Hair straightening has been popular since the 19th century, when the first hair irons and chemical hair relaxers were invented. While the basic technology hasn’t changed much, the quality of materials and construction has become much better and safer. Most people use a hair straightener (aka a ‘flat iron’), although some still use hot combs.
The cost of a hair straightener today ranges from as little as $15 all the way up to thousands of dollars. Generally the price difference will come down to the technology and temperature settings you want. Your needs will depend on your hair type, so let’s look at the different technology types (the plates) and temperature settings, and what’s right for each hair type.
Hair straightener guide by plate type
How they work: Ceramic plates are the most common type of hair straightener. Ceramic plates are unlikely to damage your hair for three reasons:
- They distribute heat evenly throughout the plate and radiate that heat into the inner hair shaft.
- They use less heat, but you can still straighten your hair in a short amount of time.
- They are smooth plates, so they do not cause resistance on your hair as you are straightening it.
Be sure to choose ceramic plates, and don’t fall for ceramic-plated plates that do not use the same technology or the same even heat distribution for efficient straightening.
Hair type: Most hair types, including normal, dry or fine. Unlikely to damage hair.
How they work: Titanium plates maintain a consistent level of heat, so you can straighten your hair quickly and effectively. This minimises how much the heat can damage your hair. Titanium plates also heat up faster than other types of plates and they are hard-wearing and long-lasting.
Hair type: Damaged or normal hair. Unlikely to damage hair.
Ionic Tourmaline Plates
How they work: Ionic tourmaline plates create negative ions to neutralise the positive ionic charge in your unruly hair, cutting out static electricity and drying the hair slightly. This helps your hair ‘calm down’ and gives it a smooth, shiny look, eliminating those annoying frizzies. People with damaged or extremely curly hair should consider ionic plates. Believe it or not, those with straight hair actually love this type of straightener because they make your hair look healthier by closing the cuticle of the hair shaft.
Hair type: Damaged or extremely curly hair, and also straight hair. Unlikely to damage hair; can dry hair out a little if used for too long in one hit.
How they work: Infrared plates use gentle heating. This makes hair look smooth without causing damage from intense heat.
Hair type: Damaged hair. Unlikely to damage hair.
Aluminium / Alloy / Glass Plates
How they work: Aluminium and alloy plates are an old style of hair straightener that conducts heat directly onto the hair shaft itself. This is much more damaging than other heating methods and it leads to long-term damage because it makes the hair dry and brittle. They take a long time to heat up and usually do not heat evenly, so there are hot spots on the straightener plate that will burn your hair. The plates are also commonly covered in coloured paint, which can chip or peel from the heat. This then snags in your hair and can pull hair out or break hairs, leaving them feeling and looking unhealthy.
If you’re using an old school hair straightener of this type, you’ll need to do some extensive hair care, using moisturising shampoo and conditioner, and also moisturising styling products. We recommend that you save up for a nicer model – your hair will thank you for it.
Hair type: Nobody’s hair is designed for this type of heating. Use with caution. Combine with moisturising hair products. Likely to cause long-term damage.
Size of straightener plate
While you’re thinking about the type of plate you need, here’s a practical tip: Take a look at the size of the straightener plate itself.
It basically comes down to how long your hair is, and how much of it there is. If you have long, thick hair, obviously your arms are going to get tired after a while if you’re trying to straighten your hair with a teeny tiny travel hair straightener. But if you have thin hair, you could probably get away with using a smaller model because you have less work to do.
Here’s our guide to the size of plate for your hair type and hair length:
|Hair type||Thick, coarse, or curly hair||Normal, medium, or wavy hair||Damaged, thin or fine hair|
|Size of straightener plate||Short hair (above shoulders): 2.5 – 4cm wide plate||Short hair (above shoulders): 1 – 3cm wide plate||Any width of plate|
|Medium hair (shoulder length): 2.5 – 5cm wide plate||Medium hair (shoulder length): 2.5 – 4cm wide plate|
|Long hair (below shoulders): 4 – 5cm wide plate||Long hair (below shoulders): 3 – 5cm wide plate|
Temperature guide for hair types
So, we’ve covered what type of plate you should be using for your hair type, and therefore what hair straightener to look for. Now, what temperature do you set it at?
Many hair straighteners allow you to set the temperature on your hair straightener at low, medium or high. Some just have a medium pre-set temperature and you simply turn the straightener on and off.
Here’s our guide to the temperature you should choose for your hair type:
- Thick, coarse, or curly hair: 190 – 210⁰C (380 – 410⁰F)
- Normal, medium, or wavy hair: 180 – 190⁰C (360 – 380⁰F)
- Damaged, thin or fine hair: <180⁰C (<360⁰F)
As you can see, those with thick or extremely curly hair will want to look for a straightener that allows you to choose higher temperature settings. Otherwise, you’ll spend longer trying to straighten your hair at a low heat, and that extra time spent under heat pressure is also damaging for your hair. Likewise, those with thin or fine hair will also need to set the temperature – at a low setting. Those with normal waves are fairly safe with your average, medium-heat straightener.
Can I use a straightener on wet hair?
Sometimes you just don’t have time to completely dry your hair and then straighten it. It can be really tempting to try to skip a step and use the heat of a straightener to dry and straighten at the same time. Unfortunately, the vast majority of straighteners are just not meant to be used on wet or damp hair. In fact, doing so is a great way to seriously frizz and damage your hair.
There are some ‘wet to dry’ models on the market, and while they can be quite good it’s still not advisable to straighten damp hair where avoidable. These are usually made of ceramic plates and straighten using steam.