How to Care for Permed Hair

Perms have come a long way since the poodle perm of the 1980s that reigned supreme on celebrities like Julia Roberts and Madonna. In fact, Julianne Hough made history (of a sort) in 2016 when she permed her lightened hair for a beautiful, beachy wave.

“The rules of hair care are simple and finite,” says Elle Woods in the hit movie Legally Blonde, just minutes after successfully defending her client on a murder charge. Reese Witherspoon’s character managed to win on the evidence of a perm, but you can win with permed hair, too!

In today’s guide on how to care for permed hair, we’re talking all things permed, giving you behind the curtain access to what only hair stylists know. Plus, we’ll recommend a few of our favorite products that will have your freshly permed curls in beautiful shape!

The Permanent

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The perm has been around since the 1870’s when Marcel Grateau used metal, heated tongs to create a two-dimensional wave in the hair. Today, it’s chemicals and “rods” that do the trick!

Curly permed hair

You’ve probably noticed that keratin hair treatments are pretty popular and that’s because hair, itself, is made of keratin. Keratin is a kind of protein made with disulfide bonds; it’s those bonds that give your hair its unique shape.

Today’s perm utilizes advanced chemicals that break down the disulfide bonds, allowing new bonds to form in new shapes. These shapes are determined by the rods or curlers the hair is wrapped around. In the 80s, tiny rods were used for those tight, frizzy curls, but today larger rods are more popular.

Even better? Perm hair care after the fact has gotten better, too. Incredible high-end products are now available at affordable prices, meaning you can get great results without visiting the salon or spending an arm and a leg!

More Than One Kind of Perm

Stylists will even do a sort of partial perm on alternating sections of hair to add not curl but texture. Perms can even be used to straighten hair if the hair is immediately ironed instead of wrapped around a rod, and they can be used to help defrizz already curly hair.

Unfortunately, the chemicals involved in this re-shaping processes are pretty serious and can do some heavy damage to hair. That’s why Julianne Hough’s hair was such a revelation: it was able to withstand the damaging lightening process and the perm process, and still look incredible!

Should You Get a Perm?

If you’ve been eyeing curly hair and wanted to try it yourself, you should meet with a stylist. Here’s something to keep in mind, however: a good stylist is very, very important.

You need somebody who is familiar with your hair and understands how your particular texture, structure, and shape will react to the perm. Your stylist must also clearly understand what you want. Make sure you bring lots of photos with you to your appointment!

And don’t be dismayed if he or she says no. You’d rather have an honest stylist than somebody who promises you something that he or she can’t deliver!

Pros and Cons

It’s also important to think through how you want to wear and style your hair, the health of your hair currently, and whether or not you want to continue treating it. If you don’t already have time to air dry your hair, you’ll either need to find the time or learn to use a diffuser to dry your hair.

If your hair has been damaged by lots of heat styling and chemical treatments such as lightning or highlights, you might not be a good candidate for a perm. Your stylist might suggest waiting till your hair is healthier.

He or she might also recommend using Olaplex, the strengthening treatment Hough’s stylist used during the perm to keep her hair healthy. Olaplex has been a game changer for women, helping them achieve the look they want without sacrificing their hair’s integrity.

Finally, you need to consider how (and if) you want to continue coloring or to highlight your hair. Colored or treated hair takes the perm differently than natural or non-treated hair, and your stylist might not be able to guarantee a natural-looking perm.

The Care Guide

If you’ve already decided to take the perm plunge (or you’ve already had a perm), you’ll want to know how to take care of permed hair. You’ll also want to know about products, including the best leave-in conditioner for permed hair (conditioners are life for curls) and the best shampoo for digital permed hair.

Shampoo Less Often

If you want to learn how to care for permed hair, you should first understand that it starts with shampoo. Or rather, without shampoo! Shampoos are designed to clean your scalp of oil, product build-up, and dirt, but they can often be too harsh.

Your hair cuticle is already compromised and stripping even more oils from your head only makes things worse. One option is to simply shampoo less. If you’re used to shampooing daily, try shampooing every other day. You can use dry shampoo, a cap, or a top knot to help extend your hair’s life.

Your other option is to use a co-wash (a conditioning wash) or shampoo that is free of sulfates. A co-wash is extremely moisturizing, and sulfates can damage hair and irritate the skin; neither will provide the squeaky clean feeling or the lather you’re used to, but both get the job done while keeping your curls healthy.

Moisture is Everything

We’ve already hinted at the importance of moisturizer when you’re learning how to care for permed hair, but it’s worth stating again: moisture matters! There are several ways to help your hair get the conditioning it needs.

One of the first ways is to use conditioner in the shower right after shampoo. A conditioner is a must to help detangle and plump up your curl strands so that they’re not dry and prone to breakage. Many conditioners are designed to rinse out, but some can be left in.

If you have very dry or damaged hair, you’ll want to utilize a leave-in conditioner every time you wash your hair. We recommend looking for something with keratin or biotin, but ultimately you’ll want a product free of alcohol (it’s drying) that manages to provide shine and luster without weighing your hair down.

It’s a Mask Thing

Finally, whether you use leave-in conditioner or not, you should use a hair mask regularly. Hair masks are ultra-moisturizing, rinse-out conditioners that are designed to be used once a week if your hair is really thirsty, or every other week if you’re in maintenance mode.

Your salon will probably also offer treatments, such as Olaplex, that can be done by professionals. These are usually worth the investment, especially if you’ll be treating your hair frequently.

Style Matters

How you style your hair also matters when you need to know how to care for permed hair. For curls in general, you should use as little heat as possible. Keep the straightener and the curling iron locked away and if you must use a blow dryer, make sure you use a diffuser.

The concentrated heat from a blow dryer can easily damage your hair; diffusing it allows the heat to spread over the surface of the hair, allowing you to dry it quickly without damaging it. Also, make sure you lose the lowest heat setting possible.

In addition to avoiding heat, you should also experiment with different hair products. Most products for curly hair should be applied when your hair is wet. Typically, the tighter the curls, the wetter your hair should be! Don’t be afraid to test out different products, and do ask your stylist for his or her best advice.

Never, Ever

Finally, a few nevers: never towel dry your curls. Rough textures in the towel can further damage your curl structure. Instead, use an old, soft t-shirt, or a microfiber cloth, to gently “plop” your curls dry.

And never, ever use a brush! A brush will break down your hair structure, as well, creating frizz and out of control texture (not the good kind!). A good detangler in the shower should be all you need.

The Perm is Back

The permanent is back and, thanks to better perm technology and better after-care products, we can’t say we’re sad about it! We can’t wait to see how you use this guide to achieve beautiful curls. Happy perming!

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