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Temperature: To curl your hair without burning it, pay careful attention to the heat setting. General guideline: The thinner your hair, the lower the setting should be. For moderately thick hair, set iron at the middle setting; for very coarse hair use the highest one.
Barrel size: Size does matter! Generally, the smaller the barrel, the tighter the curl. Choose a 1-1/2-inch barrel (or bigger) if you want loose waves; anything 3/4 inch or smaller will create tight ringlets.
Barrel material: While metal barrels are the old reliables, many new irons come with ceramic barrels, which help heat penetrate the hair shaft more quickly and more evenly, resulting in curls that are more defined in less time.
Our pick: Revlon Perfect Heat Ceramic 3/4-inch curling iron, $14.99 (shown)
Why: With 30 heat settings and needing only 60 seconds to warm up, this tiny iron helps shape tight curls on even the shortest hair.For Spectacular Spirals
Our pick: Conair Instant Heat Spiral Styler, $14.99
Why: Creates corkscrew spirals effortlessly on short or long hair. In addition to 25 heat settings, it features a Turbo Heat button to lock in curls.To Make Waves
Our pick: Ceramic Tools 1-1/4-inch Professional Curling Iron, $35.95
Why: Sexy, soft waves are a snap with this ion-emitting, frizz-eliminating ceramic barrel iron featuring 25 heat settings.For Big Bounce
Our pick: Remington 2-inch Protect and Shine Triple Protection Curling Iron, $14.99
Why: Teflon coating over a ceramic barrel helps prevent hair breakage. With 30 heat settings and a light that indicates when the iron is ready, this jumbo workhorse easily creates subtle waves.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, November 2005.