Tools of the Trade

By Kelly Cison | 03/22/2011 3:08:33 PM


You may think you know all about tools from beauty school, but shears, brushes and irons are just as unique as the hair you style. Your professional selection, wider than ever before, is described by buzzwords like ionic, ceramic and ergonomic. How to determine the tools for you? You’ll know you’ve found the right ones when they fit perfectly in your hand and never let you down, client after client. But to save you some homework (and legwork), First Chair has rounded up the best beauty tool essentials for any budding stylist to put on their shortlist. As you already know, the right tools are the mark of a true pro. So start building your best toolbox now.

Dryers & Attachments

Dryers are more than just hot air. They are the most-loved beauty essential of many hairdressers because of their innovation, styling power and protective qualities.

The basic facts:
Dryers have come a long way since the days of the beautyshop dryer hood, and technology keeps improving. That’s great for your clients, whose strands are more protected, but also for you—because as powerful as dryers have gotten, they’re also lighter than they’ve even been before. So no more aching hands, wrists and triceps before the morning is even over.

Most professional models have higher wattages, which makes for a more powerful dryer (and less time in the chair for your clients). Choose a model with at least 1600 to 1875 watts. Also consider advanced features: A ceramic-coated grill helps to evenly distribute heat. And tourmaline ionic technology emits negative ions that break up water molecules so they are more easily absorbed by the hair, making it stronger, hydrated and healthier. Tourmaline also creates infrared heat, which penetrates the hair shaft to gently dry hair from within. Hairdressers report that hair is dried faster, with smoother and shinier results.

Heat settings and controls will differ by models, so test out a few to see which you prefer. As a rule, use lower heat settings for fine or damaged hair, and higher settings for thick or coarse hair. From a practicality standpoint, a dryer with an ergonomic handle, extra-long cord and a hook to hang it up will let you work more effectively and help keep your station clean.

“I use the SuperSolano 3500 blow dryer. I used to work with Laurent D. at Privé Salon, and I was lucky enough to be part of his design team and travel around the country with him. He always used the Solano brand and introduced it to me, and I’ve been using them ever since—about 10 years now. I like the infrared technology, the fact that it’s lightweight, and it dries hair quickly. Clients like the results, and that it’s ceramic. Metal burns hair, but this doesn’t. It’s nano tourmaline charged. I also use the Blue Sapphire Solano iron. My whole staff uses Solano.”
—Brian Duignan
co-owner, Tru Salon, St. James, New York

“My favorite tool is my Twin Turbo hair dryer—it’s really awesome. A few people I work with recommended it to me. I’ve been using it over a year, and it’s such an improvement over my last blow dryer. This one has a more powerful motor but it’s quieter, and it’s not as hot so it doesn’t fry the hair. The drying power comes more from air than heat, which is better for the hair. My clients have noticed that it doesn’t burn their scalp, and they have more shine because of the smoother finish on their cuticle.”
—Chelle Morrison
owner, Urban Betty Salon, Austin, Texas

“I first heard about my new favorite dryer through my Aveda distributor. It’s an FHI Heat 2000 series and it’s great—it’s fast, it sets a curl nicely and it’s lightweight. It’s number one in my book since I started using it eight months ago, and I tell all my clients that. We recommend it to them because we retail it, as well. Most of us here use it and love how it works, and now our clients love it too. We probably sell about 10–15 every month.”
—Donya Iverson
stylist, Avantgarde Salon Spa, Destin, Florida

“My brush is the Cricket Ionic Static Free Antimicrobial 450 3”-wide brush. I find I like metal bristles to get the heat through hair, and I like a wide brush even on short hair. I absolutely love it. I find new tools at shows, and by being a thorough shopper at stores that cater to beauty professionals. I always ask what they recommend, which is a good way to find the best. It’s also important to seek out the right kind of education and find manufacturers you believe in with the tools to back it up, and develop personal relationships with them. I have a long relationship with Fromm through my family’s salons back east, and one pair of shears I use is the their Discovery 145, which are made in Germany.”
—Marco Pelusi
owner, Marco Pelusi Hair Studio, West Hollywood, California

