As a woman of the millennial generation, I cannot relate to perms personally. What I do know about them is what pop culture tells me. The voluminous look ran the ‘80s—the bigger, the better—and it was a win for celebrities like Olivia Newton John, Julia Roberts, and even the queen of pop herself, Madonna. But here’s another fun fact about the treatment—it’s making a comeback.
Believe it, and thankfully, it’s not really following the "higher the hair, closer to god" mantra anymore. According to Matrix SoColor Celebrity Stylist George Papanikolas, the salon service is gaining popularity in LA for its ability to give clients a natural wave or bend in the hair.
"The perms trend back in the ‘80s had extra volume, tight waves, curly bangs, and lot's of hairspray paired with a scrunchy or headband," says Papanikolas. "Back in the '80s the perm looked frizzier with lot's of back combing."
Today it’s more about the beachy look, like the one you see on Victoria’s Secret models or even the tousled, effortless-looking waves that show up on nearly every red carpet.
"It's a great look to get an air-dried finish and a great way to give straight hair a soft bend and movement without additional heat and styling time,” says our pro.
"There are also modern techniques where it can be straighter at the top half with the bend in the hair starting at the mid length and ends. The other big change is using a larger rod to create a loose, soft bend in the hair. We've also seen a big shift away from the over styled curling iron waves to a more natural air-dry texture.”
As he mentioned, the size of the rod directly correlates to the result you get. If you used a smaller rod, Papanikolas says you’d get a look similar to Halle Berry’s, while something larger will give you a look like the Kim Kardashian West picture above, or the waves seen on Erin Wasson. A picture of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen circa 2011 is another good example of the texture you’d get.
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Julianne Hough, a forever InStyle hair crush, made headlines spring of last year for her own modern perm created by stylist Riawna Capri using Olaplex.
And while it can be customized for everyone, Papanikolas warns perms can be difficult to achieve on heavily highlighted hair. "The streaks on the hair that are highlighted with bleach have different porosity than the strands that aren't highlighted, so they can take the curl unevenly," he explains. "I usually only suggest doing a perm on natural hair, or hair with a single process, and my go-to product for added protection is Matrix Bond Ultim8 Protecting System. This add-on service helps protect the hair and prevent damage during the perming and coloring process. Doing a single process, plus highlights, plus a perm can add a lot of stress to the hair, so I don't usually recommend that many services."
Another option for those with heavily highlighted hair is a thio-free perm—a service that uses a different chemical to break the bonds in the hair—which our pro says are less damaging but don’t tend to last as long.
Either way, if a perm means less ‘80s prom queen and more beachy hair goddess, we’re in.