What Exactly is a Perm? Your Guide to Home Perm Treatments

Debuted in the 1980s and still styling strong in the 2020s, perms are a hair treatment designed to draw eyes. This dramatic look ranges from luscious waves to tight coil curls. Using heat and chemicals to alter hair texture, home perms can give you that “just rolled out of bed” effortless beauty at a fraction of the salon cost. 

But how do you manage a perm at home? This simple guide takes you through everything you need to know about perms, from crafting your home perm to taking care of a perm for as long as possible. 

Important note: If you’ve never had a perm before, make sure to consult with a stylist to find the best perm type for your hair, face shape, and lifestyle. Until you know how your hair reacts to perm chemicals, you might want to trust in a stylist to create those gorgeous curls. Home perm techniques take practice! 

What Kind of Perm is Right for Me?

Home perm choices depend on three factors: porosity, elasticity, and texture. Considering where your hair is currently will help you decide which perm treatment to try. 

  • Porosity: How much liquid can the hair absorb? If hair’s porosity is too high, it might be too damaged, dry, or brittle to handle a perm. 
  • Elasticity: When you stretch one strand of hair, does it break too quickly? Similar to porosity, elasticity determines whether hair is too damaged to try a perm.
  • Texture: Most hair textures are fine, medium, or coarse. Finer hair will be less resistant to perming and needs a lighter treatment like Zotos Design Freedom, while coarser hair will be more resistant and require a stronger product, like Quantum’s Extra Body Perm treatment

You want a perm treatment with gentle chemicals. Luckily, modern perms are much kinder to our hair than their 1980s counterparts! Our favorite home perm treatments include:

How to Craft a Perm at Home

  1. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. This is absolutely the most important step! 
  2. Check your scalp for cuts or abrasions. Don’t apply perm chemicals if you have an open scratch or scab. 
  3. Wash your hair with gentle, clarifying shampoo. Do NOT use conditioner before a perm! 
  4. Rinse thoroughly and lightly dry with a towel until hair is damp, not wet. Your hair should stay damp throughout the wrapping process, so if it starts to dry out, mist it lightly with water. 
  5. Lightly wrap your hair around your chosen perming rods. We like these long versions from HairArt or a shorter option like Soft N’Style. Don’t wrap hair too tight: leave some wiggle room in each wrap in case the hair expands while perming. 
  6. Wrap your hairline with cotton or similar fabric, like a velcro-close headband, to make a protective line between your hair and your skin. If this barrier soaks up the perming solution, swap it out immediately for a dry barrier to avoid skin irritation. 
  7. Mix the perm solution in a squeeze bottle. Most perm solutions contain a waving lotion and either an activator or a thermolizer, catalysts that start the chemical reaction needed to create perfect curls. Pay careful attention to the manufacturer instructions in the box before you mix the chemicals! 
  8. Poke a hole in the bottle tip with a safety pin or needle. Slowly, coat the hair on each perm rod in solution, making sure the hair has enough time to soak in the treatment. Once you’ve finished a thorough application of all the hair, go back for a second application. When you’re done, the hair should be shiny with lotion, but it shouldn’t be dripping. 
  9. Cover the hair rods with a plastic cap, like Burmax’s processing caps. Seal it by twisting the edges and tucking it under the perm rods. You can also secure a cap with a plastic clip or pin. Let the hair go through its processing time based on the manufacturer’s instructions. 
  10. Rinsing permed hair is a critical step and should be very thorough. In general, rinse hair for at least five minutes for chin-length hair, then add one minute for each extra inch of hair. (For example, someone with hair approximately nine inches in length would need approximately nine minutes of rinsing.) Hair should be rinsed—without removing the perm rods—until the chemical perm smell has significantly reduced, leaving a powdery scent behind. 
  11. Towel blot each perm rod until hair is dry to the touch. You can double-check this by pressing a paper towel to each hair rod—if the towel comes away wet, you have more drying to do! 
  12. Next, make another cotton barrier between your hair and your skin, then apply the neutralizer using the same punctured bottle method as the wave lotion. Carefully apply neutralizer to each hair rod and apply a second coat if you need to.
  13. Let the neutralizer process, usually for about five minutes. (Follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s box!) 
  14. Finally, gently remove the perm rods and rinse the hair thoroughly for three to five minutes. Towel blot again rather than blow drying, then follow any manufacturer instructions for leave-in treatment, like Zotos Texture’s Keratide treatment that comes with its EFX Perm
  15. Wait at least 48 hours before shampooing or conditioning your hair! 

Perm Hair Care at Home

If you’re wondering how to make a perm last, we’ve got you covered. The most important step to ensure your perm sets correctly is to wait to wash it for at least two days. After that:

  1. Use gentle shampoo and conditioner. 
  2. Skip the heat styling and blow drying.
  3. Don’t comb your hair for the first 24 hours, then use a wide-toothed comb from then on.
  4. Don’t dye your hair before or after finishing the perm. 
  5. Avoid ponytails, braids, hair elastics, and anything else that can tug on your scalp or disrupt the curls. 
  6. Moisturize with a gentle hair mist or gentle conditioner. 

With proper at-home perm care, your perm can last for up to twelve weeks! 

Ready to try this gorgeous look for yourself? Head over to our beauty store to find the latest and greatest in home perm treatments. We can’t wait to see the results! 

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