If you have long hair — or even if you don't — you've probably heard of the Dyson Airwrap. The revolutionary hair styling tool has a base that acts as a hair dryer with multiple attachments for styling your hair, including the social media-famous air-wrapping curlers. But there's just one catch — the multifunctional styler rings in at a whopping $600. However, there is a more affordable alternative out there from another reputable vacuum brand, the Shark FlexStyle.
Coming in at $300, the FlexStyle does basically everything the Airwrap does but for half the price. So, I set out to put these two similar hair styling tools at very different price points points to the test to see whether the upgrade (Dyson's) is worth the extra dollars.
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Although they might look like sisters and not twins at first glance, I found that the Dyson and Shark tools are surprisingly similar once I got hands on.
Let's talk attachments. The beauty of both of these products is that they act as multiple tools in one, which helps account for their higher price tags. For both tools, you simply choose your attachment and gently twist it onto the top of the base, then pull down a small lever to remove it.
The Dyson Airwrap comes with six attachments: two airwrap barrels (at 1.2 and 1.6 inches), a soft smoothing brush, a firm smoothing brush, a round voluminizing brush and the Coanda smoothing dryer. As for accessories, it also comes with a travel pouch, a large storage case and a filter cleaning brush. (Plus, a hair brush and/or comb depending on what edition you buy.) It's worth noting that the airwrap barrels are about an inch longer than the Shark's, as long as your shopping the "Complete Long" version of the tool, which sounds small but does make a difference if you have longer, thicker hair.
There are three ways you can purchase a Shark FlexStyle, and that determines which attachments you'll get. There's a package for straight and wavy hair, which includes two auto-wrap curlers (1.25 inches), a paddle brush, oval brush and styling concentrator. The other offering is geared towards curly and coily hair, featuring the two auto-wrap curlers, a diffuser, an oval brush and styling concentrator. If neither of those fits your needs, you can also opt for a build-your-own package where you can choose any three attachments (with the pair of auto-wrap curlers counting as one and the addition of a wide tooth comb attachment) for $280, basically saving you $20 for one less attachment.
Both products also obviously come with a base that can act as a regular hair dryer with a very long cord. And those bases are about the same size (the Shark's is an inch taller), but the Shark has a unique feature where you can swivel the top section down to make a right angle, giving the tool a more traditional hair dryer shape. You could also fasten the attachments to the base in this position, if you found it easier.
Test 1: Usability
As I was testing them, I found that both devices have a surprisingly steep learning curve. If you're not used to curling or styling your hair regularly, neither options are a cure-all that will give you a beautiful head of hair instantly. (As you may have been led to believe by all of the social media influencers with beautifully bouncy curls, like I had.) That said, the air-wrapping curling barrels are unique and an easier way of styling your hair if you're worried about burning it (or your hand).
You start by sectioning off your hair like you would with a regular curler, allowing it to be pulled and wrapped around the barrel of either tool. Typically you'll want to have the air flowing away from your face on either side or whatever your personal preference is. Both tools had very similar controls with three heat levels (although the Dyson's lowest heat setting is cold), three air power levels and a cool shot. A unique and helpful feature of the Dyson barrels is that there's a toggle at the top of each allowing you to change the air direction without changing the attachment, while with the Shark you will have to swap between the right and left barrel.
Another small detail, yet a very convenient one, is that the Dyson's cool shot is part of it's on button, so you're able to turn the tool on then add the cool shot and move to the next portion of hair in one fluid motion. The Shark has a completely separate cool shot button, which I found myself having to feel around for when styling.
Test 2: Effectiveness
Both tools are designed to give you a blowout effect without the heat damage — and both were quite effective. And once I got the hang of it, I could see that despite their high price tags, each tool was effectively replacing other hair styling products I already owned, like a hair dryer, the Revlon One-Step Volumizer Brush and a curling iron.
While all of the attachments on each tool work quite well, the curling barrels are the real showstopper — and the results were effectively the same. I found that I did notice that missing inch on the barrels of the FlexStyle, which made it a little harder to finagle larger sections of hair around the barrel.
