Hot Rollers Vs Curling Irons: Which Is Better And Why

Flick your hands and get ready to flaunt gorgeous curls with the best hair curling tools.

Written by , MA Sangita Goel MA linkedin_icon
Edited by , MA (English) Subhrojyoti Mukherjee MA (English) Experience: 4 years
Fact-checked by , MA (English Literature) Aparna Harry MA (English Literature) linkedin_icon Experience: 3 years

The hot rollers vs. curling iron debate has long confused anyone wanting to curl their hair with minimum damage. Both of these heat styling tools can give you the curled hair of your dreams, but that has not stopped people from wondering which one is better. It is worth noting that hot rollers have been around for decades while curling irons are a newer invention. Does that mean the latter is an improved version of the former? Keep reading to decide for yourself!

protip_icon Before You Get Started
  • Spritz light mists of heat protectant spray on your hair before beginning the curling process.
  • Curl your hair in different directions to create a natural and tousled look.
  • Hold the curls for 5-8 seconds after unwinding them and let them fall slowly to retain their shape.

What Are Hot Rollers?

A box of hot rollers on a table
Image: Shutterstock

Hair rollers became a woman’s best styling friend long ago. Along with flawless curls, they gave women’s hair volume. They remained an important part of women’s styling equipment until the 1950s when hot rollers gained popularity. Soloman Harper, an electrical engineer, created the first electric hair rollers in 1930. With the entry of the rollers into the market, the landscape of hairstyles changed. From the bouffants of the ‘60s to ‘The Rachel’ hairstyle of Friends star Jennifer Aniston, the big, voluminous, and curly locks became the style of the day.

While you could sleep on hair rollers and wake up the next morning to luscious, bouncy curls, hot rollers worked differently. They saved your time and allowed you to style your hair quickly any time you wanted. You can put on these rollers before starting with your makeup and achieve gorgeous curly hair by the time you are done getting ready.

protip_icon Fun Fact
In 1500 B.C.E., the ancient Egyptians wrapped their hair around wooden sticks to create curls and used the heat of the sun to set those curls.

Over the years, hot styling tools evolved, and rollers of yesteryear gave way to curling irons. They were invented to make curling hair much easier and quicker. Let us learn what they are in the next section.

What Are Curling Irons?

A woman with curly holding a curling iron
Image: Shutterstock

They say necessity is the mother of all invention. So is the case with curling irons. With time, women felt a need for variation in their curls. They did not always want to sport bold and big curls but something more demure and relaxed. This is where the curling iron stepped in.

Unlike hot rollers, curling irons have a long wand with a heating barrel at the front onto which the hair is wrapped. Typically, it comes with a cord which has to be attached to an electrical point to operate it. Contemporary brands also offer battery-operated designs. Curling irons come with temperature control features and have to be operated manually to curl the hair. Its invention allowed women to style their curls any way they wanted, from edgy curls to bouncy waves. They quickly gained popularity and became a staple in every woman’s beauty kit.

Kaitlin Elaine, a blogger, shared how her curls hold naturally on her wavy hair. She has been using curling iron since she was 15 to get smooth waves. In her blog, she wrote, “I’ve been using a curling iron since I was, oh I don’t know, 15 or so, and even though I’ve tried all other methods and the newest hot tools out there, I always go back to my tried and true, good old-fashioned regular curling iron. My hair curls pretty well as it is, I have some natural wave to it (i).”

protip_icon Did You Know?
Marcel Grateau, a French hairstylist, invented the curling iron. It needed to be heated over a gas burner and then curled around the hair. Due to the lack of a temperature control feature, it often singed hair and gave curls that would not set.

We have looked at both hot rollers and curling irons in the sections above. Let us consider their key differences in the following section.

Hot Rollers Vs. Curling Irons – Key Differences

Hot rollers vs. curling irons
Image: Shutterstock

While they serve the same function, these tools work differently. Some of their key differences are mentioned below.

1. Method Of Curling

  • For hot rollers, start by plugging the case of the roller and letting it heat. When they are warm enough, start wrapping your hair around it in the opposite direction to your face. If you want a big loop, take a thick strand of hair and wound it tightly; but if you want individual spirals, wrap thin sections of hair around the roller loosely. Leave them on for 10-15 minutes and slowly unpin them. If you are going for big curls, you will have to separate the strands with your fingers after letting them down.
  • To curl your hair using a curling iron, section your hair into 2-3 cm and wrap it around the iron’s barrel. Let it sit for a few seconds and unwind the curl. Continue this until your entire hair is curled. If you want a bouncy look, use your fingers to separate the strands.

2. Heat Distribution

  • The rollers get heated only when they are in their case and used separately. Many rollers come with a temperature control feature. They automatically switch off after the desired heat temperature is reached. And when you put them on your hair, you do not have to worry about controlling the temperature of the device. You need to leave them on your hair until they are completely cool, and then take them off. However, sometimes the roller may cool before your curls have set in.
  • Curling irons heat up when they are plugged into electrical points. You can control the heat settings and temperature and set your curls as you want. Although most irons come with a safety-off feature, it may be possible that it gets heated more than needed and burns your hair. Hence, it is advisable to remain cautious while curling with them.

