Flat Iron vs Curling Iron: What’s The Difference?

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When asked about what a woman’s most valuable asset, the famous silver screen actress, Joan Crawford, famously said, “I think that the most important thing a woman can have- next to talent, of course- is her hairdresser.

Sixty years later and those words ring more true than ever. Except with today’s high-tech, affordable hair styling products, anybody can be their own hairdresser! 

You can make your straight hair curling or your curling hair straight and wavy with flat irons (like the Sultra the Bombshell we reviewed here), curling irons, a professional blowdryer, and a couple of hairbrushes. Or use an automatic curling iron for magical curls in no time! 

On a broader level, hairstyles also play a massive role in cultural identity. For example, many Native American cultures take pride in growing their hair as long as possible, African cultures have developed complex locking and braiding techniques, and French culture has historically pushed the boundaries of turning hair into art. 

If you were to make a dramatic change to your hair today, you might walk into work and realize that most of your coworkers don’t recognize you at first. That’s how big of a difference it is. 

In today’s article, we’re going to do a comparison of Flat Iron vs Curling Iron. We’ll start by going over some of the key differences and then move into a quick buyer’s guide to make sure that you know what to look for when shopping. 

Finally, we’ll also recommend some of our favorites! 


Flat Iron vs Curling Iron: The Main Differences

Before we get too deep into all of the technical details, let’s first look at the most defining features and key differences between these two tools. 

As you may have already gathered from their names, flat irons and curling irons have completely opposite effects. One is designed to straighten your hair and the other is designed to help you curl your hair. 

But it’s confusing, because you can use a flat iron to curl your hair!

At first glance, flat irons look kind of like a pair of tongs. Essentially, they work by sandwiching a lock of hair in between two heating surfaces and then flattening the hair with infrared heat as you run the iron along the length of your hair. 

Curling irons, on the other hand, are cylindrical. They typically feature a handle and a long, round barrel. Attached to the barrel is a rounded clamp operated with a durable spring.

Just like with a flat iron, you take a lock of your hair and wrap it around the barrel. Then, you allow the clamp to tighten on the lock and you slowly pull the curling iron down and away from you. The result is a perfectly curling lock of hair. 

Depending on how much hair you have, completely straightening or curling your hair could take 10 minutes if you’ve got short hair, or as long as an hour if you’re dealing with more hair. In general, the bigger the flat iron or curling iron heating surface is, the quicker it is to curl large amounts of hair. 

Different Style Types

As you can imagine, each tool has the power to give you a completely different hairstyle. Flat irons are mostly designed to flatten your naturally curly or wavy hair.

Curling irons have a little bit more versatility, though. Most people typically use them to curl their hair, but you can also use curling irons to give you a loose, wavy look if you want something that’s a little bit more natural. Additionally, curling irons offer a lot of different options when it comes to barrel size.

By using a super-skinny barrel, you’ll be able to make tight, bouncy curls; using a thicker barrel will give you larger curls or contribute to that wavier look if you use the curling iron on low heat. There are also curling wands, which have no clamp and are slightly different from curling irons.

Curling Your Hair With a Flat Iron

Sultra The Bombshell for Curling

It’s common for most hair-conscious women to have one of each to allow them to do a wide variety of styles. However, if you can only afford to purchase one, then we would recommend purchasing a flat iron first. 

If you’re willing to experiment and practice a little, you can actually curl your hair with a flat iron. While it does take more time than using an actual curling iron, it’s still doable! Their more versatile nature is one of the main reasons that flat irons cost slightly more than curling irons. 

If you want to learn how to curl your hair with a flat iron, check out this easy how-to guide! 


We hope our look at flat iron vs curling iron has lead you to the right product for your hair. One flattens while the other curls. If you already have naturally curly or wavy hair, then you’ll probably end up going with the flat iron first.

However, if you’re looking for a way to liven up your naturally straight hair, then a good curling iron can give you a completely new look! 

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).