Woman with permed ash blonde hair

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

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

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.

Woman with her hair in perming rods having heat applied to the perming chemicals in her hair

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.

Drying long, curly hair using a hairdryer with a diffuser attachment

How to care for your perm

  • Don’t wash and/or condition your hair for up to 48 hours after your perm to help your style bed in.
  • Wash your hair with products created for curly hair. Our Dream Curls Shampoo and Dream Curls Conditioner nourish and detangle curls and waves, and leave curls bouncy, aligned and frizz-free.
  • Use protective products if you use heat styling tools - our Frizz Ease Heat Defeat Protecting Spray preps and protects your hair before styling, and is created with a ThermaGuard Complex to replenish permed hair.
  • Get regular trims to remove split ends and keep your hair looking healthy.
  • Where possible, air dry your hair to reduce damage caused by heat styling. Use a diffuser if you’re using a hairdryer, and avoid drying your curls until they’re 100% dry.
  • Avoid aggressively brushing and combing your curls - it’ll just lead to frizz and damage. If your hair feels dry after perming, our Dream Curls Deep Conditioner is the ideal treat for stressed curly hair - but remember to leave a 48-hour gap between having your hair permed and using any shampoos or conditioning treatments.

John Frieda Dream Curls shampoo, conditioner and styling spray

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.
  • Our Dream Curls Daily Styling Spray is ideal for refreshing and reviving tired curls lacking bounce - scrunch it into your curls after washing or on dry hair the next day to touch-up curls and waves.
  • Curls looking flat and frizzy? Our Dream Curls Curl Reviver Mousse holds curly styles in place with our strongest level of controlled hold and leaves curls moisturised, defined and ready to style.
  • Our Dream Curls Air Dry Waves Foam adds shine and softness for tousled, wavy styles without any heat styling.
  • Give your curls and waves a boost with our Dream Curls Curl-Defining Crème - it moisturises with all-day hold for defined and soft curls with subtle slip and shine.
  • Dry curls often need a little help to stay looking their best. Try our Dream Curls Crème Oil to transform dry, frizzy strands into hydrated, soft curls with definition.

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