As a do-it-all styler, the FlexStyle is classy and capable - but the Dyson Airwrap still reigns supreme in the world of hair curling
- Curl, straighten, smooth and blow-dry with one tool
- Fast drying at low temperatures
- Cheaper than the Dyson Airwrap
- Still not cheap
- Only one barrel size
Last autumn, home-care manufacturer Shark launched its Style iQ hairdryer, moving the brand into the electrical beauty and haircare space – and firmly pitching it as a rival to vacuum-maker-cum-beauty-disruptor, Dyson. Like Dyson’s hairdryers, the Style iQ boasted efficient and damage-free drying at a premium price, setting up Shark as a serious contender in the market.
This year, Shark has followed up with the FlexStyle, a clear competitor to Dyson’s pricey but extremely popular Airwrap styling tool. Could this killer product be the next great white hope for haircare?
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Shark FlexStyle review: What you need to know
The FlexStyle is the most direct rival to the Dyson Airwrap Multi-styler Complete (£480) yet launched. As a reminder, the Airwrap comes with eight accessories, including 30mm and 40mm barrels, firm and soft smoothing brushes, a round volumising brush and a smoothing dryer.
Like the Airwrap, the FlexStyle uses the airflow-based Coanda effect instead of heated plates to curl hair. This allows curling to happen at lower temperatures, resulting in less damage to hair – especially to fine and brittle hair. It also means you can style as you dry, rather than needing to dry hair first before using heated styling tongs.
Open the fairly large FlexStyle box, and you’ll find a neat matte-black carry case that houses the main drying unit, two curling barrels (both 31.75mm in size), a paddle brush for smooth styling, an oval brush for volume, plus concentrator and diffuser attachments, which allow you to use the FlexStyle like a normal hairdryer. The drying unit and attachments are finished in a stylish matte black with a rose gold trim.
The FlexStyle offers three temperature and three speed settings, which can be independently selected using the two buttons on the tool’s handle, plus a cool shot to set your curls. The 1,400W motor (slightly more powerful than the Dyson’s) offers fast and efficient drying; and a smart heat sensor measures the temperature of the airflow 1,000 times per second to ensure safe and even temperatures with no chance of scorching.
The tool weighs 661g with attachments, and comes with a 2.67m cord that’s long enough to easily reach the bedroom mirror from most mains sockets.
Shark FlexStyle review: Price and competition
The FlexStyle costs £300 – which is significantly less than Dyson’s Airwrap Multi-styler Complete at £480, but still a fair chunk of change. At the time of writing, the FlexStyle is the only other curling wand to use the Coanda effect to wrap hair around the styling barrel.
There are other curling tools that use air to style the hair, however. We’ve often recommended Revlon’s One Step hot brush (£63); the BaByliss Hydro Fusion Air Styler (£60) and Hydro Fusion 4-in-1 Brush (£80); and the T3 Airebrush Duo (£170). All of these tools use hot air and ceramic-coated round or paddle brushes together with ionic technology to create bouncy, salon-style blowouts while minimising damage to hair. These stylers are best-suited to adding volume and creating loose curls, rather than tighter ringlets.
For an automatic curl that uses a mechanical motor to wrap hair, BaByliss’s Curl Secret (£60) and Wave Secret (£150) promise foolproof styling, with no need to master tongs, wands or brushes; the auto-curl motor does it all for you. However, both the Curl and Wave Secrets do use a standard ceramic-coated barrel, rather than air, to shape the hair.
Another option for healthier hair curling is ghd’s Oracle (£135), which uses U-shaped ceramic plates surrounded by a “cool zone” to create shiny, natural-looking curls by pulling the hair gently through the tool, reducing damage compared to curling at higher temperatures.
However, for ringlet-style curls that are created using air to shape the hair, the Airwrap and the FlexStyle are your two current options.
