What to look for in a hair dryer

Anula Wiwatowska
Jun 26, 2024
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Looking to get a salon quality blow out at home, but don't really know what to look for? We got you. Picking a hair dryer seems simple, but there is more to it than just blowing hot air.

In this guide we break down the most important specs in a hair dryer to help you find the best one for your budget.

Power

How powerful a hair dryer is will dictate how quickly you can dry your hair. This comes in two elements, wattage and airflow. While the two are somewhat linked, we're still looking at two very different specs.

Wattage refers to the amount of electricity the hair dryer uses, and is also a good indicator of how hot it can go. High wattage around the 2000W mark is about the same as a strong fan heater, so as you can imagine that hot air can get toasty. The hotter the air, the faster your hair will dry but it also raises the potential for heat damage if it isn't harnessed properly. As a general rule we recommend hair dryers that have around 1600W of power. That tends to be hot enough to style your hair, but not enough to fry it.

A higher wattage also enables faster airflow along with heat, but this can be a double edged sword. Faster airflow helps to push your hair in to the shape that you want, but it can also be difficult to control if you're new to air styling. Lower airflow is all around gentler on your hair and can make it easier to get a sleek look.

It is important to remember that your hair type will play a big part in the exact settings you need. Thicker, and curlier hair generally need more power and heat than thin, straight hair does. To hedge your bets look for hair dryers that have multiple air flow and heat settings, and if you're a curly girl go for something with a bit more oomph in the wattage area.

Hair health

When it comes to heat styling, hair health should always be at the forefront of your decision making. This isn't the early 2000s, we know better now!

There are a bunch of different elements to look at when it comes to prioritising hair health with hair dryers, but the most important part will always be heat. Hair can begin to damage at as low as 60°C with more substantial damage coming in at around the 140°C mark. Once again this will vary depending on hair types, but these are good figured to keep in mind.

High end hair dryers will give you air temperature across each setting while with the cheaper devices you get left in the dark. If you can swing it, opt for a dryer that actually tells you the temperature on the box but if that isn't in your budget then look for devices with comparitively lower wattage. It won't be exact, but you'll get a good indication from that. If you're looking for the mac-daddy of hair dryers like the Dyson Nural, you may just snag some intelligent heat features along with it but these are few and far between.

You'll also want to look for good airflow directionality. As pointed out above, fast airflow can be of great benefit but if it isn't harnessed properly then it can work against you. Look out for reviews that mention how concentrated the airflow is, or even better, test it before you buy. A simple way to check airflow concentration is to grab a good chunk of hair and position the dryer to blow down the strands. Look at how your hair responds; does it all head in the same direction or do some fly off to the side? The less chaotic the flow, the smoother the results.

Accessories like diffusers and concentrators can help the airflow work better for your hair type. Most hair dryers come with at least these two included in the pack, but some also come with flyaway tools and round brushes.

Finally, make sure your dryer uses ceramic heating elements, and ideally has ionic features too. These help to tame flyaways and static, while also adding an additional layer of protection between the heating element and the hair.

Design and ergonomics

Blow drying your hair takes a while, so you want something that is lightweight and comfortable to use. This is where the design and ergonomics come in to play.

First up, the lighter the hair dryer the nicer it is going to be to use for an extended period of time. No one wants to lug a 1kg weight around their head for half an hour, but 500g is far more acceptable. It is also worth thinking about the balance of the design. If it is too top heavy, even those 500g might start feeling heavy after a while.

Other things to take in to consideration are loudness, button placement, and cable length. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause hearing loss, so you don't want something blasting at 90dB right next to your ears. Once again these kind of specs don't turn up as much on cheaper devices, but if you are in the market for a pricier hair dryer look out for the dB count.

Also think about where the buttons are positioned and how that will feel switching between modes as you style your hair, and whether the cable is long enough. It might be a small thing, but little annoyances can really add up over time. For example, I'm personally not a fan of the control buttons on Dyson's Supersonic range. My little thumbs can't get up that high.

Price and warranty

Naturally the outright price is going to play in to your decision making, but it is also worth factoring in the warranty and any potential repair costs.

Chances are that you don't replace your hair dryer every year, so you'll want something with some longevity. Longer warranty periods and repair programs will generally mean you're more likely to get more time out of the device. 

Brand staying power

Tying in to the above, when you're looking to buy any product - hair dryer included - think about the longevity of the brand.

A friend of mine was tossing up between the Dyson Airwrap and the Shark dupe. Considering that she was willing to drop nearly $1000 on this styler, Dyson seemed like the better bet. Afterall the brand has some real sticking power, so if in five years that device needs to be repaired there is a higher chance that Dyson will still be there to do it. It is the same reason that I would recommend brands like Cloud Nine, or GHD, or Samsung.

Of course if you're just looking for a cheapy to get you through the next year or so, then this doesn't really matter. However if you want to invest in a quality piece of machinery, it pays to look at the history of the brand you're buying from.

Anula Wiwatowska
Written by
Anula is the Content and Social Media Editor within the Reviews.org extended universe. Working in the tech space since 2020, she covers phone and internet plans, gadgets, smart devices, and the intersection of technology and culture. Anula was a finalist for Best Feature Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards, and an eight time finalist across categories at the IT Journalism Awards. Her work contributed to WhistleOut's Best Consumer Coverage win in 2023.

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