Best Hair Dryers

·16 min read

Are these expensive models worth the price?

By Laura Murphy

Hair dryers arrived on the home consumer market in the 1920s, and they’ve been hot ever since. Today, 60 percent of U.S. women and 20 percent of U.S. men regularly use a hair dryer, according to a 2018 report by Dyson. And, while the technology has improved with time, hair dryers still serve the same basic function: to blow hot air at your head until your hair dries.

So when it comes to choosing a new hair dryer, it’s the performance and ease of use that matters. You want a machine with enough speed and heat that it can dry your hair fast, but not so much heat that it will damage it in the process. You’ll be aiming this device around your ears, so it needs to be quiet to avoid damaging your hearing. And, ideally, it’s light enough to wield without getting tired.

Beyond that, you may want to consider the placement of the buttons, what attachments it comes with, and how long you can expect the dryer to last.

For this Outside the Labs review, I and four other female Consumer Reports employees with different hair types and lengths tried out five different blow dryers each: Dyson Supersonic, ghd helios, RUSK W8less, Drybar Buttercup, and T3 Cura.

CR members can see details about our evaluation, including which ones we liked (and didn’t like), our lab-tested results, and more.

How We Tested

CR labs measured dry speed based on how quickly the dryer removed water from a dampened paper towel placed at a specific distance from the nozzle of each hair dryer set at its highest setting. Models that removed more water scored better. Our lab testers also measured the decibel level of each hair dryer at its highest setting. Those that were quieter scored better. Finally, the labs weighed the dryers, measured the cord length, and measured the wattage of each hair dryer.

For our at-home evaluations, we looked for a dryer that dries hair quickly and leaves it feeling soft and frizz-free. Evaluators also shared their opinions on how heavy the hair dryer felt, how loud it seemed, and whether the buttons were well-placed on the device. We also tried any attachments to see how easy they were to put onto the nozzle and how effective they were.

What to Look for in a Hair Dryer
Materials and Technology
Wattage
Brushless Motor
How to Decide Which Heat and Speed Settings to Use
Hair Dryer Care and Maintenance

Editor's Choice: Dyson Supersonic

The Dyson Supersonic comes with five different attachments.

Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

Price: $429.99
Where to buy: Bed Bath & Beyond, Dyson, Sephora, Ulta

Heat settings: 3
Speed settings: 3
Attachments: 5
Other features: Cool shot, ionic technology, brushless motor
Warranty: 2-year

To be honest, I really didn’t want to like the Dyson. As a Capricorn, I am pretty much allergic to buying anything at full price, and a $430 mane dryer seems like an extravagance only a Leo could love. But, I have to admit that this dryer lives up to its status as a luxury product.

The Supersonic has three heat settings and three speed settings, so you can control temperature and airflow. It also comes with five attachments—a diffuser, styling concentrator, a gentle air attachment, a flyaway attachment, and a wide tooth comb. All attach easily to the nozzle via a magnet.

The diffuser is great for dispersing the airflow so hair dries evenly and you don’t get blown away.

The styling concentrator is meant to be used while drying your hair in sections. It concentrates the air such that it helps to dry the hair fast and create a super-smooth look. Angela, one of our evaluators, called this a "revelation" when it came to styling her bangs.

The gentle air attachment—my personal favorite—is similar to the diffuser, but even gentler and resulting in cooler air.

The wide tooth comb can help shape and lengthen curly hair.

The flyaway attachment, which looks like a little hook, is meant to be used at the end of your styling session to bury those pesky flyaways in the body of your hair, for a smooth, finished look.

If you’re wondering where you’re going to keep all these accessories, don’t fret. The Supersonic comes with a case that can fit the hair dryer as well as its attachments. In addition, the Dyson website includes a number of video tutorials for how to use the attachments.

Would-be Supersonic owners can also set up an in-person styling session at a Dyson demo store with a representative who can help determine which Dyson hair tools might be right for their hair. If you already own a Supersonic, you can book a virtual appointment to learn the best way to use the Supersonic to style your hair type. IMO, all of these little perks add up to making the Dyson more worthy of its price.

