Why You Should Seriously Consider Getting A Perm

If you picture perms as tight, crunchy late-'80s curls, you haven't seen my hair.
Publish date:
January 22, 2014
wavy hair, chemical services, perms, hair treatments, hairstyles, Arrojo, waves

I’m just going to put this out there and say that I get
compliments on my hair quite a bit. After the initial flattery, however, I have a bit
of guilt over the fact that this is not how my hair grows out of my
head naturally. I’ve pretty much doused it in chemicals to do that whole
mermaid-y wavy thing. Part of me wants to say, “Thanks! But you
should really be complimenting the stylist who permed my hair!”

I get a lot of trout-mouthed expressions followed by “Shut
up!” and “Get out!” when I tell people that I have a perm in my hair because
they’re like “Really? But it looks so natural! It’s not all cork-screwy and
kinky at all!”

The amount of people I come in contact with who
have intrinsic knowledge of the results of horrible perms floors me.
It’s 2014 and I’m already starting to make references that people don’t know,
my perm being one of them. Hairstyling technology
has surpassed that of Raggedy Ann and can now offer you the ability to change
your hair’s texture, almost any way you want. Ain’t living in the future just
the best?

I’ve had a perm in my hair since about 2010.
Naturally, my hair is really thick, a little coarse, and indecisively straight
or wavy. Basically, if I keep it long, my hair will appear mostly straight with
some wonky bend at the bottom. If I keep it short, the ends will kick out, all
soccer-mommy-like. Seriously, even if I flat-iron it, my hair will defy all the
ceramic heat devices in the world to still bend slightly at the ends in some
infuriating way. Why won’t you OBEY ME, hair?

Once I realized that there are processes
that can alter hair’s texture permanently to do what I want, I thought, “I’ll
show you, hair!”

On top of being thick and stubborn, my hair can take a lot
of thrashing. She’s a tough old bird, that mop on my dome. It grows rather
quickly, so I’m never too afraid to try extreme processes on my hair. Worse
comes to worst, it’ll grow out, right?

Well, one professional perm later and I wished it wouldn’t.

This is definitely NOT something I
recommend doing at home ever. Those store-bought kits have pretty crude
chemicals that do the trick, but are awfully damaging. I mean, either way
you’re still damaging your hair, being that you’re literally restructuring
their natural pattern, but it makes a huge difference using the high quality
professional-grade chemicals. Not only are they gentler on your hair, they
don’t smell quite as toxic either. Anyone who’s been victim to an at-home perm
knows that breathing those fumes in feels like chemical warfare. Also, the
kinds of rods or curlers you use will effect how cork-screwy or wavy your perm
turns out.

I was lucky enough to have my friend at Arrojo perm me (I
know, I know, I’m always name-dropping Arrojo, but it’s like literally the only
beauty hookup I have, so you better believe I’m going to milk that. They’ve
never disappointed yet!), using their American Wave formula. I’m not sure if
that’s a salon-branding thing, the “American-ness” of it, but the process
claims that it’s the gentlest way to perm hair to achieve soft, natural-looking
waves. This is probably the most patriotic thing I’ve done to my hair and
honestly, I can’t complain.

I was in the salon for maybe three hours tops. I happen to
have a LOT of hair, so it required more rods and more hair-rolling. It’s the
hair-rolling that is the most time-consuming, I think. They use flexi-rods in
varying thickness to achieve waves. Then I sat there, looking like some
cyber-Medusa for about 20 to 30 minutes, and it’s rinse and dry. So simple for

As I’m sure you’ve learned from Elle Woods, you’re not
supposed to get your hair wet for two to three days (or longer, if you can stand it--I
enjoy a good challenge), and then wash with color-safe shampoos and
conditioners. I’ll admit, when my hair met its first perm, it did seem a bit “shocked,” appearing to be waved at attention at all times. After the
first wash, though, it calmed a bit and the waves softened to be more natural-looking
and less of an intentionally styled texture.

Perms are, for the most part, permanent. They do kind of fade
after eight to 12 months, loosening after much washing and heat-styling, no doubt. I’d
get my hair re-waved after about a year, but if I hadn’t, I don’t think it
would’ve been a huge let-down. I could still towel-dry my hair, add a little
curl cream and air-dry for perfect mermaid-y hair. Let me tell you, once you go
wash-and-go, it’s realllly hard to go back to vigorous styling after every

So, how exactly does a perm work?

In layman’s terms, you put chemicals/acid
on your hair, fry the crap out of it and scare it into shape… said no salon
ever. But really, not to scare you from doing the tattoo of hair-modification,
it’s not as frightening as that.

Your hair is a tri-layered tube, pretty much.
The cortex is the center, surrounded by the medulla, and encased by the
cuticle. All of these are made up of proteins. The medulla contains the side
bonds of the hair, which is what determines its texture. There’s salt, hydrogen
and disulfide bonds.

The salt and hydrogen bonds, while most plentiful, are also
the weakest bonds. The disulfide bonds are the ones that get changed in a perm.
You know how wet hair seems to have the same “wet” texture? Well, water breaks
those bonds pretty damn easily. When you perm it, the chemicals break down
those side bonds on already-wet hair, then you wrap it around a thing (like a
flexi-rod, for instance) and the bonds physically reset to retain the
shape of that object. It loosens with the weight of hair, and that’s how you
get waves rather than tight curls. Not so scary, right?

This process isn’t recommended for those with
double-processed or extremely heat-damaged hair. Virgin hair works best, of
course, but I had some color in my hair from a dye job about a
year before my first pro perm, and it was totally fine.

The last perm I had happened about 14 months ago, and after
a couple trims and some long-layering, much of the perm has been grown out or chopped off. However, while the top six inches of my hair are on the
straighter side, the ends now form a lovely wave that’s easily manipulated by
finger-styling with a little curl cream and hairspray.

Life is struggly enough
without having to worry about how your hair is going to look every time you
wash it.