Our mothers loved to tell us that every fashion trend would eventually come into style again, but hair perms are one we never saw coming. At one point, it seemed like everyone and their mother had a perm—but as a millennial, it’s hard for me to imagine a day where waking up early every morning to curl my mane with a curling wand wasn’t the norm.
While perms may not have been on your radar until now, they’ve never actually gone away. In fact, they’ve been a go-to trend in Asia for decades! The good news? Modern hair perms are nothing like the poodle-like spirals you might remember from the ‘80s. According to Michael Bates, Matrix artistic educator, perms have come a long way in recent years. As the desire for carefree, effortless styling has gone up, so has the demand for perms.
“My clients are looking for a more holistic approach toward hair. By having a perm, people are saving precious time and energy in their hair routine,” Bates says. “Perms also give you the ability for a longer-lasting style without a lot of daily maintenance.
Wondering how to make a hair perm work for you in 2020? Bates breaks down everything you need to know, including how long perms last, how to care for them, and some of our favorite perm hairstyles you can try.
What is a perm for hair?
Simply put, a hair perm (or permanent wave) is a chemical service that permanently alters your hair texture by breaking the bonds of your hair and resetting them. Whether you desire big beach waves, spiral curls, or effortless texture, modern perm formulas can help you achieve various looks—so you won’t have to worry about looking stuck in the ‘80s!
Typically, a perm service involves two key elements. First, your stylist will wrap your strands in perm rods and apply a perm solution to set your style in place. Whether you have fine, thick, coarse, or color-treated hair, your stylist will be able to choose a perm solution that’s specifically made for your hair type. Then, they’ll rinse the solution out, dry your hair, and apply a neutralizer to complete the process. Once the solution is completely rinsed from your hair, your new texture will be revealed.
How long do perms last in your hair?
The best part about perms is that they don’t require much upkeep. When cared for properly, most perms can last anywhere from three to six months, depending on the length and texture of your hair.
If you’re opting for a perm hairstyle that is drastically different from your natural texture, you can expect to head to the salon every eight weeks or so to make sure your roots match up with the rest of your hair. If you’ve gone for a style that’s closer to your natural texture, modern-day perms are formulated to make regrowth as natural-looking and effortless as possible.
Do perms damage your hair?
Contrary to popular belief, Bates says, a perm won’t completely fry your mane—that is, as long as it’s done the right way!
“Any chemical services performed improperly can cause hair damage, but we now have pre and post-treatments to help strengthen and protect the hair,” Bates says. “Some of my favorites are Matrix’s Total Results Insta Cure Leave-In Treatment and Total Results Pro Solutionist 5+Protopak.”
Similar to a bleach service or chemical relaxer, a perm uses chemicals to alter the look and feel mane—so don’t be surprised if your strands feel a bit drier than usual. Before opting for a perm, you should also consider your hair type and concerns. If you have highlighted, over-processed hair, for example, your stylist may determine that your strands aren’t in the best shape to go through the perming process because doing so may leave your hair even more damaged.
How much does a perm cost?
According to Bates, the price of a hair perm depends entirely on the technique being used and the location of your salon.
“Cost in a rural small town can be way different than a major metropolitan city,” Bates says.
As a rule of thumb, Bates says to expect to pay somewhere between what you would pay for a color or highlighting service.
Will a perm make my hair look thicker?
If you’ve stocked up on every thickening product and root lifter you can find to achieve thicker-looking strands with no results, consider a hair perm as your next best option. While nothing can truly make the diameter of your hair thicker, a hair perm can help to boost the look of volume and fullness—making your strands instantly appear more dense!
Can you straighten permed hair?
As much as you love those effortless beach waves and curls, you might feel like switching things up once in a while. While you can straighten permed hair, it’s best to avoid heat styling as much as possible—particularly for the first two weeks. If you do decide to heat style, however, be sure to always coat your strands with a heat protectant like Redken Iron Shape 11 Thermal Holding Heat Protection Spray.
How to care for your hair after a perm?
If you’re completely set on getting a perm, you’ll need to know how to care for your new look properly. As a certain pretty in pink lawyer once said, the number one rule of perm maintenance is to avoid getting it wet for 48 hours post-appointment to allow your curls to set.
While perms will save women on the go tons of styling time, you’ll still need to care for your perm the right way to keep your style intact and your strands healthy. Begin by swapping your regular shampoo and conditioner with a moisturizing system. We recommend Biolage Hydrasource Shampoo and Conditioner. This system instantly renews moisture for healthy-looking hair.
Bates also recommends using a hair oil like Biolage Exquisite Oil Protective Treatment to give your lengths and ends extra nourishment. This formula protects and nourishes hair for extra softness and a brilliant shine.
When brushing your newly-permed hair, skip the brush and use a wide-tooth comb and your favorite detangler. We recommend Biolage Hydrasource Detangling Solution. This formula detangles and controls static for less frizz and flyaways.
