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Hair Dryer Buying Guide

By: Amy Livingston on August 31, 2017

What the best hair dryer has

  • Short drying time. Experts agree that the best hair dryers produce strong airflow, so they can dry your hair quickly with wind rather than frying it with excess heat. However, they disagree on how powerful a motor you need to achieve this. Celebrity stylist Ryan Richman tells the Huffington Post that a dryer with 1,300 to 1,875 watts is ideal for home use, while rival stylist Kristin Ess says in Glamour that it's worth springing for 1,800 to 2,000 watts.
  • Variable settings. Nearly every hair dryer has at least two heat settings. However, some cheap dryers can only produce high heat on top speed and low heat on low speed. The best dryers can adjust their heat and airflow levels independently for maximum versatility.
  • A cool shot feature. Switching over to cool air when hair is mostly dry seals the cuticle, providing better shine and long-lasting hold. It's also handy for "locking in" curls.
  • Comfortable handling. A lightweight dryer is less likely to tire out your arm during a styling session. However, weight isn't everything. Reviewers often find dryers with higher poundage actually feel lighter because they're well balanced and easy to grip. A curved handle, for instance, feels more comfortable in the hand.
  • Convenient features. Buttons should be positioned where they're easy to reach, but difficult to hit by accident. A removable filter on the back is handy because you don't have to take the hair dryer apart to clean it. Another feature many users love is a retracting cord, which coils up out of the way for storage -- though reviews we've seen of models with that feature indicate that the mechanisms are not always reliable.

Know before you go

What's your hair type? Different hair types require different levels of heat. Thick and coarse hair needs stronger heat, while fine or thin hair needs less heat. A lower-powered dryer, or one with an effective lower heat setting, is also a good choice for setting curls or blowing dry bangs, since you can take your time without roasting your hair. A cool shot feature is also essential for curls, whether natural or created with rollers, as it cools down your hair and sets the waves in place.

What's your noise tolerance? It might seem like more powerful hair dryers would naturally make more noise, but in reality, high-powered salon dryers are generally a bit quieter than cheap hair dryers. Think about how much noise you can personally put up with, and also about who else might have to listen to your dryer – your partner, your roommates, total strangers at the gym?

How strong are your arms? It may sound silly, but the more upper-body strength you have, the less crucial it is for your hair dryer to be lightweight. On the other hand, if you have especially long or thick hair, weight becomes more important, because you'll be using the dryer for longer at a stretch.

Will you travel with your dryer? If you travel frequently, a compact and lightweight dryer – particularly one with a folding handle – takes up less of your precious luggage space and weight. However, travel dryers don't fare as well in reviews as full-sized ones, so don't buy a travel dryer if you'll mostly be using it at home. If you often travel outside the US, a dual-voltage hair-dryer is a must for running on European current – but they don't always come with the right plug adapters for use in foreign regions, so remember to pack a separate adapter if necessary.

Which attachments do you need? A diffuser, which distributes heat across a wider area, is a must-have for curly hair to prevent frizz and tangling. In fact, two stylists interviewed by the Huffington Post say that even for softer waves, a diffuser is helpful for adding body and bounce. A concentrator nozzle, by contrast, focuses the airflow in one spot and is most useful for straight hairstyles. Concentrator attachments generally come with the hair dryer, but diffusers can be purchased separately if your dryer doesn't have one; all you need to know is its diameter.

Read the safety instructions. In doing the research, we found numerous complaints about hair dryer failures, and even issues such as spontaneous fires. While some are, indeed, the fault of the appliance, many others look to be the result of misuse by the user. For example, many users complain of hair dryers catching fire while not in use, but plugged in – despite standard warnings that hair dryers need to be unplugged immediately after use. The bottom line is that it's very important to read and follow all safety instructions when it comes to using a hair dryer. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers additional information and safety guidelines. You can also find information regarding recalls at the commission's site.

Read the warranty. If you're investing a lot of money in a good hair dryer that you expect to use for many years, it's reasonable to expect it to come with a decent warranty. However, the words "4-year limited warranty" on a product description aren't really enough to tell you how useful the warranty truly is. We found many reports of unexpected "gotchas" in hair dryer warranties that made them all but useless. For example, multiple users who had problems with their hair dryers say the warranties don't cover shipping fees, and shipping the dryer to the manufacturer and back would cost nearly as much as replacing it outright.

Bottom line: before you spend money on a hair dryer, read the terms of the warranty in full so you know exactly what you're getting into. This will also warn you about less-than-obvious ways to void your warranty, such as buying from an unauthorized dealer, failing to unplug the dryer, or wrapping the cord around the dryer when storing it.

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