Everything You Need to Know Before Getting a Perm


Because too much volume is never a bad thing.

I had a perm for a few years in elementary school—it was the ’80s, and I lived in Asia where they were hugely popular—and haven’t thought about getting one again since then…until recently! Now, with the recent return of perm-friendly volume and texture on designer catwalks and celebrity red carpets alike, I’ve been thinking about taking my flat, straight locks to the salon for some permanent waves.

If you’ve also had perms on your mind lately, or are about to book a session, here’s what to know about the treatment before you commit—it’s called a permanent for a reason!

What is a perm, exactly?

A perm generally refers to a permanent or semi-permanent, chemically-activated hair treatment where your hair is set in waves or curls.

Are there different kinds that you can get?

“When you hear the word “perm” most people have flashbacks of the ’80s: big hair with tight curls. Modern styles can involve loose, beachy waves that put a slight bend in the hair. There are many techniques and patterns; which one is used depends on the desired outcome,” explains Kelly McCarthy, Senior Colour Tech at donato salon+spa Square One. “For example, a spiral perm will give a corkscrew curl. Making smaller sections and the roller sitting vertically create this look.”

With digital perms, which are not available at every salon and can include lower setting temperatures, each roller may be rolled and timed in a personalized way to create a more targeted effect, creating looser curls for that relaxed, beachy-wave look.  

Why is a consult always necessary?

“Chemically, perms have become gentler [in recent years] but that doesn’t mean that they are right for everyone. Your stylist can tell you if a perm is the best way to achieve your desired look,” says McCarthy, who adds that the stylist will likely consider the end result that you want, look at the integrity of your hair, and talk about how much time you spend styling it every day before making treatment recommendations.

What should you ask your stylist before committing?

“Is this hairstyle achievable? Some curls or waves are created with a curling iron. A perm will not help you achieve that,” says McCarthy. “Some styles require a perm.” 

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How long does it last?

Depending on the chemicals used and the treatment you go for, the average perm can last anywhere between 2 and 6 months.

Afterwards, how do you take care of your hair?

“You’ll want to use products for chemically treated or curly hair,” advises McCarthy. “Air drying or using a diffuser is best for permed hair; use a wide tooth comb so you don’t stretch the curls too much.”