Tried & Tested: A lot of hot air?

Can bad hair days be banished forever with a quick-fix hot-air styler? Our panel combs through the choices
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IN THE pursuit of "salon hair" a hot-air styler is the easy alternative to awkward juggling with brush and hair drier. hot-air stylers create lift and body, and smooth or curl hair by combining the flow of hot air and the styling tool in a single appliance, allowing even the most unruly hair to be styled to perfection. We put some hot-air stylers to the test to identify the best appliance for the amateur "big hair" enthusiast.

THE PANEL

Our testers, who sported a range of hair lengths and types, included Angela Bishop (shoulder-length/wavy), Lorrie Sheehy (long/fine), Clare Swift (medium length/straight), Vanessa Thorpe (long/ wavy), Alexandra Cook (short/coarse), Cayte Williams (medium length/thick and dry) and Lily Draper (long/curly). Hairdresser Christine Pike joined in to give a professional opinion.

THE TEST

The promise of an effective and simple hair-styling solution was put under scrutiny by a panel of busy women. Under consideration were ease of use, effectiveness in giving a range of styles, speed of styling, hot and cold air settings and practical, useful attachments.

Manufacturers recommend the use of hot-air stylers on damp (rather than wet) hair, and stress that the basis for a good hairstyle is a good haircut.

**REVLON BIG CURLS STYLERBALL

pounds 24.99

The Stylerball's alarming appearance caused great amusement among the testers, who likened it to a medieval torture instrument or a tool from an S&M parlour. Despite this, the Stylerball was surprisingly effective. "I was sure the ball would get stuck in my hair, but it was very easy to use," remarked Christine Pike, while Angela Bishop and Clare Swift were pleased with "painless" smooth waves and root- lift after use. "It makes hair nicely bouffant, rather than simply unruly," mused Vanessa Thorpe. However, Cayte Williams found the Stylerball just too big for shorter hair, though she warmed to the thermal brush as an effective anti-frizz tool and admired the firm bristles that dealt easily with her thick hair. This enthusiasm waned when some of the bristles snapped off after repeated use. A frustrated Alexandra Cook could not assess the Stylerball's performance because of technical difficulties. "After 15 minutes trying to secure the attachment and failing, I gave up. I was too annoyed," she said. The final verdict was that the Stylerball is eye-catching, but lacked the practicality necessary for a serious or speedy styling tool.

****CHARLES WORTHINGTON BIG HAIR BRISTLE BRUSH AIRSTYLER, BY REMINGTON

pounds 19.99

Enthusiasm among testers focused on the simplicity of this styler. "No degree in mechanical engineering needed! Perfect for the time-starved woman," said Lorrie Sheehy, while Alexandra Cook decided that the Worthington was the first convincing reason for dispensing with her hair drier. The cooled tip for holding while setting hair, and a powerful heat setting were welcomed. Angela Bishop liked the cold-air setting which cemented "tenacious waves" in her shoulder-length hair, but Lily Draper complained of tangling. With soft bristles, the Charles Worthington was not to everyone's taste - Alexandra Cook complained of a drag factor akin to "pulling Velcro through her hair".

However, most of the panellists favoured the Charles Worthington for ease and effectiveness. "Excellent for bounciness and big hair on a layered style," said Christine Pike. While Lorrie Sheehy committed to the Charles Worthington as the ultimate styler for her fine, layered hair.

*****PHILIPS HP4485 SALON STYLER

pounds 24.99

"Perhaps a little more curl than I was expecting," said Lorrie Sheehy through her ringlets, testifying to the effectiveness of the small styling brush. One of three attachments, the curling barrel was universally praised for its retractable bristles which allowed tangle- free styling. The firm bristles wind hair and then draw back into the barrel in a twist of the styler's tip. "All stylers should have this release system - it gave me a lot more confidence," enthused Alexandra Cook. Disappointment at the lack of retractable bristles on the larger brush was balanced by impressive performance, which left testers with big waves and a sense of styling satisfaction. "This wouldn't be out of place in a salon," said Christine Pike. The vent brush did not fare so well, and was criticised for its harsh bristles and difficulty of use. Lorrie Sheehy complained that she felt as if she was "give myself a blow-dry with a comb".

Special mention was made of the booklet, praised by Alexandra Cook for "clear instructions for the timid styler". The hard-to-grip handle was considered a minor drawback in what was otherwise the favourite appliance.

*REMINGTON BIG 'N' BOUNCY

pounds 23.40

"Where are the pins?" cried Angela Bishop, spokeswoman for panellists across the board who could not master Remington's Velcro rollers. "They just rolled out of my hair. The model on the box didn't seem to have this trouble. Is my hair too slippy and soft?" wondered Clare Swift. Others agreed that the omission of pins rendered the appliance practically useless. Christine Pike noted that 12 rollers are not nearly enough for serious styling. Even Lily Draper and Alexandra Cook who both achieved marginal roller success found the largest ones were impossible to use. However, Alexandra Cook liked the idea of the roller heating wand, and found it easy to use and precise.

Everyone agreed that the roller system was not suitable for busy women. "It's time-consuming, and certainly not something you could do every morning before work," said Lorrie Sheehy. While Christine Pike dismissed the Big 'n' Bouncy as an "unnecessary performance". Two powerful heat settings and a click-in attachment system failed to sway opinion much. The vent brush was deemed "ineffective" by Christine Pike, Lily Draper and Angela Bishop, but the styling brush gained a fan in Alexandra Cook for her "springy curls". However, with none of the panel overly impressed by the Big 'n' Bouncy's performance, opinion was that it was a lot of hot air and little else.

***VIDAL SASSOON HOT AIR STEAM 'N' STYLE

pounds 21.99

The hair reviving steam facility in this appliance won praise for being one of the most innovative styling solutions in the test. "An interesting styler and easy to use, although it's more suitable for reviving previously styled hair than creating a new look," said Christine Pike. "It didn't give my hair a lot of body, but it perked it up and gave it a nice, freshly styled feeling," agreed Lorrie Sheehy, while Lily Draper appreciated the "gentle coaxing" of her hair back into style. On balance, testers with shorter hair found the steam styler more useful than longer- haired ones, who felt its results were too subtle to make this an indispensable product.

Filling and fitting the water reservoir at the tip of the styler was a simple manoeuvre, although Alexandra Cook was slightly irritated by the fiddly plug. However, this inconvenience was outweighed by the styler's smoothing effect on her hair, which she described as a fantastic surprise. Testers liked the two-step steam/heat switch, but expressed a desire for a hotter air-flow (the safety thermostat to shut off the appliance if temperatures exceeded comfort level was thought a little optimistic). Design-wise, Lily Draper and Lorrie Sheehy called the styler too heavy and unwieldy: Christine Pike disagreed and thought the unit well-balanced. The general consensus was that the steam styler was a useful if uninspiring appliance, both user- and time-friendly.

STOCKISTS

Revlon Stylerball and Remington Big 'n' Bouncy from electrical stores nationwide; Charles Worthington Airstyler from Boots; for Vidal Sassoon Steam 'n' Style, call 0114 242 0405; for Philips Salon Styler, call 0181 689 2166. !

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