The perm is about as iconic of a hairstyle as it gets. But today’s permed hair is a much more natural version than yesterday’s. These curls and waves are loose and vary in size like naturally curly hair — think beachy haphazard waves versus tight, uniform curls. And if you’re wondering how to give you hair volume, a perm is a great way to add texture to flat or limp strands. But like coloring your hair, getting a perm is a chemical process and requires a different set of hair care rules. If you’re thinking about getting a perm, consider this your guide to everything you need to know: we’re breaking down styling tricks and product picks for permed hair.
The term perm is short for "permanent" because it permanently changes the structure of the hair. It’s a chemical treatment that breaks down the protein bonds of the hair, giving it a new texture. The perm process has undergone a major transformation since the ’80s; the techniques being used today limit damage both from the chemicals and the heat required. Today’s perm is looser, wavier, and makes the perfect hairstyle for those with thin hair. A perm can last anywhere from four to six months. Because you're changing the hair's texture, a perm has to grow out. But perms aren't only for transforming straight hair into wavy or curly — the treatment works the other way too. Because the chemicals in a perm alter the structure of the hair it can also be used to straighten curly or natural hair.
If the perm is a hairstyle you’re considering, the first thing you should do is talk to your hairstylist. They know your hair type, texture, porosity, past treatments, and color history and will let you know if you’re a good candidate. Then arm yourself with these tips for permed hair. After that, there are some general rules and tips to prolong the life of your perm and to keep your hair healthy.
photo by Cassell Ferere
photo by @goldandglowco
Use styling products designed for curly hair. These will keep your curls smooth and frizz-free. And be sure to avoid products with alcohol (which can dry hair out) and silicone (which can weigh your curls down). These are the best styling products for permed hair.
Whether you want something soft and beachy, or more classic and curly, there’s a perm look for you. Below are our favorite hairstyles for permed hair
A perm can be used to enhance your natural curl pattern, making it more defined. Alternatively, if you have tight curls, a perm can relax your curl pattern into waves. It’s all in the technique your stylist uses to create your new texture.
If a long head of cascading curls is your hair dream, perm your straight strands. Both tight curls, loose waves, or a mixture of both work well on long hair. But keep in mind that the longer your locks, the longer the perm process will take.
photo by Cassell Ferere
A perm is a great way to add movement and texture to short hair. But, because there’s less hair to work with, your stylist will need to use smaller rods to set the curls. The smaller the curl, the tighter the pattern.
You have options when it comes to the curl pattern for medium length hair. Your length gives you the option of tight or loose curls. And your medium length means you don’t have to worry about them being too heavy around your face.
Beachy waves are the best option when it comes to perming fine hair. The final hair look depends on the final result you want to achieve. Beach waves look casual and effortless while adding major texture to limp strands.
If you have tight ringlets or natural hair, a perm can loosen or straighten your curl pattern. A straight hair perm is known as a relaxer and can give you silky smooth strands. But, like all chemical processes a perm causes damage to your hair, so keep your hair hydrated to avoid breakage.
A spiral perm gives you a defined, corkscrew curl. It instantly adds volume to fine hair and makes it look thicker. The spiral perm was one of the most popular in the ’80s and looks super retro in an updo.
If you’re looking for a less harsh way of perming your hair, an acid perm may be for you. It gives you loose s-shaped waves with less damage to hair than with an alkaline perm.
There are two chemicals used for a perm, alkaline, and acid. Alkaline perms are the most commonly used of the two. Alkaline perms use ammonia as the main ingredient. No heat is used to activate the ammonia, but it’s very strong, with a pH balance of between 8.2 and 9.6. This gives a stronger curl that lasts longer. It is more damaging to the hair though. Acid perms are less harsh on the hair, using a chemical called glyceryl monothioglycolate, with a pH balance of between 4.5 and 6.5. Heat is needed to activate this chemical, and it takes longer for the hair to set. An acid perm is gentler on the hair and produces a looser curl that doesn’t last as long. Most people prefer alkaline perms to acid perms because of the quicker process and longer-lasting results.
The perm is back and it’s better than it was before. Today’s perm is much more natural, mimicking the pattern of natural curls. And getting a perm is a low-maintenance option for adding texture and volume to otherwise limp strands. But getting a perm is a chemical process that requires a different set of hair care rules. No matter what your hair texture or hair color is, there’a a perm for you. Whether you want tighter curls, or boho beachy waves, we’ve got the best types of perms, styling tricks and hair products you need for permed hair.
by Jaclyn LaBadia, featured contributor
cover photo by Cassell Ferere
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