Is a Perm Right for You?

The hot new trend in hair isn’t exactly “new”. When you hear the word “perm“, you might picture 80s movies and your mom’s high school pictures. Perhaps you, yourself, were a victim of a crunchy, frizzy perm. Alternatively, you might picture stick-straight hair with broken ends and no movement.

Nowadays, perms can be customized in many different ways including the curl or wave pattern, the amount of curl reduction, personal style, and chemicals used to create a variety of fun and trendy outcomes. If you decide you want to get a perm, there are some things you should know and consider before you commit.

What is a Perm?

The term “perm” refers to a chemical process that shifts the actual bonds of the hair in order to either make straight hair curl or curly hair straight. In this article, we’ll be using the word “perm” specifically to talk about perms that create curls.

Although there are many varieties available, the two most common types of perms are cold perms and digital perms.

Cold Perms

Cold perms get their name because the solution does not require additional heat to process. Instead, they rely solely on the chemical reaction and heat from the scalp to alter the hair bonds into their new curly configuration.

This method offers a gentler approach to achieving curls or waves, and it is suitable for individuals who prefer to avoid the potential damage associated with heat styling.

Digital Perms

Digital perming is a technique that uses hot rods with temperature-regulated settings providing more precise control. This process involves digitally controlled heating of the rods which helps to create consistent curls from top to bottom.

While digital perming is not new, it has gained popularity recently in Asian countries due to its long lasting results and ability to penetrate a thicker hair cuticle.

Typical salons in the United States offer cold perms and other variations of perm chemicals that require similar processes. However, specialty salons have started to offer digital perms as well.

What Does a Perm Look Like?

Perm inspiration for women with short hair
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When deciding whether or not to get a perm, it is important to have realistic expectations. Some pictures online, even if they claim to represent a perm, are actually created with a hot iron, a blow dryer or roller set, or even natural curl. While there are many different types of perms, typically a perm is going to create a natural texture and can range from tight curls to beachy waves.

What Type of Hair is Best for a Perm?

With today’s technology, almost any type of hair is suitable for a perm. Perms can add movement to straight hair, provide uniformity to curly hair, or loosen coily hair. They can create bouncy ringlets or simply enhance volume.

Stylists analyze many factors of their guest’s hair such as density, texture, elasticity, porosity, and and naturally existing growth patterns such as cowlicks. They then use that information while keeping in mind the end result to better customize their process.

Guests with hair that has poor elasticity, excessive porosity, chemical or physical damage, or a history with bleach, henna, or relaxers should take precaution before getting a perm. If a stylist has concerns over the state of a guest’s hair, they may perform a strand test before starting the service to make sure it will not cause excessive damage.

The best way to make sure your hair is right for a perm is to have a consultation with a stylist and follow their advice.

What to Expect

In this article, we are going to talk about what to expect when you get a cold perm. If you’d like more information on digital perms, check out this blog post from Three Degrees Salon.


The first step of any service is the consultation. The purpose of a consultation is to discuss hair history, analyze hair in its current state, and talk about desired results and realistic expectations. It’s important to be honest and transparent about your hair history so that your stylist can give you the best possible result and avoid undesired outcomes.

Patch Test

If it’s your first time getting a perm or if you’ve made changes to your hair since your last perm, your stylist may elect to perform a patch test or test strand. These tests involve exposing a hair strand to the waving solution or perming a small section on the head to determine if the hair is suitable for a perm. This is an important step to make sure the hair will take to the perm and will not succumb to excessive damage or breakage.

Wrap It Up

Once assessed, hair is washed and then wrapped around rods that are typically cylindrical in shape. Rod size and shape are determined based on the length of the hair and the type of wave desired.

A diagram of the chemical reaction inside the hair during a perm

Perm Solution

Once securely wrapped in rods, the stylist will apply a waving solution to the hair. The type of solution depends on the specific hair needs, but the purpose of this first solution is to break the disulfide bonds in the hair shaft in order to reform them into a new shape. The solution will sit on the head until the hair begins to take the shape of the rod. Processing time differs between solutions.

Rinse and Neutralize

Once the initial solution has processed, the stylist will rinse the hair thoroughly and apply a neutralizing solution. This solution serves to reform the protein bonds into their new shape. Hair is rinsed once more after the neutralizer finishes processing.


