In this Report:
Types of hair dryers | Best salon hair dryers | Best cheap hair dryers | Best travel hair dryers | Hair dryer reviews
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 on 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 radiates it evenly across its surface. Dermatologists interviewed by TheSweethome.com say this more even heat is better for your hair, but engineers interviewed in the same article doubt it really makes a difference. They point out that hair dryers don't transfer heat by radiation; they do it with blowing air, so radiant heat shouldn't matter. In any case, nearly all hair dryers these days have ceramic-coated coils, so the word "ceramic" on the package doesn't mean you're getting anything extra.
- Ionic technology produces negatively charged ions – that is, atoms with an extra electron or two. These, in theory, help break up positively charged water droplets into smaller droplets. Stylists claim negative ions speed up drying and can also help tame frizz, as the tinier water droplets are less likely to soak into the hair shaft. However, they say this can actually be a downside if your hair lacks volume. The engineers at TheSweethome.com are skeptical about ionic technology, arguing that the only way it can really control frizz is by reducing static, which you an also do with a smoothing cream. Testers at TheSweethome.com ran the same hair dryer with its ionic feature switched on and off, and they found no difference in performance.
- 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. And, as TheSweethome.com points out, a hair dryer that says "tourmaline" on the box may not contain very much of the gemstone, so there's no guarantee you're getting what you pay for.
So, if ceramic, ionic, and tourmaline technology don't matter very much, what does? Well, for a start, it has to produce enough heat and airflow to dry your tresses quickly. However, you don't need tremendous wattage to get good airflow. According to most experts, any hair dryer with at least 1,800 watts of power can get the job done.
Just because a hair dryer is capable of running hot and fast, however, doesn't mean it always should. Hairstylist Josue Perez says in a Huffington Post interview that high heat is best for thick or coarse hair, while fine or delicate hair needs low heat to avoid damage. It's also important to use low heat when the hair is only slightly damp to avoid over-drying, which can fry your locks. Most hair dryers have at least two heat settings, but not all have separate controls for speed and heat, which are important if you want to be able to create a variety of styles. Experts also recommend a cool-shot button for setting a style and preserving shine.
With the exception of cheap travel dryers, nearly all hair dryers have all these key features. Where they differ is in ease of use. A hair dryer needs to be light enough and comfortable enough to hold up for several minutes at a time while styling, and not so loud that it deafens you. It's also helpful to have buttons that are conveniently placed, so you can find them easily but avoid hitting them accidentally. And little touches like a longer cord and a removable filter add convenience.
Types of hair dryers
Regardless of the technology they use, hair dryers can be grouped into three broad categories, based on their power, features, intended use and price.
Salon hair dryers are the tools the professionals use. This means they have all the features needed to deliver salon-quality results: high wattage, multiple heat and speed settings, ceramic and tourmaline heating units, and ionic technology. Not every home user needs this many bells and whistles, but salon hair dryers have other pluses as well. They're often lighter and quieter than cheaper hair dryers, and they typically have better warranties and service. The downside of these models, of course, is their high price—anywhere from $75 to $300 or more. But when you compare that to the cost of a weekly trip to the salon, it starts to look a lot more reasonable.
Budget-priced hair dryers don't offer the same variety of settings and special features found on salon dryers, but they provide the basics: adjustable heat and airflow, ceramic and ionic technology, and a cold shot button to set a style. They're not as fast or as versatile as salon dryers, but they get the job done. Expect to pay $75 or less.
When you're traveling, every inch of suitcase space and every ounce of weight matters. The ideal hair dryer to take with you is as small and light as possible—ideally with a fold-up handle to fit into an even smaller space. However, there are tradeoffs to consider, as hair dryers this small are liable to be underpowered and somewhat flimsy. Most are relatively inexpensive, however -- our Best Reviewed selection costs around $15.
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 TheSweethome.com and 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.
