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Natasha Hatendi/CNN Nothing changes a woman’s attitude — or confidence — like a fresh blowout. But the days of popping into your favorite blow-dry bar or salon may feel like ancient history in the time of Covid, making hair dryers all the more important. So to get that just-stepped-out-of-the-salon look at home, we set out to test nine of the market’s top-rated models and were, well…blown away by how much magic a new hair dryer can work.
We spent hours testing the dryers, ranging in price from $25 to $399, on four different hair textures: fine and straight-to-wavy; thick and curly; 4b curls with extensions; and thick and wavy-to-curly. We looked at obvious factors, such as dry time, heat and airflow speed, but also other important components ranging from attachments and unique features to cord length and weight.
By the end of the process, we’re pretty sure we at least doubled our upper arm strength (happy benefit) and found three winners that left our hair looking healthy, silky smooth, frizz- and flyaway-free:
Best affordable hair dryer
Our value vote goes to the Revlon One-Step. If you’ve never been able to get the hang of holding a hair dryer in one hand and a round brush in the other simultaneously, this model mashes the two together, resulting in ultra-shiny, frizz-free hair.
Best mid-range hair dryer
The Drybar Buttercup, from the popular blow-dry bar chain, comes in a fun, cheery bright yellow. At $199, it’s pricey, but except for the Dyson, it simply outperformed its competitors in dry time, settings and versatility, working well on various hair types.
Best high-end hair dryer
The Dyson Supersonic is expensive. Like, $400 expensive. But, man, does it live up to its hype. It dries hair at warp speed, blasts out heat at a whopping 70 mph, is much, much quieter than other models we tested, and is just futuristic and cool all around.
Natasha Hatendi/CNN A best-seller on Amazon, this much-beloved brush-style hair dryer had us curious. Would it live up to the hype? Can 150,000 Amazon reviewers be wrong? Well, not only were our testers impressed by how fast the One-Step dries hair at its highest setting, but the blowout results it produced right up there with the Dyson. “I loved, loved, loved the way this tool made my hair look — straight, shiny and like I just left the salon,” said one tester. “Honestly, I loved this thing for its ability to leave my hair shiny and frizz-free,” raved another.
The One-Step dryer is unique in that it includes a non-detachable brush head with nylon pin bristles, allowing you to both dry and brush through your hair at the same time, easing the awkwardness of using both a brush in one hand and a dryer in the other, which gives many folks trouble.
At 1.8 pounds, it’s on the heavier side of the dryers we tested, but its design still manages to feel light in your hand. Since it was a bristled brush, we were unnecessarily worried about issues with tangling (there was none at all), and the 4.25-inch oval barrel design lets you get close to the root, allowing for a volume boost, while you can also bend or lightly curl the ends.
Other great features include ionic and ceramic technology (which you can read more about below), three heat/speed settings and a cool option, plus a four-year warranty. The buttons, though, are at the bottom of the handle, so you will need to stop what you’re doing to change settings.
Be warned: This sucker’s highest setting gets really, really hot. As in we were starting to sweat by the time we were done.
It’s major flaw, of course, is that if you don’t want a sleek and shiny blowout and want your hair to dry curly or wavy, or you have time only for a rough dry, this isn’t the tool to use and you’ll need an additional hair dryer. But if you only straighten your hair during a blowout? This is all you’ll need.
Natasha Hatendi/CNN Fans of Drybar will instantly recognize this high-end hair dryer by its bright yellow hue. And they probably won’t be too surprised to learn that this retail version, the same style used in the blow-dry salons, delivers shiny, bouncy hair even without a professional stylist at the helm.
Weighing 1 pound, 2 ounces (only two dryers, one of which is travel size, were lighter), it still packs a lot. It features ionic technology (which you can read more about below), a powerful 1,875-watt motor and a long, 9-foot cord. It has six settings, and there’s a great heat range with a distinctive difference between low, medium and high, along with a very cool cool-shot button.
In use, it was one of the quietest of the models we tested with minimal vibration. It works well on a variety of hair types and comes with two nozzle attachments: a smoother and a concentrator. Buttons, located on the inside of the handle (which itself was really comfortable and makes the dryer easy to manipulate), make it easy to toggle between settings with your thumb while it’s in use. Overall, it resulted in our testers’ hair looking healthy, shiny and super straight, all without too much bicep strain to get it there.
Next to the Dyson, the Buttercup gave the fastest finish time for our testers with fine, straight-to-wavy hair, 4b curls and thick, curly hair, and tamed even our most stubborn waves and curls without much effort.
Drawbacks? A curly-haired tester notes that with no included diffuser attachment, the Buttercup’s focus is on rough dries or straightening hair, so those embracing their curls may prefer another model. It’s also expensive (and only has a two-year warranty).
When we consider a single trip to a Drybar salon sets you back $50, shelling out $200 for countless blowouts feels like a bargain.
Natasha Hatendi/CNN Dyson’s Supersonic has received so many accolades and awards that we almost wanted it to be a flop. Because $400 for a hair dryer? Who’s willing to pay that? But after putting this expensive, high-tech apparatus through multiple tests, we can firmly say: we are.
With a powerful V9 digital motor that’s cleverly housed in the handle, giving it a unique and even balance, the Supersonic features intelligent heat control that measures its air temp 40-plus times per second — so it won’t overheat and you get damage control. Air is sucked in through the bottom of the ergonomic, comfortable-to-hold handle (unlike most hair dryers, where it comes in at the back of the barrel), making it less likely for long hair to get pulled into the filter.
It also comes with three magnetic attachments — a diffuser, smoothing nozzle and concentrator nozzle — that stick on super easily and securely. The attachments are also engineered so they don’t get hot, which means you can swap them out or rotate them without missing a beat — or burning your fingers. Eight settings — three for speed (fast, regular, gentle), four for heat (including a cold setting) and cold shot (which you can read more about below) — are available and it has the best distinct heat range tested (that is, you can really tell a difference between high, medium and low heat).
