Are you envious of people with curly hair? From tight coils to voluminous waves, some people are born with luscious, S-shaped locks that attract instant attention. Fortunately, for those of us with straighter strands, perms make it possible to get gorgeous, cascading curls without having to struggle with a curling iron each day. Short for “permanent” (as in permanent hairstyle), the chemical process changes the structure of your hair so it can retain waves and curls for an extended period of time. There are many different types of perms to choose from, so it’s possible to get the exact curls of your dreams—if you know what to ask for when you’re in the salon. Before booking your appointment, check out this guide to the many types of perms you can consider.
What You Should Know Before Getting A Perm
Because perms chemically alter your hair and last for a significant period of time, the process should not be done impulsively. Doing some research and knowing what to expect ahead of time will help ensure you get the kind of curly hair you crave.
How Much They Cost
As with most hair salon services, the price of a perm varies widely by region. On average, the cost is around $80, but it’s possible to pay anywhere from $60 to $250 depending on where you are located. Generally speaking, hair salons in big cities such as New York and Boston charge more than salons in smaller towns and more rural areas.
How Long They Last
In general, perms last about six months. But this can vary depending on a couple of factors. One is the length of your hair—perms tend to last longer on people with long hair (up to eight months) and shorter on people with short hair (up to four months). The other consideration is the speed at which your hair grows because as your natural texture grows in at the roots, the permed portion of your hair is pushed down. The stylist who gives you your perm should be able to tell you about how long you can expect your perm to last after examining your hair.
Perms And Hair Coloring
Having colored hair is another important reason to take your time determining whether or not getting a perm is right for you. While having dyed hair is not a total deal-breaker, it is essential to take your method of coloring into consideration.
If you have bleached hair or hair that’s more than 40% highlighted, for example, you may want to think twice about getting any type of perm. Bleach weakens the hair and damages the cuticle, and perming over that damage will harm the cuticle further and create major frizz. Not to mention the fact that you’ll inflict even more damage every time you touch up your highlights.
Perming single-process colored hair can also cause damage, though to a lesser degree. Most stylists recommend waiting at least two to three weeks before or after you get a perm to color your hair. You should also take into account the fact that in most cases, getting a perm will lighten your hair color. While perming over colored hair is safer than perming over-bleached or highlighted hair, you should talk to a stylist about the level of damage your hair has sustained before making a decision.
Different Styles Of Perms
As its name suggests, a spiral perm gives you cascading, corkscrew-shaped curls that go right up to the root. They’re ideal for people with longer hair—usually at least eight inches from root to tip—so a true spiral shape can be formed. Spiral perms are also perfect for people looking to add all-over volume to their hair, since the springy, spiral shape of the curls layer on top of each other rather than fall into a uniform pattern.
To create a spiral perm, the hair is wrapped tightly onto long, thin perm rods that are set in a vertical (rather than horizontal) pattern. All the rods are the same size and shape—smaller, thinner rods produce tighter spiral curls while bigger, thicker rods create looser spiral curls. Once all the hair is set, a chemical solution is applied evenly over the wrapped rods, which then sit for about 20 minutes under low heat.
After you get your spiral perm, you should refrain from washing your hair for about 48 hours, or as long as your stylist recommends. Washing your hair too soon after the process can relax your curls and cause them to straighten. When you do wash your hair, use a gentle, moisturizing shampoo and always follow with conditioner to minimize the damage and add moisture. Whenever possible, let your hair air dry. If you must blow-dry your hair, always attach a diffuser and dry use a low heat setting.
Body Wave Perm
Body wave perms produce large, tousled curls that look very natural. Like spiral perms, they look best on longer hair (typically shoulder length) because they need plenty of hair strands to show off the soft, wavy shape. Body waves are ideal for people with naturally straight hair or hair that has inconsistent waves or curls. In addition to creating big, bouncy curls, it brings limp hair back to life by adding texture and creating natural movement and volume.
The body wave perming process involves the use of large perming rods with various levels of thickness to create curls that are long and loose. The perming solution that’s applied to the wrapped hair is also milder than other perm solutions.
Aftercare isn’t too intense with a body wave perm—as, with most perms, you should refrain from washing your hair for at least two days and use a mild shampoo and conditioner when you do. Resist the urge to tighten up your curls with a curling iron or loosen them out with a flat iron, as these tools can damage your hair and affect the wavy pattern of your perm.
Also known as a partial perm, a spot perm adds curls to a specific area of the hair rather than the whole head. It’s designed for people who have naturally curly hair that’s inconsistent, with stubborn spots that lack texture or curl in different directions. It can also be used to add curl to areas of the hair that may be superfine or thinning.
