I recently attempted to tame my wild hair into submission when testing 9 of the market's top-rated hair dryers. Among high-end products and expensive brands, I was shocked to find that a simple Revlon dryer performed better overall than even the $399 Dyson.
Why? A great dryer is not dictated by how hot it can get, or how strong its wind current is: It's how effectively and easily it can dry your hair. That is something that's measured subjectively—things like weight distribution, control placement and ease of use, and adjustable heat and speed settings.
In our search for a hair dryer that gives a quick, sleek style that didn’t fatigue our arms or injure our eardrums, we tested 9 dryers. Here’s what we found makes a great hair dryer.
Hotter isn't always better
The hottest dryer we tested resulted in a noticeably frizzy, fried-looking style. The Revlon has hot, warm, and cool settings. It's smart to look for a dryer with adjustable heat settings to keep your hair from sizzling. Pro tip: Always choose a dryer that has a cool setting to help lock in your style and prevent frizzing.
Loudness doesn't matter
Every hair dryer claims to be quieter than its competition, but in our tests, every dryer hovered around the same volume (between 7.7 and 8.0 dbA). None are quiet enough to have a conversation over. That being said, the loudness of a dryer shouldn't much influence your purchase. It's a hair dryer. It's going to be loud.
More powerful ≠ better hair dryer
The strength of the wind current doesn't necessarily dictate the best or fastest dry—sometimes, too strong a current can be counterproductive, whipping hair around wildly and resulting in a tangled, frizzy style. Instead, we found that a slower, controlled air stream provides a better result. Our favorite Revlon had the weakest air stream of the dryers we tested, but it dried my hair the fastest.
Pay attention to weight and weight distribution
Though most hair dryers claim to be lighter-weight than the competition, the 9 we tested all weighed between 0.8 and 1.2 pounds. That means that the comfort of using a dryer has some to do with its weight, and some to do with its weight distribution.
While the inexpensive Revlon is top-heavy and awkwardly long, it weighs just 0.8 pounds. Even with the lackluster design, it isn't strenuous to use even after 20+ minutes. Look for a dryer that feels lightweight and/or balanced—the heaviest piece should be far back on the head of the dryer, above (or even inside) the handle.
How you can find the right dryer (lab testing not required)
Yes, we clearly love the affordable Revlon 1875W Infrared dryer for its fast drying time and easy handling, but regardless of the one you choose, look for:
- A dryer that is comfortable in your hand and doesn't fatigue your arm
- Adjustable temperature settings, including a cool shot to seal in your style
- At least two speed settings for varying styles
- Controls that are out of the way—this prevents you from accidentally changing settings mid-style
- Attachments that make sense for your style (concentrator nozzle for smooth styles, diffuser for curly/wavy)
- A cord length that will reach from your outlet to your mirror
And remember—don’t get distracted by bold manufacturer claims (looking at you, "nanoionic conditioning beads" and "triple ceramic coated grill"). Most hair dryers on the market operate very similarly, and a great dryer can come at any price point.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.