The final step of the perm process is styling the hair. Your stylist can recommend appropriate styling products and techniques for your new hair texture. A haircut may also be scheduled after the perm to adjust the shape and trim off old ends.

Upkeep and Aftercare

At-home maintenance is crucial to keep your new perm looking its best. Here are some important aftercare tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t wet your hair for at least 48 hours after your service. Waiting 48 hours post-perm is crucial for the chemical process and hair structure to set. Wetting the hair too soon risks disrupting this process, potentially causing uneven curls or even a loss of the perm. Avoid steam and heavy sweating during this period as well.
  • Use quality products. Look for salon-quality shampoo and conditioner without sulfates. Sulfates act as a detergent and can be too harsh on chemically treated hair. Opt for sulfate-free products to avoid excessive dryness and damage.
  • Choose the right styling products. Choosing a styling product may involve some trial and error. Generally, opt for salon-quality hydrating products that aid in curl definition, provide hold, and reduce frizz, such as curl cream, hair oils, or soft hold gels. If a product feels too heavy, switch to something lighter, and if you need more frizz control, try a slightly heavier option.
  • Deep condition. Like most chemical services, perming can cause some damage to the hair. In order to mitigate this damage, as well as keep your new waves bouncy and moisturized, get frequent deep conditioning treatments to replace moisture and nutrients.
  • Get regular haircuts. Haircuts also help maintain the health of your permed hair. Beyond that, you may need to adjust the shape of your hair in order to suit your new hair texture.
  • Use Less Heat. To reduce the chance of further damage to chemically treated hair, try cutting back on heat when styling. If cutting back isn’t an option, turn down the temperature on your irons and utilize salon-quality heat protectant products.
  • Avoid Mechanical Damage. Exposing hair to excess friction causes mechanical damage. Avoid this by using a wide tooth comb or wet brush to detangle hair. Vary the location of ponytails to avoid repeated tugging in one spot. Utilize silk or satin pillowcases and scrunchies for even less friction, and consider swapping out a t-shirt instead of a towel when drying hair after a shower.


Is a perm actually permanent?

A perm involves changing the protein bonds in the individual hair shaft. For this reason, a perm lasts until the hair grows out. The texture may soften and loosen as time goes on. Perms do not change how the hair grows from the scalp, therefore the hair that grows after getting a perm will be your natural texture.

Will a perm damage my hair?

Perms involve the use of chemicals to alter the hair’s structure, and while modern formulas are less damaging some damage may occur. Proper care, such as deep conditioning, can help minimize damage.

Can I color my hair with a perm?

While combining salon hair color and perms is typically safe, there are some general guidelines to follow. If your hair is in good condition, your stylist may be able to color your hair on the same day as getting a perm. If hair has excessive damage, your stylist may recommend you wait a couple weeks in between perming and coloring in order to introduce nutrients back into your hair with leave-in conditioning products.

At-home hair color can be more unpredictable and is typically harsher on the hair and therefore may not combine well with a perm

Coloring hair before a perming service is generally not advised as the perm solution opens up the cuticle of the hair shaft which can cause artificial color molecules to escape. This may cause fading to your color.

Can I bleach my hair with a perm?

It is not typically recommended to combine bleach and perms as both services weaken the hair shaft. Combining the two may cause excessive damage and breakage. Refer to your stylist to determine if your hair is healthy enough to bleach after perming.

Can I swim with a perm?

Chlorine and saltwater can be harsh on most chemically treated hair. It’s recommended to wear a swim cap to protect the curls and rinse the hair with clean water before swimming in order to minimize damage.   Apply conditioner to wet hair before placing it under a swim cap to provide an added layer of protection.

How often will I need to get my perm touched up?

The frequency of touch-ups depends on many factors such as speed of hair growth, perm type, and personal preference. A perm will typically need a touch up within 3-6 months. You can extend the life of your perm with healthy at home maintenance such as salon-quality products and gentle styling.

Where can I get a perm?

Perms are an integral part of our beauty school curriculum at Atelier Academy, and with their growing popularity, our students are gaining valuable experience. Our students are well-versed in a range of perm styles and practice on various hair lengths and textures.

If you’re considering a perm, let our skilled students be your guides. Under the supervision of expert instructors, they will create a customized perm tailored to your vision. When you’re ready to book, visit our online booking page or give us a call at 952-283-2770 for an appointment.

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