Flat iron straighteners are one of the most popular styling tools, alongside curling irons and blow dryers. Most households will have at least one of those tools, and sadly, most people will burn their hair using them incorrectly.
Keratin, the most abundant protein on hair, is not particularly resistant to heat. In fact, even the most thick, coarse hair should never be subjected to more than 350-400F degrees. Weak, sensitised hair should stay under 300F. However, most people will set their straighteners at max temperature because they believe it will give them best results. And all they get is hair damage.
Is Your Hair Heat Damaged?
It is pretty easy to notice when you have fried your hair, even if it hasn’t technically caught fire. You will notice:
- Split ends
- Frizzy hair
- Lost texture, weak curls
- Lack of shine
- Breakage (in some cases hair will snap when touching it with your fingers)
- Hair that is impossible to style
- Hair color doesn’t last
- Hair gets brassy quickly
Does this mean you need to give up your hair straighteners? NO! You just need to use them properly.
Are Flat Irons Bad For Hair?
Flat irons are not necessarily evil. Flat irons can be used to seal treatments on your hair, and to style hair that is otherwise unmanageable. In fact, professional keratin treatments use a flat iron to seal the keratin to the hair shaft.
If you have a lot of hair, a good quality flat iron can help you achieve a variety of hairstyles, while keeping your hair healthy. However, most people choose the cheapest flat iron straightener they can find. And that ends up burning their hair.
Cheap flat irons are bad for your hair.
- They don’t distribute heat properly
- You need several passes to straighten a single section of hair
- They have bad temperature control and can overheat
- The plates lose the coating, and the hair snags and breaks
- It takes forever to style hair, so your hair is subjected to heat damage for longer
It doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on a straightener, but don’t just buy the cheapest one you can find. A professional hair straightener will last you over a decade if you care for it properly. Think of it as an investment on the health of your hair.
How To Choose A Flat Iron Straightener
There are many different flat iron straighteners in the market and they come in a variety of sizes and materials. Some of them also have a variety of temperatures they heat up to.
Choose the right flat iron straightener based on your heat styling habits, your hair quality and your hair length.
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Your Heat Styling Habits
Preventing heat damage when using a hair straightener depends on a lot on your heat styling habits.
If you heat style your hair every single day you will cause heat damage. Even if you use a great heat protectant (which you should, every time) the constant use of heat will weaken your hair.
A good quality hair straightener and a protective hairstyle overnight should keep your style for at least 2 days. If your hair gets dirty or oily easily, use a dry shampoo in between. Washing your hair every day is also not ideal for the health of your hair.
If you absolutely must straighten your hair every day, consider investing in a steam flat iron such as L’Oreal Steampod. It won’t dry your hair and will keep it healthy through frequent styling.
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Heat Tolerance For Hair
Most women are guilty of using a higher heat on their straighteners than their hair can manage without damage. Most people think that the hotter the better and quicker the straightening but that is not true.
Independent research has shown that 365F / 185C is the optimum temperature for heat styling.
Very thick, coarse hair may need to go up to 410F/210C with flat irons but that is the exception and not the rule. Aim for a lower temperature and your hair will not feel dry and damaged. The best hair straighteners for curly hair need a variable temperature control as you may need to adjust depending on your curl pattern and strength.
If you have synthetic hair, such as hair extensions, you should NEVER go above 320F/160C or the synthetic fibers will MELT. And if your hair is bleached, sensitive or very thin, you should try and stick to under 300F/148C. This is why a flat iron that has different temperature settings is a must.
Do not go above 420F/216C or the keratin in your hair will start to melt. And always use a heat protectant spray.
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- Reacts with heat to reduce blow-dry time
- Shields against heat damage
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Plates Size? Depends on How Long Is Your Hair
There are different sized straighteners suitable for different hair lengths and textures. The wider the plates the more hair that can fit in between, and the quicker the styling. So if you have long hair you should go for wider plates.
- Hair above shoulder / Fringe styling : 1/2″ to 1 1/2″ wide
- Shoulder lenght hair: 1″ to 2″ wide
- Long hair below shoulder: 1 1/2″ to 2″
The exception to this is if you intend to use your flat iron to curl your hair. Smaller plates allow you to create more defined curls and waves. Also, small plates are better for detail work, such as fringes or touch ups.
There are also 3inch wide plates flat irons, for very long hair that takes forever to style. But they tend to be more difficult to find and a bit more expensive. Also the reviews are not amazing because they are big and bulky. So unless you have a ton of hair and really need them, you are better off sticking with the 2″ ones.
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Ionic Flat Irons? Yes!
