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Do you remember the first-generation steam straighteners? In the early '00s, before the ghd revolution took hold, brands released chunky, spluttery devices often with crimp and wave attachments. And despite their rudimentary technology, those early steam straighteners were snapped up in droves by beauty fans keen to create stick-straight sheets of hair, Jennifer Aniston-style.
These days, the best hair straighteners come in many forms. There are travel-friendly cordless tools, the best hair straightening brushes, and curvy devices that make learning how to curl hair with straighteners a cinch. While tech has moved on, steam straighteners are still in the picture. New-gen models such as the L’Oréal Professionnel Steampod 4.0 and Revamp Progloss are slimmer, lighter, and boast far smarter tech than their predecessors.
The main USP of today's batch is that by using steam instead of direct heat, they allow for a more thorough, yet less damaging styling experience. This makes them particularly appealing to those with curly hairstyles or weakened and frizzy hair. Wondering whether steam straighteners are a good choice for your hair? We've consulted salon experts and put a pair of steam straighteners to the test to help you decide.
Steam straighteners: our expert guide
What are steam straighteners?
Generally speaking, most steam straighteners use a combination of high-pressure steam generated by a built-in water tank and heated plates to straighten hair. What sets steam straighteners, such as L’Oréal Professionnel SteamPod 3.0 and 4.0, apart from most other hair straightener models is the promise that the steam provides a gentler straightening experience.
Steam straighteners aim to protect hair while styling by respecting the moisture balance of strands and, therefore, causing less damage. This is a different approach to the typical hot iron experience. Other contemporary models such as the Dyson Corrale hair straightener tend to straighten solely using direct heat and depend on advances in technology such as floating plates and intelligent heat detection to prevent hotspots and extreme damage.
What hair type do steam straighteners suit?
Their focus on moisture balance explains why steam straighteners are often considered the best straighteners for curly hair. Curls struggle to retain moisture, as natural oils have a less straightforward journey from root to tip, so the ends of curly hair often need extra help to stay nourished. Plus, those with natural curls may be straightening their hair more frequently, and for thick or long hairstyles, it can take far longer to straighten a whole head – leaving delicate strands more vulnerable.
While steam straighteners are generally kinder to hair than other types of flat iron, this isn’t necessarily a green light to reach for the straighteners more frequently. “If you find something less damaging, using it twice as often negates the benefit,” explains renowned hairstylist and award-winning salon owner Michael Van Clarke (opens in new tab). Frequency, technique, and using heat protection for hair are still key hair health considerations.
Are steam straighteners better for hair than regular straighteners?
“In theory, yes, I believe so,” says Van Clarke. “A key factor in hair condition is hydration. Healthy hair is 97% protein and 3% water. Loss of the natural water content causes a breakdown in the protein structure and then results in thinner, drier, and coarser hair. This can lead to split ends and breakage. Dry heat tools take a little of this moisture when styling, so they leave the hair vulnerable.”
In contrast to this, steam straighteners can actually boost hair hydration. “The steam opens the hair follicle and allows moisture to penetrate while straightening or curling,” explains Neil Moodie (opens in new tab), international session artist. This results in less damage and a softer, glossier finish. “They also smooth a lot faster, with only one or two passings needed on each section,” he adds.
How do steam straighteners perform? w&h review
Steam straighteners have a lot going for them in theory, but how do they perform in practice? Beauty Editor Emma Stoddart put the brand-new L'Oreal Professionnel Steampod 4.0 to the test:
“Already a big fan of the L’Oréal Professionnel SteamPod 3.0, I was keen to give the newer model, the 4.0, a whirl. Boasting the same steam technology as its predecessor, but in a far-sleeker vessel, the 4.0 can create sleek styles as well as curls and waves thanks to its new outer ceramic plates. I was curious to see just how well this feature works and if it can give my best curling iron a run for its money.”
Pros of steam straighteners:
- Settings: Unlike the best ghd straighteners, the Steampod 4.0 boasts three temperature settings that cater to different hair types (180ºC, 200ºC and 210ºC). I went for the lowest setting – 180ºC – which was perfect for smoothing my fine, medium-length hair, and a single pass was all I needed to straighten each section. It’s worth noting that there’s now a choice of three combs to adapt to any hair type, too.
- Design: The 4.0 is far lighter than its predecessor making styling a more seamless process (without that dreaded arm ache). It’s also rounder with a barrel-like shape that’s ideal for curling and waving hair. I was keen to see if the outer plates work and can confirm that this new feature is a real bonus. Simply rotate the tool as you move down the length of your hair for salon-worthy bouncy curls. The integrated water tank is easy to use, and one full tank is plenty to style a full head of thick hair. I also appreciated the 2.5m long cable that can rotate 360°.
- Results: For a smooth style and high-shine finish, the Steampod 4.0 is one of the best hot stylers I’ve tried. It’s easy to see why this new tool has amassed so many glowing reviews online. My hair felt surprisingly soft after using it, which is a revelation considering that it usually feels parched post-straightening. It's also a brilliant tool for creating curls and waves - rivaling my best curling iron. Hair looks smooth, shiny, and full of body after use. Three big ticks!
Cons of steam straighteners:
- Set up: One tank lasted me three styling sessions, which is pretty good considering the tank is discreet and small. However, refilling it proved slightly time-consuming, plus it also requires demineralized or filtered water to function at its best.
- Attachments: While the 3.0 had one integrated comb option, the 4.0 now has a choice of three – a fine-, medium- and wide-toothed comb. The fine is suitable for hair types 1-4, the medium is suitable for hair type 5 and the wide is suitable for hair types 6 and 7. Although I can understand the purpose of the combs, especially when creating waves, I did find that it snagged a few times despite having brushed my hair beforehand – but it is detachable.
- Versatility: The newer model is far more versatile than the 3.0. The sleek design allows you to get closer to the root and the choice of more settings makes it suitable for every hair type. If, however, you have very short hair – a slimmer model that's easier to maneuver may be a better option.
"A further consideration is its price. It's comparable to other super-premium models such as the Babyliss 9000 Cordless hair Straightener, but it’s definitely one of the pricier options out there. If straighteners are your go-to tool, though, and you’re serious about minimizing heat damage, a steam straightener such as the Steampod 4.0 could be worth the investment."
Emma Stoddart is a freelance beauty journalist and self-confessed skincare aficionado with over five years’ industry experience. Emma has worked for some of the UK’s top women’s titles including Net-A-Porter, Stylist and Grazia. Her experience spans online and print as well as producing editorial shoots with some of the industry’s biggest artists, including Val Garland. Asides from working with them behind the scenes, she’s also had the chance to interview the likes of Patrick Ta, Pat McGrath, and Sam McKnight for all their insider tips and tricks.
- Fiona McKimBeauty Editor, womanandhome.com
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