Best Salon Hair Dryers
The $300 hair dryer that professionals love – and some less pricey alternatives
No salon hair dryer earns more recommendations from beauty professionals than the Harry Josh Pro Tools 2000 Pro Dryer. This 1,875-watt dryer is packed with distinctive features. It includes an extra-wide nozzle, a patented curved handle for extra comfort, a motor that's guaranteed to last 2,000 hours, a dual filtration-system that cuts energy use by as much as 70 percent, and a choice of eight heat, speed, and ion settings. One feature that particularly impresses the editors at Allure magazine is its ability to toggle between ionic drying for sleeker styles and non-ionic drying for more volume. And its cheery mint-green color gives it a unique look that users love.
The Harry Josh Pro Tools 2000 is an editors' pick at Allure magazine and InStyle magazine, and it gets a big thumbs-up from a staffer at Refinery29.com, who says it was "seriously magic" on her long, thick tresses. However, this hair dryer has its detractors as well. TheSweethome.com, which ran the most thorough test of hair dryers we've seen, found that the Harry Josh is a "genuinely nice" dryer with a compact shape and convenient button placement, but "not the superior hair experience that it claims to be." When editor Shannon Palus tested it at home, she found her hair dried no faster and looked no better than with any other hair dryer. And at 1.2 pounds, it was a bit heavier than other hair dryers in this comparison.
Owner reviews for the Harry Josh Pro Tools 2000 are mostly positive, but not uniformly so. At Dermstore.com, where it's primarily sold, it earns an overall rating of close to 5 stars out of 5 from nearly 300 users, many of whom say this dryer has turned styling their hair from a chore into a treat. Reviewers at TotalBeauty.com give it 8.8 stars out of 10, making it the third most popular dryer on the site. Yet at Amazon.com, it receives only a lackluster 3.7 stars --though that's based on feedback from less than 30 users.
Most owners say the dryer is seriously powerful – many go so far as to claim that it literally cut their drying time in half. Many also say it leaves hair looking amazingly smooth, soft, shiny, and healthy, allowing them to cut way down on the use of flatirons and other post-styling aids. However, we also saw multiple complaints that the dryer isn't nearly as durable as you would expect for the price. Problems include flaking finish, damaged handles, and failed motors. Although the hair dryer is covered by a 2-year warranty, the user is responsible for shipping costs. And if the back cover or screen breaks after the warranty is up, there's no way to replace it; you have to shell out another $300 to replace the whole unit.
The biggest drawback of the Harry Josh Pro Tools 2000 is its sky-high price tag. A much more moderately priced option is the (Est. $140). This 2,000-watt hair dryer boasts "nano titanium" technology for even heat distribution. It also has ionic technology, six heat and speed settings, and a removable rear filter for easy cleaning. It comes with more attachments than the Harry Josh – three separate concentrator nozzles, plus a diffuser – and its 4-year warranty is twice as long.
In a 2012 test at Good Housekeeping, the BaByLissPro is the hair dryer consumer testers say they'd be most willing to spend their own money on. Although the dryer is only an average performer in lab tests for drying time and shine, users beg to disagree, saying its powerful airflow dried their hair quickly and left it smooth and shiny. And although it weighs a hefty 1.8 pounds, most owners find it so comfortable to hold that they aren't bothered at all by the weight. One point on which the professional and consumer testers agree is that the dryer stays cool to the touch, so there's no risk of burns to the fingers or the scalp.
Users at Amazon.com and Ulta.com tend to agree with Good Housekeeping's testers. The BaBylissPro Nano Titanium Portofino has more than 600 reviews across both sites, earning overall ratings of 4.5 stars out of 5. Owners say it dries their hair quickly and leaves it sleek, shiny, and frizz-free. A few are bothered by its weight, but most say it's no problem. Complaints about durability are rare, but a few users report that the GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) on the cord grew dangerously hot during drying and even started to smoke – a problem that didn't come up in Good Housekeeping's tests.
If you're looking for something a bit lighter in weight, we also saw solid reviews for the (Est. $145), which weighs just 1.1 pounds. This Italian-made hair dryer has seven heat and speed settings and a removable lint filter, and it comes with a lifetime warranty: If the dryer breaks down at any time, you can send it to Elchim's repair center in Florida and have it fixed for around $20 (plus the cost of shipping).