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Shark FlexStyle review: Performance
The drying unit pivots around a joint to switch easily from a vertical to a right-angled setting (the “flex” in the FlexStyle’s name). In the vertical configuration, you can add the curling barrels and brush attachments, to curl or smooth hair. To pivot the FlexStyle into hairdryer mode, simply slide the latch down and rotate the top half of the drying unit until it clicks into place. Use the FlexStyle in this position to rough-dry hair before curling, or with the diffuser attachment for adding volume to natural waves and curls, or with the concentrator attachment for creating a sleek finish to a straight blow-dry.
To use the brush and curler attachments, rotate the top of the FlexStyle back into its vertical configuration. You can then clip on your choice of curling barrel, oval or paddle brush. Like the Airwrap, the FlexStyle blows air through slots in the curling barrels to create a pressure differential in the airflow; this makes the hair wrap itself around the barrel like magic. The curl is created as the hair dries into place, making the FlexStyle a healthy way of styling hair without direct heat.
Unlike the Airwrap, the FlexStyle has only one size of curling barrel; the two barrels have slots pointing in opposite directions. To change the direction of the curl, you need to swap out the clockwise barrel for the anticlockwise barrel. Both barrels are clearly marked, so it’s easy to determine which way your curl will wrap – but switching barrels is less convenient than flicking the direction switch on the Airwrap.
Switching between temperature and speed settings is easy, however, using the clearly marked buttons that sit near the bottom of the handle. In addition, the cool shot is simply activated by holding down the blue button further up the handle. This blows colder air to seal the cuticle and set your finished style. The attachments click securely into place and feel solid on the wand when in use, with no wiggling or jiggling.
The oval brush is a good size and shape for creating a rounded blowout, and the paddle brush also does a good job of straightening hair and smoothing away flyways for a sleeker finish. Combining the FlexStyle in dryer mode with the oval or paddle brushes, we were able to style our towel-dried, mid-length hair in under 20 minutes, for a soft and smooth finish that looks and feels healthy.
Where the FlexStyle lacks in performance is with its Airwrap-duping curling barrels. Testing one after the other, we found that the Dyson’s barrels wrap more efficiently – possibly due to a greater pressure differential that winds the hair more effectively around the barrel. The Dyson’s ionic technology also leaves hair feeling super-smooth and glossy – although the FlexStyle keeps damage and dehydration to a minimum by using airflow to dry hair effectively at lower temperatures, our mid-length hair lacked the glossy finish created by the Dyson Airwrap.
There’s also no doubt that the need to switch barrels in order to change the direction of the curl adds a layer of faff that isn’t present with the Dyson’s simple switch. In addition, the single barrel size of the FlexStyle means there’s less choice in the size and style of curls the tool can create.
Shark FlexStyle review: Verdict
The FlexStyle is the first styling tool that represents a true competitor to Dyson’s game-changing Airwrap. Like the Airwrap, the FlexStyle curls hair quickly and with less heat damage. Shark’s tool offers a similar way to style using air, but at a lower price than the Dyson, and with added tools for blow-drying. The diffuser and concentrator attachments add versatility, allowing the FlexStyle to be used for styling using the dryer configuration as well as the curling wand – and the brush tools add a simple and effective way to create a straight blowout or voluminous waves.
If you’re principally interested in using the curling barrels, then the FlexStyle’s setup is more of a palaver to use than that of the Airwrap; the barrel needs to be switched in order to change direction, and there’s only one size of barrel included with the set. And while the FlexStyle’s barrels produce soft ringlets that feel healthy, the Airwrap creates more versatile curls with its two barrel sizes, and the ringlets definitely have a glossier finish. For curling duties, the Airwrap is king.
However, if you’re looking for a hairdryer that does more, and which functions as a blowdryer, styling brush and curling wand in one, the FlexStyle makes more sense. The dryer works well with and without the styling attachments, the two brushes create glamorous salon-style blowouts fast and with minimum fuss, and hair dries quickly to a soft and healthy-feeling finish. For a do-it-all styler, the FlexStyle is a classy, capable package.