In our labs, the Dyson earned top scores for drying speed. And, at 75 decibels when in use, it’s one of the quietest of the bunch as well. (Keep in mind, according to the CDC, any prolonged sound over 70 decibels can damage your hearing.) It weighs 1.8 pounds—not the lightest we tried—but the weight is well-balanced, which makes it easy to wield.

Dyson claims that the hair dryer is powered with 1600 watts, but we measured it at 1430. Still, that’s the smallest gulf between claimed wattage and measured wattage out of all the hair dryers.

What we loved: Ginger already owned the Supersonic and is a big fan of the hair dryer.

"It dries my hair quickly, which is important to me because my hair is down to my waist and I can’t hold a hair dryer for a long time. It’s just too much work." The buttons are also smartly placed, so they don’t get pressed while styling. And best of all, Ginger says the Supersonic leaves her hair feeling soft and healthy.

The Dyson is an investment, but it comes with all the bells and whistles, dries hair fast while minimizing heat damage, and is made by a company known for product reliability. It might just be worth the price.

What we didn’t like: Angela and Perry liked the Supersonic, but balked at the price. If you don’t regularly dry your hair, it’s probably not worth it. Angela also felt that the cord was bulky and often got in the way. And, it comes with a ton of packaging—each attachment came in its own little box!

Best for Curly Hair: Drybar Buttercup

The Drybar Buttercup comes in a sunny shade of yellow.

Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

Price: From $190
Where to buy: Drybar, Nordstrom, Sephora, Target, Ulta, Walmart

Heat settings: 3
Speed settings: 2
Attachments: 2
Other features: Cool shot, ionic technology, replacement filter
Warranty: 2-year

Try not to smile when you open up the Drybar Buttercup hair dryer for the first time. It comes in a friendly, bright yellow that’s like a ray of sunshine on even the bleakest of Monday mornings. And, at $190, it’s still an expensive tool, but it won’t set you back as far as the Dyson.

The Buttercup has three heat settings and two speed settings. It comes with two concentrator attachments, one with a wide nozzle for larger sections of hair, and one with a narrow nozzle for shorter hair and bangs. If you want a diffuser, however, you’ll have to buy it from Drybar for $34.

When it comes to drying speed, our labs found that it’s on a par with the Dyson. At 80 decibels, it’s a little bit louder and though it weighs the same as the Dyson, it felt heavy to a few of our testers, which suggests it’s not quite as well balanced. It claims 1875 watts, but only delivered 1420.

What we loved: One evaluator, Alexis, who describes her hair as multi-textured curly, got super shiny, high-volume results from the Buttercup. She used the dryer before attending a wedding in Sicily (nice flex, Alexis) where it was super humid. But, thanks to the Buttercup’s styling power, her hair remained frizz free as she danced the night away.

What we didn’t like: Those of us with fine or thin hair found that we needed to use the lower heat setting or else risk over-drying our hair. Perry, known far and wide for her sensitive nose, thought it smelled like burnt plastic after use.

Best for the Power User: ghd Helios

The ghd Helios delivers a powerful blow dry.

Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

Price: From $209
Where to buy: Amazon, ghd, Macy’s

Heat settings: 2
Speed settings: 2
Attachment: 1
Other features: Cool shot, brushless motor
Warranty: 2-year

The ghd Helios is the personal favorite of my hair stylist, who insists that no one needs to shell out Dyson money to get a good blow out. Still, at $278, it’s not cheap.

The Helios has two heat settings, plus a cool shot, two speed settings, and a concentrator attachment. It also features a brushless motor, which could mean that this dryer will last longer than those without brushless motors.

In our labs, the Helios scored well on dry speed—though not quite as fast as the Buttercup or Supersonic. At 82 decibels, it’s the loudest of the dryers in our selection, and at 1.7 pounds it’s in the middle of the pack when it comes to weight. It claims a wattage of 1875, but our testers measured it at 1440.

