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Facts About Getting a Good Hair Perm

A permanent wave is a miracle
by Doris Möller

Perhaps you have been getting a hair perm for some time now or you have been thinking about perming hair. Have you ever wondered how a hair perm can make your hair curly - almost permanently? Understanding what makes a permanent wave work will help you appreciate what makes a good perm and what does not.

Human hair is an extremely strong and versatile fiber. It incorporates physical and chemical properties that allow us to do all kinds of interesting things with it in order to improve our appearance. For people who have straight hair a permanent wave can make the difference between looking good or looking bad. Permanent waves (hair perm) are easy to do provided that your hair stylist knows how to do them properly, don't take much time and are the best method for giving hair body and fullness.

When the hair is styled after the perm the style will last much longer. For example, when you style your hair that has been permed with a curling iron it will now keep that style much longer than without the perm. A perm also gives your cut and style (styled with a blow dryer) the foundation required to give it volume and keep that style for days..

Applying the perm neutralizer on each perm rod and leave it on for approximately 7 minutes.

Basically there are just a few steps required to do a permanent wave (perm). Step 1 - Wrapp the hair with perm rods. Step 2 - Apply the perm lotion on each perm rod carefully. No perm lotion should come in contact with the scalp nor your skin around the hair line. (Some perm lotion manufacturers will tell you in their product directions to apply perm lotion on the hair before putting in the perm rods and then again after winding). Put a plastic cap over all the perm rods to keep in body heat and not to dry the hair.

After processing time - Step 3 - Rinse and apply the neutralizer on each perm rod. Also check the instructions for the exact time to leave it on. (After rinsing and before applying the neutralizer it is a good idea to take a towel and gently put it over the rods and carefully apply pressure so it can absorb water. This helps not to dilute the neutralizer.

Alkaline Perm Lotion and Neutralizer

But what makes the curl "permanent"? It happens through the magic of chemistry. Obviously you figure that it must be the permanent solution which makes the curl permanent. This is true but it is not the whole story.

Hair is 97% protein (keratin) which gives it its elastisity and flexibility. It contains three important bonds. They are disulphide bonds, hydrogen bonds and salt bonds. The disulphide bonds play the main role in changing your straight hair into a permanent curl or wave.

The first step is to wind wet hair that has been specially sectioned to fit the perm rod. A small perm rod in diameter will give you a tighter, curlier perm. The larger the perm rod the larger the wave or curl will be. The action of winding the hair around the rods creates tension, compression and with the addition of the perm lotion causes the formation of a permanent curl.

Small perm rods used for a tight, curly perm which gives short hair good body and volume which lasts for days. No need to do your hair every day. On the right are larger perm rods. However there are even larger permrods available.

The processing time of the hair perm is very important. Hair that is tinted (permanent hair color) or streaked needs less processing time because it is more porous. However follow the instructions of the perm lotion. The perm lotion is able to penetrate the hair faster when it is colored. (Not if you only have your hair colored with semi permanent hair color).It's best to adhere to the product instructions. There is no need to check and unwind a perm rod after processing five or ten minutes. After the required processing time which is determined by the product instructions the perm will be ready to be neutralized in order to lock in the curl, wave. Removing the perm rods without neutralizing will leave your hair straight.

Perms - Styled with a diffuser

All three hair styles have been cut in layers to different degrees. Layered hair will give you a "curl" when permed. However, perming one length long hair will give you a wave only. Using smaller perm rods will result in a smaller wave and perming with larger perm rods will give you a larger wave. See furter down the page.

If it is not processed long enough the curls or wave will be weak and after a month or so when the perm relaxes you will have hardly any wave in your hair. When the processing time exceeds the recommended time the result could be over- processed hair and as a consequence will lack bounce and elasticity and is hard to manage. Over- processed hair perms will easily become freezy in the slighest humidity. Even if the hair has been styled smooth after the perm


Hair styled with a diffuser

After your hair has processed for the correct amount of time, it will have a curl, but not a "permanent" curl - because it requires a perm neutralizer to complete the process. After the processing time your hair is rinsed with water and then the neutralizer is applied on each perm rod with the neutralizer applicator bottle. Usually it is left on for five or seven minutes. Then each rod is carefully unrolled (not pulled) from the hair and after all perm rods have bee removed the entire hair is well rinsed. The function of the neutralizer is to ensure that the new shape of the hair becomes "permanent".

A hair perm is not really permanent since your hair will grow back and eventually needs to be permed again. The best technique would be to do a root perm after approximately four months as the rest of the hair is still permed. Perming over already permed hair makes hair more porous and over-processed.

Well, a permanent wave is a miracle. But you should really call it a miracle of chemistry.

There you have it. Now you have a permanent curl. The timing for neutralizing your perm is also important. It usually takes 7 minutes. If the neutralizer stays on much longer than that it will have the reverse effect on your perm. Some of the newly formed disulphide bonds will not stay together after a few weeks.

What do you think makes a curl tight or loose? Does it depend on how long you process the perm or the size of the perm rods?

Many people think that the difference between a small and a large curl is determined by how long the perm processes. I often hear clients say, "don't leave it on too long. I don't want it to be too curly." Hair stylists check perm rods every few minutes, worried that if they leave them on a few minutes longer the hair will become too curly. It is the size of the rods that will determine how curly or wavy your hair will be. If you want to have a large curl, which can also be described as a loose perm or a body perm, then you will need a perm rod with a bigger diameter. If you want more body in your hair you will need a perm rod which has a smaller diameter.

Perm on long hair. Smaller perm rods used. Notice how the hair is rather wavy than curly? That is because the hair is one length and therefore will be wavy when permed. However you can blow style it or use a curling iron to style it.

There are a few more details which concern winding the perm rods and applying the perm lotion. In order to get a really good perm your hair stylist has to be very particular about winding the perm. It is important that the sections for each rod are not more than 1 centimeter thick and that each section is only three-quarters of the length of the permanent rod. (There are exceptions to the rule. For examplte for certain hair stylies that should not have volume close to the scalp like on longer hair). Also for hair styles that need really good body the section to be wrapped must be held at the correct angle.

People think a perm (permanent wave) looks like the picture on the left.

However, the hair style on the left is the result of being styled with a curling iron and is not what a perm would look like without styling it afterwards.

The hair style on the right has long one length hair which has been permed, and only air dryed or used a diffuser .

However, if you would now style it with a large curling iron it would look quite like the style on the left.

This hairstyle has some volume which looks flattering and natural. Having a hair perm will keep the style this way for several days. It's nice to wake up in the morning and have your hair make you look fabulous. However, if you do not style your hair after shampooing it would just be curly. But when you style your hair - the best way is a proper blow styling with a round brush (not simply drying it with a blow dryer) then you will have a hairstyle like this.

Why and when a perm (permanent wave) can give your hair body

For more information on Hair Perm


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