You'll see three buzzwords these days when shopping for a hair dryer: ionic, ceramic and tourmaline. Ionic dryers use negative ions to shrink water droplets in the hair. Manufacturers claim this dries wet hair faster with less heat damage, creating smoother and shinier strands. Ceramic dryers contain ceramic coils. Unlike metal, this material is said to be self-regulating to prevent overheating. Lastly, tourmaline, a gemstone that is added to the heater of tourmaline hair dryers, is thought to generate a higher number of negative ions than regular ionic dryers. Many dryers combine two or more of these features, but it's important to note that the mere presence of these features isn't enough to make a dryer perform well. Rather than buzzy marketing, we rely on professional tests and user ratings to form our conclusions.
The reasonably priced Revlon RV544 Tourmaline Ionic hair dryer (*Est. $25) uses two drying technologies, ionic and tourmaline. A professional review by Good Housekeeping finds that the 1,875-watt Revlon Tourmaline Ionic hair dryer beats more expensive tourmaline models, such as the Best Reviewed T3 Tourmaline Professional Featherweight (*Est. $150) . Editors applaud the product's lightweight build, quiet performance and fast drying times. Reviewers at Amazon.com also give the Revlon Tourmaline Ionic great feedback, citing short drying times and sleek hair -- particularly positive comments come from those with longer and thicker hair. However, a few finer-haired users say this dryer left their hair feeling limp. The Revlon RV544 hair dryer features two settings for heat and speed, an ion indicator light (which illuminates when ions are emitted), a concentrator attachment and diffuser attachment (designed to be used on curly hair in order to keep curls soft and natural-looking). It comes with a two-year limited warranty.
The similar 1,875-watt Conair Infiniti Tourmaline Ceramic Ionic Styler 223X (*Est. $25) has been named an InStyle Magazine Best Beauty Buy four years in a row (though we aren't sure what criteria are used in awarding that status). It offers some of the same features found in many higher-priced blow dryers. It includes three heat settings and two speed settings as well as a cool-shot button; a soft finger diffuser, which allows you to get closer to the scalp for better hair-sculpting control; and a concentrator attachment, which is designed to direct airflow for styling purposes. The Conair 223X also has a removable filter to prevent lint build-up and comes with a three-year limited warranty.
Conair also makes a similar, though slightly heavier, professional version that boasts a longer cord and a five-year warranty. This dryer, the Conair Infiniti Professional Tourmaline Ceramic Ionic Styler 213X (*Est. $40) also fares well in user reviews at Amazon.com; in addition, Julyne Derrick, About.com's beauty guide, calls the Conair Infiniti the "best inexpensive hair dryer." Although we chose the Revlon version for ConsumerSearch Best Reviewed because of its lower price, we read good reviews for all three of these budget hair dryers.
Professional hair dryers are more expensive, but there are some other differences. First, professional hair dryers tend to have a longer lifetime -- generally about 1,200 hours, compared with 500 for inexpensive dryers. These products are also generally larger, heavier and able to generate more airflow than consumer-level blow dryers so that they dry hair faster. They sometimes have a longer warranty as well.
We found good reviews for the T3 Tourmaline Professional Featherweight (*Est. $150) at both Good Housekeeping and InStyle magazines. The T3 hair dryer uses tourmaline, which is infused into the dryer's components and is said to generate more negative ions than any other mineral. The T3 also has a ceramic coil to prevent hair damage caused by overheating. Other features of the T3 Featherweight hair dryer include two speeds, an 1,800-watt motor and a relatively light weight of 13 ounces. Users at Amazon.com also report fast drying times and shiny hair with the T3.
Fans of the T3 Featherweight are passionate, with many users at Amazon.com saying they'd happily buy this dryer again. A number of these same reviewers did report that using the T3 seems to result in sleeker, shinier hair and a quicker drying time than other dryers.
In 2010, T3 introduced a new model, the Featherweight Luxe (*Est. $250) that comes with only a two-year warranty. The Featherweight Luxe has two speed settings and three heat settings. The majority of reviewers at Amazon.com are mostly pleased with the new model, though some consumers are disappointed in the dryer's performance. In particular, a percentage says that the dryer doesn't have enough power.
It is important to note that T3 Micro, the manufacturers of T3 Tourmaline hairdryers, will not honor their dryers' warranty for products purchased from unauthorized retailers, a caveat stated clearly on the manufacturer's website. Additionally, products must be registered with T3 Micro within 21 days of purchase to validate warranty protection. We've seen a few scathing owner-written critiques at Amazon.com -- which is not an authorized seller -- and elsewhere regarding that policy. You can find an authorized dealer by calling T3's customer service hotline at (866) 376-8880 or by buying directly from the company.
Another brand of professional dryers that frequently gets good reviews is CHI (cationic hydration interlink), manufactured by Farouk Systems. Farouk claims that their dryers have low electric and magnetic field (EMF) radiation levels (some studies link EMF radiation exposure to cancer) but it's unclear whether EMF radiation emitted by hair dryers is actually a hazard. All of the CHI dryers combine ionic and ceramic technology like the consumer-grade Conair hair dryer mentioned above, but the CHI dryers are professional-grade models that have a life expectancy of 1,200 hours versus the 500 hours of most retail blow dryers. The CHI dryers have just a one-year warranty that is only valid on dryers purchased from a professional salon or other authorized dealer. The warranty is not valid on dryers purchased over the Internet.
The 1,800-watt CHI Rocket Professional (*Est. $175) gets raves from consumers and stylists for its light weight (13 ounces) and quiet motor. We also saw many glowing reports from users with thick, wavy or frizzy hair saying the CHI Rocket got their hair straight and frizz-free. Stylist.com says the CHI Rocket is ideal for "blow-out addicts" since the dryer's infrared technology supposedly minimizes damage to hair by evaporating water from the inside out, using less dry heat. The CHI Rocket has two heat settings compared to three heat settings on the much less expensive Revlon and Conair models.
We've also seen good reviews for the CHI Pro GF1505 Ceramic Anion Infrared Low EMF (*Est. $145) at Amazon.com. One professional review gives the CHI Pro dryer its highest overall score compared to nine other models tested and says that it is among the quietest. It also has an extra lint filter. User reviews at Amazon.com are also positive; several owners say the 1,300-watt CHI Pro is quiet and produces professional results. The similar CHI Nano Dual Air Flow Ceramic (*Est. $200) has a 1,400-watt motor and three heat settings. The handle of the Nano incorporates microscopic silver particles, which the manufacturer says kills bacteria; however, reviewers haven't tested this claim. Users at Folica.com and Hdryers.com report fast drying times and smooth, shiny results, however there are some reports of the dryer over-heating.
Other noteworthy hair dryers in reviews are the Super Solano (*Est. $125) and the Twin Turbo Ceramic Ionic 3200 (*Est. $130) . The Super Solano has three temperature settings, two speeds and a removable filter. It gets high marks from users posting comments at Folica.com and Amazon.com. Users say it is powerful enough to straighten curly hair and it lasts for years but it's a bit heavy. The Twin Turbo has a powerful 1900-watt motor with four heat settings and two speeds. It has a removable filter and ceramic technology. Reviewers at Folica.com and Amazon.com say that it cuts drying time in half but some warn that the air gets very hot. The Super Solano has a two-year warranty and the Twin Turbo comes with one-year warranty protection.