Hair dryers should in theory all do one thing – dry your hair. Yet for such a seemingly simple task, there are hundreds of makes and models to choose from available at wildly varying prices. That’s not to mention the jargon and buzzwords thrown around. Is ionic or ceramic technology better? How much power do you need? To diffuse or not diffuse?
When choosing a hair dryer, consider how well it would handle your hair type. If you’ve got long hair, a heavy, bulky dryer will soon leave your arms aching. Curly hair? Dryers with diffusers will make a big difference to your style. People with fine hair don’t need huge amounts of power or heat, and if your hair is thick, try a dryer with a concentrator nozzle to help tame your mane.
A few points to note about hair dryers, though. A higher power does not always equate to a better dryer. It’s how hair dryers use this power, in conjunction with their heat settings, that determine how well they dry your hair and how shiny it looks afterwards.
Blasting hair on the highest heat setting is similarly not always the way to go. It may get rid of moisture quickly but it could do damage to the hair and will leave it looking dry and lacking in shine. People with fine hair should always use a lower setting, even if it means drying times are longer. The extra minute or so will make a world of difference to hair quality.
The best hair dryers we’ve tested have all had one thing in common – ionic technology. This technology releases negative ions towards the positive ions in wet hair. This is said to cause the water molecules to evaporate faster, reducing the time it takes to dry as well preventing unnecessary heat damage. Beyond motors, hair dryers with ceramic heating elements also tend to outperform those without. Ceramic not only heats up quickly and evenly, it generates infrared heat, which causes less damage to hair than metal-based heating elements.
Finally, is the cable long enough for you to stretch from a plug to your mirror? It’s a factor that’s often overlooked but is worth considering if you don’t want to be stuck on one side of the room attempting to dry your hair in a mirror on the other.
For the past month, we’ve been putting the most popular hair dryers through various tests including how long it took to dry our hair after a shower, and after our hair had become saturated following a swim. Weight, price, how loud they were, cable length, and how shiny they left our hair were also factored in. Here is TechRadar’s pick of the best hair dryers around.
Dyson turns its engineering expertise to hair styling with this premium dryer
Fast drying times
Lots of heat and speed settings
Controls can be fiddly to use
There’s no hiding the fact this is an expensive gadget – and let’s be honest, is beyond many people’s budgets for a small appliance. But Dyson has crammed a shed-load of tech into its Supersonic dryer to go some way towards justifying this price.
It looks like few hair dryers we’ve tested and largely performs on a different plane, too. Instead of having the motor behind the nozzle, Dyson has moved it to the handle and this motor sucks in air via a filter in the base rather than through a vent in the barrel. This design shrinks the size of the Supersonic considerably, almost putting it on par with the size and shape of a pair of straighteners, which makes it perfect for travelling with. What’s more, having the motor closer to your hand, and the barrel closer to your head, shifts the overall balance of the dryer, making the Supersonic feel much lighter than its 659g. This spells the end of awkwardly twisting your elbows and holding your arms up until they ache to achieve the ideal blow-drying position.
Not that this would be an issue, given how quickly the Dyson Supersonic dried our hair. From wet to styled in three minutes and 15 seconds, and with enough shine to negate the need to run the straighteners over it afterwards, the Supersonic is one of the fastest dryers we’ve used. Only the Revlon Pro Collection One Step Dryer and Volumiser beat this record, at three minutes and four seconds.
On paper, the Supersonic’s 1,600W motor should fall flat in comparison to other models but its clever use of engineering and airflow technology means it actually performs better, while being noticeably quiet in comparison. This motor powers four heat and three speed settings, offering something for all hair types. It has a long 2.8-metre cable and ships with three attachments – a smoothing nozzle, a concentrator nozzle and a diffuser. You can also buy two recent additions to the line-up separately; a wide-tooth comb best suited for textured hair (think afro or curly hair), and a “gentle air” attachment designed for fine hair to add volume without excessive heat. Each of these attachments connect via magnets which is a small, yet nice touch.
