The Perm Is Back. Is It Right for You?


The perm is back! If you’ve ever dreamed of curls or waves that last several months without any styling, a perm might be the perfect solution for you. But before you embrace the return of this classic ’80s style, keep in mind that as with any chemical hair treatment, there are some cons to consider. Is permanent hair curling right for you? Keep reading to find out.

What is Permanent Hair Curling?

Permanent hair curling uses a combination of heat and chemicals to break and reform the disulfide bonds of your hair. This process permanently alters your hair’s anatomy to resemble that of curly hair, giving hair permanent curls that don’t require heat tools or curlers. Your perm will grow out over four to six months, depending on how quickly your hair grows.

The curly perm treatment depends on the stylist and desired results, but generally the process takes several hours. First, hair is washed using a clarifying shampoo. Then, hair is curled using rods. Smaller rods create tighter curls. Next, the perming solution is applied to the rollers. After a set amount of time, the hairstylist applies a neutralizer to hair to reform the disulfide bonds and lock in the curl.

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Perm curler rods

While many people love the idea of having low-maintenance curls, there are some downsides to permanent hair curling. High temperatures and chemicals can cause damage and breakage to hair. Many salons won’t perform perms on lightened or colored hair, since the risk of breakage is too great.

The digital wave or hot perm is the latest development in permanent hair curling. The digital perm uses a diluted perm solution and curling wand to create natural-looking beach waves. Since the temperatures aren’t as high and the chemicals aren’t as strong, the digital perm is not as damaging for hair as a traditional perm. Digital perms are usually more expensive than traditional cold perms but the results can last longer, about six months or more.

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Digital perms give looser, more natural-looking waves. Results can last six months or more.

How to Care for Permanent Curls

  • After your perm treatment, wait at least three days before washing your hair and avoid coloring your hair for at least a month. This will help your curls to last longer, and limit the amount of stress placed on your hair.
  • Permed hair is prone to frizziness, so sleep on a silk pillowcase or wrap your hair in a silk scarf before bed to prevent friction and frizz. After washing your hair, remove excess water using a microfiber cloth or an old cotton t-shirt instead of a cotton towel, which can rough up the cuticle of the hair and cause more frizz.
  • Get your hair trimmed at least every three months to keep your curls bouncy and healthy-looking.
  • The chemicals in permanent hair solution can dry out your hair. Use a great conditioner like Viviscal Gorgeous Growth Hair Densifying Conditioner to moisturize your curls without weighing them down. Once a week, use a deep conditioning treatment to keep your curls looking healthy and shiny.
  • Styling a perm is super-easy. After all, that’s a huge part of the appeal! After washing your hair, gently detangle any knots with a wide-tooth comb. Add a small amount of Viviscal Gorgeous Growth Densifying Elixir to hair for added body. Then, scrunch hair with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Allow hair to air dry, or blow dry with a diffuser attachment to speed up drying time.
  • No matter which type of permanent hair curling you choose, your hair is bound to experience some damage. Keep your hair looking healthy and strong by using Viviscal Advanced Hair Health Supplements. They’re formulated with the vitamins and minerals your follicles need to grow healthy-looking hair from the inside out.*

Would you ever consider a perm? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!

Existing hair growth

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Gone are the days of the 80s one-size-fits-all perms.

The word ‘perm’ may conjure up big hair with tight ringlets worn by celebrities and everyday women of the 80s (one of your older female relatives probably rocked one for sure). The reason why the perm looked so similar among different women with different hair is because the styling technique was all the same, however, the perms of today use modern techniques to create everything from spirals to beach waves, bringing perms into the modern hair world.

What is a perm?

A beginner's guide to perms

Before getting into the thick of things, what is a perm? Whether old school or new school, a perm or permanent hair style uses chemicals to structurally change the texture of the hair. This means perms can take hair from straight to curly or curly to straight. There are several types of perms available today and they don’t all relate to hair. For example, a lash perm—like the name suggests—adds a curl or lift to your eyelashes for a few months long. 

A beginner's guide to perms

Other available hair perms that have become popular over the years include a digital perm and Japanese perm. Digital perms use a chemical process and heat styling to change the structure of your hair to add waves or curls, while Japanese or flat perms uses a special solution to straighten, smoothen and soften hair. There are even root or spot perms—as the name suggests the perm is concentrated at the roots (great for when your perm starts growing out) or focused on an area of the hair that needs more oomph, especially great for women with curly or wavy hair that want to add definition to the ends or mid-shaft of the hair. 

With so many options out there, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about the traditional curl or wave perm.

A beginner's guide to perms

Traditional perms vs. modern perms

Traditionally, stylists or at-home DIYers used plastic rods all over the head, wrapping the hair around the same slim, cylinder shape—meaning perms always transformed the hair from straight (or wavy) to tightly curled. After the rods were wrapped, a perm lotion was applied all over the rods to allow the curl to set. After allowing the lotion to sit for some time, it would be rinsed out, and blow dried out before putting in a neutralizing product. 

Today’s technique of perms have moved away from the traditional one-size plastic rod, where other materials can now be used and varying rod sizes are also available. The technique of wrapping hair around the rod, rollers or even fabric has also changed with the times allowing stylists to create S-waves and looser, beach waves.

