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No matter how many curling wands or straighteners you have in your arsenal, you need to have a quality blow dryer in the mix as well. It dries hair quickly, can tamp down frizz better than any styling product, and depending on your dexterity, can also help straighten or curl your hair. Hair styling aside, we bet it can also probably make a grilled cheese pretty quickly.
However, finding a good hair dryer can be easier said than done — especially with all the beauty buzzwords surrounding it. If you’re searching for a new hair dryer, you’re likely running into words like “ionic,” “infrared,” and “tourmaline,” and you may be wondering if you’re participating in a scientific discovery rather than finding a simple beauty tool that’ll just dry your hair in a few minutes.
Before you throw up your hands in frustration, we’ve picked out five of our favorite hair dryers so you don’t have to worry about making the wrong choice. We’ve also broken down some terms that are helpful to know along with all the things you should really be looking for in a hair dryer that go beyond the buzzwords on the packaging.
Hair dryer terminology
You’ll come across a lot of different words when it comes to the marketing of a hair dryer. The trick is to know which ones are legit, which are marketing buzzwords, and which are up for debate when it comes to effective hair styling.
An ionic hair dryer shoots out negative ions that break up the positive ions in water more quickly, preventing frizz and speeding up drying time. Tourmaline is a semi-precious mineral that also produces negative ions, though it’s n normally used to coat the interior of a hair dryer barrel or grills. This one is potentially tricky — The Wirecutter found little difference in their tester’s hair when testing hair dryers that claimed to be “ionic.” However, some hair stylists swear by this feature, saying that an ionic dryer does reduce frizz and even makes the hair shinier.
If a hair dryer is called “infrared,” it means that it uses long energy wavelengths to penetrate the hair deeply, making for a faster drying time compared to non-infared dryers. Similarly, ceramic and porcelain dryers are designed to do the same, but these materials can also result in more even heating for a more consistent temperature to protect your hair from damage.
And what about fancy terms like “conditioning beads” and “silk proteins” that claim to be housed in the barrel of some dryers? Some things really are too good to be true. The more outrageous the terms, the more likely they are to be marketing hype.
The features that matter
All the marketing mumbo jumbo aside, there are features that you’ll want in a hair dryer, especially if you plan on using it often.
- Design and weight: You want a dryer that’s comfortable to hold, avoiding awkwardly placed buttons if possible. A lightweight dryer is best — especially if you have thick hair that may take a little more time to dry. No one wants to feel like they’ve just gotten done with a strength training routine after blow drying their hair.
- Multiple speed and heat settings: These are a must because they’ll give you more control over the style of your hair as well as help to protect your hair from heat damage (though you should definitely use a heat protectant every time you use a heat tool). While not a necessity, a hair dryer that also has a cool air feature is also a plus, as it helps seal your hair cuticle once your hair is dry, giving your desired style a smooth finish.
- High wattage: A higher wattage motor will have more power and can cut down on the time that you’re exposing your hair to heat, which can be damaging over time. That being said, most hair dryers hover around 1,875 watts, so this is a good ballpark number.
- Cord length: To power up your hair dryer, a longer cord length anywhere from 6 to 9 feet is is ideal. You want it to be able to reach from the outlet to wherever you dry your hair whether it’s in your bathroom or in front of your vanity. A cord that’s too short will restrict your movement, and it’s even worse if the cord isn’t long enough to reach where you’re standing.
- Attachments: Hair dryers that come with extras like a concentrator attachment or a diffuser are especially useful for achieving different looks and styles.
- Warranty: As with any product that you’re paying a little more for, a hair dryer with a good warranty will provide you with peace of mind that if something breaks. The manufacturer will be able to fix the issue, or if the brand is really nice, even replace lost or broken attachments. Once you find your favorite hair dryer, you’ll definitely want to be able to use it for as long as possible.
The stress of finding the right hair dryer may make the price of beauty seem like a real beast, but not to worry — we’ve done the research for you. After combing through tons of reviews, we’ve found five notable hair dryers that stand apart from the rest, so you can choose the hair dryer that best fits your needs and budget.
Here are our top picks for the best hair dryers in 2019:
Updated on 5/16/2019 by Jada Wong: Updated formatting, prices, and links.