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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:

Post-Salon Care

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 Ruedashave 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.

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Author

  • Kathy enjoys drinking copious amounts of decaf tea by day, and working on creative projects like Mochi Magazine at night. Her career has spanned property management – helping people find apartment homes in Los Angeles to planning media advertisements for the 2020 Census. Kathy currently works in digital marketing, buying ads and designing pitch decks. Outside of work, she speaks Russian, makes Youtube videos and volunteers in her community.

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4 Replies to “Perms: Everything A First-Timer Needs to Know TO GET EXCELLENT HAIR”

  1. Lizy Mafunu says:

    Hie i got black African hair and considering getting a curly perm on my hair. I last relaxed my hair in January now its August. I have been reading a lot of articles saying that my its discouraged to do a curly perm on previously relaxed hair i rather grow my natural hair out another hairstylist told me that it depends with the strength of my hair too for it to break. I do not want to cut my hair do you think this would be a problem if i just went ahead and do the hairstyle and was this hairstylist right?

    • Erik Christian says:

      The way relaxers work is different than perms. They both work by breaking bonds in the hair cuticle and cortex and then re-forming in a new shape. However, because relaxers(mostly) use sodium hydroxide and perms use thioglocolate, they are incompatible. To better understand, Nair, a product which dissolves hair uses these two ingredients in combination to achieve the effect.
      Therefore once you have used a sodium hydroxide based relaxer on your hair, you will have to wait until the hair has completely grown out before using any thio- based perm on it. 😉 I hope this helped.

  2. Melissa Allen says:

    So I have been wanting a perm for a while. I now have pretty short hair. Barely touching my shoulders. I am getting a perm tomorrow. Basically a relaxed perm. Anyway is my hair too short to get a relaxed perm? And r there cheap good products out there for a relaxed perm? Suave? If so what r they?

  3. Ange Lauren says:

    So… I have naturally straight hair and have been getting cold perms for the past year and a half. So I’ve had two cold perms during that time and the last one was over 6 months if not like 8 months ago. I looked around because I wanted more of a loose curl and found the Japanese digital perm. I was so excited and signed up for it like as soon as I can find someone. Unfortunately she didn’t we had a large language barrier and something I Lost in translation but I ended up with damaged like severely damaged hair. It’s not curly it is not straight it is like straw. Not to mention I have waited months not to color it before the perm and now I’m terrified to color it after it’s in this position.
    My questions are next time if I do want curls should I go with the cold perm my hair was not that damaged before I went in for the Japanese perm and I’ve heard somewhere that the Japanese prime is actually more gentle in your hair? What would you recommend if I wanted to go back to curly? And how long do you think I should wait? I’ve been using protein treatments and deep conditioning treatments and not washing my hair and just trying to be very gentle with it no heat treatments.
    Do you think a demi-permanent hair color now that it’s been about a month since I’ve had the perm would be appropriate?
    Is there anything else that you would recommend that I purchase or or think about doing or I could help my hair condition with?
    Oh also I’m using a heat prevention spray when I do use a round brush combo with a air dryer on low heat if not cool.

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