A Definitive Guide to All Types of Perms (2024)

During the ‘80s, tight, springy curls achieved via perms were everywhere. In the ’90s, they took a backseat to straighter styles and treatments, but they’re back and better than ever. With more curl-creating variations available today than in years past, there’s a type of perm for nearly every imaginable wave or curl and hair type and texture.

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Tatiana Dudley, Moroccanoil hair stylist ambassador, says that the modern-day perm, which still relies on chemicals to alter the texture and shape, is milder, less damaging, and comes with less processing time compared to perms from the ’70s and ’80s. “Today’s perms are all about conditioning with new products to help protect the hair’s health.” Even celebrities like Katie Holmes and Emma Stone have been known to sport a perm for bodacious curls and waves that look natural. Below, find everything you need to know about all types of perms.

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How Perms Work

The perm is one of the longest-standing hair treatments that continues to evolve. "A perm is short for permanent," says celebrity stylist for Living Proof Ursula Stephen. "The process permanently waves or curls the hair using chemicals and rods to add life, body, and texture to fine hair. If someone's hair is too straight, flat, limp, or doesn't hold a curl, I may recommend a perm as a styling option."

Lisa Estridge, color and perm specialist at Eliut Salon, adds that for a perm to work its curl-creating magic, the solution must utilize specific chemicals to change the hair's texture and curl pattern from the straightest of straight to curly or wavy by following the shape of the rods or rollers used.

Different Types of Perms

While you may think all types of perms are the same from one to the next, they're not. The curl or wave you want, along with your natural hair type, dictates the perm that will work best. Dudley says spiral perms, body waves, and beach wave perms are trending for straight hair. "They look more like a natural wave or curl, which is why they're popular."

Perms can also be classified as cold or hot, which equates to how the perm solution sets. Dudley explains that cold or alkaline perms don't use heat during processing but rather an alkaline solution that coats the hair after being wrapped around a rod. "Cold perms result in tighter, more defined curls, much like the curly perms of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. They are also better suited for unprocessed medium or coarse hair, adding volume, or creating tighter, more defined curls." On the other hand, Estridge says that hot perms, also called acid perms, rely on heat to activate the perm and can often be used on a softer curl.

1. Spiral Perm

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Best for shoulder-length hair or longer. Dudley says spiral perms create various-sized tight curls at different lengths by wrapping the hair vertically around rods. "Anyone with curly or fine low-density hair can get a spiral perm because it immediately adds volume with tight ringlet curls."

2. Digital Perm

Unlike other perms, the digital perm utilizes infrared heat through space-age temperature-controlled rods for a mix of natural-looking waves and tighter curls with a hint of added volume. It is suitable for all hairstyles. Dudley adds that the curls are most defined when dry and loose when wet.

3. Body Wave

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For the loosest curl that boasts a natural wave, choose a body wave, which employs larger rods and a milder perm solution. They also add texture and volume to straighter hair that typically can’t hold a curl. Estridge says body wave perms are good for creating a soft wave or bend in any hair type.

4. Beach Waves Perm

If loose, messy, beachy waves are your favorite curls, opt for a beach perm. “It uses foam rollers rather than traditional perm rods to wrap the hair loosely for a soft wave,” Dudley explains. “Typically, beach perms also use a milder perm solution.”

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5. Root Perm

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A root perm adds volume a few inches off the root on straighter hair. Whether done on natural hair or as an add-on to already permed hair, a root perm can also help control frizz along the hairline.

6. Pin-Curl Perm

Ideal for all hair types, especially shorter hair, a pin curl perm creates a soft, loose wave by wrapping the hair around pins instead of rods for bouncy, springy curls. Longer, larger rods lend less of a tight curl pattern, while shorter, smaller rods make for a tighter curl.

7. Partial/ Spot Perm

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Estridge says partial or spot perms can treat a particular area or section of the hair, usually the top. They're beneficial for making natural curls appear more symmetrical from one side of the head to the other so everything seamlessly blends in better.

8. Relaxer

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To reverse a frizzy or very curly pattern, a relaxer, or straight perm, uses a chemical-based solution without rods, pins, or rollers to smooth out curled and textured hair. The application process differs from curl-inducing perms, making for much lengthier hair treatment with the downside of creating a lot of damage (that's why more people opt for keratin treatments).

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9. Stack Perm

A stack perm creates more of a shaggy wave with most of the texture running from the middle of the hair down to the ends. "It uses wooden sticks that are used on the hair starting at the bottom to treat the ends," Estridge explains. Your stylist can also apply it closer to the root for more volume, or the roots can be left alone for a straighter look.

10. Multi-Textured Perm

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For the most natural-looking curls that aren't uniform or obvious, a multi-textured perm creates curls of varying textures by combining different-sized rollers and rods. The result is a mix of tight curls and loose waves for a natural-looking curl pattern that resembles naturally wavy hair.

11. Volumizing Perm

Good for all hair types and lengths, the volumizing perm does what its name says: it adds volume. An array of rod sizes is used throughout the hair to boost volume through a very relaxed wave.

The Pros and Cons of a Perm

Transforming pin-straight hair into cascades of natural-looking curls and waves with added volume and fullness has never been easier—and safer—than with a modern perm. But even though perms have gotten better and are safer, they still rely on strong chemicals, like ammonium thioglycolate, to break the hair's bonds and alter its natural shape, which can lead to dryness, some damage, and potentially breakage. "There's also the potential for over-processing the hair at touch-up appointments as well as dry hair that's more prone to breakage," Dudley explains.

Still, a perm will add volume and shave time off your regular haircare routine due to its wash-and-go capabilities, says Dudley. Although all types of perms don't last forever despite their name, on average, you can expect their effects to stick around for three to six months, depending on your hair type, length, perm type, and how you care for your hair.

