What's the difference between ceramic/tourmaline, titanium or wet/dry flat irons?
For years, flat irons have been taming frizzy tresses, smoothing out waves and leaving even the most curly, coarse hair pin straight. Everyone isn't looking for ultra-straight locks, which is why hundreds of flat irons, also known as hair straighteners, are available, and they run the gamut from a drugstore steal to a major investment (think $18 to $200-plus).
A flat iron is composed of two flat, heated plates that hinge together to smooth and straighten unruly hairs. As simple as it sounds, a slew of factors can impact the effectiveness -- and price -- of a flat iron. Plates made of ceramic and tourmaline, a durable semi-precious stone, get the most attention and are considered by many to be the best. Titanium is another popular option; it heats up as well as ceramic, distributing the heat evenly along the plates, according to Misikko.com, a shopping site dedicated to styling tools and beauty products. Most ceramic irons available to consumers are actually ceramic-plated metal; this reduces the price and strengthens the plates.
While the material certainly is important, impressive-sounding terms like "nanotechnology," "ionic" and "far-infrared heat," don't mean as much and can create confusion. Here's a brief primer:
Ionic: The iron produces negatively charged atoms, also known as negative ions, which counteract the positive ions in your hair, creating a smooth, frizz-free appearance.
Far-infrared heat: It's a light at the far end of the infrared spectrum that is invisible to the eye. It heats the hair from the inside out and protects the cuticle (the outermost layer of hair) from excessive damage.
Tourmaline: It's a semiprecious gemstone that is often finely ground and infused into flat-iron plates. Like ceramic, it produces negative ions and creates smooth, shiny hair. According to Folica.com, there is no difference in performance between ceramic and tourmaline flat irons, although many contain both materials.
Nanotechnology: This refers to nanosilver, which inhibits bacterial growth. Experts say this is especially desirable for professional hairdressers or those who share styling tools. Editors at Misikko.com warn, however, that nanotechnology can be a misleading term. It means that tiny particles of a substance are used. While nanosilver, nanotourmaline and nanotitanium are good features, nanoceramic means that only small amounts of ceramic are used, which is not desirable.
Beauty expert Paula Begoun warns not to buy into these features too much, as all heated styling tools will damage hair, no matter how much technology is involved. Almost all flat irons must be used on dry hair in its natural state, though some both dry and straighten simultaneously (with varying effectiveness); this is the chief differentiator among the best reviewed irons we've included in this review. Most of the other factors involved in choosing the right iron come down to personal preference, hair type and style. Safety considerations are important, but features like an auto-off function and adjustable temperature settings aren't a high priority for everyone.
We found professional comparative reviews of flat irons lacking -- often consumers at sites like Amazon.com, MakeupAlley.com, Folica.com and Ulta.com make more comparisons among competing products than the pros. That being said, professional reviews can still provide some helpful insights, and that's exactly the kind of information that ConsumerReports.org, Good Housekeeping, Allure magazine, InStyle magazine, Daily Candy, RealBeauty.com, Oprah.com, About.com and CosmeticsCop.com provide.