Aside from brand name and superficial appearance, do you really know what differentiates one flatiron from the next? Since a flatiron is actually a pretty complicated device, we tapped hair royalty Anne Maza, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Olivia Garden (her family founded the brand) for everything we need to know before scoring our next flatiron, and how to tell if it’s really worth the investment. Three main features distinguish flatirons — the type of heaters, the type of plates and the shape of the iron.
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Dual MCH Heaters
There are two types of heaters found inside irons, known as MCH (Metal Ceramic Heater) or PTC (Positive Temperature Coefficient). MCH is the more efficient of the two, and is also the more expensive – this is because it has the shortest temperature recovery time. Temperature recovery refers to how quickly an iron will heat up even when on a cool surface (like your hair), as Anne explains. “The temperature of your flatiron is 400 degrees but your hair is only about 60 degrees, so when the iron plates come in contact with the hair, it cools down the plates due to the huge temperature difference. How quickly a heater realizes that something is trying to cool it down, and how quickly it sends that extra energy to the plates to keep or return to its target temperature is called Temperature Recovery Time. The shorter the TRT, the more stable and consistent heat on your flatiron, so you can style your hair faster and better.” The best flatirons will have dual MCH heaters, meaning one in each plate.
Another key to a quality flatiron is whether or not a flatiron has “floating plates.” Floating plates aren’t exactly suspended as the name suggests, but instead have a bit of “give” or “spring” when the iron is closed and the plates are squeezed. “Floating plates are important because they will guarantee the optimal compression of the hair as it glides through the plates, making sure that the plates apply pressure along their entire length, no matter the hair type, texture or size of the section taken,” describes Anne.
Shape of the Iron
Since a flatiron is basically our go-to problem-solver for every situation (eliminating frizz, straightening hair, and even creating curls), it may seem obvious, but you need to be comfortable holding it. Can you comfortably apply pressure on the plates? Does your flatiron conform to your grasp in all situations? Other than how it feels, the shape of the body of the flatiron needs to be considered, because if it is too flat, you won’t be able to easily create waves or curls. “The body should be slightly circular without being too round either. The plates should be as close to the lateral edges as possible, so you can reach the hair as close to the roots as possible, and the weight is important, so make sure that it isn’t too heavy,” adds Anne.
Try This At-Home
To find out if the iron you’re interested in is quality, check for the type of heater and look for a short temperature recovery time, since you aren’t likely to find the technical names of the heaters. For the floating plates and the shape, Anne explains “the packaging should be designed in a way that you can easily open the box and interact with the product before purchase, if there isn’t one on display in the store.”
If you’re wondering if your iron at-home is worth it or if it’s time for an upgrade, Anne encourages double-checking the weight, shape and floating plates. If you’re unsure about heater type, it’s all about how many passes it takes to straighten hair. “Are you finding that on the first few strands, you can shape your hair in one pass, while for the other strands you need to pass over it several times? If so, the heater has slow TRT and, therefore, is slowing you down.”
Titanium v. Ceramic
You generally have two options when it comes to purchasing a flatiron — titanium or ceramic. “Both are good options,” says Anne, who confirms that they are very different in performance. “Ceramic plates are smooth and gentle on the hair. Titanium offers more pull, more tension and a more aggressive heat. There is a purpose for each one but Ceramic heat is gentler on the hair.”
Not all ceramics are created equally, however, and you can judge the quality of the ceramic coating on the plates. “There are 3 types of ceramic coating, one that lasts 30,000 passes, one that lasts 50,000 passes and one that lasts 100,000. The highest quality will last you the longest, so look for that one whenever possible,” Anne suggests.
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Options are Optimal
Anne also recommends seeking out a quality flatiron with additional features, such as a large digital screen for temperature reading and easy to use buttons, “fun fact, plastic buttons are far superior to rubber buttons,” she adds.
You also want to check the time of the auto-shut off feature. “Some are 30 minutes while others are 60 minutes. 30 minutes is much better as you don’t want you flat iron left on any longer than necessary!” A swiveling cord is also a must since flatirons are constantly being turned and twisted, as are a range of temperature settings. “There isn’t one temperature that works for all hair types and all situations — sometimes you will need more heat than at other times.”
The the Olivia Garden Ceramic + Ion Flat Iron: $159.99 was designed taking all possible features into consideration. The iron has dual high-quality MCH heaters, floating plates with ceramic plate quality that can endure 100,000 passes, a large digital screen with easy to adjust buttons, 11 temperature settings, a 10 ft swiveling cord with a hanging loop an ergonomic shape (with a special thumb rest), cool tips (so you can touch the tip of the ironing without getting burned) and other ease-of-use features, including a heat mat and a travel lock.