What Is A Perm? The Beginners Guide To Curly Hair.

From the 80s to today, perms have been a popular way to achieve big, voluminous hair. But what is a perm? And what types of perms are there? Is a perm right for you?

Permed hair is having a moment right now- and rightfully so! This technique can give you bouncy, curly strands that look amazing. 

We’re here with all the info you need to know about getting a perm, from what to expect during the perm process, to how to take care of your new curly hair.

Let’s go!

What is a perm?

A perm is a chemical treatment that permanently changes the structure of your hair.

The chemicals used to make your hair into a perm break the bonds that keep your hair straight and reshape them into pretty curls or waves.

We love perms as they’re so versatile. They can be used to create a variety of looks, from loose, natural-looking waves to tight ringlets.

One of the best reasons to get a perm is that it can help to add volume and texture to fine or limp hair.

Perms are also relatively low-maintenance, requiring only occasional touch-ups to keep their shape. So if you’re looking for a way to add some extra oomph to your hair, a perm might be the perfect solution.

Just make sure you consult with a professional stylist first – the chemicals used in perming can be quite harsh, so talk to the experts before getting one done.

Check out the latest looks over on our permed hair Pinterest board for ideas and inspiration.

what is a perm? permed hair pinterest board

Where does the word ‘perm’ come from?

The word perm comes from the word permanent, meaning that the style will last for a long time.

Perms can be done on any type of hair, but they work best on healthy, non-damaged hair.

How is a perm done?

When you get a perm, your hair is set in curls using either hot or cold methods.

Hot perms use chemical solutions and heat to change the shape of your hair, while cold perms use chemicals, rollers and setting lotions.

Although both types of perms will give you curly hair, there are some differences between them. Hot perms tend to last longer, but they can also be more damaging to your hair.

Cold perms take longer to process using perm lotion, but they’re gentler on your hair.

Ultimately, the best type of perm for you depends on your personal preference and the condition of your hair.

If you have healthy, strong hair, you can probably handle a hot perm.

But if your hair is damaged or fragile, you might want to stick with a cold perm.

Either way, you’re sure to end up with gorgeous, curly locks!

Types of perms.

From curly perms to wavy perms, here are a few different types of perms, depending on the look you want to achieve. Let’s take a look at the most popular ones.

#1 Spiral perm

A spiral perm is one of the most popular types of perms. It creates tight, uniform curls that start at the root and cascade down the length of your hair.

Spiral perms work best for people who want to add volume and texture to their hair. They can also help to give limp or fine hair a bit of extra oomph.

If you have thick, straight hair, a spiral perm can give you the appearance of having much thinner hair.

And if you have thin, curly hair, a spiral perm can help to make your curls appear fuller and more defined. This is also a good option for a short hair perm.

#2 Body wave perm

A body wave perm is a great way to add soft waves and gentle volume to your hair.

If you have straight hair and you’re looking for a perm that will give you a more natural, effortless look, a body wave perm is a good choice.

It can also be a good option if you have thin or fine hair, as the waves can help to add some extra volume and hair texture.

#3 Beach wave perm

Beach waves are so on-trend and a modern take on permed hair.

As you might expect, a beach wave perm gives you the same kind of wavy, tousled mermaid locks that you’d get from spending a day at the beach.

This type of perm is perfect for people who want to add some casual, summery waves to their hair. It’s also a good choice if you have straight hair and you’re looking for a perm that will give you a more natural, effortless look.

#4 Spot or partial perm

A spot or partial perm is a great way to add curls or waves to just a few sections of your hair.

If you have straight hair and you want to add some soft curls or waves without commitment, a spot perm is a good option.

It’s also a good choice if you have curly hair and you want to experiment with different styles. For example, you could get a spot perm on just the bottom layer of your hair to create a softer, more gentle look.

#5 Digital perm

A digital perm is a newer type of hot perm that uses a digital machine to curl your hair.

Digital perms create big, soft curls that bounce into life when your hair is dry. They’re a good choice if you want to add some curl or wave to your hair without changing the overall length or style.

