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Hair dryers

Hair dryer buying guide

Last updated: March 2012

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Getting started

You can pay $20 or more than $200 for a blow dryer, but does it really matter what you spend? We tested several models to find out. All of them were ionic dryers, and several makers claimed that theirs had tourmaline and/or ceramic technology. Despite big differences in price and wattage (ranging from 1,300 to 1,875), drying time didn't vary much. So if speed is key, shelling out a lot doesn't pay. But once we factored in noise and other features, we found a few standouts that should give you plenty of great hair days.

Types

Ceramic

Solid ceramic plates, disks, or heaters. "Infrared heat works on molecules inside the hair, drying it inside and out," a manufacturer said. Another claimed, "Airflow contacts the unique internal ceramic disk, creating high, even heat distribution for shinier, healthy-looking hair."

Ionic

Charged ions used in plates or released by the blow dryer. One manufacturer said ionic technology "causes large water droplets on the hair to be broken up into smaller drops." "When droplets are smaller, more water is absorbed into the hair," The manufacturer continued. Another said, "Complete ionic coverage controls frizz and enhances shine."

Tourmaline

Crushed natural gemstones are used in the plates or heaters to emit ions. Tourmaline is "long recognized for its incredible ability to generate optimal infrared energy to transform lifeless locks into salon-perfect tresses anytime anywhere," said one straightener's packaging.

How we test

The only way to see how a dryer will work on hair is to test it on, well, hair. So our testers purchased straight, clean human hair (yes, companies actually sell the stuff for about $12 a swatch) and soaked it in warm water. Then the testers powered up the dryers. Even the slightest change in humidity can affect a blow dryer's performance, so all the tests were done in a locked metal chamber, shown above, where the humidity and temperature were kept constant. We also had a panel of 10 staff members take the blow dryers home and try them for at least two days each. The dryers were rated on how easy they were to use, sound level, and how satisfied the testers were with the results.

Next, because we know from experience that it's nice to be able to hear yourself think even when performing mindless grooming tasks, we checked noise levels in a specially designed sound chamber. The sound levels ranged from "motorcycle" loud to "city traffic" noisy. That's where we found the only really big differences among the more expensive models and the cheaper ones: Paying more can get you a quieter dryer. Finally, because we were a little worried about the phrase "ionic technology," we tested the dryers to see if they spewed ozone gas. The ionic air cleaners we've tested in the past have emitted the gas, which can present a health problem if you have asthma or any other respiratory ailment. But after checking the dryers with our Photometric O3 Analyzer (we don't mess around!), we were not able to detect any ozone.

   

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