Your flat, pin-straight strands won’t hold a curl? Just in time for summer, social media platforms like TikTok have put a solution for blah hair days on our radar so that we can celebrate the season in style: the digital perm.
Anything involving the word “perm” often rattles us, but these services have come a long way since the kinky ‘80s hairdos we’ve seen commemorated in family photo albums. A digital perm is a type of curly perm that helps give straight hair a perfectly wavy look but with minimal styling effort (and a fraction of the frustration). Keep scrolling for everything you need to know.
What is a digital perm?
Like other perms, a digital perm (also referred to as a digi perm or hot perm) is a modern salon technique that alters hair’s structure to make it behave differently. Originating in Asia as a way to give straight, difficult-to-curl hair the appearance of soft, natural-looking waves, the service has made its way on the menus of hot spot salons on this side of the hemisphere. As such, digital perms are usually requested by those seeking to add texture, volume, and body to stubbornly linear manes.
Performed by a pro, the process involves first saturating hair with a chemical solution to break down hair bonds for restructuring. Your hair is then wrapped around digitally-controlled heated rods that react with the solution to create loose waves or curls. Once everything gets rinsed out and your hair’s pH is returned to normal with neutralizing solution, the proteins of your hair will re-bond into their new bouncy or wavy shape via the heated rods.
It’s worth noting that digital perms work best on longer hair, which allows you to see the full length of the waves. Have a trendy bob or a chic pixie cut? You’re still a great candidate for cold perms (more on what this is later).
How long does a digital perm last?
The best part about getting a perm is that you can save precious time and energy in your styling routine. Don’t get us wrong—experimenting with hairstyles before a big event is half the fun. Still, a lower-maintenance hair care routine is sometimes gratefully welcomed, especially when our calendars fill up.
Depending on your hair type and condition, a digital perm can last anywhere between three months to a year. Healthy, virgin hair will see the longest-lasting results (and are the best contender for digital perms) since strands can better hold their shape, while damaged or color-treated hair may see the effects fade within a few months.
As opposed to curlier perms, the top of the hair is often left untouched In digital perms. Therefore, you won’t require much salon upkeep to have your roots match the rest of your mane (this also gives digital perms that gentle, professional blowout style we all try to replicate at home!).
What is digital perm vs. normal perm?
Digital perms (and straight perms, for that matter) require heat to reshape the hair, while most other perms involve a cold process to create a brand-new look. Cold perms, an umbrella term for the typical textured ‘do you picture when you think of perms, are also more common and have more options available.
Another difference is the final look these perms create. Digital perms result in big waves or curls that are less defined and sculpted: think beachy and blown-out (your stylist can tailor your results based on your goals.) On the other hand, more traditional perms aim to produce tight spiral ringlets and careful coifs.
Is a digital perm less damaging?
Some damage will be inevitable whenever you use heat or chemicals to change your hair's structure. That said, a stylist who is skilled in the service will do their best to keep your hair in its best condition throughout the treatment. We always recommend visiting a professional salon or doing some research into pros near you who are well-versed in perm techniques so you can rest assured your precious locks will be in good hands.
How do you care for a digital perm?
If you’re ready to roll out of bed with beautifully sun-kissed waves, here are a few ways to keep your new ‘do in tip-top shape.
Wait up to 48 hours before washing.
After your digital perm service, it’s advised to wait 24-48 hours before washing your hair, so try not to book any sweaty workout classes post-appointment. Your stylist can give you a better idea about the best time frame your hair will need depending on your hair type, length, and overall condition.
You may notice that digital perm dries out your hair, so it’s important to have moisturizing products on hand. Bonus if your moisturizing routine is sulfate-free for wash day, such as Pureology’s Hydrate Shampoo and Conditioner Duo.
A deep conditioning mask will also come in handy if dehydration plagues your permed locks. Matrix’s Food For Soft Rich Hydrating Treatment Mask features skincare superheroes like hyaluronic acid and avocado oil to replenish hydration to even the driest of hair.
Switch up your detangling routine.
Brushing through wet permed hair is a big no-no. Instead, use a detangling solution to loosen knots before gently breaking them apart with your fingers. We like Biolage Professional’s All-In-One Coconut Infusion Multi-Benefit Spray, a multi-tasking formula that detangles and makes hair more manageable. If you must use a tool occasionally, pick a wide-toothed comb over a brush.
Use heat sparingly.
Heat and hot tools aren’t great for our hair on the best of days, so it’ll come as no surprise that applying excessive heat may further damage your hair and ruin the shape of your permed curls. Try letting your hair air-dry more often, and pick up curl-enhancing products to help coax out the natural new bends in your tresses.
When hair is wet, scrunch a bit of Kérastase’s Curl Manifesto Gelee Curl Contour Gel-Cream through it to enhance your texture. On dry hair, the brand’s Curl Manifesto Refresh Absolu Hair Spray can restore or add definition without requiring a full wash. Redken Beach Spray is also a great option if you desire beach waves; plus, it’s free of sea salt, which is notorious for drying hair out.
Have more questions about digital perms or personalizing your new routine? Dial up your salon, set up a consultation, and prepare to be the styling envy of all your friends.
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