Tourmaline "negative ion" curling iron - bullshit or legit?
December 17, 2012 10:10 AM   Subscribe

My wife bought a "Professional Tourmaline Curling Iron". The text on the box has trigger words for me like "negative ion technology", so I am skeptical. Did she get taken for a ride?

She was shopping for a Christmas present at a mall, and she passed by a kiosk with a young woman selling these Royale curling irons. The salesperson gave her the hard sell, including a demo, and convinced my wife to buy a $120 curling iron. Here are the pertinent pieces of copy from the package that smell like bullshit to me.

"Tourmaline technology produces negative ions to seal cuticles and repel humidity."

"Negative Ion Technology emits atoms that can stop the growth of bacteria resulting in healthier hair and scalp. Negative ion energy allows smaller water molecules to penetrate into the hair shaft and close the hair cuticle, which is very good for the health and appearance of the hair."

"Tourmalines are a natural source of negative ions and far infrared rays. When tourmaline is crushed and combined with ceramic plates, the heating of the iron causes negative ions to be emitted, resulting in superior styling results."

"Far infrared technology creates electromagnetic waves of energy that penetrate the hair shaft drying the hair from the inside out."

"Nano-silver particles are embedded in the flat iron plates to inhibit bacterial growth. This feature results in cleaner and healthier hair."

On the empirical side of things, her hair stayed curly without product for over 24 hours. She says this is an amazing feat. I wouldn't know. I'm just concerned that she paid $120 for snake oil. Opinions?
posted by starvingartist to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My opinion is that the "negative ion" stuff is marketing BS attached to an otherwise possibly decent curling iron. It very well may be a quality product with stupid marketing.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:12 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everything, everything science-related you read on the box of, say, 95% of beauty products and devices is horsecrap. This does not, however, prevent it from being a really good curling iron for whatever actual reasons it has for being a really good curling iron (which makes for more boring copy than Unstable Molecules or whatever.)
posted by griphus at 10:12 AM on December 17, 2012 [11 favorites]

Regardless of the science behind the claims on the box, $120 is actually not a bad price for a hot styling tool that gives good results, as this seems to. If she's happy with it, why does it matter?
posted by oinopaponton at 10:14 AM on December 17, 2012 [20 favorites]

Regardless of whether Tourmaline Curling Irons perform as suggested, there are many reputable brands of Tourmaline Curling Irons (such as Conair) that retail for $50 or under. I would suggest that your wife got taken, not perhaps in buying a Tourmaline Curling Iron in general, but by paying much too much for one when cheaper models featuring the same technology are available.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 10:14 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

My hair dryer says the same stuff. However, it's a great hair dryer. I'd ignore the packaging and pay attention to the performance. Or not, if you don't really care about curling irons.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:14 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've tried those curling irons and I have to say, I was really impressed with it. My naturally stick straight hair stayed curly until I showered the next day. My sister actually bought one and really seems to like it. As everyone is saying, you just have to ignore all the science babble on packaging.
posted by chatongriffes at 10:21 AM on December 17, 2012

Also, it's not like you can go purchase a curling iron (or hairdryer or etc.) with a marketing campaign that isn't like this. Over the years, they've set up a status quo for how you sell a piece of beauty tech, and regardless of whether the product is a piece of crap, or actually works perfectly well, they have to throw all sorts of nonsense on it because if it is missing said nonsense, consumers will say "well, this one DOESN'T have infrared zoltron beams to cancel out the cell-phone gamma waves. I can't not have that!"

This situation extends well outside of beauty products and science, obviously. You can look it up yourself while sitting in a chair made of rich Corinthian leather.
posted by griphus at 10:22 AM on December 17, 2012 [9 favorites]

Did she buy it because of the marketing about negative ions or because it worked really well in the demo? As you noted: "On the empirical side of things, her hair stayed curly without product for over 24 hours. She says this is an amazing feat."

She bought a product that performs well for her. Unless the $120 bucks is a hardship, let it go.
posted by 26.2 at 10:26 AM on December 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

There is often a quantifiable, positive difference between $20 hair straighteners/curlers and $120 hair straighteners -- but not for the reasons stated on the tin. Your wife hasn't been taken for a ride at all if the product works as it's supposed to, unless she's now touting the pseudoscience as the reason why it works so well.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

$120 seems like a shit ton of money to me for a beauty product, especially because she never curls her hair. But I'm not making it an issue between us, I just wanted to know if it was the bullshit it seems to be. The consensus seems to be yes, it is, but if the product works, so what? Thanks.
posted by starvingartist at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The copy sounds like bullshit. However, $120 is a pretty standard price for premium styling irons - e.g. the CHI line which gets rave reviews.

If she curls her hair regularly and is impressed with the performance, and it lasts a few years, then it was a worthwhile buy, regardless of the tourmaline ion blahblah. There are cheaper irons out there that boast the same claims, but who knows if they deliver the same results.