What we liked: Our evaluators described this dryer as "powerful." It dried hair quickly and with lots of volume. Even though it was loud in our lab tests, it didn’t sound loud to users at home. Many felt that the dryer itself seemed "high quality" and "well-made." Alexis said that although the dryer is pricey, she got the sense that the ghd might last longer than other pricey dryers on the market, because her hair stylist uses ghd tools. They’re beat-up looking but in good working order, she said.

What we didn’t like: The weight on the dryer is not distributed well; many evaluators characterized it as "top heavy." People also weren’t crazy about the placement of the buttons on the handle. And, at this price point, our evaluators felt that the diffuser should be included—not an additional $30 purchase.

Best for Travel: RUSK W8less 2000

The RUSK W8less 2000 is a "worth it" upgrade from your regular travel blow-dryer.

Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

Price: From $79.95
Where to buy: Amazon, Rusk, Walmart

Heat settings: 3
Speed settings: 2
Attachments: 1
Other features: Cool shot, ionic generator, tourmaline and ceramic-infused grill
​​Warranty: 2-year

Here’s a lesson I’ve learned over many wedding seasons: Never trust a vacation rental to have a hair dryer. The RUSK W8less is a great, no-frills option for when you’re on the go. It’s lightweight, gets nice and hot, and, unlike many hotel hair dryers, doesn’t smoke and singe your hair. And, at $79.95, it’s a reasonable investment for all your fabulous vacation looks.

The W8less has three heat settings, two speed settings, and a cool shot. It comes with one concentrator nozzle. And, it has an internal ion generator plus a ceramic and tourmaline-infused grill to fight that frizz.

In our labs, it was the lightest weight of all we tested by about 0.3 pounds. It scored a Very Good for dry speed and noise level. The cord is a little short—we measured 95 inches (or just under 8 feet) though the product packaging claims that it’s 9 feet. There was also a considerable difference between claimed wattage of 2000 vs. measured wattage of 1470.

What we liked: It does the job—fast. One evaluator reported that it took her under 4 minutes to dry her damp hair. The buttons are set into the handle so you don’t accidentally push them. We loved the light weight. It’s bigger and heavier than a true travel hair dryer we tried, but it’s worth the extra size.

What we didn’t like: Our evaluators were less enthusiastic about the W8less than some of the other, more expensive dryers. They felt that the W8less left their hair poofy, frizzy, or dry and brittle. It also may not be the most reliable: One of our evaluators said she used to own the W8less and it conked out after about a year and a half.

Best for Fine or Damaged Hair: T3 Cura

The T3 Cura is so cute, it's worthy of a shelfie.

Photo: Theresa Panetta/Consumer Reports

Price: $245
Where to buy: Amazon

Heat settings: 3
Speed settings: 2
Other features: Cool shot, ionic technology
Warranty: 2-year

Bad news bears: The T3 Cura has been discontinued. That’s a bummer because it is super cute and very "that girl," as Alexis says. Luckily, you can still find it on Amazon in white and midnight blue for $245. If that sounds steep to you, I’d wait for a better price—I bet it will drop as the new models start rolling in.

The Cura has three heat settings, two speed settings, and a cool shot. It also comes with two concentrator nozzles. And the company claims that its ionic technology makes hair shinier by releasing an "ion rich airstream" as it dries the hair.

In our labs, the T3 scored Very Good on dry speed. Next to the RUSK W8less, it’s the lightest of the dryers, coming in at 1.7 pounds. Though it be but little, it still manages to make some noise; at 81 decibels it’s the second-loudest dryer after the ghd.

What we liked: Did I say it’s cute? It’s so cute. It’s a delight to unbox, lots of oohs and ahs. We got it in a pretty, light pink. And it delivers equally attractive results. After use, evaluators described their hair as "soft," "sleek," and "frizz-free." My fine, damaged hair almost looked healthy!

What we didn’t like: Our evaluators were divided on the buttons, which are located on the handle. Some felt they got in the way. Even though it’s light, it’s a bit top-heavy, making it a little trickier to wield.