Because the spot perm is all about creating uniformity based on problem areas specific to your hair, the perming process varies from person to person. The technique that’s chosen will depend on the state of your hair and the reason you are getting the perm, whether it’s to even out an unruly area of curls or creatively cover a spot that’s thinning. In some cases, you may need to return for a touch-up after a month or two.
In addition to waiting about 48 hours to wash your hair for the first time with a mild shampoo, your stylist may recommend applying a leave-in conditioner every time you wash to keep the hair infused with moisture.
This type of perm focuses on curling new hair growth that’s about two to four inches from the root. It’s most frequently used as a touch-up method for previously permed hair, though it is also suitable for people with hair that’s short, fine, and/or thin. It lifts up the roots and adds volume, and can be performed on all types of hair.
Because the technique requires the perming rods to be placed very close to the scalp, root perms are created using the cold method, which means the hair is not exposed to heat. The size of the rod that’s used to wrap the hair is determined by your stylist based on the look you are trying to achieve. In addition, the non-permed or previously permed areas of the hair have to be covered with special protective products to prevent the perming solution from penetrating them.
This type of perm is similar to a body wave, except (as its name implies) it creates multi-textured curls in a variety of shapes and sizes. It tends to look best on people with long hair, though some stylists can create beautiful multi-textured perms on shorter hair. Multi-textured perms are great for livening up fine, limp hair and adding volume. They’re also perfect for people who want to achieve a curly hair look that’s more natural-looking and less uniform than a spiral perm.
Multi-textured perms are created using a variety of perming rods in different sizes to create a mix of tight and loose curls. After the hair is wrapped and set, it’s processed for about 20 minutes with heat.
In addition to steering clear of heat tools and waiting at least two days before washing your hair, you should be diligent about using conditioner and nurturing your curls regularly with leave-ins and moisturizing sprays. Because multi-textured perms create many curls in a number of shapes and sizes, it can be extra drying and damaging to the hair.
Also referred to as a hot perm, a digital perm is a style that’s created using a special type of chemical solution along with heat. It gets its name from the digital displays that typically appear on the rods and other curling equipment. Digital perms can be performed to create a variety of styles, including spiral perms and body wave perms.
Digital perms are often recommended for people who have thin, mildly damaged or color-treated hair. They tend to produce fuller, more natural-looking curls than cold perms, however, they are often more costly and time-consuming.
As with all permed hair, at least 48 hours should pass before you shampoo for the first time with a mild cleanser. Regular conditioning is required to keep curls soft, smooth, and frizz-free.
Ideal for shorter hair, stack perms add curls to the middle and bottom parts of the hair while keeping the top area smooth. They create a full, layered look that’s perfect for people who want to add volume to straight bobs or other short hairstyles.
Stack perms involve the placement of different-sized perming rods (typically two) to the middle and end areas of the hair. The rods are stacked on top of each other, shifting further away from the scalp as the stylist moves them up.
Aftercare should involve the application of a deep conditioning treatment at least once a month. You should also steer clear of heat tools and wait at least two days after the procedure before shampooing your hair.
As its name suggests, a volumizing perm adds body and creates full, voluminous curls. Perfect for anyone looking to add lift to limp strands, it works on both long and short hair. It’s also a great option for people who want to transform tight and frizzy waves into smooth, relaxed curls with natural bounce.
To create a volumizing perm, a neutralizer is applied to the hair as it is being wrapped around the rods. This creates looser, more relaxed curls while also enhancing body and volume. The one downside to a volumizing perm is that it does not last as long as other types of perms—most stylists say you can expect it to last for a maximum of six weeks. And that’s assuming you care for it properly by limiting your use of heat tools, conditioning after you wash, and waiting at least two days to wash your hair after the perm is performed.
It may surprise you to learn that not all perms are designed to make hair curly. A straight perm, also known as a reverse perm, does the opposite of what most perms do—it uses a chemical solution to calm kinks and remove curliness in the hair. So if you’re a curly-haired person who’s always dreamed of having smooth, straight strands, this may be the procedure for you.
The straight perming process involves coating curly or wavy hair with a solution called ammonium thioglycolate, which weakens the keratin bonds that make hair curly. A hydrogen peroxide solution is then used to neutralize the hair while it’s wrapped around a hot iron to create a permanent straight texture.
Straight perms can last up to six months as long as you care for your hair properly and refrain from blow drying or using other heat styling tools.