At 1,800 watts, the Elchim 2001 is a little less powerful than the Harry Josh and BaByLissPro dryers. However, most users say it can still dry hair in record time. We found over 650 reviews for it at sites such as Amazon.com, Folica.com, and TotalBeauty.com, with overall ratings ranging from 4 to 5 stars. Owners praise the Elchim's fast yet gentle drying, its lightweight design, and its very quiet performance. They also say it leaves their hair very smooth and manageable. However, some users complain that the controls are awkwardly placed, making it difficult to remember which switch is for speed and which is for temperature. We also saw more complaints about durability than you would expect for a dryer this costly. While some users are pleased that Elchim offers repairs, others protest that the cost of repairs and shipping adds up to more than half the cost of replacing the dryer outright.
The very lightest salon dryer we've seen – and the lightest on your wallet, as well – is the (Est. $80). It weighs less than 1 pound, yet its 2,000-watt motor produces powerful airflow and heat. There are three heat settings and three speed settings to choose from, which is a good thing since the top settings could be too strong for many users. A staffer at Refinery29.com found that she had to turn the dial down from "hot" to "warm" for comfort, and the drying speed was "almost too efficient" to give her enough time for styling her bangs.
This Rusk hair dryer has received more than 1,500 reviews at Amazon.com and Ulta.com, with ratings of around 4.4 stars out of 5 across the two sites. Users describe the dryer as incredibly powerful and lightweight, and they love its multiple settings. A few find the placement of the controls awkward, but others say it's standard for a salon dryer and easy to adjust to. We also saw a smattering of durability complaints. The Rusk dryer comes with a 2-year warranty, but like Elchim's, it requires the user to return the dryer to a service center and cover return shipping costs.
Best Cheap Hair Dryer
Decent hair dryers for less than $50
Although salon hair dryers get the best ratings overall, you can actually get a perfectly good hair dryer without shelling out $75 or more. Overall, the best-rated dryer in this price class is the (Est. $35).
This inexpensive hair dryer has all the basic features a hair dryer should have, including separate heat and speed settings, ceramic and ionic technology, and a cold shot button. InStyle magazine named it the best inexpensive blow dryer for 2015 and 2016, saying it "lasts three times longer" than others in its price class -- though they don't explain how they tested its durability -- and "makes quick work of even the thickest hair." The Infiniti Pro also gets good reviews in Allure magazine and at Refinery29.com, where a staffer says this dryer was "super easy to hold" and took only 7 minutes to dry her ultra-fine hair. However, testers at Good Housekeeping were less impressed, saying the Conair dryer was one of the slowest and noisiest in their 2012 tests. Its best features were its low price tag and 4-year limited warranty.
We found more than 1,000 total reviews for the Conair Infiniti at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, and Ulta.com, with overall ratings ranging from 4.3 to 4.6 stars out of 5. Unlike the editors at Good Housekeeping, users are generally (though not universally) satisfied with its drying speed. Although there are some complaints that this hair dryer is unwieldy, and some say that it is perhaps a touch heavier than they would like, most find it to be manageable. The noise level is also a problem for some. Moreover, there are several complaints about reliability and safety, and an earlier version of this hair dryer was part of a 2013 recall over the possibility of a burn or fire hazard -- though current models should be fine.
Conair also makes the (Est. $35), which is recommended at TheSweethome.com as a great choice for people on a budget. At 0.91 pounds, it's the lightest dryer in that site's test, as well as the least expensive, yet it dries hair just as fast as models that cost two or three times as much. However, it doesn't earn the top recommendation because it has a lot of little annoying quirks: a short 5-foot cord, a cheap-feeling plastic case, and sliding controls that the reviewer finds hard to manipulate.
In more than 1,680 reviews, users at Amazon.com award this Conair hair dryer 4.2 stars out of 5 overall. They say it's lightweight and quiet, comes with good attachments, and dries hair quickly, leaving it sleek and frizz-free. Most of the complaints we found center on durability, ranging from flaking finish to complete product failure. Although the dryer comes with a 2-year warranty, users must mail it back at their own expense to get repairs — and Conair will replace it only if it agrees that the dryer is defective.
