Krystina DeGennaro
Published on November 06, 2021

When you are buying your first curling iron, it might be very confusing to know what barrel size to choose. Most of us can relate. However, you may also feel frustrated about not getting tight curls or beachy waves you aim for, and the size of the curling iron barrel may be the reason.

I used to make these mistakes myself and ended up using a flat iron instead of the newly purchased wand, but now, I am a celebrity hairstylist, and heat styling is something in which I am very strong. Let me break down all the popular curling iron sizes for you so that you can choose the best one for your hair type and curl goals.

What Are the Different Sizes of Curling Irons?

When we speak about a curling iron size, we mean the diameter of the barrel that, consequently, will transform into the diameter of the curls you are going to get. The smallest barrel has just one-third of an inch (or 9 mm) and will get you some tight corkscrew curls; the biggest barrel is 2 inch (or 55mm) wide and will help achieve a very loose wave on longer locks.

Besides anything in between, there are also barrel sizes that go from small to big, meaning one-inch on one end to one and a half inches on the other end of the barrel and vice versa. You would usually find that barrel size variation with a wand curling iron.

Below, I will review the most popular: 1/2 inch, 1 inch, 1 1/4 inch, and 2 inch curling iron sizes. These different barrel sizes will give you a markedly different result. Thus, this will be helpful for figuring out the effect of any in-between barrel size such as 3/4 inch or 5/8 inch, for example.

1/2 Inch Curling Iron

The smallest curling-iron size is a half-inch curling iron. This is used to achieve super tight curls. This curling iron size is used for curling very short hair such as pixie or short bob that goes above a shoulder length.

Pixie Curled Using Half Inch Curling Iron

Instagram / @salirasa

This can also be used for some funky hairstyles like an afro or some tight kinky waves once it is all brushed out. Using this size for some funky looks is so much fun. If you have long hair and are going for the disco afro vibe, I do recommend this iron. It will take you a while, but it will be totally worth it.

Hair Curled with 0.5 Inch Barrel Curling Iron

Instagram / @elyshiahockney

In this video, beauty blogger Charity Grace LeBlanc is showing how she uses Hot Tools Professional Curling Iron 1/2 Inch:

1 Inch Curling Iron

The next size up is a one-inch curling iron. This is a very popular size curling iron. The one-inch curling iron is great for a classic curl look (Hollywood Glam). The hair length recommended for this size curling iron is shoulder-length to medium-length hair. It is also great to use for a tighter curl look even if you have long hair.

You can definitely create a loose beachy wave look using this size curling iron. If you are trying to achieve the loose wave look, you just have to make sure that you pull the curls out, so it doesn’t get too bouncy. You will typically find this size iron on a wand if you prefer to use that type of a curling iron.

This is how Chris Jones uses Hot Tools Pro 1-Inch Barrel Curling Iron, turning short blunt bob into a short textured bob:

1 1/4 Inch Curling Iron

The next size up is an inch and a quarter. This size curling iron, along with 1″, is one of the most popular size curling irons because it is neither big nor small. It works on all hair lengths, from shoulder-length hair to long hair in particular. It creates a beautiful curl in straight hair, but it also creates awesome loose curls or, in other words, beachy waves that everybody loves to have.

This curling iron is very versatile. Whenever a client asks me, “What size curling iron do you recommend?” or asks what size I use, I always recommend the inch-and-a-quarter size.

Loose Waves Created with One and Half Inch Curling Iron

Instagram / @hair_by_rena

Look at the example of using Hot Tools Signature Series 1.25 Inch Curling Iron for creating loose waves:

2 Inch Curling Iron

The next and final size up is a two-inch curling iron. Now, this size curling irons would not be good for short hair unless you just wanted to add a short bend to the bottom of your hair (even though you may just use a blow dryer for that look). This curling iron is used for long hair.

Depending on how long your hair is, you could definitely create some nice curls, but because the curling iron is so big, it will mostly create some body waves. You can definitely achieve a very glam look while using this size curling iron and some great hairspray.

Creating Body Wave with 2 Inch Curling Iron

Instagram / @tammyakre

Hairstylist Dawn Warner loves creating hairstyles with her 2 Inch Hot Tools Pro:

How Do I Know What Size Curling Iron I Need?

When looking for a perfect curling iron, your hair type, length, and hairstyle that you want to achieve will play a major role. Bigger size barrel curling iron is for longer hair and creates a looser wave. At the same time, if your hair is thick and difficult to curl, you might want to use a smaller barrel, set a higher heat, and start with tighter curls, as strands will become looser under their own weight.

1 and 1.25 inch barrels are quite universal and can be used to style bouncy curls (especially if you hold or pin your curls letting curly locks cool down before releasing them), as well as for soft beachy waves (if you stretch out the curl after unwinding the spiral). To learn different curling techniques and avoid common mistakes, be sure to consult this hair curling guide.

If you were as lost as I was trying to find the perfect size curling iron for my hair to create the desired look, I hope this article has helped. Follow me on Instagram for hair tutorials and tips.

Featured Image via Instagram