They can also be a good option if you have straight hair and you’re looking for a modern perm that will give you a more natural, effortless look.

#6 Pin curl perm

A pin curl perm is a great way to add vintage-inspired curls to your hair.

If you’re looking for a perm that will give you old Hollywood glamour, a pin curl perm is a good choice. Pin curls are made using pins to secure the ringlets – hence the name!

The result is a more natural-looking version of the corkscrew effect you’ll get with a spiral perm.

#7 Multi-textured perm

A multi-textured perm is a great way to add multiple levels of curl or wave to your hair.

From spirals that frame your face to bigger waves that cascade over your shoulders – if you want to experiment with different styles and create a more unique look, a multi-textured perm is a good choice for you.

#8 Volumizing perm

A volume perm adds a super amount of wave and volume to your hair.

If you have fine or thin hair, a volumizing perm can help to give your hair a bit of extra oomph. It’s also a good choice if you have wavy hair and you want to add some more curl or definition to your locks.

#9 Root perm

A root perm is a type of perm that is applied to the roots of your hair using perm rods in order to give them a lift.

The main benefit of a root perm is that it can help flat and lifeless hair more volume and body. It can also help to make your hair look fuller and thicker.

Root perms are especially good for people who have fine or thinning hair on top.

#10 Stack perm

A stack perm gives a boost of lift and volume at the middle and ends of your hair.

Stack perms are sometimes also called bi directional perms or two-step perms. The result is bouncy, voluminous curls with lots of movement.

Stack perms are a great choice for people who want to add body and natural texture to their hair, and they work well on both short hair and long hair styles.

#11 Straight perm

At the other end of the scale is a straight perm! This adds the magic of straightness and smoothness to your hair.

If you have curly or wavy hair, a straight perm can help to tame your locks and give you a sleek, polished look.

It’s also a good choice if you have frizzy hair and you’re looking for a perm that will give you smoother, more manageable tresses.

What does a perm do to your hair?

If you want to know what a perm actually does to your hair – here’s the science: A perm works by breaking down the inner structure of the hair so that it can be reformed into new shapes.

This is done by first soaking the hair in a solution of water and chemicals. The most common chemical used in this step is ammonium thioglycolate, which breaks down the disulfide bonds that give hair its shape.

Once the disulfide bonds are broken, the hair can be molded into any shape.

After the hair has been soaked in the chemical solution, it is wrapped around curlers and left to process for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

The next step is to neutralize the chemicals in the hair so that they cannot continue to break down the disulfide bonds. This is done by rinsing the hair with a solution of water and baking soda.

Finally, the hair is dried and styled as desired! Phew!

Can you dye permed hair?

Yes! You can dye your hair after you’ve had a perm.

In fact, many people choose to do this in order to add some extra curl or wave to their hair.

Just keep in mind that it is possible to damage your hair if you’re not careful, so it’s always best to consult with a professional hairstylist before you attempt to dye your own hair.

Leaving up some time for your hair to recover from the perming process before dying it is always a good idea.

How do you wash permed hair?

Fortunately, washing permed hair is not much different from washing any other type of hair.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to ensure that your perm lasts as long as possible.

  • Be sure to use a shampoo and conditioner that is specifically designed for permed or chemically treated hair. These products will help to gentle cleanse your hair without stripping away the moisture that it needs.
  • Avoid using hot water when washing your hair, as this can cause the perm to loosen. Instead, opt for lukewarm or cool water.
  • Be sure to use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers to detangle your hair while it is wet, as this will help to prevent breakage nad keep your curls look fabulous.

Watch and learn: How to style permed hair.

Here’s a great video that shows you the do’s and don’t of styling curly hair. If you’re new to curly hair, here are some tips on how to get volume, definition and bounce in your strands.

How long does a perm last?

A perm typically lasts for 8-12 weeks, although this can vary depending on the type of perm you get and how well you take care of your hair.

For example, if you have fine hair, you may find that your perm doesn’t last as long as it would if you had thicker hair.

Similarly, if you use a lot of styling products or heat-based styling tools, this can also shorten the lifespan of your perm.

