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Curling Iron vs. Flat Iron: Which Tool Is Better?


Curling your hair isn’t always a seamless experience. From choosing a hot tool to figuring out how to hold it and what temperature to use, there's always a learning curve. A flat iron can create some seriously beachy waves, but so can a curling iron. So which tool is better for faking curly hair? We’re telling you how to curl your hair with a flat iron vs curling iron and breaking down the pros and cons of each. Plus, giving you the best tips for flat iron curls vs curling iron ahead!


Using a Curling Iron

A curling iron is sometimes used interchangeably with a curling wand, but they’re not the same hot tool. They both feature a heated rod that hair is wrapped around to form the curl. But the most obvious difference between the two is that a curling iron has a clamp, while a wand doesn’t. Curling wands are generally harder to master compared to curling irons and have higher burn risks. If you’re wondering how to get big curls, choose the curling iron for more definition and control. 


How to Use a Curling Iron

  1. Start with dry, heat-protected strands. Prep before you blow-dry with a heat protection curl primer to protect the hair from heat damage. Not only will it keep your strands from frying, but it'll help set the curl better.
  2. Tailor your heat setting for your hair type. For fine or damaged hair, set your temperature between 180°F to 370°F; for normal thickness and healthy hair, set it between 375°F to 395°; and for thick hair, set the temp between 400°F to 420°F.
  3. Pay attention to the angle you hold the curling iron. For big, bouncy curls or a classic blowout look, heat the root of your hair first and hold the iron perpendicular to the section you're curling. It should be straight off your head. If beachy waves are the goal, hold the iron straight down instead.
  4. Use a different wrapping technique depending on the type of curl you want. If you want an old-school voluminous curl, wrap all your hair around the barrel. If you want messier waves, leave the ends out and start lower down- about 2 inches from the root.
  5. Keep the curling iron on your hair for no longer than 10 seconds. You should only hold a curling iron on your hair for eight to 10 seconds max. And make sure to hold each curl for a consistent amount of time. Holding each section for a different amount of time or starting before the iron is hot enough will mess with the outcome.


Benefits of curling hair with a curling iron

Benefits of Curling Hair With a Curling Iron

  • You can control the size and shape of your curls
  • You get very defined and uniform curls
  • Curls and waves look smooth, with no frizz and stray flyaways
  • Curls last for a long time, especially when finished with hairspray
  • A quality curling iron lasts a long time and sometimes comes with replaceable barrels


Downsides of Curling Hair With a Curling Iron

  • Heat styling can damage your hair over time and cause breakage, frizz, and split ends
  • Curling hair with a curling iron takes time, effort, and attention
  • It can be difficult to curl short hair with a curling iron, but you can check out our previous post for tips on how to curl short hair
  • The barrel of the curling iron is a single size, so you’ll need multiple tools to achieve differently sized curls


Using a Flat Iron

Despite its name, a flat iron is not just for keeping hair straight. So why use a flat iron instead of a curling iron to curl your hair? A flat iron is one of the easiest ways to produce a number of different kinds of coils. Beachy waves, voluminous curls, even smaller, tighter bends all can be done with a flat iron, so there's no need to change barrel sizes or tools. Plus, the plates of a flat iron heat evenly, and this is the key to achieving curls that last. And once you have the technique down, a flat iron can be quicker than using a curling iron. It’s important to work in small sections with a flat iron. If you try working with too large of a section, the hair will slip out and create a funky crease in your hair. Holding the hair in the flat iron will also cause a crease, so don’t stop moving it. Simply glide the hair through and keep it moving. And just like when using a curling iron, make sure to prep with a heat protection spray, only use thermal styling on dry hair.


Using a flat iron for curls

How to Use a Flat Iron for Curls

  1. Starting with a small section of hair, clamp the straightener down gently towards the top of the hair section.
  2. Pull the straightener down the hair shaft as if you were going to straighten your hair as usual. But when you get to the part where you'd like the curl to begin, stop and proceed to the next stop. You want to move seamlessly from step two to step three while moving your straightener continuously, which might take a little practice.
  3. Pivot the straightener a half-turn away from your face and gently pull down straight through the rest of your hair. Repeat for each section of hair. 
  4. Once you've curled your entire hair, use your fingers to massage the roots, which will help break up the curls.


How to Use a Flat Iron For Beachy Waves

Simple Beach C-Waves

  1. Section off the front and separate about an inch-wide per piece of hair.
  2. Beginning at the root, make a “C” shape with the rounded curve facing the outside. Depending on how many waves you want, drag the flat iron a little longer or shorter when you create the C-shape wave. 
  3. Repeat this motion in the opposite direction to create an "S."
  4. Continue down the length of the hair until you reach the ends- you want to keep these a little straighter.
  5. Use your fingers to shake the hair out with a texture spray or sea salt spray.

Beachy Pin Curls

  1. Gather a small vertical section of hair
  2. Use your fingers to twist the strand from roots to ends.
  3. Wrap the twisted section into a pin curl.
  4. Using a good amount of tension, press down on the pin curl with the flat iron for four seconds.
  5. Repeat until the entire head is done.
  6. Work a curl building serum into the hair for undone, beachy waves.

Beachy waves Davines

Benefits of Curling Hair With a Flat Iron

  • You can use flat irons to create different types of waves and curls 
  • Flat irons reduce frizz and roughness, making hair smooth and manageable
  • Flat irons are lightweight and portable 


Downsides of Curling Hair With a Flat Iron

So which tool is best for you? It depends on your style. Curling irons make curls almost foolproof, but they’re limited to only one size unless you use interchangeable barrels. A flat iron is a great multipurpose tool that creates messy beachy waves and big curls, but takes practice. Need some tips? Book a styling lesson with a Davines stylist in your area and let us show you how to curl your hair like a pro.


Flat Iron Curls vs Curling Iron FAQ

  1. Do Flat Iron Curls Last Longer?
    Because the hair is exposed evenly to heat with a flat iron, the curls and waves they create last significantly longer than with a curling iron.
  2. Which Tool is Better for Beach Waves?
    You can create beach waves with both hot tools, but a flat iron is a better choice if you want messy, effortless beach waves.
  3. Can You Use a Curling Iron Daily?
    Daily use of a curling iron can damage your hair, especially if your hair is already coarse and dry. Daily exposure to heat dries out your hair, making it more vulnerable to split ends and breakage. The more heat you use, and the more frequently you use it, the worse the damage will be.


Best Curl Care with Davines

Whether you choose flat iron curls vs curling iron, the right products and curly hair hacks in this article will help you get the twists and bends of your dreams. A few of our favorite hair styling products for creating curls include:

All of our formulas are free of harmful toxins, use natural ingredients, and are made with renewable energy and packaging that minimizes the environmental impact. Our hair care isn’t just good for your hair, it’s good for the planet. 


by Jaclyn LaBadia, featured contributor


Non-aerosol hairspray for a brushable hold and natural finish.


Glossy mist for shiny, velvety hair


For adding airy volume to any kind of hair


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