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Perms have come a long way since the super teased spiral curls of the ‘80s. Here are 15 different types of perms, plus tips for choosing the right one.

15 Types of Perms We Love For a Temporary Texture Change

Perms have come a long way since the super teased spiral curls of the ‘80s. Here are 15 different types of perms, plus tips for choosing the right one.
15 Types of Perms We Love For a Temporary Texture Change

Spend enough time at the salon, and you’ll probably overhear stylists and some of their long-time clients swapping stories about their early hair perm days. It may be hard to imagine sitting in a chair for several hours as strong chemicals are applied to your strands and set in hair rods. Still, many women and men went to great lengths for a perm.

“[Perm hairstyles] were an everyday salon service in the ‘80s,” says Russell Brown, Cheveux Salon owner and technical director. While their popularity dwindled in the decades that followed, new techniques and the development of different types of perms have brought this once-forgotten trend back to life.

If you’re interested in how today’s perms differ from those sported in the ‘80s, keep reading. Ahead, two experts answer common questions about hair perms and offer tips on choosing a perm that suits your strands. Whether you’re after soft waves or tight ringlets, you’ll find all the information—and inspiration—you need for your next salon visit below.

What Is a Perm?

A perm (also known as a permanent wave) is a chemical treatment that alters the texture and appearance of your natural hair. Although the name suggests they’re permanent, most perms actually last around three to six months, depending on the type of perm you get, your natural hair texture, and how you care for your mane.

Not all perms will give you that larger-than-life hairstyle sported by ‘80s rockers and soap opera stars—it depends on the type of perm you get (more on that shortly). However, all follow a similar process. First, your stylist will wrap your hair in perm rods (choosing a size based on the curls you desire) and apply a chemical solution to set the style. According to Melissa Claybough, salon owner and fine hair specialist, the solution helps break down some of your hair bonds, allowing your strands to take on a different texture. (Discover more about how hair bonds work here.)

Then, your stylist will rinse and dry your hair with the perm rods still intact and apply a neutralizer. Once the neutralizer processes, you’ll get another thorough rinse at the shampoo bowl before removing the rods to see the shape. Final styling is done in the stylist’s chair.

What Are The Different Types of Perms?

As we mentioned, there are several types of perms, each of which yields different results. Keep reading to learn about some of the different options available and see what they look like.

Root Perm

If your type 2 hair falls flat without the right cocktail of curl products, then a root perm might be worth looking into.

Unlike other perm hairstyles where the perming solution is used throughout the entire head, a root perm focuses on the strands closest to the scalp. Short to medium hair lengths will see results that last two to six months.

Partial Perm

A partial perm (also called a spot perm) is a perfect option when you want to add texture to specific sections of hair. This option is great for those with an inconsistent curl pattern seeking a more harmonious look. It can also help create the illusion of fuller hair. Expect this type of perm to last anywhere between two and six months.

Body Wave Perm

Good hair day by @siobhanjoneshair

Add texture and definition to pin-straight strands with a body wave perm, which utilizes medium-to-large perm rods to create soft, natural-looking waves.

Digital Perm

Good hair day by @aria_etudewsalon

Digital perms are similar to traditional perms, only with one caveat: the rods used are electric and heated to a high temperature before being placed in the hair. The addition of heat makes this technique a bit longer-lasting than other types of perms—you can expect the results to hold for three months up to a year with proper care. While anyone can get a digital perm, it’s especially well-suited for those with ultra-thick, straight strands.

Spiral Perm

Good hair day by @ellieclarke_hair

With the right products (and plenty of time), you may be able to scrunch your natural waves into tight, bouncy curls. But a spiral perm will give you gorgeous ringlets with minimal styling effort. Expect the results to last between three and six months, depending on your natural texture, care habits, and how quickly your hair grows.

Modern Perm

Good hair day by @hairbyravenc

What keeps this style fresh is the expert cutting, shaping, and styling that a professional does to customize it just for you.

Face-framing layers combined with larger (sometimes more flexible) perm rods give way to a modern perm that is softer and bouncier than old-school perms. Results from this technique can last anywhere from three to six months.

Stack Perm

If you want to experiment with a layered haircut but aren’t quite ready to make the chop, consider a stacked perm. At the salon, your stylist will use different-sized rods to create texture all around the head, with the smallest rods placed on the topmost sections of hair. This technique creates a stacked effect, making it look as though you have layers.

Multi-Textured Perm

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Naturally wavy hair isn’t typically uniform—some waves will be looser, while others will more closely resemble curls. This technique involves wrapping the entire head with different-sized perm rods to mimic that natural wave pattern. The result: effortless supermodel waves that last up to six months.

Beach Wave Perm

Good hair day by @beauty_by_amandaa

You don’t need a curling iron or sea salt spray to create summery beach waves—the beach wave perm creates the same effect and lasts much longer (up to six months). Opt for this perm if you have long, thick hair in need of texture and volume.

Pigtail Perm

Good hair day by @sunniebrook

The pigtail perm creates defined, crimped waves—similar to the way your hair looks after wearing it in braided pigtails (hence the technique’s name). Results can last up to four months, depending on your hair type, length, and styling habits.