We also saw good reviews for the (Est. $30), also sold as the Conair Cord Keeper, which is named as a Best Value pick in a comparison test in Real Simple magazine. This model's major selling point is the retractable cord from which the dryer takes its name. More than 930 reviewers at Amazon.com award the hair dryer an overall rating of 4.3 stars out of 5, and the retracting cord is far and away their favorite feature. They also like its quiet operation, sturdy build, and vivid pink or purple color.
However, many owners complain about the dryer's durability, saying it broke down in a variety of ways after one to two years. Unfortunately, the retracting cord that users like so much appears to be a particular weak spot. Many users say the cord doesn't retract fully or easily, and some say that a failure of the cord mechanism was the first sign of trouble before the whole unit failed.
Best Travel Hair Dryers
Travel hair dryers save space
We didn't find nearly as many recommendations for travel hair dryers as we did for salon hair dryers and cheap hair dryers that are full-sized, but there appear to be a few good choices.
Probably the best of the lot is the (Est. $15). Although it's small – about 9 inches long and 1.2 pounds – it has as much power as most full-sized hair dryers. It has only two heat and speed settings, but it does include a cool shot button, a feature many travel dryers lack. It also includes extra features that make it more convenient for travel. A folding handle makes it easy to stow in a suitcase, and a dual-voltage switch makes it compatible with overseas outlets. Conair backs the dryer with a limited 1-year warranty.
The Conair Folding Handle hasn't been covered in any professional tests, but it gets positive reviews from owners, including more than 375 reviews at Amazon.com where it earns a 4.4 star score. Owners say this hair dryer is compact yet powerful, and they like its travel-friendly features. Some durability issues are noted, though not enough to raise red flags. For those that plan to use the dryer for international travel, some report issues ranging from a voltage setting switch that is hard to move to units that failed completely when connected to international voltages. Still most are pleased; for example, 97 percent of the 60 owners that leave reviews at BestBuy.com grant it their recommendation.
We found somewhat more mixed reviews for the (Est. $15) (Est. $15). It earns an overall rating of 4.4 stars out of 5 among BestBuy.com users, 7.9 out of 10 at TotalBeauty.com, and 3.9 stars out of 5 at Amazon.com. What owners at all sites love most about this dryer is the "cord keeper" feature, which keeps the cord snugly tucked up and out of the way when it's not in use. They also say the 1,875-watt dryer is a convenient size for travel and packs enough power to dry hair quickly, while its ionic technology fights frizz effectively.
However, like the full-sized (Est. $30), the Cord-Keeper seems to have a lot of problems with its cord reel. Numerous users complain that after a few uses, the cord no longer retracts fully. Some users say they can get it to retract by holding down the button and feeding the cord in by hand, but others can't get it to work at all. Also, some users say the folding handle is too stiff, and others find it annoying that the dryer has only two heat and speed settings.
Another product that's worthy of a mention is the (Est. $22). This amazingly lightweight hair dryer – just 0.6 pounds – was the top budget pick in Good Housekeeping's 2013 tests and also earned generally positive feedback at Amazon.com -- 4.1 stars based on more than 675 reviews. It would have been a consideration for Best Reviewed status in this category if not for one problem: it appears that Conair no longer makes it. As of this writing, it's still available at Amazon.com, but it's not clear how long that will last. Conair does have another model in this series, the (Est. $20). It appears similar, with one notable exception -- it offers a folding handle instead of the fixed handle of the 245HP, and that's a plus for travel. However, it's not been professionally reviewed, and user reviews, while positive thus far, are also limited -- for example around a dozen at Amazon.com, but with a 4.9 star rating.
Hair Dryer Reviews - Our Sources
- TheSweethome.com - The Best Hair Dryer, Shannon Palus, Feb. 16, 2016
After doing extensive research and talking to experts, Shannon Palus puts seven well-regarded hair dryers through a series of tests. All seven prove comparable in speed, heat, and noise level, and take about the same time to dry a test swatch of hair on its top setting. However, some are more convenient to use than others. Palus tests her four favorites on her own hair for two weeks and finds all do a capable job.