This is the biggest differentiator between traditional and modern perms. The one size fits all approach no longer exists, and curls or waves can be created based on your hair type and style preference. A lot of women are also getting perms to help enhance their natural texture, giving their waves or curls more structure and life.

A beginner's guide to perms

How is a perm done?

Now that we’ve defined what is a perm and traditional vs. modern perms, let’s get into the ‘how’s’. Depending on your hair type, your stylist may start with softening and smoothing your natural hair texture, this is usually done for kinky, coily or very curly hair.  The hair is then wound into the perm rods, flexi rods, rollers or fabric pieces. This may be the most essential step as the way your hair is wrapped around the perm tool will determine the shape of your curls.

For instance, experts say to create a more natural, beach wave look, rods are placed in different directions. For bigger waves, rollers can be used to create that thicker, bouncy look. Once you and your stylist determine what kind of curl or wave you want they will be able to determine the best rod or roller to use and apply technique accordingly.

A beginner's guide to perms

Perm lotion is then applied which helps to deposit hydrogen to the hair’s structure, putting the hair in a state to change shape according to the shape of the rod and how the hair is wound in the rod. Depending on the length of your hair and the type of curl you’re trying to achieve, the rods and lotion can remain in the hair for anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour. So make sure your phone is charged up for your appointment or bring something else to do. Otherwise, take a little snooze and let the rods and lotion do its work.

Once the lotion and rods are removed, a neutralizing product is applied to the hair. The neutralizer helps to remove the hydrogen created from the previous step and adds oxygen. This process helps to fix the hair into its new shape. 

Finally blow dry, style, and embrace your new perm!


A beginner's guide to perms

How long is a perm appointment?

As the application and setting of the different products will vary, appointment time will also vary depending on your hair type and hair length. Give yourself at least 2 1/2 hours to get the perm done, but this can also be longer based on the above factors.

How long does a perm last?

The key question, and again how long a perm lasts varies depending on how fast your hair grows, your hair type and hair length. Perms in short hair can last 3 to 4 months, whereas perms in long hair can last 6 to 8 months. When your natural roots and texture start growing in this pushes the perm to the ends, this typically works great for long hair as women will then have waves throughout the mid-shaft and ends—a styled look. For short hair, texture may look uneven, weighing on how often you want to get a touch-up.

If you have shorter or mid-length hair and are looking for ways to add wavy or curly length and volume, clip in hair extensions are a great alternative between your perm appointments. Hair extensions can be easily styled and curled before applying and the waves or curls last for several days when the extensions are stored properly. If you have straight hair and want to go for a curly look, our clip in curly ponytail extensions are a great way to switch up your look before you are ready to make a full commitment. 


How you care for and style your perm will also impact how long your perm lasts.

A beginner's guide to perms

Perm care tips

  • Do let your hair mostly air-dry and use a diffuser to get it fully dried, to help maintain the curly or wavy texture. (Don’t forget your heat protectant!)
  • For other heat styling tools like curling irons, keep the temperature to a lower setting. High heat or heat damage will loosen the perm.
  • Invest in a wide tooth comb and ditch the traditional bristle brushes.
  • Use shampoo and conditioners that contain humectant and emollients and pick up products that are specifically made for curly or wavy hair.
  • Be weary of your hair ties! Don’t use rubber bands or ties that pull or break hair, invest in scrunchies or silk hair ties instead. 

  • Start a conditioning routine. When conditioner is applied, comb through with your wide tooth comb, after rinsing, gently towel dry your hair and let it sit. 

Treating your perm with care will not only help it last longer, but also keep your hair healthier. Even taking all the best precautions, this is still a chemical process that will impact the health of your hair.

One of the most common issues with permed hair is dryness. The chemicals used—while genius in how they can change the structure of your hair—also strips the hair of natural moisture. This is why conditioning is a big part of caring for your perm. Deep-conditioning treatments whether at home or at the salon help to replace moisture loss during the perm process and protein treatments monthly can also help protect your hair depending on your hair’s condition.

Frizzy hair is also a downfall of perms. Conditioning and hair masks can help to smoothen hair and add moisture to help keep curls locked in and healthy.

A beginner's guide to perms

Who should/shouldn’t get a perm?

Perms are possible for everyone and every hair type, but precautions and different processes have to be taken. For instance, for those with color-treated hair, perms should be considered with care. Depending on the hair type, perms may not hold as well in color-treated hair because of the products that have to be used and you don’t want to dry out or damage the hair with too many chemical processes. Those with color-treated or other chemically processed hair shouldn’t get perms if hair is damaged or too dried out. Instead, leave time between chemical-heavy appointments to allow the natural hair to regain its moisture and strength.

If you find yourself frequently curling your hair or loving the wavy look, give your curling iron a rest and consider a perm. Instead of putting your hair through heat styling and damage daily, a perm could help create the curls and wave you crave on the daily and last for several months. Despite the name having perm or “permanent” the styling treatment will not last longer than 8 months in most cases in which you can get back to your natural texture.

Ready to try a perm?

Perms have come a long way over the years, but the biggest change is being able to get the curls or waves unique to you. Our hair types and style preferences are so diverse that styling options should be the same. With the advancement of hair products and treatments, caring and styling for your perm is also easier than the perms of the past.

Written by: Rosalyn Solomon

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