Perms have been around for decades. We’ve all seen the photos of the classic 80s perms but they’re still around today. Nowadays, perms are just far more subtle and stylish, and can add a curl or wave to naturally straight hair.
If you’ve only ever heard of perms from the iconic finale scene in Legally Blonde, then we’re here to let you know exactly what a perm is, how long a perm lasts and how to maintain a perm to keep it as long as possible. So, what exactly is a perm?
What is a perm?
Perms have actually been around for over 100 years, with the first recorded long lasting, semi-permanent hair waving technique dating back to 1870! When we think of a perm, we often think of those tight, tight curls that our grandmas used to get done at the salon, or those big, poofy waves of the 1980s, but the modern perm is quite different, and far more stylish.
That being said, the process is pretty much the same. The term ‘perm’ is short for ‘permanent hairstyle’ as it is simply a chemical treatment that can alter the hair’s natural texture. For instance, the most common perm is created with straight hair, which is chemically processed so that it becomes curly.
This is often done by wrapping straight hair into rollers to create the curl or wave, and then applying the ‘perming’ solution to the hair. Other methods involve wrapping the hair around rods, applying the solution and then heating the rods to activate the perming process.
Once done, a perm can last a very long time, hence the name ‘permanent’, as it has restructured your natural hair texture and changed it to a more wavy or curly texture.
What types of perm are there?
Perms used to be very tight and crunchy and were done with small rods, with very small curls all over the head that could look slightly unnatural. Nowadays, stylists may use a range of different sized rollers to give you a more natural, loose curls or beachy waves rather than pin curls or noodle curls.
Whichever type of curl size you prefer, there are two types of perming processes and methods, digital and ceramic. Both methods involve applying the perming chemicals to the hair to break and reform the bonds of your hair so that it can be restyled in your desired texture.
The digital method is often referred to as hot perming, as it involves heated rods to mold the hair into the desired shape, before it is covered in the acidic perming solution to break the bonds of your hair and reform it into the naturally curled shape.
On the other hand, you have the ceramic method, or the cold perm method, which is less damaging as there is no heat involved, and the perming solution is alkaline for tighter curls.
How long does a perm last?
If you are considering getting a perm, then you will need to know what to expect. Perms do not come cheap, and you can find yourself sitting in that salon chair for hours waiting for the process to complete, so you’ll want to ensure that it lasts long enough for you to get your money’s worth. So, how long does a perm last?
Well, for the most part, a perm will typically last anywhere from three to six months depending on your hair type, texture and how well you look after your perm and maintain it. However, there is a reason it is called a ‘perm’, as sometimes they can seem permanent.
Perms are created by heating or covering the hair in chemicals to break down the protein bonds in the hair follicles and the hair strand, so that it can be ‘permanently styled’ with waves or curls.
Whilst the curls or waves may drop and fall out after six months, the hair has been chemically altered and restructured, so the full effects of the perm may never fade away, and you may have to wait for the perm to grow out, especially if not done by a professional, as the hair follicle can become damaged if not applied carefully and properly.
Related: Can you sleep on your new perm?
What can affect your perm’s longevity?
If you want your perm to last for as long as possible, then you will need to care for and maintain the hair properly. One of the best ways to keep a perm in the best shape is to follow the aftercare advice to the best of your ability.
As Elle Woods says in Legally Blonde; ‘the first cardinal rule of perm maintenance is that you’re forbidden to wet your hair for at least 24 hours after getting a perm’ as it could deactivate the perming chemicals, so you will need to avoid washing your hair soon after having a perm done.
Other factors that can affect your perm’s longevity are if your perm is not applied by a professional. Poor styling will give you poor results, so make sure you do your research before choosing a hair stylist to complete your appointment.
You will also want to avoid using heat tools or over-styling the hair after having a perm as this can damage the curls and make them fade more quickly. In addition, make sure that you use gentle hair cleansing products as those containing alcohol or silicone can damage the perm.
For the best results, avoid swimming in chlorinated water, over-washing the hair, or using a flat iron, curling iron or blow dryer for at least 48 hours after having the perm. You should also try not to brush or pull on the hair until a few days after having your perm so that it can settle.
By being gentle and taking good care of your permed hair, you can ensure that the curls last for at least six months or longer!
To summarize, a perm is a chemical treatment that restructures and redefines the natural hair texture, to make it a different style such as curlier or wavier. Perms involve wrapping straight hair around barrels and rods, before applying the permanent solution that can break down the follicle bonds, so that they can be manipulated into the new shape, and remain that way permanently. For the most part, when done by a professional and all aftercare advice is followed, a perm can last anywhere from three months to six months.