The Supersonic isn’t perfect. We often blocked the filter with our hand and the buttons are a little fiddly to access mid-dry. And while this is the best hair dryer we’ve used we’re still not convinced it’s worth that price tag. That said, it’s hard to put a price on shiny hair, not to mention the time you save to achieve it.
Remington Keratin Protect
Dyson-style performance for a fifth of the price, if you can stand the noise
Fast drying time
Left hair feeling strong and protected
Controls are fiddly
Remington’s Keratin Protect sits towards the opposite end of price scale to the Dyson yet offers remarkably similar features and performance. It gets its name from the fact keratin and almond oils are infused into the ceramic-coated drying grille, designed to protect as it dries. While this may sound like marketing mumbo-jumbo, it seemingly does the job; our hair felt noticeably stronger after just three uses. Plus, when combined with the dryer’s ionic technology, this setup greatly reduced frizz making our hair look great too.
It doesn’t skimp on features and essentials, either: it comes with two nozzles and a diffuser and offers three temperature settings, two power settings and a cold shot button. This matches the number of accessories offered by the Dyson, but its cable is a little shorter at 2.5 metres. In our tests, the lowest heat setting on the highest power was more than adequate for drying our hair, although the position of the cold shot button makes it difficult to use comfortably.
Design-wise, the Remington Keratin Protect’s rose-colored grille and matte silver-colored shell make it look more expensive than it is, and this illusion is somewhat bolstered by the fact it’s a relatively heavy dryer, at 665g. This weight is evenly distributed – not as successfully as on the Dyson, but a close second – so thankfully it doesn’t feel as heavy as it should. It’s not too bulky, either.
Sadly, it’s not the quietest dryer we’ve tested, due to its beastly 2,200W motor, coming in significantly louder (around five decibels) than the Dyson and GHD Air. Elsewhere, the Remington Keratin Protect took marginally longer than its rivals to dry and style our hair, four minutes and nine seconds following a shower and five minutes and two seconds after swimming. One benefit to this slower drying time, however, is that the hair was dried more gently further adding to its protection.
The Remington Keratin Protect can’t really be called a budget dryer but you do get close to Dyson-style performance for a fifth of the price. Plus, it is regularly on sale, making it even more of a bargain.
Babyliss 2100 Salon Light
BaByliss’ bright red hair dryer hits a sweet spot for price versus performance
Performance exceeds price
Red look is a bit tacky
Hair lacked shine after use
The BaByliss 2100 Salon Light stands out for a number of reasons; it’s cheap, it’s quiet and its performance is on par with many of its more expensive rivals. Oh, and it’s bright red. This design may not be to everyone’s taste but if that’s the sacrifice you have to make for its great performance at a bargain price, we’ll take that hit.
It took 3 minutes and 57 seconds to dry and style our hair after a shower, putting it on par with the GHD Air, although this time rose to four minutes 35 seconds after swimming.
Like the other dryers in this list, the BaByliss 2100 Salon Light uses ionic technology to add shine and reduce heat damage and, again, it punches above its weight having left our hair shiny. This shine wasn’t as good as that seen after using the Remington or Dyson, and while we could get away without straightening our hair we often resorted to straighteners to just remove that last bit of frizz. BaByliss Salon Light’s three heat and two power settings offer a good range of options for varying hair types and the dryer doesn’t get too hot, despite its 2,100W motor and even when turned up to maximum, which further helps reduce heat damage without losing out on drying time.
Its name is a little misleading. The BaByliss 2100 Salon Light isn’t as heavy as the Dyson and Remington but it’s not super lightweight either, weighing in at 500g. Plus it’s not as well-balanced as its more expensive rivals. That said, because it’s not as large as the Remington or GHD Air, it feels less awkward to use which goes some way towards counteracting this lack of balance. Similarly, although using the Salon Light with its nozzle adds a little extra weight, the dryer’s thin design makes it easy to use for styling and means it’s more portable than others in this list. A further plus point is that it has the longest cable of the list, at 3 metres.
