If you’ve always dreamed of bouncy curls or effortless beachy waves, getting a perm could be the answer. It’s true that perms are synonymous with dubious 80s fashion, but perming techniques have come on leaps and bounds in previous years - and modern perming methods are the last word in gorgeous, touchable volume.
What is a perm?
The term ‘perm’ is short for ‘permanent hairstyle’, and this hairstyling technique uses chemicals to give straight hair curls, ringlets or waves. Modern perming techniques are more semi-permanent, depending on how well you take care of your hair after the perming process and how fast your hair grows.
How do perms work?
Perms are a two-stage chemical treatment which alter your hair’s natural texture - they work on a molecular level to react with your hair’s proteins and produce curls. Hairdressers generally use a range of rods and rollers with varying sizes to avoid creating a head of curls with uniform sizes, which can look dated and unnatural.
There are generally two types of perming techniques used by hairdressers - cold perms and hot (digital) perms.
Cold perms - also known as traditional perms - are generally more suitable for coarser hair, as the alkaline solution used permeates hair more effectively and produces tighter, voluminous curls. If you’re having a cold perm, your stylist will wrap your hair around rollers or rods, and then apply an alkaline solution to your hair. This solution will react with the keratin in your hair and create the curls and waves. After a set amount of time (normally 20 minutes, but this can vary), your stylist will apply a neutralising solution to stop the alkaline solution working, and ‘set’ the shape of your curls.
Hot perms are also known as digital perms, and they’re suitable for finer, thinner hair, despite this technique using a heating process. Hot perms create long-lasting, silky waves - ideal if you’re after a beach wave look. This perming method uses a weaker chemical solution to curl your hair, and your stylist will roll your hair in heated rollers and rods to help the perming solution work. As the chemicals aren’t as strong, this process can take up to two hours - so bring a good book to the hairdresser.
Can I perm my hair?
Perms work best on healthy, strong hair which hasn’t been bleached, dyed, or chemically-treated. If you’re concerned your hair may be too damaged to perm, speak to your stylist - they’ll be able to give you the best advice.
Perms are popular with people with straight hair, but people with curly hair often have them to add body and bounce to their curls, or make them more uniform.
Ideally your hair should be shoulder-length or longer for a perm to look its best, but you can perm hair that’s up to 2 inches long - this is the minimum hair length for a perm, because it’s just long enough to be wrapped around a perming rod.
How long does a perm last?
On average, perms can last between 3-6 months, depending on the starting condition of your hair, how you treat it after it’s permed, and how quickly your hair grows out.
Virgin, unprocessed hair will ‘hold’ its perm pattern longer than thinner, drier hair which has been chemically-treated before. If you want to re-do your perm, your stylist will give you a root perm touch-up to keep your hair texture looking uniform.
How to care for your perm
Do perms damage hair?
If you’re careful not to overdo it, perms shouldn’t damage your hair. You may have issues if you perm your hair over and over again, without giving it a rest, as this can cause hair loss and breakage.
Modern perming methods and solutions are far less damaging than their 1980s counterparts, but they still can be damaging if you overdo it. We’d recommend waiting 8-10 months between each perm to give your hair a chance to recover. Ideally, you should only be perming your hair 1-2 times a year.
Cold perms can be more damaging than hot perms, due to the stronger chemical solutions they use.
How to style a perm
If you’re new to curls or waves, your hairdresser will give you tips on day-to-day styling before you leave the salon to ensure you’ll look your best. We have a range of products for curly hair which’ll help you keep your curls looking smooth, bouncy and perfectly-aligned.