If you care for your perm properly and give it lots of love and care, it will last longer.

How often can you perm your hair?

You should generally wait at least 8 weeks in between perms, although this can vary depending on your hair type and how well you take care of your hair.

If you have fine or delicate hair, you may want to wait even longer in between perms so that you don’t damage your hair.

It’s always best to consult with a professional hairstylist before you perm your hair so that they can help you to determine how often you should perm your hair.

Can you perm color-treated hair?

This is a question that seems to come up a lot, especially among those with processed locks.

The short answer is yes, but there are a few things you should keep in mind before you hit the salon.

First, it’s important to use a gentle perm solution that won’t strip away your color.

Second, you may want to consider doing a protein treatment before you perm, as this can help to strengthen your hair and prevent damage. Especially if you’re planning on bleaching your locks.

Finally, be sure to follow all of the aftercare instructions carefully, as this will help to prolong the life of your perm and keep your hair looking its best.

But with a little care and attention, you can definitely perm color-treated hair.

What are the risks of getting a perm?

While a perm can give you the perfect beach waves or tight curls, there are some risks that you should be aware of before you take the plunge.

First of all, perms can damage your hair, making it dry and brittle. It changes your hair’s structure which can lead to frizz.

Secondly, if not done correctly, they can also cause scalp irritation.

Finally, perms can be expensive! So you need to make sure that you are prepared to commit to the upkeep.

Despite these risks, many people still choose to get perms because of the fabulous instant results and low maintenance required afterwards.

But it’s always good to be aware of the risks involved before getting a perm.

How much does it cost to get a perm?

The answer, of course, depends on a number of factors, including the length and thickness of your hair, the type of perm you choose, and the salon you visit.

But in general, you can expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $200 for a perm. If you’re on a tight budget, there are a few ways to save on a perm cost.

First, try to schedule your appointment for mid-week rather than on the weekend, when prices are typically higher.

Second, ask your stylist about discounts or specials that may be available.

A favorite tip of ours is to sign up to your local hairdressing school. Here trainee stylists will practice their skills on your hair under the watchful eye of an experienced professional. All for a fraction of the cost in a salon.

With these tips in mind, you can get a great permed hairstyle without breaking the bank.

How to care for permed hair.

First things first: invest in a good shampoo and conditioner for permed hair.

These hair care products will help to hydrate your strands and keep them looking healthy. It’s also important to be gentle when washing your hair- use your fingertips in a circular motion and avoid scrubbing too hard.

In between shampooing, make sure to use a leave-in conditioner or treatment or hair mask to keep your hair hydrated.

Apply it from the mid-lengths down to the ends of your hair, avoiding the roots. And speaking of the roots, be careful not to pile on too much product at the top of your head- this can weigh down your hair and make it look greasy.

Make sure to get regular trims to keep your hair looking its best.

Permed hair can be susceptible to damage, so getting rid of split ends or flyaways is essential. Just like with shampooing, be sure to be gentle when combing or brushing your permed hair- using a wide-tooth comb is best.

Lastly, avoid heat styling as much as possible. Air-dry your hair as much as possible before using a gentle diffuser, preferrably with with a cold-shot setting.

Heat can damage your curls and cause them to lose their shape. Always use a heat protectant when you do.

By following these simple tips, you can help your perm last longer and keep your hair looking healthy and gorgeous!

Parting words.

Perms are a great way to change up your look without having to commit to a new hairstyle permanently. They can add curl and body to straight hair or tame frizzy or unruly hair.

When done correctly, perms look natural and healthy. However, it is important to keep in mind that permed hair does require some extra care and attention in order to maintain its health and appearance.

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Nicola Freeman

Creative Director & Owner

With over two decades of passionate hair dyeing experience, I've experimented with nearly every shade imaginable. My journey began long before blogging; as an award-winning copywriter in London and New York, I shaped narratives for iconic brands. However, when friends sought advice during Covid for at-home hair dyeing, I realized my true calling. Beyond being your hair color expert, I'm a mom of two girls, wife to artist Tony, and an avid soccer player!