Unlike hair color, which washes or fades away, a perm doesn't. The effects of a perm grows out as new hair grows in. For the most part, the regrowth transitions into a nice wave.

How to Choose the Right Perm for Your Hair Type

Before you go down a rabbit hole trying to figure out which perm is suitable for your hair type, Estridge says to consult a perm specialist to see which one is right for your hair. It's important to consider the hair's texture, length, health, and porosity, as well as the type of curl or wave you are looking to achieve, to find the right perm. Perms are rather tricky to do at home yourself, so this is one hair treatment that's best left to the experts.

The Perming Process, Explained

On the days leading up to a perm, it's best to prep the hair as much as possible so it takes well to the service. Estridge has her clients condition their hair for one to two weeks before a perm to get it in optimal health, while Dudley recommends washing with Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo ($26) the day before a perm to thoroughly clean the hair. "If there is build-up on the hair, it can prevent the perm solution from taking and result in a less desirable outcome. Just be mindful not to over rub or scratch the scalp, which could result in irritation, burning, and pain during the perm."

Different types of perms use different-sized rods, rollers, and specific chemical-based solutions to achieve the desired effect. No matter the perm type, the steps are relatively the same. Estridge says all perms start with shampooing the hair with a clarifying shampoo. "Then, the perm has to be wrapped with the solution before it is applied to the hair," she says. "If I'm using a hot perm, the head goes under a heat dryer, but not if it's a cold perm." Then, after the perm is set, it is rinsed out and towel-dried. Finally, she says, a neutralizer is applied for five minutes, the rods are removed, and the hair is rinsed again. From start to finish, the entire perming process can last upwards of two hours, if not longer.

Maintaining Your Curls

To maintain the curl's shape, do not wash or wet the hair, apply heat, or brush it for at least 72 hours after it is permed to allow the hair to set. While it's perfectly safe to color and highlight permed hair, Dudley says not to color it for a bit after a perm. It's best to give the hair at least four to six weeks to heal between perming and coloring it.

To keep the hair feeling soft and shiny, wash it with gentle, sulfate-free moisturizing shampoos like Ouidad Moisture Restoring Shampoo ($30) and conditioners such as CurlSmith Essential Moisture Conditioner ($26), along with weekly deep conditioning or oil treatments to help mitigate dry ends. Stephen suggests avoiding heat styling with a perm and using a wearable treatment like Triple Bond Complex by Living Proof ($45). "It helps strengthen the hair, making it resistant to future damage, and leaves the hair feeling soft and smooth," she adds. She also recommends always using a wide tooth comb on the hair instead of a brush. Finally, Dudley says regular trims for length retention are necessary since curly hair can often hide damage and breakage in the hair.

I'm Tatiana Dudley, a hairstylist and Moroccanoil ambassador with extensive expertise in hair care and styling. My experience includes working with various clients, including celebrities like Katie Holmes and Emma Stone, who have embraced the modern-day perm for its versatility and gentle approach. As a professional in the field, I've witnessed the evolution of perms over the years and can attest to the advancements in technology and products that have made them milder, less damaging, and more efficient.

The article discusses the resurgence of perms in the 21st century, highlighting the various types and techniques available today. Let's break down the concepts used in the article:

1. Perm Basics and Evolution:

  • A perm is short for permanent, a chemical treatment that adds curls or waves to the hair.
  • Chemicals and rods are used to alter the hair's texture and curl pattern.
  • Modern perms are milder, less damaging, and have shorter processing times compared to those in the '70s and '80s.

2. Different Types of Perms:

  • Spiral Perm:
    • Best for shoulder-length hair or longer, creating tight curls of various sizes.
  • Digital Perm:
    • Uses infrared heat for natural-looking waves and tighter curls.
  • Body Wave:
    • Creates loose curls with larger rods and a milder perm solution.
  • Beach Waves Perm:
    • Utilizes foam rollers for loose, beachy waves with a milder perm solution.
  • Root Perm:
    • Adds volume a few inches off the root on straighter hair.
  • Pin-Curl Perm:
    • Ideal for all hair types, especially shorter hair, creating soft, bouncy curls.
  • Partial/Spot Perm:
    • Treats a specific area or section of the hair.
  • Relaxer:
    • Straightens and smoothes out curled and textured hair using a chemical-based solution.

3. Specialized Perms:

  • Stack Perm:
    • Creates a shaggy wave with texture concentrated from the middle to the ends.
  • Multi-Textured Perm:
    • Combines different-sized rollers and rods for natural-looking curls of varying textures.
  • Volumizing Perm:
    • Adds volume through a relaxed wave using various rod sizes.

4. Pros and Cons of Perms:

  • Perms add volume and reduce styling time but rely on strong chemicals, potentially causing dryness and damage.
  • Effects last for three to six months, depending on various factors.

5. Choosing the Right Perm:

  • Consult a perm specialist considering hair texture, length, health, and desired curl or wave type.
  • Perms are best left to experts, as they are challenging to do at home.

6. Perming Process:

  • Preparing hair with conditioning before the perm.
  • Shampooing with a clarifying shampoo, applying perm solution, setting with or without heat, rinsing, neutralizing, and removing rods.
  • The entire process can last over two hours.

7. Maintaining Permed Hair:

  • Avoid washing, applying heat, or brushing for 72 hours after a perm.
  • Wait at least four to six weeks before coloring permed hair.
  • Use sulfate-free moisturizing shampoos, deep conditioning, and regular trims for maintenance.

As a seasoned professional, I encourage individuals to explore the world of modern perms with a clear understanding of the options available and careful consideration of their hair type and preferences.

A Definitive Guide to All Types of Perms (2024)
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