“Years ago when I was a guest artist for Graham Webb, I would travel a lot working distributor shows. While we were working on stage, there were times that manufacturers would offer us tools to use on stage to show them off and hopefully send people to their booth to check them out: blow dryers, curling irons, flatirons, etc. One show we had heard about the new CHI ceramic flatiron. I believe that was IBS in Chicago. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on one. I went over to the booth to see about borrowing one to use on stage, but they were hot sellers and we would have had to buy one. Well, none of us wanted to foot the bill for one—we thought we would wait for the price to come down like everything new does. Show after show that season, lo and behold, the prices never ever dropped. I finally broke down and bought one at a show about six months later. I had to have one. Fell in love with the ceramic and have used it ever since.”
—Rowena Yeager
owner, Studio Wish Salon & Colour Cafe, Streetsboro, Ohio

“I love the Sam Villa Textur Iron because it turns hair into a completely new form. I’m able to make the hair imitate pleats and tulle, like fabric. It creates a base that allows you to mold the hair into any shape and leaves a beautiful modern finish. It’s so much more versatile than a crimping iron. After I used it, everyone on the shoot wanted to know where to get one!”
—Tony Kelley
Redken/Cutler Stylist, New York City, New York

Styling attachments may come with the dryer or be purchased separately for your specific dryer. A nozzle helps target airflow, which is useful when straightening hair, while a diffuser helps distribute hot air gently over textured hair to define curls and avoid frizz. To use a diffuser effectively, place the diffuser at the end of each strand while squeezing each curl in your hand, recommend our experts.

While a dryer will run anywhere from about $100–$300, attachments bought separately are usually available at nominal cost. When using any blow dryer, handle with care. Dry from the base to the ends (unless using a diffuser) and always keep the dryer moving to avoid burning the hair or scalp. Clean the filter regularly with a damp cloth to keep airflow unobstructed and avoid motor burnout. And remember to remove any attachments and let them cool down before storing your dryer.

Good to know:
Don’t forget, styling hair is not all about heat. To lock in a killer blowout, select a dryer with a “cool shot” button. A quick burst of cool air will smooth and seal the cuticle of the hair for straighter, shinier locks.


Probably the most important tool for any hairdresser is their shears. With such a wide variety—and a sometimes hefty investment—which shears are a cut above the rest?

The basic facts:
Beauty pros agree that shears are a critical investment— and a costly investment they are! The price of shears can run from about $20 up to several hundred dollars. And while you may decide to shell out for a premium pair down the road, you can start your career with a less expensive model while you save your pennies.

What makes shears so valuable? Typically made from regular stainless steel, Japanese stainless steel or steel alloy, the best shears are forged—meaning each blade is shaped from one piece of metal for strength and durability. Some shears may be made entirely by hand and go through several steps in the finishing process, which drives up the cost. Craftsmanship is particularly important in the edge of the shear. A convex edge will give you a nice clean cut, say experts, and it will let you easily perform techniques such as slide cutting or channel cutting, with optimal results.

Since you will be doing many types of cutting, you’ll need a variety of shears. Beauty pros suggest three pairs: overall cutting shears, slice cutting shears, and thinning or texturizing shears. To find the right ones for you, test-drive a few pairs from different manufacturers and lines. Hold the shears in your hands and open and close them. Does it feel lightweight? Do the blades open easily and smoothly? Are they ergonomically designed, with a comfortable thumb and finger position? If the answer is yes to all, you’ll know you’ve found a shear that will let you cut fast and precisely, and most importantly, won’t stress and strain your fingers and hands—which can lead to fatigue and even injury.

If you have trouble finding the right “fit,” or if your fingers tend to slide out of shears easily, look for a manufacturer that offers an adjustable sizing system with their shears. These flexible rings can be added or removed to fit your specific finger and thumb size. To help them perform better and last longer, take good care of your shears. Consult the maintenance guide that comes with your shears for specific care, but in general, clean them after every cut, lubricate them regularly, and balance—or adjust tension—when needed. Always store shears in a closed position to protect blades, and be sure to pack them in their case when traveling or transporting. And finally, stick to a regular sharpening schedule to keep them sharp!

