An idiot’s guide to using hair irons

Hair irons are truly one of the greatest weapons in your styling arsenal, yet also one that is often (accidentally) misused. This can mean lacklustre results at best, and frazzled, eff-ed up hair at worst. Of course, when things go bad, it’s often your hairdresser dealing with the frizzy fall-out. So, who better to school us on the way of the heated styler than those using them day in, day out across the land? Let’s plug in and play…

Don’t use your irons on hair that isn’t dry

Yeah, we know this sounds like a stupid comment, but you’d be surprised how many think hair that’s 90% dry will be okay, and that the heat of the irons will effectively dry AND style the hair at the same time. It won’t. “Steaming damp hair dry with an iron is a recipe for damage,” sighs Philip B, hairdresser and founder of the Philip B range. There, we’ve said it, so let’s move on and never speak of this idiocy again. We’re all better than this…

Don’t keep going over the same section of hair

A common mistake that many DIYers make is continued “passes” over the same section of hair. That’s a no-no. However, our stylists differ slightly in their answers: D&J Ambrose’s Darren Ambrose is a solid one-pass dude, while Katie Allan at Charles Worthington Salons advises no more than twice, otherwise “it can look overdone and the hair can start to lose its moulding ability”. Matthew Sutcliffe from Tint Creative Hair Salon in Leeds recommends no more than three. “Most modern professional irons have an even distribution of heat on the plates, therefore making straightening more time consuming but a lot less damaging for your hair,” he adds.

Cloud Nine

How hot should you have it?

Ah, a great question – and one that can get stylists rather, ahem, hot under the collar (sorry, couldn’t resist). For example, some adored stylers – such as the iconic ghd range – have only one heat option. The ghd boffins in its Cambridge lab maintain that the optimum temperature for heat styling hair is 185˚C, so it ensures that all its irons hit that sweet spot, and its tri-zone technology ensure the heat is distributed across the plates in an even fashion. Very clever.

Yet there are others who suggest using an iron with a temperature dial, so that you can tailor the temperature to your hair type – use a lower heat on bleached/pre-lightened hair (Cloud Nine recommends starting at 125˚C especially around the hairline, then maybe moving up to 150˚C if needed for the rest of the hair), while you can go higher on ‘virgin’ hair. Thick/coarse and textured hair can take it all the way up to 200˚C. Want an iron with temperature control? Check out Cloud Nine’s Wide Iron, Paul Mitchell’s Neuro Smooth or BaByliss PRO’s Titanium Expression Ultimate Styler.

Whatever the heat, Charles Worthington’s Katie Allan says keep an eye on the clock: “Do not hold them in place for longer than eight seconds,” she advises, and to cool them down quicker (and to make it easier to pack them after use) she recommends running a cool, damp towel over the plates.

Do I use irons on hair with product in it?

Well, perhaps look at it this way – NEVER use irons on hair without product in it! At the very least you need a heat protector/barrier to avoid your hair being, quite literally, fried like a piece of streaky bacon. Some of the electrical brands have rather fabulous sprays for this job – Cloud Nine’s Magical Quick Dry Potion is a little miracle that reduces drying time by up to 50 per cent, as well as providing heat protection and a UV filter, while ghd’s Heat Protect Spray provides an invisible barrier using the brand’s Heat Protect System. Otherwise, Redken has the brilliant Pillow Proof Blow Dry Express Primer Spray, which protects up to 230˚C, and one of the most common sights backstage at Fashion Week is a bottle of the heat-activated Techi.ART Pli (pronounced “plee”) from L’Oreal Professionnel. Once you’ve used such a barrier as your foundation, you can layer other products on top to get the finish you crave.



But stay away from hairspray and oil!

DO NOT use hairspray on the hair before using irons. “The heat from the plates will heat the alcohol in the hairspray and damage the hair. Even worse, the hair could snap!” warns Tint Creative Hair Salon’s Matthew Sutcliffe. Jason Collier – based at Matthew Curtis Hair in Rosewood London and celebrity stylist who was taught the art of the S bend wave by none other than Ken Paves, Victoria Beckham’s BFF – has another top tip: “Never apply hair oils beforehand. Overloading the hair in products will also result in a crispy, frazzled look.”

Is your hair bleached or over-processed? Think again…

Heat protector sprays and Olaplex-style hair bonders can only do so much, so if you hit the bleach regularly or have very sensitive coloured hair, think very carefully about using irons, and if you must, keep it to a minimum. “It is important to point out that any heat appliances should not be used on overly processed hair as this will cause further damage,” warns Jack Merrick-Thirlway, senior stylist at Neville Hair & Beauty in Knightsbridge.

BaByliss PRO

There’s more than one direction…

We’re betting you’ve been sat in the salon chair impressed as your hairdresser turns the irons this way and that to get a stellar wave that Selena Gomez would kill for… then sobbed while you’ve tried (and failed) to repeat that magic at home. Girl, you just need to know which way to go!

If you’re waving your hair, Shruty Stephenson from Preston’s Scream Hairdressing advises this: “Look into the mirror, on the left-hand side of your hair you turn the iron away from the face, i.e. anti-clockwise, and vice versa on the other side.”

How curly or wavy you want it all depends on how much you turn the iron, says Lloyd Court for seanhanna salons. “If you’re looking for a softer wave, then only twist the iron around the hair once. If you want a curlier result, twist the iron more. Also, if you’re looking for a flatter wave, you should pull the irons towards the floor when twisting. Want a wider wave or curl? Then twist outwards from the head.”

If you want a modern, undone finish to your hair, Charles Worthington Salons’ Katie Allan suggests mixing up your bends. “You need to alternate the directions of your waves, so that some go forward and some go backwards,” she says. “Curls that go backwards always sits nicer in my opinion and frame the face better.”

Want effortless waves? The team at Barrie Stephen in Leicester have a little video for you…

“I feel the need, the need for speed…”

You might think that speed makes no difference to your heat styling. WRONG! “When using straighteners to curl or straighten your hair, slide the plates down the hair in one swift slow movement,” says Joe Hemmings at Bloggs Salons in Bristol. “But when curling, the slower you go, the tighter the curl will be.”

Made a mistake? Stay cool

If your section of hair doesn’t curl the way you want it to, don’t despair – this can be remedied, with a little patience. “Leave it to cool down before having another go,” says Bloggs Salon’s Joe. “Don’t keep going over the same bit, this will just cause unnecessary heat damage.”

Don’t forget the final touch

“Always curving the straighteners under when reaching the ends,” recommends Rachel Valentine for seanhanna salons. “This will smooth down the cuticle, hiding any split ends and making it look super natural.” Now it’s safe to grab the hairspray and set it in place. Hurrah!