How to Get a Modern Perm Hairstyle for Stylish Waves or Curls?

Medium Length Hair Straight vs Permed

Possibly the coolest comeback trend ever is the return of perm hair. There is a definite buzz around what the modern perm can do for women wanting an exciting new look.

As a specialist in the perming process, I’m seeing a huge number of new clients come through the door for perm treatments. We’ve all heard the perm stories from the ’80s (some not so good!), but it’s now finally time for us to embrace a new generation of modern perms with beautiful results.

What Is a Perm?

A perm is a curly or wavy style, created by rolling the hair around perm rods and applying heat to that. Before you start, the hair has to be prepped by washing it with a sulfate-free shampoo. Then, the wet hair is wrapped around your chosen rods. Once the hair is rolled up, two products are applied — a perm lotion and neutralizer, which will work together to set the hair into a new shape. The total processing time is around an hour and a half to two and a half hours from start to finish, depending on the length and thickness of the hair.

What Are Different Perming Methods?

Nowadays, there are a few different ways of perming hair, which results in a variety of perm hairstyles. You can have a traditional perm explained above, with less hush, modern products being used to achieve the result. One option here is getting a loose beachy texture if you want some permanent wave in straight hair:

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Beach Waves Perm Before and After

Instagram / @malloryonhair

Another is getting a bouncy and voluminous curly perm – a great choice if you dye for a trendy curly shag cut. Such tight, corkscrew curls are also called spiral perm.

Spiral Perm Hairstyle

Instagram / @rebeccaforsyth

There is also a digital perm or hot method of perming. This involves wrapping the hair around digitally heated rods and using a perm solution to set the curls. This method is extremely popular in a number of countries, including Japan and South Korea, and it is good for adding body waves and movement to only the bottom of the hair.

Digital Perm Waves

Instagram / @hairloungenyc

How Do Modern Perms Differ from Perms of the Past?

There’s a big difference between modern perms and the ones of our grandmother’s generation. Today, modern techniques are used, alongside the latest perm solution technology. Rather than wrapping hair around those very small, hard plastic rods, we now use larger, flexible foam rods, which come in all different sizes.

This results in curls and waves that are less uniform (not all the same size and all going in different directions) and instead are much more natural and believable. No two curls or waves turn out the same. The modern perm lotion is much softer on the hair, plus the product I always use is ammonia-free. Without ammonia, the perming product cannot penetrate the hair so deeply, so the perms don’t actually last as long as they used to. It’s more of a semi-permanent perm, which has been a big attraction for my first-time clients.

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Side Swept Red Perms

Instagram / @lily.colour

How Long Does Hair Perm Last?

The perms usually last between two to 10 months, depending on which perm you go for and how well you take care of your permed hair. The best way to take care of permed hair is to be very gentle for the first three days, and that includes no washing or tying up. During those first few days, the perm is still setting, so it’s best to leave the hair down to avoid kinks.

It’s always a good idea to have your hair cut before you get a perm, to trim the ends and add some long layers into the hair length. The layers will create movement and will make long hair less heavy, which will help perms hold longer, as the curls and waves won’t be weighed down so much.

Do Perms Suit All Types of Hair?

Perms work for all hair types and any hair length, on the condition that the hair follicles are not severely damaged by bleach or heat styling tools. Perm is a chemical solution that intervenes with your natural texture, so you’d like to start with healthy locks (more on that later).

The perm is great for those with flat straight hair texture who want more volume and movement. It will totally change their look and is a fun switch from the hair they’ve had their whole lives. A perfect candidate is someone with virgin hair who has never really been into hair color but spends a lot of time either using a curling iron or sleeping in plaits to create waves and texture.

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Perms are also great for those who have wavy or curly hair, which curl pattern has dropped over time. Perms work amazing for putting the bounce back into the hair, so they can recreate tighter curls from their childhood.

If you normally tint your hair, I would suggest coloring either two weeks before or two weeks after you get a perm. Unfortunately, the perm doesn’t work on overly bleached hair, so if you’ve had lots of highlights in the last five years it’s probably not the right treatment for you. Still, with the right repairing treatments, everything is possible.

Short Bleach Blonde Hair Straight and Permed

Instagram / @makarenairina

If you have hair that’s prone to lots of frizz, which you want to get rid of, then I would suggest a Keratin blow-dry instead of a perm. Curly hair type is naturally frizzy, so you need to learn to treat it the right way and embrace a certain amount of frizz, too. That’s an important thing anyone getting perm hair should be aware of.

Permed Lob with Bangs

Instagram / @lily.colour

Do Perms Damage Your Hair?

Not surprisingly, this is a question I get asked a lot. There will be no damage to the hair as long as the hair is in good condition to start with. I always have a consultation with my clients first to check the health and structure of the hair. If the hair follicle is weakened, perms won’t be lovely and bouncy like it’s supposed to be, and it may cause further damage.

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I definitely don’t recommend home perm kits. It’s a very fiddly and complicated process, and if either product is left on for too long or not rinsed off properly, then you risk damage to the hair, as well as ending up with perms that you hate. It’s much better to have the perm done by a professional and get the results you want.

Lob With Semi Permanent Perm

Instagram / @modernsalon

How to Take Care of Permed Hair Texture?

The shower is always the best time to comb your hair, once you have perms. Before you rinse off the conditioner, comb through the hair using your fingers or a wide-toothed comb to separate the curls and tease out any knots. Once you are out of the shower, comb through your hair with your fingers again while you apply you`r styling products, and then spend a few minutes scrunching the hair upward to make the curls bouncy.

Long Bob Before and After Modern Perm

Instagram / @medinahair204

It’s important to avoid brushing when the hair is dry; the curls will lose their definition and become frizzy (as most natural curlyheads know). Most of my clients leave their perm to air dry after washing, but you can also use a diffuser on a low speed and heat setting. Tip your head upside down, and cup the hair up into the plastic diffuser to dry. Try to avoid blasting the hair using a hairdryer with no diffuser, as this will make perms big and fluffy. Not a good look!

What Are the Best Products for Permed Hair?

Here’s a list of products I recommend to keep your perms in great condition:

  • Aveda “Be Curly” Curl Enhancer. Apply a small amount to hair after scrunching dry with a T-shirt or towel. Scrunch into hair in an upward motion and leave it to do its curl-enhancing magic.
  • Kiehl’s Silk Groom Serum. A great portable product to keep in your bag for use during the day if any curls or waves get a bit flyaway. Rub a small bit between palms and smooth down the hair.
  • L’Oréal TECNI.ART “Fix Anti-Frizz” Hairspray. Once your perms are dry and looking great, spray a layer of this all over the top to seal the moisture and keep hair frizz-free in humid weather.
  • Twisted Sista 30-Second Curl Spray. When you wake up in the morning, the hair can sometimes be a bit flat, so spray this onto dry hair to revive the curls and bring the perms back to life.
  • Slip Silk Pillowcase. Everyone should have a silk pillowcase. They’re so good for the skin and hair, and it will help keep your perms in top condition while you’re dreaming of your next holiday.
  • Organic Color System “Keep Curl” Shampoo and Conditioner. With an amazing range for permed hair, both products are sulfate-free and contain gluten-free wheat protein that is great for moisture and shine.

Next time you’re looking to change up your style, the modern perm could well be the way to go. Follow my pages @permedhair & @lily.colour to see all the latest in perming techniques and hair tips. DM me on Instagram, where I offer free international online consultations for those who would like to see what the modern perm can do for them.

Featured image by @medinahair204

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