What are the best heat styling tools for your hair? Plus tips on safe use

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These days styling your hair doesn't necessarily mean going to the hair salon. Thanks to the vast range of tools available, anyone can become a hairstylist at home. But don't expect it to be easy.

Heat tools provide us with near endless possibilities. They can also cause damage to hair by stressing the cuticle, says Rodney Cutler, ambassador for haircare brand Redken. This can lead to hair becoming rough, dry, damaged and even breaking off.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't use heat tools, but there are some things to keep in mind before introducing them to your routine. Here we take a look at different devices.

1. Flat irons

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Pin-straight, glossy hair is a classic look that people used to achieve by spreading their hair over an ironing board and having someone straighten it using a clothing iron. Thankfully, there's a more effective and safer method out there now: flat irons.

These gadgets are made up of two flat panels that, when heated and pressed together around hair, break the hydrogen bonds in the cortex that preserve hair's natural shape - leaving you to style your locks how you wish.

2. Curling irons and wands

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If you're longing for bold, dynamic, voluminous waves in your hair, then curling irons and wands may be the answer.

These work the same way flat irons do - by using heat to break the hydrogen bonds so you can style it however you like.

Once your hair is wrapped around a curling iron or wand, it will be moulded into springlike curls or soft waves, depending on how long you apply heat, and also the thickness of barrel you're using.

"A curling iron with a 1ΒΌ-inch [32mm] barrel is a good size for everyday curls, no matter what look you are going for," says Eugene Toye, a stylist at the Rita Hazan Salon in New York.

3. Hair dryers

More than just helping to dry hair with heated air, hair dryers can also be used as a styling aid when combined with brushes and hair mousses, waxes and gels.

Get creative and create a wide variety of styles, from waves to stick-straight hair, or from large curls to a textured pixie look.

4. Hot brushes

Hot brushes are new to the styling game, but they've rapidly become a staple for those searching for dynamic tools.

These hybrid tools look like normal hair brushes, but instead of bristles, have heated prongs.

Once turned on, the brush's pad heats up in the same way as a flat iron, allowing you to both detangle and straighten your hair in a simple stroke.

Some hot brushes also include a hair drying system so you can get different results, by choosing either to blow dry and brush or strengthen and brush.

Tips

Heat styling tools offer a lot of options, but it's essential to know how to care for your hair if using these tools regularly, to avoid permanent damage.

Learn about materials

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You should choose the right materials depending on your style goals and hair type.

For example, ceramic plates heat up quickly and evenly, and help preserve moisture and shine. You'll need fewer passes to get results, which is why they're ideal for those with fine or delicate hair types.

On the other hand, tourmaline plates help get rid of frizz while promoting shine, by preserving moisture in each strand of hair.

Titanium plates are good for those with thicker, coarser hair types. They heat up quickly and provide good heat distribution to reduce styling time.

Ionic tools reduce the moisture of your hair, flattening it so it doesn't need as much potentially harmful blow drying or reshaping. In addition, they can help calm frizz, boost glow and smoothen your hair's texture.

Mind the temperature

Your hair type and desired outcome should dictate the temperature at which you set your heat styling tools:

  • 410 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (210 to 232 degrees Celsius) for those with very thick, stubborn hair that takes a long time to style with lower temperatures.
  • 370 to 410 degrees Fahrenheit for hair on the coarse or textured side. Ensure you set a foundation with a hairdryer and brushes before heat styling.
  • 350 to 370 degrees Fahrenheit for naturally wavy and generally hydrated hair. Make sure to choose a tool with a smoothing material to avoid frizz.
  • 330 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for "normal" hair that is not too fine or too thick, not too wavy or curly, and generally easy to handle.
  • 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for fine, fragile hair that doesn't require much heat to modify.

Hair protectant all the way

If you're wondering if heat-protectant products are necessary, the answer is yes!

These formulas - usually in the form of spray, creams or serums - reduce damage to your hair before it's exposed to direct heat.

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They build a barrier between your hot tool and hair strands, locking in moisture to avoid frizz and heat damage and slowing down heat conduction, spreading the heat more evenly.

"They're designed to be the first line of defence against any heat before your natural oils and moisture," celebrity hairstylist Jill Buck says.

Consequently, hair will heat up gradually, reducing the heat impact and leading to less damage.

They also help smooth out the cuticle, so your hair feels and looks soft and shiny.

You may apply protectant to damp or dry hair based on the type you choose.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.