However, she might have paid too much for reasons that have nothing to do with negative ions: you can buy a Royale curling iron for half the price on Amazon. When in doubt, go home and do some comparison shopping.

I really really wouldn't lecture her about that, though. I wouldn't even bring it up. It's her money and her hair, and it's terribly patronizing to tell someone how to spend their own money. (And if it's a man telling a woman she overpaid for a beauty product, that's even worse.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:34 AM on December 17, 2012 [28 favorites]

For what it's worth, pretty much every hair-straightening doodad that I've ever seen in the beauty aisle says "negative ion" and "tourmaline" on it. I really doubt that your wife bought it on the basis of those features (meaningful or not) because they are completely ubiquitous. If she's buying $120 curling irons then she is probably aware of that ubiquity and selected that iron for other, presumably more substantive reasons.
posted by Scientist at 10:36 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, like everyone is saying, the scientific stuff is marketing garbage, but it doesn't mean she got snowed. A frequent frustration with hot styling tools like curling irons or flat irons is that they often don't get hot enough to style effectively or hold throughout the day - depending on the texture of your hair, in order to get a tool that will get hot enough to be effective, you have to shell out some cash. $120 doesn't sound like an outlier. It sucks, but there it is.

Anyway, unless she was spending your dog's college money or whatever just forget about it (and definitely don't pass preemptive judgment about how much she's going to use a new, improved product based on how much she used older, presumably less effective versions of that product.) You're coming right up to the edge of condescending in your remarks here.
posted by superfluousm at 10:38 AM on December 17, 2012

It would be great if people didn't tell this person how to talk to their spouse.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thanks, Burhanistan. I'd like to point out that I have been nothing but positive to my wife in our limited discussions of this purchase. Her hair did look great after the demo, and I have not once questioned her about the cost or the effectiveness of the thing.

Metroid Baby, it's our money, not just hers. I would have preferred to be involved in the purchase decision, but there it is.

I'm not going to make her take it back or make her feel bad about buying it. Privately, I have my doubts that she will ever use it, because I can count on one hand the number of times she has curled her hair using other products in the past 12 years that we've been together. I can think of better ways we could have spent that $120. But it's spent, and that's that. I just wanted to get some consensus on the marketing copy.
posted by starvingartist at 10:46 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know if it's snake oil or not, but I do know that I have bought a hair dryer and flat iron with these "technologies" and they were over $100 and worth every penny to me. From my perspective, it's less about whether the technology is real and more about whether it does a good job. Heat styling products tend to be one area where paying more can get you a better result-- specifically, high-end curling irons and flat irons tend to get hotter and have more even heat distribution in my experience, which means you have to do less work to get the desired result and consequently reduce the amount of repeated heat exposure to your hair.

So maybe the technology isn't real, but it still might be worth the price tag.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did a lot of research (Good Housekeeping, that sort of thing) before replacing my old hairdryer last month, and did so based on consumer reviews. The one I ended up with claims to have negative ion technology, which I dismissed as BS. But HOLY CRAP does this thing do a better job than my old $15 dryer. It worked super quick, but didn't feel as hot (no "almost burning hair" smell), was quieter, and left my hair noticeably smoother than the old one.

Do I believe that the wet hair's positive ions were reversed by the tourmaline dryer? No. But was it worth the money I spent anyway? Definitely!
posted by Pomo at 11:38 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Tourmaline styling products are in a line of ion-producing styling tools. They produce more ions than the old ceramic tools (the ceramics + nanosilver are based on some science, see here and here. CHI products are consistently reviewed as being the best, but who knows?). Negative ions are supposed to add sheen, and testing by Good Housekeeping does seem to bear that out, though it might be the interaction of those ions with your styling products. Honestly, there isn't a lot of scientific research into hair styling, so everything is just "scientific" claims. It's all about whether or not the iron works, not how it works.

If you read Consumer Reports, they say the more expensive flat irons have better heat distribution and higher temperatures. The also don't break as easily. Most of the high end tools are of the "ionic" type, but it might not be the ions, rather the underlying better quality of the expensive iron that make them work well. Maybe now that your wife has a good curling iron, she'll curl her hair more often?
posted by bluefly at 11:40 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Back in the day, we used to rub fabric softener dryer sheets on our hair to reduce frizz. I think "negative ion technology" is the same concept.

In this kid's science experiment, rubbing a balloon on your hair dislodges (negatively-charged) electrons and leaves hair positively charged and static-ey. This is not a look you want.

I think the idea of the "negative-ion" styling tools is to reduce static electricity in your haiir.

And silver does have antimicrobial activity, so that part of the marketing copy is technically true too... but I don't think hair bacteria is a big issue for most of us.
posted by selfmedicating at 12:09 PM on December 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Negative Ion Technology emits atoms that can stop the growth of bacteria resulting in healthier hair and scalp.