Other highlights: This model creates virtually no vibration, which means it’s more comfortable to use. It has a 9-foot cord, so you can move about freely. And while we don’t know of any hair dryer that’s silent, this model is much quieter than others we tested. In fact, it’s quiet enough you can follow along with a TV show or FaceTime a friend while using it (a bonus for those trying to avoid waking small kids or sleeping partners). It isn’t the lightest hair dryer we tested, but its durable, distinct design makes holding it feel rather effortless. It also comes with a non-slip mat and storage hanger, and its compartmentalized packaging is, er, head and shoulders, above the rest. (Plus, if you choose the “gift edition,” a red-and-nickel version, your Supersonic will arrive along with a fancy faux-leather carrying case.)
As for the most critical elements (the time it takes to dry hair and its results), the Supersonic is lightning fast: It dried testers’ hair in half the time it took most other models. “This hair dryer is simply the greatest of all time,” one tester remarked. “Absolutely amazing,” said another. “Everyone on my work Zoom calls thought I’d just been to the salon,” raved another.
After a full blow dry, testers saw superior shine and smoothness, with even the curliest hair lying perfectly straight, but while retaining salon-worthy volume. Ends were sleek and frizz-free. And flyaways? What flyaways? One key to healthy, shiny hair is keeping heat exposure to a minimum, and, again, with its incredibly fast dry time, there’s less opportunity to cause damage.
If we have to nitpick, we must admit when we first used the dryer on high power it nearly blew our doors off and took a minute to figure out how to avoid shooting the air straight into our ear. And the hottest setting is definitely hot, which may be too much for sensitive scalps. It also has a limited two-year warranty, the same as the majority of the dryers tested, but not exactly amazing for such a pricey item.
Ultimately, this beast is worth the investment as it works wonders on various hair types, comes with useful attachments, is fast, fast, fast and leaves hair so shiny, so healthy and so frizz-free. Dyson Supersonic? You can do no wrong. So much so that our testers summed it up with some variant of: “I can’t imagine switching to anything else after using it.”
All three hair dryers resulted in professional-looking blowouts performed in a minimal amount of time and topped their competitors based on a variety of criteria. But if you’re wondering what some of the terms mean and what components are meant to do, here’s a quick explainer:
Attachments: Diffusers — you know, those round, bowl-like add-ons with plastic spikes — are used to disperse air over a large area, helping to define curls or keep waves intact and add volume, but not frizz. Concentrator and smoothing nozzles allow air to be directed through a narrow, flat vent and are especially helpful for drying long hair faster as you’re able to point the heat right where you want it. These work really well for smoothing hair on the back of the head and hard-to-reach spots.
Cord length: If you have a small bathroom, this may not be an issue, but for those working in rooms with inconveniently placed outlets, being able to move around — to see in a mirror, for example — is key. Therefore, hair dryers with longer cords were ranked higher (lengths varied from 5 to 9 feet).
Weight: At a glance, all the dryers we tested likely would be considered lightweight — all weighed in at less than 2 pounds. But when you’re holding something up over your head, even for just 10 to 15 minutes, your arm gets tired quickly, meaning even a few ounces can add to fatigue. And the more tired your arm gets, the more likely you’ll be to give up early before finishing drying your whole head.
Cool shot button: This little gizmo is included in many hair dryers and does just what you’d think: It blasts cool air. So, why do you want cool air? Pros say it helps seal the style into place and keeps ends from frizzing, resulting in a longer-lasting blowout. (Confession: Sometimes we aim it down our shirt after a long, hot drying sesh for a little DIY AC, especially during the summer months.)
Ionic and ceramic technology: Many hair dryers now tout technology that signals the release of negative ions, said to speed dry time, reduce static and prevent frizz (this is often recommended for those with textured or curly hair). Ceramic coils, meanwhile, result in more even heat distribution than their metal counterparts. So, what does this mean? While ionic dryers may reduce static electricity, according to scientists at the University of California Santa Barbara, that doesn’t amount to much, as frizz caused by static only tends to last a few minutes. And, yes, ceramic heat is efficient, meaning less dry time and, theoretically, less heat damage. But as all the hair dryers we tested boasted either ion or ceramic technology (most offered both), neither made much of a difference in our ratings.
After some serious hair dryer market research, we narrowed our test group down to nine highly rated, bestselling and critically lauded models. From there, we carefully tested each dryer, taking detailed notes and evaluating each one based on both performance and build.
Each hair dryer was tested at least three times, including a full blowout, rough dry and combo of the two. We spent several weeks testing these dryers, and testing was performed on multiple hair types: fine and straight-to-wavy; thick and curly; 4b curls with extensions; and thick and wavy-to-curly. In addition to overall performance, we also used the below criteria breakdowns in making our final evaluations.
Time to dry hair: For each dryer, we set a timer and recorded how long it took to go from just-out-of-the-shower towel-dried hair to completely dry. The shorter the time, the higher the score. Settings: Models received higher scores for more settings, such as multiple airflow speeds, heat options and a cold shot button. Versatility: We assessed how each hair dryer worked on four different hair textures, noting whether longer hair was sucked into the fan, and assessing how well it worked for a full blowout, a quick air dry and a combination quick dry/blowout. Difference in heat settings: For dryers with multiple heat settings, we took notes on everything from a noticeable difference in high, medium and low heat and whether settings were too extreme — either too hard or too soft, for example. Cool-shot button: Most models included cool-shot buttons, meant to help lock in the finished hair style. We assessed whether the cool shot was actually cool, even after extended use
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