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By: Amy Arnott
Date: 2007-02-24 23:08:53
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Need to know how to buy or use a blowdryer, flat iron or curling iron? Well, look no further. This article is the first of a two-part answer to your prayers.

First I’m going to give you all the information you need to go out and get good quality tools that work for you. In the next issue, I’ll tell you all about how to use them. Hot tools can be like a magic wand. They can completely transform your hair, molding it into the shape and style you desire. But they are a double-edged sword. They must be used with discretion and respect for the hair. Why? Heat damages hair. Generally, the coarser your hair is, the more it can take (higher temperatures, more frequent use). But nobody is immune to damage. If you just go crazy and use your hot tools at the hottest heat and all the time, your hair will inevitably pay the price. It’s all about balancing long term goals with short term goals. You want to look really good in the short run (tonight), but you also want to look good in the long run (keeping it healthy).

When shopping for a flat iron, don’t even consider a steel one. Would you buy a cassette player?

If you overuse hot tools and fry your hair, it won’t even look nice in the short run anymore. There won’t be anything you can do to make it look good. Like most things in life, it’s all about moderation.

The latest thing in hair tools is ion technology. How it works is the tool generates negative ions that reduce the size of water molecules so that they are small enough to penetrate the hair, infusing the hair shaft with moisture. This also helps to seal the cuticle, making the hair shiny and removing "frizzies". In most cases, this is done using ceramic coils or plates. Ceramic not only emits negative ions, but retains an even temperature, avoiding the damaging "hot spots" you get with traditional copper coils and steel plates. Now they have discovered that a precious stone called tourmaline is the world’s best ionic and infrared generator (that we know of). Infrared heat is a more gentle heat that is less damaging on the hair. So basically, ceramic is good and tourmaline is better. And stay far, far away from steel!

- When purchasing a blowdryer, the longer and thicker your hair is, the more you really need to shop for quality. Prices start at about $50 for a decent one and go up to about $250. However, those top of the line dryers are really for professionals who are doing several blowdries a day, every day. You won’t be using yours that much, at least you better not be if you want any semblance of health left in your hair. Definitely look for an ionic dryer. They dry hair in about half the time it takes regular dryers.

EMF (electric magnetic field) levels are damaging to the hair when high, so look for the lowest possible. Traditional blowdryers contain up to 1500 microns of EMF, but you can find ones on the market today with virtually none. Other things you should keep an eye out for are different speed settings (fast & slow) and heat settings (hot & cold), to give you maximum versatility. Look for a decent level of power (1600 - 2000 watts) and something that’s not too heavy. I’m sure you know that your arms can get very tired when you’re holding them above your head. Take the dryer out of the box and check it out before you buy. You also want to look for a removable lint filter for easy cleaning and a nozzle to direct the air flow. Some dryers come with their own diffuser as well. This is a bonus, but if it doesn’t have one, don’t worry about it. You can buy a universal diffuser for around $15.

FLAT IRON - When shopping for a flat iron, don’t even consider a steel one. Would you buy a cassette player? No. For hair tools, steel is on par with those obsolete machines. You want at least ceramic plated or, better yet, solid ceramic plates. They distribute the heat evenly across the entire surface and radiate far-infrared heat to preserve moisture, causing less cuticle damage. Of course, they also emit negative ions, eliminating static and delivering much shinier, sleeker hair. Tourmaline is superior, generating up to six times more negative ions than ceramic. But unless you have extremely unruly hair, its not a necessity.

As for features, you want a dial with variable temperatures, quick heat-up time, and rounded edges on the plates for easy finishing. You also have a decision to make as to how wide of an iron to get. They range from 3/4" to 1 3/4". The thin ones are easier to get close to the scalp with, for shorter hair, and the fat ones work a little faster because they’re in contact with more hair at once. It’s a matter of personal preference, but the 1" or 1 1/4" is probably the most versatile. Some flat irons come with a built-in comb. This could make it a little easier to maneuver, but I’ve got to admit that I’ve never liked working with those irons. The problem is if you hit a knot and the hair gets stuck in the comb, it also gets stuck in the iron, and you risk burning your locks. NEVER a good thing!

CURLING IRON - Curls can add bounce and glamour to your hair. Once you know how to work that curling iron, you have a myriad of hairstyle options at your fingertips. There are two basic types of curling irons, marcel and spring-loaded. Marcel (spring-free) irons are still widely used behind the scenes at fashion shows and photo shoots, but for your purposes, I would definitely stick to the spring-loaded variety. You can identify it by the fact that when you push on the lever the iron springs open and when you let it go it springs back. Buying a curling iron is much like buying a flat iron. Unless you’re going back in time you’re going to want ceramic (not steel). You need those negative ions to give you shiny healthy-looking curls and steer clear of the "hay" effect.

Look for a dial with multiple temperature settings, allowing you to choose the heat level. Like flat irons, you also have to choose a size. The narrower the barrel is, the tighter the curl will be, so if you’re looking for tight spiral curls, get a skinny wand. If you want large loose curls, go fat. Unless you have short hair, I think the most versatile size is the 1" barrel. I use my 1" more than any other size. Its small enough to actually curl the hair (any bigger and you’re just curving, not curling) and big enough to shape it if that’s what you want. You also have to remember: the bigger the curl, the more it falls, so if you have hair that is extremely resistant to curling, go for a barrel that’s a little smaller.

Before investing in an iron, the best thing to do is to get your hairstylist to try different sizes on your hair at your next hair appointment and see how you like the effect. You can also get their professional advice on what size would be best for you based on your hair length and styling preferences.

CAUTION: Using hot tools for too long can dry out or even burn your hair. Watch your usage and keep on top of split ends. Make sure damage doesn’t travel up the hair shaft with regular hair trims (once every six to eight weeks). Weekly deep-conditioning will also be your guardian angel against damage if you use hot tools on a regular basis.

REMINDER: Watch for part two of this series: HOW TO USE HOT TOOLS. If you have any questions, please Private message me on by clicking here ., and I’ll give you the information you’re looking for, straight up.
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