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Perming your hair - the ins and outs

Is a Solution for:
Dry or Brittle Hair, Limp Hair, Dull Hair
Reviewed by SarahK February 4, 2011 5 Comments
Apparently, the perm is back. Or maybe it has never really gone away. I know some of you may be scared at the thought of the perm, as vivid memories from 80s involving a huge, dry, unmoving mass of curls may very well be resurfacing as you read this post. I myself remember my mother leaving one day to go to the hair salon, incredibly long, healthy, beautiful hair in tow, only to return crying over the damage her stylist had inflicted upon her with that deadly follicle foe: the perm.

My mother’s hair never really returned to her original virgin locks. The texture of her hair was left completely altered long after that stereotypical, dated look that perms are often associated with faded away. But according to a recent New York Times article, those lovely beach waves that nearly every celebrity is sporting nowadays can be achieved with the right perm. So what accounts for the terribly drastic difference between the 80s do and today’s coveted look? And how can you make sure you get the latter and stay as far away as you can from the former?

Supposedly, perms are much more gentle today than they were yesteryear. Even though the process itself really hasn’t changed much, stylists now customize chemicals based on hair type (which may help people avoid my mother’s fate) and use larger rods (which create looser, more natural looking curls or waves than smaller rods do).

The less damage (whether its from products or chemicals or coloring or highlights) your hair has, the more likely a perm will take to your hair and will come out as intended. After conditioning and prepping your hair, the stylist will wrap your hair around the rods. Ammonium thioglycolate is applied to each rod for approximately 10 – 20 minutes, depending on the texture of your hair. The chemical actually restructures the hair shaft, allowing the texture of your tresses to change. After the solution is rinsed from your hair, your stylist will apply hydrogen peroxide as a neutralizer, which will reform the bonds in your hair, effectively giving it its new shape. Typically, you will be told not to wash your hair for up to 48 hours, as water will weaken the new bonds in your hair. Depending on your hair type and how tight your new curls are, the perm will last anywhere from 2 – 6 months.

Regardless of the better perm procedures that are used today, the process is definitely still harsh on your hair. After all, the hair’s proteins are literally being broken, which causes the hair to expand and take the shape of the rod.

But there are reasons to consider going for the perm. While a good spray or gel combined with a curling iron can easily get you that fabulously sexy, unkempt look, using the products everyday may very well cause the same amount of damage that a perm does. And using the curling iron takes quite a bit of time each day, especially if you have straight hair. Also, it is a common misconception that perms are only for straight-haired people longing for curls. But actually, perms can tame curly hair; all it takes is the largest rods the stylist has and, voilà, curly hair no more!
  • February 4, 2011

    by deb

    i have thick hair that is curly until you run a comb thru it. It then becomes like cotton candy getting larger and larger the more you touch it. Also, and something I don't hear about much, is that the front 1/3 of my hair is straight and the rest is wavy, curly. A real challenge for the stylist. i may look into a perm. thanks for info.

  • February 4, 2011

    by Julie Kay

    In my late 20s I wanted so badly to have Streisand's curly look! and I tried to get it. I had a good stylist and remained true to her until she moved too far away (a dozen years ago- another story: The Search of a New Stylist). BUT she is a good stylist. My hair is the problem. While we went through "what I wanted and couldn't have," I found out a couple things I wonder if still hold true today. 1) You shouldn't get your hair permed AND colored and a good stylist won't do both; 2) Another reason not to wet or wash your hair after perming is your shaft is bloated to 4 times its normal size and in this state is extremely fragile. It needs this couple days to shrink back down to normal.

    My irony is that I had stick straight hair until menopause. Now if I had it cut to suit my wavy/curly hair I would walk around w a head of big bouncy curls. Go Figure! I still make it submit to the flat iron, but ... a time will come when I myself will surrender to my hair- I feel it. Tick-Tock ~jk

  • February 4, 2011

    by Eileen

    Marta, do you have any experience with those products that claim to enhance curls/waves (i.e, curl enhancing shampoos and conditioners)? I've wondered if they are worth purchasing or just a marketing gimmick.
    Thanks!

  • February 4, 2011

    by marta

    And, of course, I have always wanted proper red and curly hair instead of strawberry blondish and wavy.

  • February 4, 2011

    by colinmack

    My hair is red and curly so of course I always wanted long straight black hair like Cher's. I love and envy straight shiny hair.

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