The main reason why hair gets damaged due to heat styling is the loss of moisture. Heat damaged hair is often dry, thirsty hair. This is why heat protectants and hair oils are so important if you flat iron your hair. This is why steam powered flat irons are kinder to hair than regular ones.
But too much humidity causes frizz. After ironing your hair, the hair cuticle should be sealed shut. This prevents humidity from entering your hair, destroying your style and raising the hair cuticle. In short, it prevents frizz.
Positive ions attract water and humidity AFTER styling. This is a bad thing. A plastic or aluminium flat iron straightener generates positive ions. They will make your hair frizz out in no time.
Negative ions, on the other hand, keep your hair smooth. Ceramic, tourmaline and titanium create negative ions and close the hair cuticle. If you want healthy, smooth hair, always invest in a flat iron that produces negative ions.
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Flat Iron Safety
Grip and weight can make all the difference between styling your hair comfortably and getting burnt.
Choose a hair straightener that you can grab comfortably and doesn’t slip. If you have very small hands, choose a smaller plate flat iron or even a travel one, because otherwise you will end up straining your wrist.
Other safety features to look for are swivel cords that won’t snag or knot, and auto-shutoff functionality when not in use.
On Counterfeit Flat Irons
Also, if you are investing in a brand that is likely to suffer from counterfeits, such as ghd, make sure you are getting an authentic flat iron. Counterfeit straighteners are not safe and can damage your hair or your property.
Check that the packaging and logos are correct and have no typos or print errors. Authentic brands invest in premium packaging, and often include a guarantee booklet or a code you can use on their website to test if it’s genuine. Once you get your flat iron, go to the brand website and check the product code.
In my experience, auction and no name sites are most likely to be selling counterfeit hair straighteners. This is because more established marketplaces like Amazon and other retailers can do more to stop fakes. They also have better return policies.
The best way to spot counterfeit straighteners is common sense. If something looks too good to be true (such as a ghd straightener 75% cheaper than the oficial version) it is likely to be a counterfeit. Don’t risk your hair or your health.
Picking Up A Flat Iron: What Are The Plates Made Off?
The plates on a flat iron are in contact with your hair. They must be smooth so the hair glides and doesn’t snag. They must also be able to heat evenly so your hair doesn’t get hot patches.
The best materials for flat irons are:
- Ceramic Tourmaline
- Titanium Tourmaline
Because they fulfil all the requirements above.
They also produce better and quicker results with less heat because the hair glides in between the plates. It doesn’t snag and it gets evenly heated so it keeps the style much quicker.
But it’s not only about the plates. Flat iron plates can have temperature sensors inside! Technologies like the tri-zone technology from ghd use 6 sensors to measure the temperature of the plates. This way the temperature is continuously adjusted to avoid hot or cold spots. The result? Quicker heat styling that won’t damage your hair.
The edges of the plates can be rounded or straight. Beveled edges leave no beds or marks on your hair even if you are less careful or on a hurry.
What about drugstore aluminium flat irons? They don’t have ceramic protection, cause positive irons and frizz and are only good if you don’t use them a lot. If you only use straighteners occasionally, and you invest in a good heat protection spray and conditioner, they are the budget option.
But if you use your straighteners often, ceramic (for lower temperatures) and titanium (for higher temperatures) are worth the investment.
A straightener with pure 100% ceramic plates is the dream, but they don’t exist. Ceramic is too fragile to be used, so what you get is Ceramic reinforced with either Aluminum or Titanium.
Titanium reinforced ceramic hair straighteners are great for thick and coarse hair, because they heat up at higher temperatures.
- 1" ceramic plates infused with keratin micro-conditioners for a healthy shine
- Heat sensor detects excessive heat and adjusts to your hair
- Keratin micro-conditioners leave no oily residue and last the life of the styler
Ceramic tourmaline flat irons offers even more negative ions than titanium, which makes hair extra smooth. They are smooth as glass, and practically friction free. Your hair will glide like it wasn’t there. Even natural hair, which is usually more sensitive to heat styling, will just glide through this kind of plates.
- Packaging May Vary
- NOTE: The power button must be held down for about 3 seconds for it to power on and heat up.
- Digital LCD Temperature Control with adjustable temperature from 240F to 450F
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- Ultra-smooth titanium plates conduct ultra-high heat and resist corrosion
- Ceramic heater instant heat & recovery
- LED temperature settings - up to 450°F
If you need higher temperatures, a Titanium tourmaline flat iron can achieve up to 450F which is enough for at home Keratin treatments.
Getting a great hair flat iron straightener should be an investment. At the end of the day, you are using it regularly to style your hair and look your best. Do your research, read reviews and save for the one that will work for your hair. It doesn’t need to be the most popular hair straightener brand, it just needs to work for you and your hair needs.