The hair straightening experts at GHD have added a touch of luxury to the company’s professional-style dryer
Large barrel not ideal for drying
In what should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever used GHD’s range of luxury straighteners, the GHD Air hair dryer is solid and stylish. In stark contrast to the Dyson Supersonic’s lightweight, streamlined design, the GHD Air is a large machine with a thick handle, solid switches and a long barrel but rather than feeling bulky, this sturdiness adds a sense of luxury and craftsmanship to the whole thing. A description we’d never thought we’d use for a hair dryer. This is complemented by its black matte finish, metal accents on its shell and GHD-branded filter, which may explain GHD’s reasonings behind its relatively-high price tag.
Tipping the scales at 600g, we had expected the GHD Air to be tiring to use but its weight is distributed effectively, making it a well-balanced dryer. The same can’t be said for its larger size, however. We often found it unwieldy in our attempt to get the perfect angle when blow-drying our mid-length hair, especially when the nozzle is attached which lengthens the barrel.
Inside, the GHD Air has a 2,100W motor which powers two heat and two power settings, plus a cold shot button. This is fewer settings than most of its competitors, including those that cost more than half the price, and the GHD Air only ships with a single nozzle. GHD also makes a diffuser for the GHD Air, but you’ll have to pay extra for it.
Performance-wise, it’s not the fastest dryer we’ve used, nor is it the slowest, averaging four minutes and two seconds to dry our hair after a shower, and 12 seconds longer after swimming. It’s also one of the quietest dryers we’ve tested, which is surprising given the power on offer. Despite its use of ionic technology, its finish lacked the shine created by the Dyson and Remington and we often resorted to straightening our hair (with GHDs coincidentally) to reduce the frizz. You’re paying for the name when you buy a GHD, and there are cheaper, stronger performing models on the market but the GHD Air gets the job done with an air (ahem) of luxury if you can afford it.
Revlon Pro Collection One Step Dryer & Volumiser
Revlon proves there is still a place for 2-in-1 dryer
Fastest drying time on test
Easy to use
The Revlon Pro Collection One Step Dryer & Volumiser is a slight wildcard in this list of best hair dryers. Not because of its overly long name, but because it’s classed as a 2-in-1 styler and dryer.
2-in-1 dryers were de rigueur in the 1990s and we often used our Mum’s before a school dance or similar (showing our age) but they fell out of fashion as professional hair dryers became cheaper and more widely available. This may give Revlon’s model a retro feel but it’s clear to see why the design has stayed true to those stylers of old because it’s an absolute doddle to use.
If you don’t have the time, patience, or skill to fully blow-dry your hair with barrel brushes, the Revlon combines the two. It’s effectively a large brush with air vents below the bristles and two heat settings, plus a cold shot. As you move the brush through your hair, it dries and styles at the same time. This gave our fine hair levels of volume we typically only get from a professional blow-dry and, thanks to its ionic technology, gave our hair a decent shine, too.
There is a catch. In fact, there are two. Firstly, the Revlon is noisy, annoyingly so. Not only does it produce a loud sound, the tone of this sound is uncomfortable to listen to for any length of time. Secondly, it’s heavy, coming in at 850g. Thankfully, because it combines drying and styling in one, the time it took to dry our hair was just three minutes and four seconds. So this extra weight didn’t make as much of a difference as we’d have expected, and you only have to put up with the sound for a short period of time.
Elsewhere, the shape of the brush makes it extremely portable. Its extra weight is not ideal for hand luggage but this shouldn’t be enough to push you over your allowance compared to taking a hairdryer and brush separately.
The reason it fell short in our ranking is that while it’s near-on perfect for creating voluminous, bouncy blow dries there is no versatility beyond this. You can’t rough dry your hair with it, or create different styles like you can with traditional dryers and this was a significant downside for us.