Flat Iron Frenzy

What to Look for When Purchasing a Flat Iron 

Sometimes called straighteners, flat irons are highly versatile hair styling tools that are a staple in almost every beauty arsenal. They can help smooth out almost any texture of hair including ultra-coarse or frizzy or can help add bend, wave or curl to otherwise straight strands. The trick is to find the right tool or tools for your specific needs without breaking the proverbial bank.

To help find the right model for your needs, here are some of the features to consider.

The Technology

Most flat irons use highly efficient ceramic heaters that work in the far infrared spectrum to produce heat. They naturally create negatively charged ions or anions, which heat the hair from the inside out and seal in moisture by closing the cuticle. Running a flat iron through sections of dry hair with slight tension will, therefore, produce smooth, silky and frizz-less hairstyles.

Although many marketing terms have been associated with ceramic heaters, each with slight variations in the makeup of the ceramic compound, but they all primarily work the same way. There can, however, be a difference in the construction of the heaters that can affect the longevity of the tool. Better irons will have a sturdy ceramic component that spans the entire length of the plates (left) versus a flimsy paper ceramic element (right).  Higher quality heaters produce more even heat and tend to last longer than irons with less expensive heaters. Also, the better the quality of the heater, usually the pricier the iron.

The Plates

The plates on flat irons, or the parts that actually touch the hair, are usually ceramic coated metal. This added ceramic coating works with the ceramic heater to create negative ions that help the iron glide through hair without any friction or static. The plates alone cannot produce the same about of anions, so be sure your “ceramic iron” actually has a ceramic heater as well as ceramic coated plates.

Better flat irons also have plates that are cushioned, which helps to keep even tension while smoothing the iron over strands. These ceramic plates come in a variety of widths from half-inch to two inches, each with a specific use. However, most plates are around 4 inches long. The size of the iron depends on the plate width, so a one-inch flat iron has plates that are one-inch wide.

Choosing a Size

Smaller irons like half-inch models are used for short hair, to add tight curl or to get close to difficult hairlines. Medium or one-inch irons are the most versatile and work for most needs while two-inch irons are great for dealing with long or super thick hair. If you are not sure which size to buy, the one-inch or medium iron is the most versatile. 

Voltage & Traveling

In the United States, power outlets are 120-volt while in many other parts of the world they are 240-volt. Some appliances are manufactured with dual voltage, meaning that you can switch between 120 and 240. Having a dual voltage appliance eliminates the need for a power converter when you travel, but for single voltage appliances, you’ll need both the power converter and the plug adaptor.

Heat Settings / Ready indicator

It’s advised to look for a flat iron with variable heat settings, as different hair types and conditions need different amounts of heat. An iron that ranges with settings from 140 to 400 Fahrenheit allows for safe styling for highly processed hair at the lower setting yet will smooth easily through coarse hair using the higher heat settings. Anything that heats beyond 400 degrees is designed for super coarse or difficult hair, or for use with professional straightening treatments. Either avoid these higher heat settings or use with extreme caution.

You also want to look for an iron that heats up quickly and has a fast recovery time when you run the iron through your hair. Most irons have an indicator light that flashes or lights up when the iron has reached the desired temperature. Also, some have an automatic power shut-off that many people find handy.

The Casing, Grip and Overall Balance

Whether you’re a salon pro or a consumer doing your hair at home, you’ll want an iron with a sturdy but lightweight casing and an ergonomic grip. The iron should feel balanced in your hand, and the clamping action should be easy to use but still provide a firm enough grasp on the hair during styling.

The Cord

A sturdy eight or nine-foot long cord will allow the use of the appliance from a greater distance from the power outlet (which is important in a salon) and a swivel feature, although optional, will help keep the cord from tangling.


Most appliances, flat irons included, come with a one-year or two-year manufacturer warranty. However, warranties vary from company to company. It would be a good idea to check into the warranty process and coverage for any appliances that you are considering. Also, inquire about what’s involved with repair the iron after the warranty expires. 

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