As much as we love permed hair, one of our biggest complaints is the strong, chemical-like scent that lingers on your strands for days after the service. Luckily, Bates has a tip for quickly removing the unpleasant smell: Having your stylist apply an acidic product like Biolage’s R.A.W Color Care Acidic Milk Rinse to your strands directly after your perm service.
“This helps to seal the hair and adds amazing shine while leaving the hair with a beautiful fragrance,” Bates says.
Wondering which perm hairstyle is right for you? Keep scrolling for nine of our favorite ways to try one for yourself.
The Best Perm Hairstyles To Try Now
Naturally curly hair is stunning, but waking up every day and painstakingly scrunching each strand is not. Or, perhaps you’re a lady with some wave to your hair who’d like to take her curls to the next level.
Whatever the case, we’re fairly obsessed with the spiral perm, in which each strand of hair is set in a vertical ringlet. The result is a full head of natural-looking curlicues, the jaw-dropping kind that floats effortlessly.
Beach Wave Perm
If you, like us, have spent the last three years in front of your bathroom mirror in an attempt to will your hair into being effortlessly beach wavy, turn to the perm. Instead of 40 minutes with a curling wand and two bottles of sea salt spray a month, you’ll be able to relax and let nature (uh, chemicals) take its course.
We love the look of a beach wave perm on long, thick hair. Since heavy lengths can make hair flat at the root and lack body, the perm is a smart choice. Instead of sitting under a hot dryer all summer, trying to achieve the same look with a blowout, you’ll be one-and-done.
Committing to a perm doesn’t mean dropping everything for a totally new texture. We love the idea of a spot perm, which specifically addresses problem areas within the hair. If you’re totally devoted to retro bangs but can’t get them to curl correctly, or are tired of teasing up the crown of your hair, curlers applied just in one spot will take care of the issue.
On the bright side, you’ll also save money. Why risk the damage of a full perm, when you only want one spot done?
Body Wave Perm
Body wave perms aren’t just for grandmas anymore. The added texture and movement will make your hair feel alive again without applying a dozen products every day. Body waves make hair feel youthful and summery like you’ve just finished up a fabulous vacation on the Riviera.
Don’t let the name throw you—there were no pigtails harmed during the making of this style. If you’re in the habit of leaving your hair in boxer braids for days at a time, then enjoying the wave when they’re undone, this style may be for you.
The pigtail perm is so named because the hair is wound in such a way that the resulting permanent wave mimics those created by braids. (Think of this as less of a corkscrew look, more of a deep wave.)
There are some heads of hair that absolutely will not hold volume, no matter what techniques or products you try. For limp noodle hair that causes endless dismay, turn to the specially-designed root perm.
Madison Wade, Shu Uemura Art Of Hair artist, gave us the rundown on what to know before asking for this service in a salon.
“Perms work by breaking the bonds in your hair, resetting them in a new shape and sealing them into place,’ Wade says. “A root perm will ensure you’ve got effortless body from the moment you wake up to when you go to sleep, all without much effort on your part.”
While other types of perm focus the chemical perming solution all over the head, a root perm specifically takes place close to the scalp. As the name suggests, the technique focuses the curl directly where the strand meets the scalp. The result is a curly hair idea that boosts volume without the aid of a lot of extra product. What are you waiting for?
At the point, you’ve probably grown to expect that the latest and greatest in beauty treatments will come out of Asia. What you don’t know is that new hair techniques will, too. Meet the digital perm, sometimes also called a point perm. Whereas a traditional perm sets hair that’s been wound around rollers, this process involves rods that emit high levels of heat.
The takeaway: This process, specifically designed with difficult-to-curl Asian hair in mine, leaves a gentle wave behind. It’s closer to a three-month-long blowout than any perm we’ve ever seen. If you live in a major city, you should be able to find a salon that specializes in digital perms.
The scariest part about perms isn’t the damage a bad one can do to your hair. Frankly, it’s the idea that you’ll wake up with a cloud of frizz around your face that can’t be tamed. Luckily, today’s permanent wave is a smarter, less overwhelming concept.
If you’re looking to focus the bulk of your wave toward the bottom of your hair, the way a blowout or curling wand might, then the helicopter wrap is probably a good fit for you. Although the setting process admittedly looks a little like you’re being abducted by aliens (hair-first), the resulting wave is loose on the top, voluminous on the bottom—no ‘80s flashbacks here.
It may not sound sexy, but the multi-textured perm is probably the most natural-looking way to achieve wave and body. The technique involves the application of curling rods in several different sizes, distributed across the scalp.
Instead of one, uniformly-sized type of curl, you’ll end up with a head of different sizes and shapes. In many cases, the treatment will even create the illusion of layering throughout your hair. Although it may sound counterintuitive, naturally curly hair often contains uniquely-sized ringlets. A multi-textured perm is the closest you’ll get to bouncy, I-woke-up-like-this waves.
Interested in trying a perm? Use our salon locator to book an appointment with a stylist near you.