Good to know:
Zak Ashrough, the managing director of Kamisori Shears, fills us in on the appropriate usage for each type of shear: Cutting shears are suitable for starting the cut, working on wet or dry hair, and performing point and blunt cutting. Slice cutting shears are designed for slicing, texturizing and slide cutting. And thinning/texurizing shears, which are of course used for thinning and texturizing, feature micro-serrated tips on the teeth for precise separation and cutting.


Styling irons have become indispensable in the salon. Whether it’s a flatiron or curling iron you’re reaching for, you’ll want to have it hot and ready.

The basic facts:
Every toolbox needs an iron … or two or three. Depending on the styles you’re creating, you may want a couple of different sizes. With a curling iron, the barrel size determines the size of the curl—the larger the barrel, the bigger and more relaxed the curl. With a flatiron, select the size of the iron based upon the length of the hair you’re working on—typically, the shorter the hair, the smaller the iron you’ll need. If you can pick only one size of each iron, go with the 1”, generally considered by beauty pros to be the most versatile size that will work for most hair types.

Just as with dryers, technology is a major player here, too. Ionic and tourmaline technology benefits the hair in the same way, locking in moisture and helping to protect hair from styling damage. Look for smooth titanium or ceramic- coated barrels or plates that will slide easily through hair without burning it. For further protection, make sure your flatiron has rounded edges or beveled plates to prevent strands from getting snagged or ripped, recommend our experts. And with the exception of irons that are specifically designed to work on wet hair, use your irons only on dry hair since wet hair is more vulnerable to damage.

Most professional irons are designed to heat up quickly with variable temperature settings. For thermal styling, Pivot Point International Academy suggests to students to stick to low heat settings starting in the 200°F range for fine hair, and go up as high as 400°F or more for thick or coarse hair. If you desire even more control over heat, choose a flatiron with independent temperature setting so you can regulate each plate individually.

Other factors to consider: A longer body and a slim handle design will make your iron easier to control and maneuver. Also, an auto shut-off feature, besides being a safety control, will help prolong any electric tool’s life. After you’ve finished using your iron, be sure to turn it off, unplug it and let it cool down. Then remove any product residue with a soft cloth and a non-abrasive cleanser or rubbing alcohol, taking care not to scratch the heating surface. For all other maintenance, check the manufacturer’s guidelines.

While iron prices vary, expect to pay around $100 or more for a quality styling iron. Since these hot tools are a significant investment, make your purchase from a reputable distributor. For some brands, like CHI products, purchasing online voids the warranty since it’s not from an authorized dealer.

Good to know:
A flatiron is amazingly versatile for creating almost any style. “For curls, simply clamp hair sections, wrap around the iron and pull the iron through,” explains Elizabeth Yong, public relations manager for Farouk Systems, the maker of CHI products. “A quick flick of the wrist creates flips. Or use the iron to set hair for creative texture: Create varying sized braids in hair and clamp with the iron. Let cool before releasing braids.”


Your grooming go-tos have a specific type of construction for a specific styling purpose. Be sure you’re using the right tool for the right job!

The basic facts:
The variety of brushes is almost endless, and they’re not one-size-fits-all. Styles, bristles and barrel construction all play a role in determining the appropriate usage for a particular brush.

Popular styles include vent brushes for drying, round brushes for straightening or adding curl, and paddle brushes for smoothing and evenly distributing styling mousse or gel. Bristles may be natural boar, which grip the hair and make it suitable for setting curls or doing blow outs (and as a bonus, also stimulate the scalp and distribute the hair’s natural oils); or nylon, which performs well for many hair textures (although should not be used under high heat); or a mix of both materials. According to Spornette International, the newest bristles now even feature tourmaline coated fibers that release ions under heat to penetrate and condition hair, leaving it shiny and soft.

A thermal brush, specifically designed to stand up to the hottest blow dryers as well as enhance heat styling, has a unique ceramic barrel that quickly picks up and radiates heat back evenly to help dry hair faster. As effective as these brushes are, the barrels can heat up rapidly, so take care not to burn your client or yourself! For your own comfort, a lighter-weight brush will reduce hand and wrist strain. You may find a longer handle easier on the hands as well. Whichever style and bristle type you choose, the brush should have quality construction with sturdy bristles that stay securely in place as you pull it through the hair of countless clients. Brush prices will vary as much as the styles, but all brushes need similar maintenance: After each service, remove hair from the brush using a comb or pick. Then dip just the bristles in warm, soapy water or a mild shampoo bath several times, recommends Sam Villa, Redken Education Artistic Director. Do not soak natural bristles or the entire brush as that can cause warping and damage. Finally, rinse with cool water and let air dry.

