What Size Curling Iron Should You Use?

September 23, 2022
Genesis Rivas
By: Genesis Rivas | Makeup.com by L'Oréal
Woman curling her hair on pink graphic background
The first time I tried to give myself beachy waves, I ended up with tight curls that made me look like a poodle (which I had to hide in a messy bun). It was then when I realized that achieving perfect heat-styled curls has as much to do with the tools you use as your technique. A lot of trial and error — and many poodle looks later — I finally discovered which curling irons and barrel sizes could give me effortless waves. To spare you the same pain, we asked celebrity hairstylist Michael Dueñas to explain which barrel sizes are best for different types of curls and waves.

First, How Do I Know My Curling Iron Barrel Size?

Check the label on your curling iron — most boxes will specify the size of the barrel. If you already tossed the box, you can measure the barrel (aka the part that you wrap your hair around) using a flexible measuring tape — when it’s cool, off and unplugged, of course. 

The Best Curling Iron Barrel Size for Tight Curls 

If you’re looking to mimic the look of tight, natural curls, opt for a ¾-inch curling iron. According to Dueñas, you can create corkscrew curls and a natural-looking texture by wrapping the hair flat around this iron and changing the direction of the curl throughout your hair (i.e., wind the hair toward your face for one curl and away from it for the next). “If your hair is longer than shoulder-length, you can use this to create a very subtle wave if you hold the hair on the iron quickly,” Dueñas says. “Or you can give yourself bouncy curls if you hold it on longer.” Try the Hot Tools Ceramic Tourmaline Salon Curling Iron - ¾


To keep your curls from falling flat, lock them in with a hairspray like the L'Oréal Paris Elnett Satin Extra Strong Hold Hairspray.

The Best Curling Iron Barrel Size for a Defined Beach Wave

A one-inch curling iron is great for creating a more defined beach wave. “This iron size is perfect for a loose, tousled wave on short hair, and it works best for beach waves on long hair,” says Dueñas. If you have a natural wave to your hair already, this size curling iron can help quickly enhance and perfect the look of your hair. It’s also a great way to add some extra lift to greasy hair


For those with fine hair who struggle to hold volume, Dueñas says you can also use this barrel size to create the look of natural movement by holding the hair on the iron for a very short period of time and letting the curl cool in the palm of your hand before releasing it. “With coarse hair, you want to hold your hair on the iron slightly longer as it takes more time to absorb the heat and reshape the curl,” he explains. We recommend the Kristen Ess Titanium Curling Iron for this. 

Kristen Ess Titanium Curling Iron

The Best Curling Iron Barrel Size for Perfect S-Waves

“A 1¼-inch curling iron is used mainly to add soft deep waves to the hair,” says Dueñas. “You can create beach waves, large mermaid waves, beautiful S-waves and those picture-perfect bombshell waves with this iron.” Long hair types can use this iron to add volume to the root of the hair and give a tousled look. If your hair is shoulder-length or above, you can expect to get a little bend in the hair. “I recommend the Conair Infiniti Pro Tourmaline Curling Iron,” says Dueñas. “This iron is lightweight, heats up quickly and stays at a constant temperature.”
Conair Infiniti Pro Tourmaline Curling Iron

The Best Curling Iron Barrel Size for Loose Curls

For those looking to do super loose curls, a 1½-inch curling iron is the way to go. “You can create very large curls that will drop to deep waves throughout the day, or you can start off with a very loose wave with this iron,” says Dueñas. We like the Sultra Bombshell 1.5 Clipless Curling Wand.
Sultra Bombshell 1.5 Clipless Curling Wand

The Best Curling Iron Barrel Size for a Bouncy Blowout 

“A two-inch iron is great to achieve the look of a beautiful blowout,” says Dueñas. It won’t give hair defined curls, but it will add the perfect amount of volume, bend and movement.

Photo: Jasmine Burnside, Design: Juliana Campisi

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