- Refinery29.com - How To Find The Perfect Blowdryer For YOU, Taylor Bryant, Jan. 28, 2015
Three different staffers at Refinery29.com—each with a different hair length and type—test out blow dryers to see which work the best on their unique tresses. Each staffer offers a detailed review of her favorite pick, but the article doesn't say how many other models they tried before choosing a keeper.
- InStyle - Best Beauty Buys: Styling Tools, Editors of InStyle magazine, As of September 2016
Among the hundreds of products in InStyle's list of Best Beauty Buys for 2016 (and earlier) are a handful of blow dryers. Their picks appear to be based on recommendations from professional stylists, including Chuck Amos, stylist to actress and musician Uzo Aduba. Each model receives a brief write-up covering such points as speed, price, and features.
- Good Housekeeping - Hair Dryers, Editors of Good Housekeeping, June 2013
Editors at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute test 20 full-sized hair dryers and 13 travel models on different hair swatches to see how fast they work. They also evaluate weight and noise level. Then they pass the dryers on to home users who rate them based on comfort, ease of use, and how smooth and shiny their hair looks when it's dry. However, fFour of the seven recommended models are now discontinued.
- Allure - The 10 Best Blow-Dryers Money Can Buy, Kristin Perotta and Stephanie Saltzman, Mar. 17, 2015
Allure names the top ten blow dryers "approved by hairstylists and Allure editors" based on personal use. Writer Stephanie Saltzman sums up each dryer's specs, price, and noted celebrity users, but there's no indication that the dryers have gone through any rigorous, head-to-head testing.
- TotalBeauty.com - 8 Best Hair Dryers, Amanda Montell and Allie Flinn, As of September 2016
At PatternReview.com, experienced sewers can post reviews of their sewing machines, giving an overview of how they use them, any pros and cons, and if they would recommend them. This is a great source for reviews of sewing machines that you can't easily find online, including reviews of machines from higher-end brands such as Baby Lock and Pfaff. Note that reading reviews posted more than six months ago requires a free membership to the site.
- Folica.com - Top 10 Hair Dryers, Contributors to Folica.com, As of September 2016
Folica.com is a retail site specializing in all things hair-related. This "Top 10" page actually lists only eight blow dryers that earn strong overall reviews from the site's users. Moreover, it's not clear what algorithm the site used to find these top picks, since some of them have high ratings but not that many reviews. However, three of the eight earn at least 4 stars out of 5 from 50 reviewers or more.
- Amazon.com - Hair Dryers, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of September 2016
Amazon.com sells thousands of hair dryers, but finding the top-rated picks is tricky. There's no way to sort the enormous list based on number of reviews, and it's not always easy to identify models based on their descriptions on the main review page. Thus, we have relied on Amazon only for additional feedback about hair dryers that are well rated elsewhere.
- Ulta.com - Hair Dryers, Contributors to Ulta.com, As of September 2016
This beauty retailer offers about 90 hair dryers for sale, ranging from salon brands like Elchim and Farouk CHI to budget brands like Conair and Revlon. There's lots of user feedback here, with hundreds of reviews for some models. We found several hair dryers with 4.5-star ratings from 100 users or more. Reviews are short but informative, and the site provides a handy summary of pros and cons.
- Drugstore.com - Hair Dryers, Contributors to Drugstore.com, As of September 2016
Drugstore.com sells fewer blow dryers than Amazon.com, and few receive more than a dozen reviews. However, a few models earn overall ratings of at least four stars from 50 users or more. Hair dryers sold here tend toward the low end of the price range, but a couple of pricier models have high ratings.
- BestBuy.com - Hair Dryers, Contributors to BestBuy.com, As of September 2016
BestBuy.com is another good destination for user reviews of hair dryers. Most models only get a handful of reviews, but some get dozens and a couple have received a hundred or more. Individual comments tend to be brief, but you can sort them to find the ones that other users describe as most helpful.
- RealSimple.com - The Best Hair Dryers, Alexandra Gonzalez Repetto, Not dated
Editors at Real Simple test more than 50 blow dryers and name their six top picks. Author Alexandra Gonzalez Repetto says these winners leave hair "the smoothest, shiniest, and most professionally polished," but she doesn't offer any details about testing methods. Also, most of the dryers recommended here aren't covered in other sources.