Hair drying has evolved from its earliest days. Long ago, it was the whole dryer-attached-to-a-hose number that dried hair while you were tied to a cap filled with air, resulting in a Jiffy Pop vibe. It’s evolved even from the long-barreled, gun-looking blow-dryer that gave your hair the Farrah flip. Here is what you need to know to buy the best blow-dryer for your hair type and your budget, as well as a few tips to get the best blowout ever.

Blow dryer tips

A blow-dryer can make your hair great … or gross. Image credit: Allwomenstalk.com

Why the right dryer matters

First, you need to understand what blow-dryers can do to your hair. Of course, they can dry and help you style your hair. But they can also make your hair frizzy and/or dull. Therefore, choosing the right blow-dryer can help fight frizz, add body and keep hair healthy.

Frizz occurs when your dry, damaged hair meets moisture (humidity anyone?) and soaks up the water in the air. The water makes the core of the hair swell and “breaks” the cuticle, which creates an uneven surface, also known as frizz. Using a hair dryer that is too hot or blows heat unevenly can damage your hair, making it prone to frizz and, since the cuticle is uneven and doesn’t reflect the light, strip the shine, making hair look dull.

Ceramic dryers

You know that cheap pan that always has one hot spot that will burn part of the food and undercook the rest? A metal or plastic blow-dryer is sort of like that cheap pan. The heat that comes out of a regular hair dryer using metal coils can be too hot in spots, making it easy to overdry your hair. A ceramic dryer uses ceramic coils and has superior heat conduction, so hair is dried evenly without any hot spots that can damage it. And since it conducts heat so efficiently, you don’t have to use the high setting to dry even thick, coarse hair. So a ceramic dryer is like trading your college-days-beat-to-crap-old-pan for copper-clad cookware. Except instead of a perfectly cooked omelet, you get shiny, nonfrizzy hair. Both are good!

Blow dryers

Blow-dryers have gone high-tech, with accessories like this diffuser. We help your decipher what you need. Image credit: Brit + Co

Ionic dryers

Now for the science lesson. Ions are electrically charged particles. An ionic dryer shoots out negative ions. Water contains positive ions. The negative ions break up the water’s positive ions into tiny particles making them scatter across the hair surface, drying your hair faster. Less dry time means less heat is needed. Less heat means less damage. Class dismissed. Well, almost. Ionic hair dryers can also leave fine hair more limp that usual, and never let the water get to the core of the hair (remember the lesson on frizz?) so super straight and fine hair will have less volume and body.

Tourmaline dryers

Tourmaline is a semiprecious mineral that — wait for it — produces negative ions. Beauty tool scientists (yes, their are such things) created blow-dryers with crushed tourmaline to coat the interior of the dryer and emit all those water-busting, hair-smoothing ions. In a Good Housekeeping lab test, the tourmaline blow-dryers dried hair roughly 40 percent faster than an ionic dryer. Of course, this dry time comes at a cost: tourmaline dryers are usually priced higher than ionic or ceramic dryers.

Tools & wattage

No matter which blow-dryer you choose, there are features and accessories you’ll want to look for. The cool button featured on many popular models can add a shot of cold air to “set” your style. A diffuser, a snap-on attachment that spreads the air over a wider area, is perfect for drying curly hair. And a concentrator, that gadget that comes with nearly every blow-dryer, is perfect for directing air if you use a round brush for styling.

In life, sometimes bigger is better, and other times, not so much. In terms of how much wattage you need, bear this in mind: the more watts your blow-dryer has, the more power and heat. A safe range for most hair types is 1,300 to 1,800 watts. There are blow-dryers with megamotors … some professional models for in-salon use boast 3,600 watts. But unless you are drying your hair dozens of times a day like a salon, you won’t need to pony up for that much power. Remember, power in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing!

Ready to buy?

If you know what kind of dryer you need, here are a few last things to consider before taking the plunge. First, is time of the essence for you? Then any of these three types of dryers — ceramic, tourmaline or ionic — will be a perfect fit.

Second, what is your hair texture? Fine hair should nix ionic and tourmaline dryers and opt for ceramic for the even heating without making already-fine hair turn flat. Curly hair should opt for ionic or tourmaline with attachments, and thick hair needs wattage for power. 

One last note when shopping for your magic beauty tool? Price can vary widely for blowdryers. A tourmaline model can run $200, while salon quality dryers with uber high wattage can range from $150 to $250. You can score ceramic dryers for anywhere from around $50 to $100, and ionic dryers can start at around $25.

And lastly, want more tips for the perfect blow-dry? We tapped Deidre DeFelice, director of operations at The Blowout Co. of Nashville, to share her secrets on choosing the perfect blow-dryer.

Should you rub your hair with a towel to blot out extra water and cut down on dry time?

You should not rub your hair with the towel, or it will roughen up the hair cuticle. To help keep the hair smooth, just squeeze the water out using the towel.

What blow-dryer do you use?

I use a Nano Titanium by Babyliss Pro. It’s lightweight, not too loud and works fast!

Are there certain settings on the blow-dryer that are important?

If your hair is thick and/or coarse, the highest setting will be the most effective. For finer hair or more fragile hair, the medium heat setting is perfectly fine. Whichever you use, make sure you spray a heat protectant on the hair prior to drying! I could not live without the cool setting! Switch your blow-dryer to cool after your hair is rolled into the round brush at the place you want to see the most volume (like the crown). This sets the hair for optimal volume and curl, and closes down the hair cuticle for extra shine.

For curly hair, is a diffuser attachment a good idea?

A lot of people don’t realize how much natural curl they have until they use a diffuser. It’s a wonderful tool to enhance your natural texture. You have to start diffusing when your hair is soaking wet, though, and stop before it’s all the way dry to avoid frizz. Also, of course, a good curl enhancing lotion is a necessity. I love Motion Lotion by Kevin Murphy. Don’t use gel! No one wants crunchy curls.