Your How-To Guide for Taking Care of a Perm
When you have a modern perm, all you'll have to do to get gorgeous beachy waves is basically roll out of bed. This is definitely perfect for me, because after a year plus of WFH, I am beyond lazy with my hair. And a perm has the ability to totally take the place of your daily 20-minute morning meeting with a curling wand. But before you dial up your hairstylist, we must inform you that it is not completely free of maintenance.
In order to keep the freshly set texture in-tact, there's a few very important rules you need to follow when it comes to applying heat, styling, and the products you choose. Consider this your round-up of pro tips and a how-to guide for perm care.
Immediately After the Perm
That whole speech Legally Blonde's Elle Woods gave was legit. After perming your hair, celebrity hairstylist Sascha Breuer says you'll need to wait three days before getting it wet. "I only recommend washing sooner if you want to break up the curls to achieve a softer, semi-permanent beachy waves look," he adds.
Also, for a week, steer clear of any styling, other than simply scrunching the hair with your fingers to set the curls in place. "Even the most basic hairstyles or hair accessories can potentially cause your perm to break or set in an unwanted shape," says Breuer. That also includes not brushing your hair with a hairbrush. At most, you can finger-comb your curls, or if you have to, use a wide-toothed comb in the shower after applying conditioner. When you go to bed, wrap your hair in a silk scarf — like this pure satin hair bonnet ($10; etsy.com) — to protect the perm. Finally, Breuer recommends staying away from chemical treatments, which could potentially disrupt your perm, for at least a month after the treatment.
But really, you shouldn't be freaking out about how you're styling it on the day-to-day. "One of the best bits about perming hair is that you don't have to agonize about styling daily: the look is a major statement in itself," says Breur.
VIDEO: Trust Us, We Tried It: The Modern Perm
How To Wash Your Perm
Now that you have some flouncy curls, your washing regimen is most likely going to look a little different. If you're someone who is used to washing your hair every night or every other night, think again. You should only be washing your hair once a week, according to celebrity hairstylist and founder of Contents Haircare Cheryl Bergamy.
"Remember you are a curly girl now," says Bergamy. "So you don't have wash as often as you did when the hair when was straight." She also notes that a sulfate-free conditioning shampoo and moisturizing conditioner are must have products on your wash day. And never use a brush on your wet curls. Bergamy says reach for the comb instead in order to maintain the curls and their shape.
Once a month she suggests washing with a clarifying shampoo to completely cleanse your hair and scalp, but she recommends staying away from shampoos and conditioners containing silicone, alcohol or sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate (SLS).
The Rules of Heat Styling On a Perm
"On the whole, it's best to avoid heat styling as much as possible," notes Breuer.
That means you'll have to swap out regular blow drying for air drying, and if you have to use a blow-dryer, be sure to attach the diffuser. "Straightening tools should also be avoided because permed hair tends to frizz out more than natural hair and heat styling causes split-ends to appear much faster in perms, all of which means that your curls break up sooner than you'd want," he says.
Ideally, the modern perm would make it less necessary for you to plug in a hot tool in the first place. But if you do want to heat style in any form, Breuer says to coat your hair with a heat protectant — he loves Wella EMEI Thermal Image Spray ($18; ulta.com). "The spray works on two fronts: creating a protective barrier that holds up against extreme heat and smoothening hair follicles to prevent frizzing so that your curls stay healthy and glossy."
Another healthy yet totally effective alternative to heat? Rollers. Bergamy says there are so many different kinds of rollers that can take your hair from beach waves to spirals without applying any heat.
Get Your Perm Trimmed Often
The same principals of everyday hair care apply in this realm, but now they're even more important. To keep your hair healthy and your ends fresh, Bergamy suggests getting your hair trimmed every three to four weeks.
"Perms require upkeep to sustain the shape and structure of the curls," she explains. "Trim the ends when needed [to] keep the hair healthy."
Perm Care for Already Textured Hair
If you have textured hair and are wondering if perms are safe for you, the simple answer is yes. But a perm on textured hair actually has a different name and an extra step. Bergamy tells us that receiving a perm on textured hair is called Curl Reformation, and while it's in the perm family, the method of applying is different.
The main difference is the hair must be relaxed before adding any additional curls or waves. Bergamy notes that a curl reformation typically comes with a set of recommended salon and at-home products to maintain the perm because moisture is key.
"Because textured hair is naturally dry, this system requires the hair to be moisturized at all times," says Bergamy. "Moisture retention is a must!"
Products for Perm Care
Your haircare shelf might need a mini makeover. Like Bergamy noted earlier, try to avoid hair products that are made with alcohol and silicones.
"Alcohol will dry out your hair fast, leaving it brittle and frizzy and ruining the perm," adds Breuer. "Silicones wear heavy, making hair greasy and weighed-down. If you can't avoid these ingredients, at the very least you've got to look for products that carry these in a minimal concentration."
For your shampoo and conditioner, go for moisturizing curl-enhancing formulas, but be sure they're not ultra-creamy, which could weigh down your perm and disrupt the shape of your curls. "You want to give your curls extra nourishment and protection, against the elements and artificial stressors like heat styling tools, so look for products that are protein-rich," adds Breuer. For your once-a-month clarifying treatment, Bergamy suggests the Restore Shampoo by Living Proof ($59; ulta.com) because the color-safe and safe for chemically treated hair product restores moisturize as well as protects against future damage.
Bergamy also suggests using a leave-in conditioner, like the Contents Style & Go Leave-In ($48; contentshaircare.com), which "prevents unwanted frizz and protects against free radicals and UV ray damage." A product like this will lock in moisture on each curl to help you achieve that moisture retention we talked about earlier, which Bergamy says is especially important for textured hair.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is, sure, a perm is a great time saver when it comes to styling your hair. Plus, you can count on your permed hair always looking effortlessly bouncy. But maintenance is still extremely important, so don't expect it to be a one-and-done kind of treatment. But if you are ready to give up heat, switch over to new products, and make the commitment, a perm can be a great secret weapon.