Are you considering a curly perm? The first thing you should know is that this hair treatment is a commitment—there’s a reason it’s called a “perm” and not a “temp.” If you want to take the plunge, all you need is a bit of patience and an adventurous spirit. To help guide you, we called upon two LA-based hair professionals: salon owner Julianne Cho, of Hair by Julianne, and trusted stylist JC, of Jace Hair Studio.
What to Think About
First of all, perform an honest hair check. What condition are your tresses in? “If your hair is too damaged, then we wouldn’t recommend a perm,” says Cho. “Your hair has to be in a good condition in order for the curl to come out pretty.“
If you’ve highlighted or dyed your hair in the past month, you’ll want to give your hair some downtime before committing to a perm, since chemicals weaken the hair. (In fact, some stylists suggest that “virgin” or untreated hair hold perms best.) Make sure to use conditioner regularly while you’re giving your hair time to recover. Also know that perms tend to lighten hair color.
Although DIY kits are available in at your local pharmacy store, we always recommend going to a specialist. Perms require good timing and know-how, and you don’t want to end up with a horror story you can’t undo.
At the salon, your stylist will let you know which perms options are best for your hair. Consider what type of look you’re after. Bouncy waves like Sandra Oh’s? Classic Hollywood pincurls? A vivacious afro for the new year? Subtle body waves? Each style calls for a different perm treatment, and varies in setting time, cost, and upkeep. Do your research and discuss all of these with your stylist beforehand.
Types of Perms Available
You have two types of perms to choose from. Digital (hot) perms involve an initial relaxing treatment that prepares your hair, taking about an hour. Then, heated curling rods are used to form looser curves and waves. Finally, the hair is put in several rollers hooked to an electronic device that regulates temperature. The process takes three to four hours, possibly longer depending on hair length and thickness.
With cold perms, the traditional method, your hair is soaked with an alkaline compound before it’s tightly wound into smaller curls and ringlets set by rollers. This creates a tighter pattern with a digital perm would. But, as with all perms, the waves will relax and become looser over time. The processing time is two to two and a half hours.
Again, a salon specialist can help you decide which method is best for you, but here’s a handy chart with the major pros and cons of each:
|Digital or Hot Perm||– Curly when dry
– Varying loose waves, depending on roller size
|– Most natural-looking curl
– Designed specifically for East Asian hair
– Potentially less damaging, as temperature of rollers is more closely controlled
|– Longer process
– Works on thick hair only
– More expensive
– Relaxes faster
|Cold Perm||– Curly when wet or with hair product
– Tighter curls, capable of looking like ringlets
|– Less heat to your scalp
– Can curl closer to roots
– Works on almost any type of hair
– More affordable
|– Less natural-looking (at first)
– Requires more styling products to maintain look
Keep in mind that salons may use differing names for the same type of perm, so communicate your expectations and confirm what you’re getting. If you’re still not sure which type of perm is right for you—or if you want to get one at all!–or have delicate, dry, or thin hair, ask a professional’s opinion. Salon specialists usually offer free hair consultations upon request, so don’t be shy!
After leaving the salon, quality care is needed to maintain your perm. “Deep conditioning treatments are the only way to maintain healthy, shiny curls,” says JC. She swears by a hair rejuvenation product called Zen Care Miracle Treatment. Cho also highly recommends using deep cleansing shampoos to prevent dry scalps and bust product build-up.
Mochi’s own curly-haired staff have a few additional tips:
- Wait at least two to three days before washing your hair and using shampoo—the curls need time to set, and you don’t want to wash them out before they do.
- Use shampoo made for curls and curl-enhancing products. Avoid creamy formulas, which can weigh the curls down. Try a conditioner with protein and minerals.
- If you’re using a cream or gel to help hold your curl, try alternating the curl-enhancing shampoo with the cleansing one.
- Gently scrunch your hair as it air dries. Don’t towel-rub your hair dry to avoid tangles; you can try using a cotton T-shirt or an old scarf to soak up moisture after a shower, since it doesn’t catch hair the way towels do.
- For tighter curls, keep your hair in a braid for a while. Don’t brush it to loosen it after, which will just create frizz. Use your fingers to gently divide your hair.
- The less heat, the better. Avoid blow drying or straightening your hair with an iron.
- Avoid dyes, highlights, and any other chemical treatment for at least the next month.
- Avid swimmer? Wear a swim cap to protect your locks, and stay away from chlorinated water if you can.
- Even if you’re the type of girl who only cuts her hair once or twice a year, get a trim every three or four months. When your hair is too long and heavy, the curls will lose their bounce.
Can’t commit to a perm but don’t want to bust out a curling iron either? We have another solution to help you achieve waves without chemicals or heat. Over the last two years, YouTube Beauty vloggers including YaYaLifestyle and Elizabeth Ruedas have popularized the overnight sock bun. Roll your freshly washed hair into an improvised sock scrunchie before bedtime, and you’ll wake up to natural waves with almost zero effort. Spritz on your favorite hair spray or apply styling mousse, and you’re good to go.
Did you get a perm in the past few months? Are you considering getting one? Or have you recently decided against it? Feel free to share your experiences—and questions–below.