Irons and similar tools provide a fun way to temporarily change your look without cutting or chemically altering your hair. If you condition your hair daily and use heat protectors or thermal hair lotions, you can use an iron every day without causing excess damage. Irons are available with a variety of different coatings; chrome-plated is the most popular because it can be used on all kinds of hair. Professionals often use gold-plated irons because the gold is an excellent conductor of heat, making it effective on coarse or stubborn hair. Irons are also available with nonstick coatings to prevent hair from sticking to the barrel -- a great choice if you need high heat.
Always be sure your hair is completely dry before using an iron, or the steam created from wet hair and the heat of the iron can burn your scalp. Start on a low setting and increase the temperature incrementally. For fine hair, stay in the low-heat range; use higher settings for medium to coarse hair. Direct the iron away from your scalp and face. Keep the barrel moving at all times to avoid "cooking" your hair in one spot. You should never see smoke coming from an iron; if you do, unplug it immediately. And don't expect miracles: Styles created with irons will not hold up to water or high humidity.
Curling irons come in a variety of diameters -- narrow creates tight curls and wide makes smooth, loose curls or relaxes tight ones. Make sure you use a curling iron with a spring-clamp closure on the barrel; a cool tip is also helpful. To create curls, clamp and roll sections of hair from the ends up; to smooth hair, start near the roots and slowly draw the iron down.
Curling brushes are just curling irons with bristles, which eliminate the need for a clamp. These tools sometimes speed up the styling process and are great for creating a smooth look.
Hot-air brushes and hot-air curling irons use a diffuse flow of air forced out through the barrel to smooth hair. While they don't produce as dramatic results as traditional irons, these tools do have some advantages: You don't have to wait for them to heat up or cool down, they can be used on damp hair, and they're less damaging.
Straightening irons, or flat irons, have two flat metal plates and use very high heat to straighten coarse, thick, curly hair. Before using this iron, blow-dry your hair as straight as possible. Then divide your hair into 2½-inch-wide sections, place a section between the plates and slowly pull the iron from roots to ends. If your iron has a mist feature, be sure to keep the steam well away from your scalp.
Pressing combs, or hot combs, are basically electrified metal combs for straightening kinky hair, especially African American hair. Those with wide-set teeth are best for long or thick hair; use one with smaller teeth for short or fine hair.
Crimping irons are similar to straightening irons, but they give straight hair a tight, wavy effect. Divide your hair into 2½-inch-wide sections and firmly clamp the crimping plates on each section for several seconds. If your hair is coarse or hard to curl, leave it in the iron slightly longer. If the crimper smokes, release it immediately.