The Hair Tools Space Heats Up

Two vacuum brands are the hottest names in haircare today.

With the introduction of its hair dryer in 2016, Dyson, previously known for vacuums, hand dryers and air purifiers, came roaring into the beauty world. At $400, the dryer was expensive. But it became a must-have for beauty enthusiasts.

Its next hair product arrived two years later and became a full-blown phenomenon. The AirWrap, a multi-styler tool that includes attachments so users can blow dry, brush and curl their hair — all without heat damage — is even more expensive than its predecessor, at $600. It promised a rare feat: the ability to achieve a bouncy, salon-esque blowout at home with minimal skill required.

On social media, countless influencers share Dyson AirWrap tutorials and tips; the hashtag #dysonairwrap has over 4 billion views on TikTok. It routinely sells out, and consumers even clamour over refurbished models. Today, haircare accounts for 30 percent of Dyson’s US business, the Wall Street Journal reported. The company declined to comment.

The AirWrap’s success has touched off a hair tools arms race. Among the new entrants: SharkNinja, one of Dyson’s primary competitors in vacuums, which released its own multi-styler tool, the FlexStyle, last year. Though similar in many ways to the AirWrap — it also offers an array of attachments, including curling barrels and a diffuser — its most significant difference is its cost, which, at $299, is less than half that of the Dyson.

Dyson’s success has shaken up a category that hasn’t had a reputation for innovation but is now booming with new products. Existing hair tools brands are releasing updated devices to show they can keep up with the new competition: GHD last month launched its Duet Style, a hair straightener that simultaneously dries hair. Hair care brands are also rolling out tools for the first time. Tracee Ellis Ross’ Pattern debuted a blow dryer with multiple attachments designed for textured hair in January.

“The beauty industry has traditionally been growth led, and so companies are incentivised to quickly iterate more so than innovate,” said Jana Bobosikova, the CEO of investment management company Epic FutureLabs that works with beauty brands. “A company like Dyson, their core technology is far more advanced than anybody that has focused on beauty to date.”

The Dyson Effect

Blow dry brushes were already on the rise when the AirWrap was released — Revlon had a hit with its one-step product, which launched in 2016. Dyson essentially took what Revlon had done and expanded upon it. Rather than just one round brush, it also included curling barrels, a flat brush and a traditional blow dry head.

Success wasn’t guaranteed; the vacuum brand had a strong reputation with consumers, but its premium pricing was better suited for appliances and commercial use.

The pandemic changed that.

“Covid accelerated all home tools to a place that never would have gotten otherwise,” said Jill Gilbert, a former beauty tech producer at CES. “People want more control, to be able to do it at home, and do it well.”

Dyson, in particular, she added, pushed forward the high-end luxury side of the market. For consumers used to paying for blowouts, the AirWrap quickly paid for itself, even at $600.

Its success has spurred all ends of the market. DryBar, for example, sells a blow dry brush with interchangeable brush heads, while Walmart sells a $45 device made by Elecsop that looks strikingly similar to the AirWrap.

But the real showdown is between Dyson and SharkNinja. The latter’s device offers a similar breadth of styling options, from a brand also known for its air-powered technology. (Shark also made tweaks to its model, in its view, to improve upon its competitors, adding a horizontal bend to its product to allow for more powerful blow drying, and a diffuser attachment for curly or coily hair.)

Videos comparing the two have become commonplace on Instagram Reels and TikTok, with one side of the head curled with the AirWrap, the other with the FlexStyle.

“We don’t consider ourselves a vacuum company, we consider ourselves an innovation company and a home appliance company,” said Danielle Lessing, the SVP for global product development at SharkNinja. “We don’t think of ourselves through a product lens, It’s about making consumers’ lives better with products that you interact with every day.”

Beyond Multi-Stylers

The AirWrap — and products like it — may be the hottest thing in hair tools today, but its reign can’t last forever. It’s benefitting from the fact that voluminous, softly curled locks are in style at the moment, for one. As well, there’s only so many people willing to shell out $600 for a hair tool, and it’s not an item that a person needs multiple of.

What will last, however, are the changed expectations consumers have for their hair devices. Being multi-purpose and non-damaging is table stakes for the next generation of tools, but already, brands are looking for ways to expand on that premise.

Other brands are responding accordingly. GHD, a 22-year-old hair care and tools brand, known for its blow dryers and straighteners, released its Duet Style product in January, a flat-iron that simultaneously dries hair, promising no damage.

“We are very conscious that we have to take a pain point out of the equation, which is time,” Jeroen Temmerman, chief executive of GHD. “We are developing ourselves to tackle that, be more efficient and help drive solutions.”

Some brands are selling more specialised products, but promising superior performance. Bio Ionic launched its Smart-X High Efficiency Dryer, for example, last fall, which it claims provides much speedier drying times in addition to better use of energy.

However, with more innovation comes more opportunity for brands to drive revenue. Hair tools were already a compelling segment for hair care brands — you can charge a lot more for a blow dryer or straightener than a bottle of shampoo. Dyson’s sky-high cost has helped warm up beauty consumers to the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on a hair tool. GHD’s Duet Style, for example, costs $399, while DryBar’s interchangeable blow dryer, which launched in March 2022, is $350.

Having new players in the hair tools segment, too, brings in fresh perspectives.

As more companies both in and out of beauty take note of the power of hair tools in generating conversation around a brand in addition to driving sales, there’s likely only to be more to come.

“We haven’t been in the space long enough to recognise what’s not possible,” added Lessing. “We just charged forward at such a voracious pace.”