3. Versatility

  • Rollers offer variety both in size and material. Concerning size, you can get small rollers for tight curls, medium rollers for some lift and loose curls or mermaid waves, and large hair rollers to create soft waves and add some body to them. As for materials, you can opt for ceramic-coated rollers to reduce static and frizz; titanium if you have thick hair and want a styling device that heats quickly while giving it a smooth and shiny finish; aluminum if you want soft and wavy curls; or velvet if you are a beginner and do not want your hair to tangle or break. Hot rollers can give you big blowout curls that are super-voluminous at the roots and have big waves on the length of the tresses. They let you control the size of the curls, which is not possible with a curling iron..
  • Curling iron contains one barrel either tapered or cylindrical. The tapered one allows you to create various types of curls; you can use the smaller end for tighter ringlets and the larger one for loose curls. They are not your best bet if you want subtle waves compared to individual ringlets. That being said, curling iron lets you create beachy waves, tight ringlets, coily locks, or a mix of all these, unlike hot rollers. They are a better option for people with shorter hair for whom rollers are not a viable choice.

4. Time Required

  • Hot rollers do not take much time to curl your hair. Plug in your roller and wait for them to heat up. Be careful they do not get heated much as you need to hold them in your hands. After pinning your hair, leave them on for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, you can continue with other work, such as makeup and dressing. When the rollers start getting cold, let your hair down and flaunt those beautiful curls. Usually, they are considered a more time-efficient alternative.
  • When using a curling iron, you cannot do anything else other than curling your hair. You need to curl each section of your hair yourself, one by one. The time you take to complete curling your hair depends on the quantity and quality of your hair. If you have thin, less dense hair or you want to curl only a small section of your hair, this is a better option.

5. Hair Damage

  • Using hair styling tools too often can damage your hair from heat. Albeit heat protectants offer some shield, frequent use can deteriorate the quality of your hair eventually. Curling irons get extremely hot and need to be constantly regulated to control the temperature. When used rarely and with necessary protection, they may not be harmful but using them too much is advised against by professional hair stylists.
  • In contrast, hair rollers heat once but do not reach as high a temperature as curling irons. They cool down while curling your hair and hence do much less damage. They are the safer option of the two for curling your hair.

6. Personal Safety

  • The maximum heat that the rollers reach makes them warm but never so hot as to burn your scalp or your hands. They come with plastic ends that you can hold while rolling to prevent you from accidentally burning your hand.
  • Curling iron plates get so hot that you can burn your scalp, your hands, and your ears (1). Although most curling irons come with a smart-off feature, you still need to be careful while handling them. You can use heat-resistant gloves for additional protection while styling your hair using curling irons.

7. Affordability

The pricing for both devices depends on the brand you are purchasing. Hot rollers of a better brand cost more than curling irons available in local stores and vice versa. Hot rollers can curl your hair even without heat but the same is not true of curling irons.

Hot rollers and curling irons both have been in use for a long time. Rollers stay in your hair and do their job without needing constant attention while curling with irons needs hands-on work. While the former gives you bold and voluminous curls, the latter allows you more variety. You can achieve tight curls, beach waves, or single ringlets easily with an iron. However, when it comes to handling the two, hot rollers are the better option, though using a curling iron becomes easy as well once you get enough practice. The debate on hot rollers vs. curling irons can go on, but you can use our guide to decide which one is right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can hot rollers or curling irons be used on wet hair?

Do not use curling irons or hot rollers on wet hair. Rollers are best suited for dry hair and if you use them on wet hair, the curls will not hold for long and instead damage your locks (2). Curling iron transfers heat directly to the hair and using it on wet hair will do severe damage to it as hair cuticles are exposed most when hair is wet (3).

Which tool provides longer-lasting curls: hot rollers or curling irons?

Hot rollers provide more long-lasting curls than curling irons. The rollers cool down while wrapped around your hair, which allows the hair to set in place, and keeping them in your hair for longer means more settled curls that last longer. On the other hand, the curling iron cannot be kept wrapped around your hair until it cools down as it gets extremely hot, and leaving it on for too long will damage the hair.

Can hot rollers or curling irons be used on all hair types?

Hot rollers are a better option for thick and long hair while curling iron suits best for thin and more finer hair.

Key Takeaways

  • Hot rollers are wrapped around the hair and give you voluminous and bold curls.
  • Curling irons come with different barrel types – cylindrical and tapered – which allow you to do many different types of curls.
  • Curling irons get extremely hot and can burn your hair, hands, ears, and scalp if not used correctly, while hot rollers get warm enough that they do not burn your scalp or hands.

Both hot rollers and curling irons have their pros and cons. The following YouTube video discusses the difference between the two while telling you how to care for your hair. Click play to learn more!

Personal Experience: Source


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  1. Electric hair styling products common cause of burn injuries in children
  2. The effects of water on heat-styling damage
  3. The effect of grooming on the hair cuticle
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Sangita Goel

Sangita GoelBeauty & Lifestyle Writer

Sangita is a content writer with a passion for exploring diverse genres. She has written 100+ blogs on an array of topics, including relationships, travel, beauty, and fashion. Armed with a master’s degree in history from Indira Gandhi National Open University, she has leveraged her curiosity to write captivating, engaging, and informative articles. In her free time, Sangita indulges full bio