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The Difference Between Flat and Curling Irons (and How to Use Them)

woman wavy hair

There are several heated styling tools out there but flat and curling irons are among the most popular. Although both are used to heat style hair, they work in very different ways and, therefore, can produce very different results.

Read on as Nubi talks you through the main differences between flat and curling irons. We’ll also explain how to use them to achieve a salon-worthy finish!

What Are Curling Irons?


Curling irons are hair tools that have a cylindrical barrel that sits atop a long handle. The barrel can be made from a variety of materials but either way, it’s designed to heat up. The hair is wrapped around the barrel and held in place for a few seconds to set it. Once released, that section of hair takes on beautiful round curves. The size of the barrel will affect the size of the curls that are created.

Curling irons are usually designed with a clip at the base of the barrel. This allows you to lock your hair in place, making it easy to wind that section of hair around the barrel. However, there are also clip-less versions available. These are referred to as curling wands. Although they require a little more skill to master, they can produce curls that are even softer and more natural-looking. Some, such as the Nubi Sleek Curl Clipless Curling Wand, boast a featherweight design that makes it so easy and comfortable to twist and twirl the tool through your strands.

What Are Flat Irons?

Soft N Straight Purple

Also referred to as hair straighteners, flat irons are primarily designed to straighten the hair. They consist of two heated plates that, again, can be made from a variety of materials. The hair is placed in between the two plates and these clamp down onto those strands at the roots before sliding down the length of the hair. This irons away any kinks, bends, or waves, leaving that section of hair sleek and straight.

With that said, some flat irons can be used to curl the hair too. With the right technique, they can produce results that are just as impressive as those created by curling irons. The secret is to look for a flat iron with rounded ends, such as the Nubi Soft N’ Straight 1.25” Ceramic Purple Styler. Ceramic plates are loved by professionals worldwide because of how they prevent the appearance of heat damage. 

Choosing Between a Flat Iron and a Curling Iron

Ready to treat your mane to a new styling tool but unsure of whether to go with a flat iron or a curling iron? Let’s talk through some of the main pros and cons…

Firstly, if you’re mainly going to be straightening your hair, then that’s a no-brainer. Your new tool of choice will need to be a flat iron since a curling iron won’t help you to straighten your locks in any way.

However, if waves and curls are what you’re after, the decision becomes a little more difficult…

The benefit of going with a flat iron is the versatility that it provides. Not only will you be able to straighten your hair, but you’ll be able to curl it too. This will open up even more hairstyle choices for you. 

The downside is that you’ll be limited when it comes to the types and sizes of curls that you can create. Sure, you may be able to pull off stunning beachy waves with your flat iron, but you’ll struggle to create glamorous Old Hollywood curls or tighter ringlets. 

With curling irons, however, your curl choices are endless. Go for a tool with a tapered barrel, like Nubi’s curling iron, and you’ll be able to create curls of various sizes. They’ll also be much more defined and uniform than the curls created with a flat iron.

How to Curl Your Hair With a Curling Iron

If you want your curls to look their best, prepping your hair is vital. Make sure that your locks are tangle-free and run a heat protectant through them. Ideally, you should do this while they’re damp as this is when hair is most permeable. 

Then, section your hair off into two main parts. If your hair is particularly thick, you may need three or four sections. Clip back all but one of your sections. 

Turn on your curling iron and while you’re waiting for it to heat up, place a heatproof glove over the hand that you’re going to be using to hold your hair. Then, from the main section of hair that’s loose, take a smaller section in your hand, around 1.5 inches wide. Starting with the bottom of your hair, wrap that section around your curling iron’s barrel, moving upward toward your crown. 

Hold it in place for about 5-8 seconds, depending on your hair type. Then, gently release the curl but only onto the palm of your hand. Cup it there for a few seconds, until it cools down, before allowing it to drop.

You’ll then need to repeat this process with the rest of your hair. If you want your curls to look as natural as possible, alternate the direction in which you curl each section. 

Once you’re done, give your hair some extra time to cool down before touching your curls. If you’re aiming for voluminous and long-lasting waves, simply shake them out gently and arrange your curls with your fingers. However, if you’d prefer a softer and looser finish, run a wide-toothed comb through your locks to separate your curls.

How to Curl Your Hair With a Flat Iron

Just like when using a curling iron, always start by prepping your hair. A heat protectant is a must in order to keep your strands safe from heat damage. However, wait until your hair is completely dry before proceeding with your heat styling efforts.

Again, begin by sectioning your hair and clipping back the sections that you aren’t going to be working with for now. While you’re doing so, turn on your flat iron and give it some time to heat up.

Then, take a small section of hair and clamp your flat iron down over it, near the top of your head. Gently glide your flat iron down that section of hair, just like you would if you were straightening your strands. However, once you reach the middle-to-end of that section, pivot your flat iron 180 degrees away from your face. This is basically a half-turn. Aim to do this quickly and seamlessly. Then, continue to gently pull it down through the rest of your hair. 

Repeat this process with the rest of your hair. Once you’ve finished, use your fingers to gently massage your roots. This will help to break up your curls and give your finished look a relaxed and beachy vibe!

How to Straighten Your Hair With a Flat Iron

Now that we’ve talked about how to curl your hair with a flat iron, let’s quickly walk through how to use the tool as it was intended for; to straighten the hair. As always, do the necessary prep work before beginning and then section off your hair. 

Starting with the section of hair that’s at the lowest point of your head, separate a 1-2 inch piece of hair. Clamp your flat iron down over this. Aim to do this as close to your roots as possible but without burning your scalp. 

Slowly run your flat iron down that section of hair. Hold it steady with an even amount of pressure and refrain from twisting or moving it sideways as it slides down. Running a comb through your hair with your other hand and then following on with your flat iron will give you even straighter and smoother results.

Continue on with the rest of your hair, until you’ve straightened it all. Make sure to pay extra attention to the back of your head as it’s very easy for kinks to develop here!

Preventing the Appearance of Heat Damage

As we’ve mentioned a few times, using a heat protectant is vital if you want to prevent the appearance of heat damage. These come in different forms, from sprays to serums to creams. Choose the one that’s best suited to your hair type.

You should also pay attention to the temperature of your heated styling tools. Many tools are now designed with a temperature dial, enabling you to pick a temperature that suits your strands. If your hair is fine or thin, you won’t need a high temperature, whereas those with thick or coarse hair will.

Ideally, your styling tool of choice will also incorporate other features that keep the appearance of damage to a minimum. Nubi’s flat iron, for example, comes with infrared and negative ion technology, giving the hair a healthy-looking sheen.

When working with your hair, avoid holding your strands against the heat for an excessive amount of time. Whether you get distracted by your phone while curling your hair or you’re moving your flat iron down your strands too slowly, you’ll only end up burning your locks.

Finally, let’s talk aftercare. While there are several steps that you can take to keep the appearance of heat damage to a minimum, some heat damage is, to an extent, almost inevitable. Counter this by giving your hair some TLC in between styling sessions. Add a deep conditioner to your hair care routine and pamper your locks with a weekly hair mask. Make sure that all of your hair care products are designed to moisturize and hydrate your strands as much as possible and you’ll be able to keep them looking their best.


As you can see, there are some big differences between flat and curling irons, making it important to know exactly what you need and want. When it comes down to it, flat irons are much more versatile since they can be used to both straighten and curl the hair. However, if your hair is already straight and waves are what you’re seeking, curling irons are usually the superior tool for creating these!

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