Good to know:
The style you create dictates the brush you choose. “Right now I’m creating a lot of polished finishes that are close to the head, and I need to achieve control quickly, so I’m wrap drying with a paddle brush,” explains Sam Villa, Redken education artistic director.

“The soft cushion and staggered pins allow me to detangle, lift and straighten hair of all types and lengths in a timely manner.”

Combs & Clips

Don’t forget the combs, clips and other accessories. These little tools just might be your most-used necessities.

The basic facts:
Combs, clips and other accessories can be overlooked during the toolbox-building process, but you won’t be able to get too far with a cut if you can’t first detangle hair with a comb and section it off with clips.

Combs are made from a variety of materials, such as multipurpose plastic, unbreakable carbon, heat-resistant silicone and even lightweight bamboo. The basic comb with its wide handle for detangling is fairly standard, but specialty combs exist for almost every hair process—color work, perming, teasing and styling. The main differences of the specialty combs are their narrow handles, usually a pick for lifting and separating hair, and the size and density of their teeth. Since comb prices are minimal, stock up so you always have one handy.

And remember to disinfect after each client! Other accessories to have in your beauty arsenal? Rubberized metal hair clips and clamps to protect and grip the hair, as well as bobby pins and French pins for styling and updos.

Good to know:
The right comb will come in handy on clients with curly hair. Brushes can create puffiness and frizz, but a wide-toothed comb is perfect for detangling while distributing the necessary styling product evenly over hair.

Clippers & Trimmers

Sharp clipper skills will keep your short-haired clients coming back on a regular basis. Take it a step further by using the clipper’s adjustable settings and comb attachments to customize a cut for every guy—or gal—in your chair.

The basic facts:
Not all clippers are created equally. Keep your eyes peeled for a top-notch version, which, according to Ivan Zoot, director of education for Andis, will be notable for its “great balance of size, weight, power, features, quality and price.” Sound like a tall order? Fortunately for your budget, you can get it all in a professional-quality clipper at around $50.

The clipper is often thought of as a barbershop tool. And while it is used to create precise lines for men’s short cuts on wet or dry hair, as well as form tapers or fades, it can also be used for women’s longer length styles. Test it out on your next practice blunt cut, using a clipper-over-finger technique. (Search for videos on YouTube to see some demonstrations.) For the most style versatility, a multi-position adjustable taper level will allow you to quickly and easily change up your texture and cutting length. Between services, clean the stainless steel blades with a cleaning brush and sanitize with a disinfecting spray (check with your manufacturer for specific recommendations). And be sure to regularly oil the blades: According to Pivot Point’s care guidelines, lubricating the blades helps hair to work its way out between the blade and comb while in use to help keep all parts in good working condition. Be observant: If your clipper’s motor begins to sound slow, it has not been properly cleaned. If you hear a smooth-running motor sound, you know you are in good shape.

While a clipper is effective for hair cutting, a trimmer cuts closer, making it the perfect tool to trim the back of the neck, around the ears and the sideburns. You’ll need both tools, particularly if you are doing a lot of men’s cuts. Buy them separately, or select a 2-in-1 model to do both jobs.

To cord or not to cord? If you pick a cordless route, be aware that a clipper will run for about one hour on a charge, and a trimmer for about 20–40 minutes, according to Andis. A corded version won’t need to be recharged, but should have enough cord length that you can move freely around the chair. And, finally, any model you choose must feel good in your hand. Find one with a contoured shape and a soft-touch grip that will make your clipper fun and easy to use.

Good to know:
Think beyond the basic clipper cut! If you want to get inspired by some truly creative clipper and trimmer work, and even share your own styles, visit the “Fun Stuff ” page in the Professional section at






Kelly Cison Kelly Cison is a Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in beauty, style and wellness. As a MODERN SALON Media contributor, she writes trend and feature stories for both print and web. Her favorite beauty pick-me-ups: balayage color and hydrating facials. Contact her at


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