Sorting out the hype on hair dryers
Hair stylists are only as good as their tools, and a blow dryer is an essential tool for nearly any hairstyle. Today's hair dryers offer a bounty of options, all promising soft, shiny, healthy hair. In fact, it's hard to find a hair dryer that doesn't tout its ceramic, ionic or tourmaline technology. But what do these features actually do, and do you need them? Here's a quick crash course in the lingo:
- Ceramic is a composite material usually made of clay -- just like the tiles on a bathroom floor. It can be used on the body of a hair dryer, the heating element, or other internal parts. This material heats up quickly and evenly across its surface and gives off infrared light, which penetrates the hair shaft to heat and dry it gently without damaging shine.
- Ionic technology produces negatively charged ions -- that is, atoms with an extra electron or two -- which help break up water droplets into smaller droplets. This speeds up drying and can also help tame frizz, as the tinier water droplets can more easily penetrate the outer layer of the hair shaft, leaving it smoother.
- Tourmaline is a naturally occurring, semi-precious mineral that produces negative ions when heated. Crushing tourmaline into a powder and coating the dryer's components with it boosts its ionic output -- but it also boosts the price, since tourmaline is a rare and pricey stone. Also, like ceramic, tourmaline produces infrared light for a gentler heat, so tourmaline dryers combine the benefits of ceramic and ionic technology.
As for other hair dryer features, only a few are really important. Wattage matters less than you might think; celebrity stylist Ryan Richman says in a Huffington Post interview that any dryer between 1,300 and 1,875 watts should be fine for home use, and all our recommended dryers are in that range. However, separate controls for speed and heat are important if you want to be able to create a variety of styles, and a cool-shot button is useful for setting a style and preserving shine. As for weight and noise level, lighter and quieter is obviously better, but how much they matter is a question of personal taste.
In our research, we found that salon hair dryers—full-featured models with a price tag of $100 or more—generally get the strongest recommendations from both professionals and home users. However, it's also possible to find cheap hair dryers that include all the essential features and do a perfectly adequate job; their biggest weakness is durability. For travel, we look at compact hair dryers that feature folding handles to save suitcase space and dual voltage for international use.
Finding the best hair dryers
To choose the best hair dryers, we focused mainly on how quickly each dryer works and how good it leaves hair looking when it's done. We also considered ease of use, weight, noise level, and durability. We looked at how hair dryers performed in professional comparison tests at Good Housekeeping, recommendations from professional stylists in fashion magazines like InStyle and Allure, and reviews from ordinary home users on sites like Amazon.com, Folica.com, and TotalBeauty.com.