Root Perms 101: Everything You Need to Know

Root perms

Stocksy/Design by Cristina Cianci

In the age of no-fuss, minimalistic beauty, it makes sense that we're seeing a resurgence in hair treatments like balayage, Japanese hair straightening, and perms that help us wake up looking ready to go. Add to this list the root perm, which can also liven up flat, lifeless hair with a much needed boost from the scalp. Thanks to the root perm, volume no longer requires endless experimentation with products and tools.

We tapped expert stylist Briana Dunning of STRIIIKE Salon in Beverly Hills, California, to give us the scoop on the perks of a root perm. Find out what she told us below.

Meet the Expert

  • Briana Dunning is a hairstylist at STRIIIKE Salon in Beverly Hills, California. She specializes in curly cuts and the New Wave treatment, a permanent beach waving solution.

What Is A Root Perm?

Most perms alter the shape of the hair by using a chemical solution, and root perms are no exception. In the case of root perms, the solution is applied only to the root, along with perm rods. Root perms only focus on the first 2-3" of the hair, explains Dunning. The perm solutions that are used for this type of treatment are able to penetrate the hair shaft and alter the bonds that dictate the shape and texture of the strand.

Most perm solutions are loaded with harsh chemicals, and with root perms in particular being done so close to the scalp, this is a service you need to turn to a professional for. "Home permanent waving solutions have been available for consumer use since the mid 1940s—peaking in popularity in the 1970s and '80s—and are still available today," says Dunning. However, "it's not easy to place the rods used for permanent waving in the first place, and the techniques today have changed to achieve a more modern look." With precise technique required, unknown chemicals at play, and permanent changes being made so close to the scalp, Dunning notes, "you really DON'T want to try this at home." 

Types of Root Perms

"Root perms can provide everything from a subtle volume boost at the roots to curls, depending on the technique chosen," Dunning says. Based on your hair type and desired changes to be made, there are two main technique options to choose between when getting a root perm: a Korean root perm and a touch-up.

Korean Root Perms

"Korean-style root perms create subtle volume at the root," Dunning explains. This particular type of root perm is gaining in popularity, as it provides effortless volume to your natural texture. This type of root perm is used to give flat, lifeless strands an added lift—no teasing combs or volumizing sprays required.

Perm Touch-Ups

This type of root perm is done to maintain the texture of a pre-existing perm. "It's a more traditional approach meant to touch up the roots on a regular perm that has grown out," says Dunning. There are a multitude of perms to choose from, including the spiral perms that gave us the signature 80's hairstyles we know and love, the body waves that are still frequently used to provide a more subtle change of added movement to the hair, and straight perms designed to minimize texture.

As your hair grows out and the contrast between your roots and shafts is more noticeable, you may opt for a root perm to bring back that uniform texture, similar to getting a root touch-up with your color.

Who Should (and Shouldn't) Get a Root Perm?

With root perms, Dunning warns that fine hair may not have results that are as dramatic as other hair textures. "Generally people with very fine hair will have more subtle results with perming in general," she says. When consulting with your stylist, Dunning encourages you make sure that the stylist is using a technique and solution that is gentle on the hair. "Something too strong could cause breakage."

When it comes to Korean root perms, "a good candidate would be someone with straight or slightly wavy movement, who wants to keep their natural texture on the ends with a lift at the root," says Dunning. "It's also good for someone who has a balayage with bleach or heavily colored ends, because they have virgin roots and don't have to worry about over-processing." If there is pre-existing color or any other type of chemical treatment already on the roots, pause on getting the Korean root perm to avoid over processing. Dunning says that could lead to breakage and other serious damage to the hair. "I also don't recommend a root perm that’s just for volume on people who like to strictly air dry their hair, because there can be a little bump from the roller if you don't blow-dry it out." 

As far as touching up your pre-existing perms, the best candidate is someone who has new growth at the root and that curly, wavy, or straight perm already living on their ends. Since the ends can't handle another process, it's best to maintain your perms with root touch-ups to keep the hair looking lively and fresh.

What to Expect

When entering into a new treatment for the first time (or anything, really), it's nice to know what you can expect. Dunning gave us the lowdown on the process of getting a root perm, so if you do decide to go for it, there won't be any surprises.

  1. Arrive With Dirty Hair: The first step to your root perm is having your hair washed, "so don't wash your hair before the service!" Dunning warns. A stylist will give you a thorough cleanse to remove any excess sebum or debris. Let them ensure your hair is in the best state for treatment. Enjoy a good head massage and turn your trust over to the pros.
  2. Prepping Solution: Once your hair has been washed, your stylist will apply a prepping solution and small rollers to your roots. The size of the roller will be determined by your stylist based on the desired results. Once the solution is applied, it will process for up to 20 minutes. "Sometimes the prepping solution will process with heat, sometimes it will process without heat," says Dunning. "The use of heat is mostly determined by your hair type and type of solution the stylist chooses. Some solutions call for heat, while others create their own heat." 
  3. First Rinse: After the prepping solution has processed, your hair will be rinsed for about 10 minutes. Similar to the first wash, this needs to be thorough. Your stylist will carefully eliminate all traces of the prepping solution at the shampoo bowl.
  4. Shaping Solution: Your second solution application will set the hair into its new, desired shape, explains Dunning. This solution will only need to process for about 5-7 minutes.
  5. Final Rinse and Style: Your final rinse is typically about 5 minutes, half the time of your first rinse. Once your stylist has carefully removed the perm rods, the hair will be blow-dried or diffused. "Keep your hair from getting wet or encountering sweat for 48 hours," Dunning advises. "After that period, you can wash and style as usual and enjoy the benefits of this process!" 

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