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Are Perms Bad for Your Hair? Risks and Aftercare


Perms are now making their comeback as toned-down versions of the iconic overly-curled and brushed-up hairdos from the 1970s and 1980s. Who could forget Olivia Newton-John’s perm in Grease or Meg Ryan’s in When Harry Met Sally? But beyond their aesthetic, perms are difficult to achieve. Hairstylists use different chemicals and heating solutions, some of which damage the hair, just to create perms. This then begs the question: are perms bad for your hair? Let’s find out!

Table of Contents:

  • What is a perm?
  • How long does a perm last?
  • Is it risky to get a perm?
  • Effects of perms on different hair types
  • How should I maintain my perm?
  • What shampoos should I use to take care of my perm?

What is a perm?

A perm is short for “permanent hairstyle”. The name is pretty self-explanatory—someone with straight hair who wants to have curly hair can go through a thorough chemical process just to alter the structure of their crowning glory. Perms have existed as early as 1905 when German hairdresser Karl Nessler invented the spiral heat method. He applied sodium hydroxide caustic soda on his clients’ hair and wrapped it in a spiral around rods connected to his electric permanent wave machine.

Today, hairstylists achieve modern perms by using different tools, chemicals, and techniques. Celebrity hairstylist Anthony Cole, for instance, uses fabric or rollers to create different types of curls and waves on his clients’ hair.

How long does a perm last?

Despite its name, a perm does have an expiration depending on the style and hair type. For example, a digital perm lasts ​​for six to 12 months at a time, while a pin curl perm expires after three to six months. Having permanently styled hair does sound like a dream, but as your natural hair grows out and it becomes exposed to many external factors, perms will inevitably lose their structure.

Is it risky to get a perm?

As with any other hairstyling technique like blow-drying, perms aren’t so bad when done right. And when you compare it to bleaching, perming is safer to do. Nonetheless, the perming process poses just enough risks to hair health.

Hairstylists typically create and style perms using alcohol, boric acid, hydrogen peroxide, and ammonium thioglycolate, all of which open up the hair cuticles to easily restructure the hair. Your cuticles are the protective layer of your hair proteins, so exposing them to chemicals can weaken your hair. It may also be subject to complete damage if you perm your hair frequently.

According to professional hairstylist Trey Gillen, certain perms also pose great risks. Alkaline perms, for example, uses chemicals that are on the acid side of the pH scale, making it the most damaging perm process done to human hair. Acid perms, on the other hand, are often less damaging to hair strands but can cause allergic reactions to your scalp.

Lastly, perms are risky if you do them yourself, especially if you’re not a professional. There’s a reason why everyone turns to professional hairstylists. It takes skill to use various chemicals and equipment to achieve the perfect curls or waves, so leave it to your local hairstylist to alter the structure of your hair.

Effects of perms on different hair types

As any person who’s had a perm would say, perms don’t turn out the same for everyone because the result highly depends on hair texture and type. If you have any of the following hair types, choose wisely before deciding to get a perm:

  • Virgin hair: Perming virgin hair feels a lot like painting on a blank canvas—you get the best results because you don’t have to work on top of an existing picture. Perming virgin hair does the least damage compared to other types of hair.
  • Highlighted hair: If up to 40% of your hair is highlighted, you can expect some degree of damage when you subject it to a perm. Adding chemicals over already bleached hair can ruin your hair cuticles more and make your hair dry and frizzy. 
  • Dry hair: People with naturally dry hair may have a hard time maintaining a perm or choosing to get a perm at all. If your hair is already dry and brittle, consider going through reconditioning and moisturizing treatments before subjecting it to a thorough perming process.

How should I maintain my perm?

If you’ve already gotten yourself a perm, the best thing to do is maintain it properly and ensure that your hair stays healthy and nourished. 

The first that you can do directly after getting a perm is to not touch and wash your hair for 48 hours. Your hair has just been chemically restructured, making it more fragile than ever, so it would be best to leave it undisturbed for a while. Similarly, let your hair loose and avoid doing ponytails or buns. Your hair is already styled anyway. Why not let it be and boast about it?

Experts also recommend protecting your permed hair from the sun by wearing a light headscarf or hat, as UV rays may damage your hair further.

More importantly, use products that are specifically formulated to take care of perms. Ask your hairstylist what shampoo, conditioner, and hair masks they would recommend for you.

What shampoos should I use to take care of my perm?

When choosing shampoos and other hair care products for your perm, select those that have natural ingredients like aloe vera, shea butter, plant-based oils, fruit extracts, and leaf extracts because they have moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties.

You can select the following products:

Shampoos with humectants

Humectants naturally attract water molecules and bind them to human hair, which then makes hair softer, bouncier, more elastic, and less brittle. If you suffer from severely dry hair due to perming, be on the lookout for shampoos that have humectants as an ingredient.

WOW Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo and Conditioner

WOW Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo and Conditioner

Argan oil is rich in Vitamin E, which helps repair and strengthen hair that has been damaged by chemicals and over styling. To get the best results, pour a generous amount of WOW Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo onto your palm and scrub it onto your scalp and hair. Massage them for up to two minutes and leave the product on for another minute. After rinsing, apply a generous amount of WOW Moroccan Argan Oil Conditioner solely on your hair strands. Make sure to start from the ends and move up until two inches away from your scalp to avoid the production of excess oil. Let it sit for up to three minutes before rinsing it out.

Check out our other hair products such as hair oils, leave-in treatments, and hair masks to help you get smooth and healthy permed hair!

Radhika Bhatia

I'm a content writer, copywriter, and blogger with a background in marketing, planning, and eCommerce. I specialize in beauty writing, including skincare, cosmetics, wellness, aesthetics, and health. Classically trained and idea-savvy, I love living in the present.

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