Flat Iron

Finding the best straightening iron for your needs

Flat irons, also called straightening irons or simply straighteners, aren't just for women with curly hair who want to make it straight. Even naturally straight hair can benefit from a quick once-over with a flat iron. That's because even so-called "straight" hair has a tendency to bend and flip as the result of hydrogen bonds. Flat ironing breaks down these bonds, keeping hair from curling. Wetting hair will reactivate the bonds, making hair curly again.

Flat ironing can damage the hair, but it is safer than chemical straightening methods -- not to mention cheaper! Still, to ensure you get the result you want, and to prevent undo harm to your hair, you'll need to select the right flat iron for your hair type. You'll also need to learn proper flat ironing technique.

Finding the right straightening iron

Most hairstylists recommend using a ceramic flat iron, as ceramic plates are least damaging to the hair.

For thick hair, you'll need wider plates -- about 2 or 3 inches. You'll also want higher temperatures -- above 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

For normal hair, temperatures between 150 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit are generally sufficient, as are plates of 1 to 2 inches in width. However, if you have very long hair, you may want wider plates to straighten hair faster.

Thin hair is particular delicate, so you'll want to keep temperatures as low as possible. However, keeping the iron hot enough to straighten hair in one pass will keep you from overprocessing the hair, so aim for a balance. Using thin plates, 1 or 1.5 inches, will provide greater control.

If your thin hair is short or already fairly straight, you might consider using a mini flat iron, which is usually less than 6 inches long, with ½- to ¾-inch-wide plates. Although designed for travel, these tiny straighteners work well on short, thin hair without overheating or overprocessing it.

Flat irons range in price from $20 to well over $200, so once you've identified the thickness and temperature you need, you still have a lot of choice. Flat iron reviews can help you narrow down your choices to those that offer the most value for the money.

Straightening hair properly

Never straighten wet hair -- blow it dry first. If your hair is really curly, you may want to begin straightening it with the hair dryer and a brush.

For best results, work in sections, and use a protective serum or hairspray before straightening to keep the heat from damaging your hair. Start at the root, and pull the straightener through the hair in one smooth motion. Stopping can burn hair and create uneven texture.

Use a light finishing product to seal and polish hair for a sleek, shiny finish.