I saw a talk last week by a professor at the Harvard School of Public Heath. He's looked at the effect of negatively charged water nanodroplets on bacteria. He's found that they are very effective at eliminating bacteria in the air and on surfaces, and is currently commercializing the technology for deployment in hospitals.

The paper is here.

So these claims aren't unreasonable on their face.

Far infrared technology creates electromagnetic waves of energy that penetrate the hair shaft drying the hair from the inside out.

This claim seems totally reasonable. If you have IR in a strong water absorption band but outside of protein adsorption bands, you'd expect it to penetrate a hair fiber and heat water on the interior. Water absorbs strongly basically at wavelengths longer than 1 micron. There's a really strong adsorption peak at 1200 nm (I don't know if I would call this "far IR" though).
posted by mr_roboto at 12:17 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Marketing copy is exactly that, and as such, is probably crap. That said, $120 is pretty much the going rate for a quality curling iron.

More to the point, it's perfectly ok to have an 'if a purchase is over $X, let's talk about it first' conversation. So much better than silently feeling resentful afterwards.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:25 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Privately, I have my doubts that she will ever use it, because I can count on one hand the number of times she has curled her hair using other products in the past 12 years that we've been together.

Maybe she rarely curls her hair using other products because the curls fall out in a couple of hours and then her hair looks like shit.
posted by HotToddy at 12:36 PM on December 17, 2012 [20 favorites]

[Folks, please answer questions when you can do it without all the grousing at other users.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:56 PM on December 17, 2012

No comments on the technology or spouse issue here. However, I can guess that the $120 is a pretty severe markup on the product. If you search for "Royale Curling Iron," prices are listed at less than half.

Years ago, I lingered back & complimented a Dead Sea mall kiosk guy for the cold sale he made on the friend I was with--it took him only a few minutes from the time he called us over for a demo, and he was amazing. I asked him if passing the sealed product kit he was showing her while he "looked" for his open cuticle oil vial was on purpose (and then not taking it back, so she was holding the package while deciding to buy). He kind of puffed up and basically was like "girl, you don't even know what kind of next level sales shit I'm pulling" (not those words, but the gist). He talked about how gauged people on how to set price points. He said there were no prices on the items themselves, but they were required to have a printed price list (he pulled it out from behind the register)--but they were high (higher than the price my non-haggling friend paid). A lot of his techniques seemed like racial profiling, to be honest (eg "white ladies don't like to negotiate, they'll just pay"; "Indians like to negotiate, so start extremely high, and then come down so they think they've worked out a big bargain," etc), and some other stuff about how he dealt with couples & who he targeted to pay (depended on the guy). He was a young guy, ex-IDF; he said all the kiosk workers came from Israel to work for a year or so.

The rest of the conversation was about why he broke up with his girlfriend, so not relevant. But I'm guessing that the $120 is a significant markup.

Looking at the comments on this youtube review for a Royale hair straightener, it looks like it's a similar thing--there's a comment about getting a quote for $249, then a price offer of $100 when she was going to walk. Not 100% sure if it's the same corporation running the mall kiosks (though it is also an Israeli product--the comment by "Sania" here indicated that the Dead Sea kiosk and the hair iron kiosks are run by the same company). There's other links out there (mostly about the parent company LVS Retail mistreating their kiosk employees--bringing them to the US or NZ, but not handling their work visas properly).

If it helps how you feel about it, the company has been training people to make hard sales for a long time. If a customer isn't used to it, and isn't expecting it (like you are before you walk into, say, a car sales lot), I imagine it can be tough to resist.
posted by neda at 8:38 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know about this brand as I'm not American, but a set of GHD irons cost about £120 here, which is....$170? I don't own any as I already have very straight hair, but I have heard many people say that cheaper irons aren't as good. (Whether this is the power of branding or not, I have no idea.) I have been in a department store and had a woman try and hard-sell me into buying a brand called Corioliss, also complete with demo and a discount 'if you buy today', but there was no emphasis on the 'technology' involved - did your wife buy this because she liked the effect, rather than the claims for the product? (I didn't buy it - not only did I not have a spare £70, it would have resulted in burning every one of my fingertips if I'd tried it at home.)

Yes, most of the claims attached to beauty products need to be taken with a cellar of salt - I saw a magazine recommend a jade face roller which apparently can do something to your wrinkles thanks to 'the healing properties of Chinese jade'. So what you need to do is judge by performance. I think about this a lot because I don't want to be suckered into thinking cream X is better than cream Y because of the price tag, or the supposed 'extracts' included in it, but if I tried it and found it worked better than my drugstore cream, then I'd happily buy it and ignore the branding and snake-oil on the box. It sounds like what you have here is an iron that works.
posted by mippy at 7:03 AM on December 18, 2012

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