Straight Story: Everything You Need to Know About Flat Irons

model with straight flat ironed hair

image: Imaxtee

Without going through the history of straight hair, suffice it to say it’s been an enviable style since the original days of flower power and free love. Women everywhere, especially those with natural curl and bounce, long to have beautifully glossy, pin-straight tresses — and they’ll do just about everything they can think of to achieve it. It’s true that before flat irons came to market, women had mothers and best friends fan their hair out on the ironing board and straighten it with a clothing iron. Thankfully those days are long gone. Chances are you’re on your third or fourth lifetime flat iron that’s made specifically for hair. But are you sure you have the best one you can get your hands on? The one that makes your locks glossy and smooth? There’s a huge variety out there and between terms you’ve never heard of before like titanium, infrared heating, ionic and nano, it’s hard to be sure. That’s why we’ve put together a little dossier for you that explains the vocab and lets you know exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to having an iron that does its job!

Your Hair Type, Your Temperature

Did you know that different types and thicknesses of hair should be styled at different temps to mitigate long term damage? Now, you do! If you’ve got super thick and/or curly hair, you should be using an iron set at between 380 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Medium-straight hair needs to be between 340 and 360. For fine and thin hair, you shouldn’t go above 350. What does this mean for buying a flat iron? Definitely get one with adjustable heat settings. 

How Hot Is Too Hot When It Comes to Flat Irons? ]

Plate Size

Conventional wisdom dictates the longer your hair is the wider the plates on your iron should be. But unless you’ve got very long hair that you intend to keep long for some time, the average 1-inch plates will do ya. The reason being that plates made out of quality materials will do the job quickly, regardless of hair length, and the skinnier plates allow you to get closer to your roots for all-over straightening.

It’s All About Ions

Here’s your science lesson for the week: Ions are particles in the air that can carry a positive or a negative charge. When it comes to hair, positive ions (in the air) and on your tresses add up to damage, dryness and frizz. Traditional aluminum and plastic heat elements and plates contribute to the positive ions that cause the damage. But certain elements cancel out the positive ions with negative ones. Cool, huh? What are those elements? Tourmaline, titantium and ceramic. That’s why you see those words associated with higher-end flat irons and advertised even with lower-cost versions. They really do make a big difference in the time it takes to iron your hair, as well as the shininess of your locks after the job is done.

On Guard!

When you see the word “nano” and “infrared” be on guard. Nano just means “tiny.” So if an iron has “nano ceramic technology” that means there are only tiny particles of ceramic involved. Not good. You want as much of the aforementioned materials as possible. Infrared is actually the description of the type of heating ceramic provides. If an iron is “infrared” it includes ceramic, but if the label doesn’t say as much, the ceramic levels are low. Tourmaline, on the other hand, is a semi-precious stone that’s ground up and included in the plates at “nano” levels. And Titanium is a coating on the plates, not what they’re made from.

Bottom Line: You should be looking to spend about $100 on a flat iron that includes adjustable heat settings, is made with ceramic, titanium or tourmaline, and is about 1-inch wide. If you’re hesitant to spend that much, ask yourself if you’ve ever dropped that on one salon visit? A good flat iron will be used over and over for years.

[ Next: Beyond Straightening: How to Use Your Flat Iron to Create Any Kind of Hair Look ]