A flatiron is one of the most versatile tools in your beauty arsenal. It can refresh a blowout, straighten curly strands, and even make beachy waves. But it is also dangerous for your hair if used incorrectly. You could be doing major damage to your hair if you’re not careful. Most irons get up to 450 degrees, which is a lot of heat for your hair to handle! So, we talked to T3 celebrity hairstylist David Lopez to find out the rules. Spoiler alert: That sizzling sound is not a good sign.
1. You totally ignore the words “ceramic,” “tourmaline,” and “titanium” on the box.
When you’re shopping for a new flatiron, there are a few things to consider. The most important question to answer: What are the plates made of? You’ll often see terms like “ceramic” in the description box. Flatiron plates made of ceramic heat more evenly than classic metal. But all ceramic hot tools are not made equal. Some flatirons just have a ceramic coating. Instead look for a product that says “triple-baked,” which means that the plates are ceramic through and through.
Another popular buzzword for hot tools is “tourmaline.” Lopez explains, “Tourmaline is a precious gemstone that emits negative ions. It helps close the cuticle of the hair and seal the moisture in for a longer-lasting style and a smoother finish.” So having tourmaline is definitely a plus.
And titanium is another trend in hot tools right now. “It is a smoother metal, so it glides along the hair better. And it’s a little more durable,” says Lopez. Of course, you can’t tell from looking at a flatiron if it has all these traits. But you can research to find out the specifics. The bad news: Quality is going to cost you! But think of this flatiron as a long-term investment.
2. You bought a flatiron without a temperature button.
A temperature gauge on a flatiron is crucial. The heat setting you use depends on your hair type and the style you want to achieve. Women with highlights or fine hair should stay near the middle of the setting options (think a three on a tool with five settings).
You want to stay away from the hottest heat setting, which is typically around 450 degrees. Lopez warns that for some women using high heat can permanently change your hair type. Heat damage can cause wavy hair to fall flat, ruining the texture. Just for some perspective, 450 is the temperature used for semi-permanent keratin straightening treatments. At home you want to stay in the 375-400 degree range (setting four out of five).
You also want to make sure your new flatiron has at least a one-year warranty. And pay attention to the design. “Make sure there is not a lot of space between the body of the flatiron and the plate itself, which will reduce snagging,” says Lopez. “You also want the edges of the flatiron to be nice and rounded in case you want to give it a bend.”
3. You use your flatiron on damp hair.
Never. This is a hard-and-fast rule. If you’re looking to straighten your hair, you should rough dry it with a blowdryer 100 percent first. No moisture left behind. “That sizzle sound? That’s the water boiling and your hair frying,” says Lopez.
4. You think heat protectant is unnecessary.
Rookie move. The pros know how important heat protectant is to maintaining the health of the hair. “With a heat protectant, you’re safeguarding your hair—reducing breakage, maintaining your natural texture, and reducing splitting,” says Lopez.
5. You use too much hairspray before adding heat.
If you see smoke when you flat iron your hair, it’s probably because you’ve applied too much product. It’s OK to use a little hairspray, but you don’t want to go overboard. “It can cause some breakage, especially on blonde and fine hair,” says Lopez. “You can use a very light hold hairspray for more control on frizzy hair.” Or simply apply hairspray after.
6. You use a super hot flatiron on bleached strands.
When you have colored hair, the rules are different. You can’t use the same shampoo, you need extra conditioning treatments, and you can’t use a flatiron on high temperatures. “The heat opens up the cuticle, and the color molecules rinse out faster,” say Lopez. This is true for bottle redheads and brunettes and it’s even worse with bleached hair and bright, rainbow colors.
7. You go over the same piece of hair over and over again.
“If you’re having to go over and over the same piece, your flatiron is not good or there is not enough tension,” said Lopez. You should only have to pass over the section once using the right technique. Take a clean section and clamp on the flatiron at the root. Twist the iron about 45 degrees downward to create tension and smooth the iron down to the ends.
8. You’re trying to get a sleek look grabbing big sections.
If you’re just trying to calm frizz, you can take large two-inch sections. However when it comes to getting a straight style, smaller sections are the better solution. Sure, it will take longer. But you won’t have to go over the hair again and again (see above). “Sections should be as wide as the plate of your iron,” says Lopez. “So, a one-inch iron means a one-inch section.
9. You only use your flatiron to straighten your strands.
Your flatiron is the most useful tool in your hot tool arsenal. Not only can you use it for straightening your style, but you can also use the iron to make beach waves and tight curls in your hair.
10. You’ve never cleaned your flatiron.
Burnt product and dust has a tendency to collect at the edges of a flatiron. And to protect your hair, it’s important to clean your tool periodically. You can use alcohol on a cool flatiron to clean off the residue. Or while the iron is still warm (but unplugged), wipe the plates with a damp towel.