Helicopter-Wrap Perm

Good hair day by @emelieljungstrom_pro

Frizz can be a common concern for those with tight curls, but the helicopter wrap perm helps reduce the risk. The technique involves threading strands through the opening of a perm rod so the roots sit flat against the scalp, then wrapping the length of the hair horizontally around another perm rod. Done properly, it results in loose waves near the roots with more voluminous spirals toward the mid-length and ends.

Pin-Curl Perm

Good hair day by @lindsey.marie.olson

Harkening back to old Hollywood, the pin-curl perm is designed to give those with long, straight hair looser S-shaped curls. The technique adds bouncy volume and texture to straighter strands for a sleek, fresh-from-the-salon effect that lasts up to six months.

Bob Perm

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You don’t have to have long hair to get a perm—modern techniques make the trend achievable for shorter lengths, too. With the bob perm, your stylist will wrap your strands in medium-to-large diameter perm rods, giving your shorter hair dimension and movement without veering into the dreaded “poodle curl” territory.

Perm for Men

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Any of these perm hairstyles can work for any person if your stylist confirms you’re the right candidate. But, not all stylists are experienced in adapting the technique for shorter male hair. While you will need to grow out your hair slightly for a successful perm, it doesn’t need to be super long—there just needs to be enough length for your stylist to wrap your strands around the perm rods.

Fade Perm

Good hair day by @timpascoe_hair

A fade perm gives those who like to keep a cropped cut the best of two styles, combining a traditional fade with curls. The contrast draws more attention to your facial structure, too.

Ideal for shorter lengths, your stylist will choose the perfect perm rods to add texture to the longer hair on top. You may need to visit the barbershop multiple times a month to keep the sides tapered, but the perm will only need to be touched up every three months or so.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Choose the Right Perm?

The first step in getting a perm is scheduling a consultation with a stylist. They’ll assess your hair to confirm whether you’re a good candidate and offer a recommendation based on your hair type, length, and desired result. If you are, you can book an appointment for your perm.

Keep in mind, however, that a massive transformation may not be feasible: A perm can only change your texture so much. Claybough explains, “If you have pin-straight hair, you’re going to get wavy hair. If you have wavy hair, you will get curly hair. If you have curly hair, you will get coily hair.”

Are Perms Damaging?

Brown says that, much like any other chemical treatment for hair (color, relaxer, or texturizer), perms “can be potentially damaging.” The risk of damage may be higher if you have lightened hair, which is why Claybough advises against getting a perm if you also have bleached strands.

She also notes that the chemicals used to perm hair may “take a bit of your hair color with it.” So, if you have highlights, they may appear brighter or brassier post-perm (a toning treatment can help restore your blonde). Similarly, those with fantasy colors like turquoise or pink may experience a loss in vibrancy after the perm process.

How Long Do Perms Last?

Most perms can last between three to six months when cared for properly. However, your hair texture, length, and even the weather can affect how often you return to the salon.

A digital perm surpasses other hair perms when it comes to the amount of time and money you’ll save. This hair perm service involves using electrically heated rods to curl hair from the inside out after doing the first step of the chemical process. As a result, your curl can last anywhere from three months to a full year with proper care.

How Do You Care For Perms?

You will need to change your haircare routine to better care for a perm hairstyle.

Claybough tells clients that trial and error is a part of the process of learning to care for perms and discovering what their curls actually like. Ask your stylist to suggest salon-quality products for your at-home routine and prepare to tweak your normal styling process.

Depending on how dry, fragile, thick, or thin a client’s hair is, Brown recommends the Mizani Moisture Fusion or Redken Extreme lines. Both include shampoos, conditioners, and masks that are formulated with deeply moisturizing and fortifying ingredients like argan oil and biotin and help strengthen chemically-processed hair.

Instead of brushing your hair when it’s tangled, use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers to gently loosen knots. You may also work a product like Biolage Professional Hydra Source Detangling Solution throughout to make the process easier (this leave-in also helps control static and frizz).

Styling, however, is where you’ll need to adjust your routine the most. “Styling straight hair is what you do when it’s dry,” says Claybough. “Curly hair is more about setting it while it’s wet and then letting it air dry.” She suggests working a curl-enhancing product like Mizani Styling Foam Hair Wrap throughout your hair while it’s damp, then scrunching to define your curls. “You [may even] need to get in there and twist the curls,” she adds.

From there, you’ll want to diffuse your hair to help ensure your style keeps its shape. Claybough recommends using low heat to help protect your perm against damage. (You can also air dry your hair, but be sure to give your strands ample time to dry).

Once you’re happy with how your waves or curls look, set your perm hairstyle in place with hairspray. Claybough likes L’Oréal Professionnel Tecni.Art Infinium 3 for its workability. Simply spray onto your strands and let dry for instant, touchable hold.

Types of Perms: The Bottom Line

If you want to add texture to your mane, a perm is a great way to do so. But determining which type of perm is best for you requires assessing your current hair type, texture, care routine, and goals. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to choose from. An experienced stylist can identify whether you’re a good candidate for a perm and recommend a technique that aligns with your unique needs.

Next Up: Take These 15 Styles As A Sign To Get Curly Bangs ASAP

Ready to get a perm? Use our salon locator to book a consultation with a stylist near you.

Header photo credits (left to right): @ellieclarke_hair and @aria_etudewsalon

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