High-tech hair dryers: all hot air?
Today's blowers offer a bounty of options, all promising softer, shiner, healthier hair. It's hard to find a hair dryer without the words "ceramic," "ionic" or "tourmaline" in the name, but critics are unsure whether these features actually make for a better dryer or not. Ionic hair dryers emit molecules with a positive or negative charge to dry hair. Instead of taking the air from a room and heating it like old-school hair dryers, ionic products use negative ions to shrink water droplets in the hair. Manufacturers say this helps wet hair dry faster with less heat damage -- making for a smoother and shinier mane. Unfortunately, the science behind the claims is sketchy. There's "little science to either prove or disprove this claim," says Bill Nazaroff, professor of environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, in a Wall Street Journal article.
In comparison tests administered at Good Housekeeping, Choice and Which? magazines, editors are hesitant to say ionic dryers are speedier than standard products when it comes to drying hair. None of their evaluations found evidence to back this claim. Good Housekeeping editors even say ionic hair dryers only save about "a minute or so" of total drying time. Still, most of the ionic hair dryer reviews we found -- including ones at Good Housekeeping -- say ionic hair dryers create smoother, shinier hair. One enthusiastic owner at Amazon.com says her ionic hair dryer leaves her hair "straight, sleek and shiny, without having to apply a bunch of creams or shining sprays." Other owner reviews we found offer similar comments.
Some dryers also tout ceramic or ceramic-coated coils, unlike other dryers that have metal coils. Ceramic is supposed to heat more evenly and is self-regulating, which means it isn't likely to cause as much heat damage to hair. Again, experts can't find a lot of scientific backing for whether ceramic coils cause less damage. Nonetheless, several top-rated dryers in tests use ceramic coils.
Lastly, some hair dryers also contain amounts of the gemstone tourmaline. Tourmaline products are said to generate a higher number of negative ions to expedite hair drying -- more so than ionic technology alone. With this surge comes even sleeker and shinier hair, manufacturers say. Most hair dryers combine two or more of these features.
Additional considerations: Most dryers offer a convenient cool-shot button (to cool hair quickly and hold a hair style), a diffuser (to decrease frizz) or a concentrator nozzle (to home in on certain areas of hair). Many products also include a removable air filter to clean out accumulated lint so the dryer won't overheat and break down. Several user reviews also emphasize the importance of a product's weight, and experts say consumers should look for a hair dryer that has at least two heat settings and two speed settings. Why? Fine or damaged hair should be dried on low heat and speed settings, but thick hair may require more power to dry in optimal time.
Many ionic models cost about the same as hair dryers that lack ion features, and 90 percent of hair dryers sold today are ionic models. What's interesting is that reviewers and users do say these products work better than ordinary dryers, despite their weak scientific backing. Because of this, all of our ConsumerSearch Best Reviewed selections are ionic hair dryers.
We found the most helpful professional reviews of hair dryers at ConsumerReports.org, where 10 ionic hair dryers are tested for ease of use, noise levels and features. Australia's Choice magazine and Britain's Which? magazine also test several ionic hair dryers and compare them to standard models, but most of the dryers are not available in the United States. Their reviews offer helpful information about ionic and other technologies, though. We also relied on hair-dryer reviews at publications such as Real Simple, Women's Health, Good Housekeeping and InStyle magazines, along with reports from news organizations where various dryers are tested, evaluated and compared.
Owner-written reviews on blogs and beauty-supply retail websites also offer helpful opinions and provide insight into longer-term reliability. One thing to note: Blow dryers aside, many other variables can affect hair appearance, including water minerals, shampoos, brushes and styling products. That said, none of the sources or reviews we encountered acknowledged how these factors contributed to their final result.