Curling iron vs. hair rollers

Hair Products

A curling iron tucked into your suitcase will help you style your hair on the go with a minimum of fuss.

BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details.

Are curling irons or hair rollers best? 

Whether you’re a fan of beachy waves or tight curls, you’ve probably tried a number of styling products for curling your hair. Curling irons and hair rollers are two great products that can help you achieve the look you want. Being clear on your hair-curling goals can help you pick the right curling tool for you. 

Hair rollers

While people have always managed a way to curl their hair, hair rollers weren’t actually invented until the 1870s. However, today’s hair rollers aren’t like they used to be. With a range of options, including brush, self-gripping and hot rollers, you’ll be able to add body and curl to your hair with ease.

Hair roller pros

Hair rollers are easy to use and to store. They come in a range of sizes, from small ones that give a tight curl, to large ones 2 inches and up that create a soft, loose wave. A set with a variety of sizes can easily handle a range of hair curling needs. What’s more, if your hair is prone to breakage, you can opt to let hair air dry for a few hours or overnight for curls without damage from heat. You can buy a full head of hair’s worth of conventional hair rollers for under $15.

If you’re looking to speed up the process, you may want to consider plug-in rollers, or hot rollers. They heat up within minutes and work like conventional rollers, except that adding heat means they set the curl within a short period of time, usually within 10-15 minutes. Highly-rated hot roller sets cost in the $30-$80 range, but will save you time and effort.

Hair roller cons

While hair roller application is straightforward, anticipating how the curl will look can sometimes be touch and go. Placement of just .5-inch in one direction or another can alter the look of the hair style, and making creating the same look over and over difficult. Roller dents can also be an issue, and you may need to go over the spot with a flat iron to remove them.  If you’re looking to curl your hair on the go, hair rollers can be bulky and take up a lot of room in a suitcase. 

Best hair rollers

BaBliss Pro Nano Titanium Roller

BaBliss Pro Nano Titanium Roller

For the best all-around set of rollers, we recommend the BaBliss Pro Nano Titanium Roller Hairsetter. This set of 20 velvet-flocked rollers offers a variety of sizes and configurations. These nano titanium ceramic rollers use gentle, far-infrared heat that eliminates hot spots and is easy on the hair.

Available on Amazon

Curling iron

There’s no beating the versatility and curling power of a curling iron. If you have the type of hair that gradually loses curl as the day wears on, or if you want precise control over the look of your curls, a curling iron is your best option.

Curling iron pros

Portable, fast and effective, you just can’t beat a curling iron for speed when you want a full head of beautiful curls. A good curling iron gives you control of where to place your curls and allows for in-the-moment corrections if a curl doesn’t come out right the first time. It also sets a curl much more securely than hair rollers. Curling irons are highly portable and slim and fit into even the most tightly-packed carry-on.

Curling iron cons

Curling irons are effective because they use heat—sometimes a lot of heat. Over time, curling iron use can lead to follicle damage. The key to preventing that is the use of a good heat spray and investing in a high-quality curling iron. 

Best curling iron

CHI Ceramic Tourmaline 1” Curling Iron

CHI Ceramic Tourmaline 1” Curling Iron

For a curling iron that gives a shiny curl that holds, you can’t beat the CHI Ceramic Tourmaline 1” Curling Iron. It has a smooth tourmaline ceramic barrel, 30-second heat-up, a digital temperature control with variable heat settings, and a swivel power cord that’s 9 feet long.

Available on Amazon

Should you get a curling iron or hair rollers?

While many curl enthusiasts like having both sets of tools on hand, if you absolutely must choose, a curling iron is the way to go. They’re more portable, more effective and make it easier to control your look. While curls made with hair rollers might become loose and flat within a few hours, those made with a good curling iron can often last until your next shampoo. 


Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Maria E. Andreu writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.