Welcome to the era of the modern perm. Perms are back...and they’ve come a long way from the ’80s styles of yore. Whether you’re changing up your texture from straight to curly or curly to straight, don’t shy away from permanent hairstyles just because perms use chemicals to change the structure of your hair. With the right nourishment and care, you can get a perm and keep your hair healthy. Yes, it can be done! Let’s get right to it, today we’re talking perms, relaxers, and how to get a gorgeous hairstyle you absolutely love at your next salon perm appointment.
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First things first...what is a perm?
“Perm” refers to the chemical process that permanently alters the hair follicle (hence the name). For hair that’s naturally straight, a perm will create curls; for hair that’s naturally curly, perms are used to straighten. Hair breakage after both types of perms is fairly common, so you want to make sure your hair is nourished and healthy before booking either type of perm!
Now without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about getting a gorgeous perm hairstyle…
Best perm tips & tricks for natural hair
Perms to straighten textured hair (curly or coily) are also known relaxers. For curly, coily, and natural hair types, getting a perm means you are chemically relaxing your curls so your hair becomes straight. If your hair is currently thinning, breaking, bleached, or fried, steer clear of relaxers for a little while and focus on giving your hair lots of TLC instead.
If your hair looks and feels healthy, go ahead and book that perm appointment! If you love your sleek, straight results, you’ll want to get touch ups every six to ten weeks—using relaxers more often than that can lead to overprocessed, damaged hair that’s prone to breakage. But don’t wait too long to book your next perm appointment, either, or your hair will risk breakage between the straight, relaxed sections and your new, curly hair growth.
How to keep relaxed hair healthy
•Moisturize your scalp with a lightweight hair oil to promote healthy growth.
•Wash hair no more than once weekly, using a sulfate-free shampoo like ourColor Protecting Shampoo.
•Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Use a deep conditioner ornourishing hair maskto keep your strands moisturized and pampered.
•Go easy on the heat styling. Using your flat iron or curling iron every day will lead to dryness, damage, and breakage. Fortunately, there are a bunch of styling techniques that don’t call for much heat and won’t dry out your permed hair—including wet sets, wrapping, satin rollers, and flexi rod sets.
•Wrap your hair at night and use a silk pillowcase for extra TLC.
•Notice any split ends? Schedule a quick trim (and be sure to add hair oil to your ends, too).
How to undo a perm for curly hair
Using a hair relaxer on your curls is permanent, so if you don’t like your results, you have two options: either wait for your hair to grow out, wear protective or low-manipulation styles or get a haircut. So you really want to go to a professional you trust!
Best perm tips & tricks for straight hair
As with perms for curly hair, perms for straight hair are best left up to the professionals. That being said, perms are a great way to get longer-lasting curly hairstyles, from tightly spiraled curls to loose beachy waves. But proceed with caution—when you go to get a perm at the salon, you always run the risk of winding up with too-tight sausage curls, lackluster waves, or a “fishtail” effect with strands of hair hanging awkwardly alongside the rest of your hair. Luckily, we’re here to rescue you and your curls from bad perms with our top tips for getting gorgeous, curly permed hair. Here’s how to help a bad perm look better…
How to undo a perm for straight hair
•Wash your hair immediately. (We all know about this perm trick from Legally Blonde, right? Good, just checking.) Most perm formulas need 28 hours to neutralize, which is why stylists typically recommend waiting 48 hours before shampooing. If you want to undo the results of a perm, or relax a perm, wash your hair with Color Protecting Shampoo and Conditioner to cleanse and hydrate your hair, and to help relax your curls.
•Apply a deep conditioning treatment or hot oil treatment, cover your curls with a shower cap, and leave on for several hours. If you want, you can even leave it on your curly hair overnight and wash it out in the morning. Deep conditioning will help loosen tight curls from your latest perm and tame frizz on overly processed hair.
•If you only have a few, short fishtail pieces sticking out of your curls, remove them carefully with a little trim. You'll get the best results with hair shears instead of normal household scissors. If that sounds too drastic, you can also use a curling iron or blow dryer to shape your hair the way you want it after your perm. Be sure to use styling products that protect your hair to prevent damage from heat styling.
•If none of these options work, or if it has been too long since you got your hair permed, you may just have to have patience—your perm will relax over time. Easier said than done, we know, but you and your hair will get there! In the meantime, here are a few blog posts with tips and tricks on how to grow out your hair gracefully, plus a post on how to color hair that has been permed or relaxed.
How to keep permed hair healthy
•Make sure your hair is as healthy as possible before you perm! Perms dry out your hair considerably, resulting in more damage. The chemical process of getting a perm can be hard on damaged hair, making your curls look and feel drab and unhealthy. Invest in a nurturing hair mask likeColor Therapyto hydrate and nourish permed hair once a week.
•Timing is everything. If your stylist doesn't allow the perm to process for the right amount of time, your hair can either get too curly (making your perm look frizzy) or not curly enough (resulting in limp, loose waves). Depending on hair length, getting a perm should take around two to three hours.
•Healthy hair responds best to chemical processes, both curling and straightening. So show your locks some love with lots of nourishing care from roots to ends. Don’t get a perm if your hair is overly dry (see above).
•Be clear about what you want—there are many different types of perms and many different curly hair looks. Spiral perms create tight, romantic ringlets, while perm rods yield more natural-looking, beachy curls. Bring along pictures and make time to discuss with your stylist. As the saying goes: before you perm...confirm.
Permed Hair FAQs
Our colorists take on your top perm questions...
Q: I got a perm yesterday, and after it dried throughout the day, it got poofy. IDK if it was because I ran my fingers through my hair, but will it go back to being curly after I wash it after 48 hours? - Haley
A: That sounds normal to us, Haley! Give your hair the full 48 hours without a wash to fully “lock” in your curls. Also, resist the urge to wet your hair or pull it back in a ponytail for the first two days. After you wash your hair, a leave-in conditioner can help coax your curls back into shape. This will also help reduce frizz and eliminate the poofiness you described.
Q: My hair is naturally curly, but after years of using a flat iron consistently, my texture has changed. I miss my curls, so I asked for a perm, hoping as my hair grows back it will be curly again. The problem? The perm is way too tight...think poodle curls. I want to keep the curls, but I don’t want them to be so tight. Help! - Sara
A: We got you, Sara! You can help loosen your curls with a good deep conditioner. Apply conditioner to your hair, comb it out straight, then wrap it in a cellophane bag. Leave the conditioner on your hair and keep your hair wrapped for up to 30 minutes. After rinsing, your curls will look much more relaxed...plus your hair will feel wonderful.
Q: I got a perm 2 weeks ago, but now I want to get rid of it and wear my hair straight again. Is there any way to make this happen? - Heather
A: Heather, unfortunately the best way to “get rid of'' a perm is to wait for it to grow out. Frequent micro trims will speed up this process, in addition to using a deep conditioning mask once a week to weigh down curls. If you want a more immediate solution, go back to your salon and ask for a creme perm to be applied over the permed outgrowth (to help “reverse” your perm). Bear in mind that this is an additional chemical process that might be stressful for your hair and could lead to breakage. Good luck!
Do you perm your hair regularly? Is it something you want to try? Do you have suggestions for getting and keeping gorgeous permed or relaxed hair? We want to hear from you in the comments.
Originally published: January 27, 2015
Updated: May 19, 2021
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