Different hair dryers for different hair types
Stylists are only as good as their tools, and a blow dryer is an essential tool for nearly any hairstyle. Today's 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 that doesn't mean they're all important for every hair type.
Ceramic heating elements -- like those used in space heaters and other household appliances -- produce even, radiant heat, which helps reduce damage from excessive heat according to Misikko.com. This feature becomes increasingly important if you blow-dry your hair frequently.
Ionic hair dryers produce negative ions, which reduce static caused by positive ions. These negative ions also help seal the cuticles, speed up drying and leave hair smoother, though experts at TheBeautyBrains.com say the claims of ionic hair drying are not true.
Similarly, the mineral tourmaline is used in some blow dryers to "boost" the ion output. About.com's geology guide Andrew Alden explains that tourmaline certainly does have some electrostatic qualities, but he's not convinced these can be used to improve hair dryer results. If your hair isn't frizz-prone, you don't use a blow dryer often or you use a hair serum when styling, ionic output from a blow dryer may not make a difference for you.
There are other factors to consider as well. Although wattage is often included in product descriptions, we found it wasn't much of a factor among the dryers included in this report. Theoretically, a higher-wattage dryer is more powerful and effective, but Misikko.com says power is only an issue with hair dryers rated below about 1,300 watts. All the full-size dryers included in our report are around 1,800 watts. Another feature to consider include a cool-shot button, which helps set a style. Noise and weight varies in importance based on each individual's needs.
There are some significant differentiators between our three best pick categories: best cheap hair dryer, travel hair dryer and professional hair dryer. When considering travel dryers, for example, weight and size become significantly more important to reviewers. It's also worth considering voltage, as travelers who go abroad will need to switch from U.S.-standard 120 volts to 220 or 240 volts. The best travel dryers in this report meet these expectations without sacrificing too much power or increasing drying time.
Inexpensive consumer dryers are catching up with pro models in terms of quality. We did find that professional models can make a difference, but typically only for owners who blow-dry very frequently or have hard-to-manage hair. In general, we found that professional dryers were quieter and tended to be lighter, though this wasn't always the case. While professional and consumer dryers have many of the same specifications, subjective reviews suggest pro dryers might leave hair a bit softer and sleeker -- though it's extremely difficult to prove whether this is the case.
We used both consumer and professional reviews to name the best hair dryers based on performance and ease of use. Fashion and beauty magazines like Allure, InStyle, Redbook, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Self provided insight from experts in the beauty field; we also looked at hair-focused websites for user and expert reviews. We found the best comparison tests at ConsumerReports.org and the Good Housekeeping. Finally, we looked to Amazon.com, TotalBeauty.com, MakeupAlley.com, Drugstore.com and other consumer-review sites to find real owners' favorite models.