was lack of temperature control. Users could estimate how long to leave the iron in the fire, but no one could ever be sure of its actual temperature.
Fast-forward to the 1950s when women in the U.S. literally used a clothes pressing iron to straighten their hair on an ironing board. Awkward, yes -- and of course, dangerous. One false move and burns to the ears, face, hands or neck could result.
Today's flat irons are not only more convenient, but safer than the early tools. Temperature control is a major improvement. In addition, manufacturers are using materials that are kinder to hair than exposed metal.
Keeping Tresses Healthy
Even though today's high-tech flat irons offer a lot more in the way of safety and efficacy than their primitive forebears, let's face it. You're still applying hundreds of degrees of heat directly to your hair. To keep your tresses healthy, look toward these common-sense safety rules:
Adjust the heat to suit your hair type. Ideally, you'll choose an iron with temperature-specific heating controls. But even if your iron includes only a range of settings from very low to very high, you still need to consider how best to keep your hair from becoming damaged.
Straightening hair amounts to breaking down the hydrogen bonds that result in your natural curls or waves. The curlier the hair, the stronger the bonds. The stronger the bonds, the more heat you'll need.
The general guideline is that if you have fine hair, you should use lower temps. Coarser hair typically requires higher heat to get and keep strands straight.
Minimize the number of passes. This goes hand-in-hand with temperature selection. If you choose the right amount of heat, you won't need to go over the hair more than a few times to get it straight. Each time you pass the flat iron over a section, you run the risk of heightening damage.
Keep the number of uses per week to a minimum. Fond though you may be of straight hair, experts recommend using a flat iron no more than once or twice a week. More frequent use than that can lead to serious, and sometimes, permanent damage to your strands.
Use a heat protectant. Store shelves abound with products that are intended to protect your hair from heat. It's wise to use some form of protectant each time you blow-dry or flat-iron.
Deep condition, especially if you use heat styling tools regularly. How often depends on the original texture and condition of your hair.