How to Get a Perm You Won't Hate

Stocksy | Design by Julie Bang.

While it’s true that the perms of today are not the fluffy, frizzy styles of the ‘80s, a perm still requires an intensive chemical process to alter the natural shape of your hair and should be approached with extreme carefulness. If you've decided that you want to get a perm, the next step is to find a reputable, experienced hairstylist in your area. Read on for helpful advice and things to consider before getting a perm so you’re not stuck with a style you hate.

Find a Place to Get a Perm

Getting a perm is a serious business. In a nutshell, when you retexture your hair with a typical perm solution, the perm chemicals break the bonds and structure of your hair down, then rebuild its shape as it reforms around the perm rods. Given how potent these chemicals are, taking your time to find a stylist and a perm that will work best for your hair is crucial.

What Is a Perm?

A perm, short for "permanent wave," is a hairstyle that uses chemicals, most often with ammonium thioglycolate as the active ingredient, to permanently set waves or curls into hair.

Try not to settle on the place nearest to you simply for convenience. Be open to traveling outside of your neighborhood if the local hairstylists are not up to your standard. Unlike haircuts, which need to be touched up every several weeks, a perm can usually last around six months, so venturing a little further for it is justifiable.

Start your salon or hairdresser search by asking around for word-of-mouth recommendations. After you’ve gathered a few suggestions, use online resources for reviews from former clients to get a good feel for the quality and satisfaction of the service. Don’t forget to use social media as a tool for reviewing before and after photos and examples of the stylist’s work. If you like what you see, book a consultation to further the discussion before making a commitment.

Select a Good Stylist

The best way to get a perm that you won't hate is to go to a stylist who knows what they’re doing. Sure, all hair pros learn how to do perms, but that doesn't mean that they're all good at them, enjoy giving them, and understand the complicated relationship between these chemicals and hair types. Once you’ve found a reliable place to get a perm, ask the front desk for suggestions on who the right stylist might be for your hair type and hair goals.

If you already have a stylist you trust, open the conversation at your next haircut appointment. Ask them to be honest with you about how much experience they have with perms and how comfortable they are with the process. A knowledgable and respectable stylist will have good judgment on whether the hair treatment is right for you and will refer you to someone who is more experienced if they’re not confident performing a perm service themselves.

What to Discuss With Your Stylist Before a Perm

During your consultation with your hairstylist, it’s important to be extremely thorough and honest about your hair’s history. The condition of your hair before you start will determine the success of your end result. Be sure to disclose with your stylist a detailed account of your history with color, highlighting, or texture services. The key here is to overshare and let your stylist decide which information is necessary to take into consideration for the treatment. The proper perm solution depends on your honesty, and the final result will vary greatly if you're keeping hairy skeletons in your closet.

Once you’ve covered the history, you can move on to discussing the future of your hair. The more specific you are about your hair goals and desires, the better. Don't assume that your stylist knows what you're talking about when you say things like, "wavy", "curly," or "body." Show your stylist photos, and ask if the results are achievable with a perm. What you see online might be the result of perms, natural waviness, extensions, or a curling iron (or a combination), so trust your stylist’s input on whether something is achievable. A knowledgable stylist will be able to explain the difference and decipher whether a different curling technique would be best for the effect you want.

Be Willing to Splurge

Depending on the length and condition of your hair, getting a perm probably won't be—and should not be—a cheap endeavor. Good perms take a few hours. A qualified salon stylist will take the time to properly prep, process, and finish the service. In addition to paying for your stylist's time, you're paying for their expertise, experience, and education. A perm is permanent, and the wrong one could very well leave your hair feeling gummy, brittle, dry, or worse. Bottom line: If you can't afford a good perm, don't get one—unless you're ready to explore the idea of a pixie cut if it goes wrong.

Take Care of Your Investment

When getting a perm, you should expect to completely change your hair products and routine. Curly hair requires different products and care than straight hair and understanding your new texture will take time. Ask your stylist for product recommendations and styling tips to get the most out of your new look.

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