I have very fine hair, so I also found myself having a lot of trouble not with styling but with keeping the style longterm. Using a combination of volumizing mousse and hair spray, I was able to make my curls last all day, although they did certainly become looser throughout that time. For me, the thicker 1.6-inch Dyson barrel, although a nice addition, was too large and basically gave me the loose waves I ended up with at the end of the day.
Of the Airwrap's other attachments, the soft smoothing brush was my favorite. It didn't tug at or break my hair and gave me a very volumized, blowout-quality look when I switched to it during the last few minutes of blow drying my hair. My least favorite was the firm smoothing brush as it had very hard, pointy bristles that I didn't feel did much to my hair. Additionally, the bed of both brushes would swivel and change the air flow between going out and in, which I never quite got the hang of.
As someone with finer hair, I found that I preferred the Dyson's brush attachments to the Shark's, as the FlexStyle had finer bristles designed to reduce frizz that would pull more at my hair. That said, it wasn't a deal breaker, and the brush attachments were still an upgrade from my Revlon One-Step. Plus, I appreciated the Shark's effort at catering more to those with curly and frizzy hair, especially with the inclusion of the diffuser.
Although at first glance, I thought they might be one in the same, I soon found that the styling concentrator on the Shark did not have nearly the same functionality as the Coanda smoothing dryer on the Dyson. While the Shark's attachment basically gives you another hair dryer shape to work with, the Dyson's actually works to smooth and de-frizz your hair — essentially making it look like my hair had gone through a straightener. Initially, I'd thought I wouldn't be making much use of either attachment, but the Dyson's won out.
However, the auto-wrapping barrels, which were the main draw of the product for me, did produce the same result. And I loved the swiveling feature on the base of the Shark, finding myself reaching for it more than the Dyson during a regular blow dry as it felt more precise and less clunky.
After months of use, I gave myself one final blowout, using one tool on each side of my head. I took pictures of each side right after styling and after eight hours. This is what happened. (Keep in mind that my hair is straight, fine and very resistant to holding a curl.)
Overall, the Dyson gave me more voluminous, larger curls, while the shark gave more bouncy, defined curls. Both curls had fallen significantly at the eight hour mark with the Dyson keeping its shape slightly better. But it's worth mentioning that looking at my hair straight on, especially immediately after styling, both sides were practically indistinguishable from each other.
Another benefit of both tools is that the brand's themselves and the world of beauty content creators out there have created an extensive library of tutorials. So if you're a new owner of either tool and feel pretty stuck, there's no need to give up.
Test 3: Price
Time to talk about the elephant in the room: the cost. Both the Dyson and Shark will cost you hundreds of dollars, but as you've probably noticed, at $600 the Dyson is twice the price of the Shark. The Dyson comes with two more attachments depending on which Shark package you get, as well as a few extra fun accessories. Considering just the attachments, the Dyson doesn't necessarily have anything that the Shark doesn't have: it just has two more variations of it (i.e., an additional brush style and a larger airwrap barrel for styling looser beachy waves). In fact, the Shark has an attachment that Dyson does not sell — a diffuser — which actually makes it the more inclusive product as it also caters to those with curly hair.
Our Pick: The Shark Flexstyle
While the Dyson Airwrap may be the superior product in a few small ways — like having longer airwrap barrels, two barrel sizes and not requiring you to change barrels to curl the opposite way — its major downfall is its price tag. At less than half the price and with the same functionality as the Dyson, if not more considering its diffuser attachment, the Shark Flexstyle is a much better value.
Yes, you may have to curl smaller sections of hair to accommodate the smaller barrels and you'll have to take a moment to swap those barrels if you want the air to flow the other way, but overall those are pretty small inconveniences to save a whopping $300. Plus, the FlexStyle offers some customizability with its different packages and arguably caters more to those with different hair types.
Don't get me wrong — the Dyson is great, fantastic even. However, I've spent months using both and have yet to find any deal-breaking differences in the result of my blowout. And with the Airwrap often known to sell out, the Flexstyle is a more than fit alternative. If it's been your lifelong dream to splurge on the Airwrap, then go for it. But if you want a product that's just as good for half the price, the Shark Flexstyle won't let you down.