What to Look for in a Hair Dryer

"Consumers should look for a blow-dryer that has at least three temperature/speed settings to allow for customized styling of all hair types and to achieve the perfect blowout," says Anna Kimble, senior director of global education and events at Drybar, a chain of blow-out salons and maker of hair styling tools. "A consumer with thick or long hair would want to look for a blow-dryer that helps reduce dry time. For curly hair types, be sure your blow-dryer can fit a high-quality diffuser attachment."

Sam Burrowes, a lead design engineer at Dyson, seconds the use of attachments. "The reason the Dyson comes with so many different attachments is so that it can accommodate all kinds of hair."

Materials and Technologies

"Ionic, ceramic, and tourmaline technologies reduce frizz and static and help to dry hair faster than standard dryers," says Annmarie Parker, senior instructor at Arrojo Cosmetology School in New York City.

That’s because ionic, ceramic, and tourmaline technologies release negative ions. Hair tends to have positive ions, and negative ions help counteract them to neutralize static and flyaways. Tourmaline and ceramic are also good conductors of heat.

Wattage

"The power of the hair dryer will determine the heat and speed you can achieve," says Nilofer Farjo, a hair restoration surgeon based in Manchester, England, and president of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, noting that 1,800 watts is good for home use.

She warns that lower wattage such as 1200W may mean that you have to dry your hair longer because the dryer won’t be able to get up to higher temperatures. But lower power also means a smaller motor, which means a more compact and lighter hair dryer. Travel hair dryers and hair dryers at hotels tend to have lower wattage.

Brushless Motor

Magnets cause a motor to rotate. Both brush and brushless motors have magnets, the difference is that brushed motors have metals that act as brushes to conduct the current to get the motor to spin. In brushless, permanent magnets conduct the current thus reducing the friction.

"In order to get the motor to spin, you have to swap the polarity of the magnets," explains Burrowes. The benefit of a brushless motor is that, because there’s less friction, the motor tends to last longer.

How to Decide Which Heat and Speed Settings to Use

"Heat settings that you should use depend on your hair type," says Farjo.

She recommends those with straight, short, or medium-length hair that is lightweight will take less time to dry, so it’s better to use high speed and cooler settings. Those with thick, wavy, or curly hair take longer to dry so it’s better to use a low speed and a high heat setting.

"But other factors have to be taken into account," Farjo warns. For example, if you are in a humid room, it will take longer to dry your hair than if you are in a dryer environment.

The cold setting, meanwhile, can be used after styling to set the curl.

"You will have noticed that hairdressers stretch the hair with the brush at the roots and apply heat but then wait before removing the brush," says Farjo. "This is so that the hair cools first, resulting in the hair staying in the curled position."

Speed has other purposes, too.

"Different speeds enable different styling options and different levels of control," says Parker. "A low speed gives you lots of control whereas a high speed is great for a quick rough dry. For example, if you wanted to get a super-smooth style with no frizz, the control of a lower speed would be best. Going for a rolled-out-of-bed look? Rough dry on high speed with hands."

Hair Dryer Care and Maintenance

"If your hair dryer has a filter, it’s important to clear it every once in a while," says Burrowes. "If you don’t, the filter can get blocked and cause the hair dryer to overheat."

Check your owner’s manual to find out whether your hair dryer has a filter and how often you should clear it. With proper maintenance, a good hair dryer can last for years.

This product evaluation is part of Consumer Reports’ Outside the Labs reviews program, which is separate from our laboratory testing and ratings. Our Outside the Labs reviews are performed at home and in other native settings by individuals, including our journalists, with specialized subject matter experience or familiarity and are designed to offer another important perspective for consumers as they shop. While the products or services mentioned in this article might not currently be in CR’s ratings, they could eventually be tested in our laboratories and rated according to an objective, scientific protocol.

Like all CR evaluations of products and services, our Outside the Labs reviews are independent and free from advertising. If you’d like to learn more about the criteria for our lab testing, please go to CR’s Research & Testing page.



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