Types of Perms



Published: 15 Mar 2022

curly hair decorated with flowers

If you’re looking for a change to your everyday look, why not consider getting a perm? A perm is a great way to give yourself that extra boost in both confidence and style. From small, tight curls to long beach waves, there are many types of perms you can choose from.

Table of Contents

What is a perm?

Before anything else, it’s important to understand what a perm is. A perm, short for “permanent wave,” is a kind of hair treatment that makes your hair curly. It uses chemicals that change the structure of your hair by breaking the hair’s natural bonds. In other words, these chemicals will alter your straight hair and turn them into curls.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that people with naturally curly hair can’t get perms too. In fact, some types of perms are better suited for those with naturally curly hair. This is because, over the years, hairstylists have come up with various perming methods and tools to accommodate as many styles as possible. However, it wasn’t always like this.

History of Perms

In the past, it wasn’t as easy to get a perm as it is today. It wasn’t as safe either.

In 1872, Marcel Grateau invented the first perming tool and method. He made a special pair of tongs, which had one arm with a circular cross-section and another arm with a concave section. Upon closing the tongs, the circular cross-section would fit perfectly inside the concave area.

Grateau would heat the tongs and clamp a lock of hair between the tongs. Pulling the tongs from the hair after some time would leave curls in the hair. This procedure’s biggest risk was burning the scalp with the tongs. This method, however, gave way to the development of modern curling techniques such as curling irons.

In the 1900s, another method of perming emerged. German hairdresser Karl Nessler invented a process he called the “spiral heat method”. Nessler applied sodium hydroxide onto the hair and heated it to a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius or more. Then, he wrapped locks of hair around brass rollers, which he attached to counterweights. The entire process would take six hours to complete, and Nessler’s first few tries ended up burning his wife’s hair off.

By the 1950s, hairstylists began experimenting with other tools. Some used toothpicks to make tight curls, and soon enough, they used acids for longer-lasting curls. A lot of burnt hair and scalps later, perming has now become much easier and safer for both the hairstylist and the customer.

Different Methods to Perm Hair

Today, there are two main methods of perming hair. These are the hot and cold perms. Their biggest difference is what type of solution or chemical the hairstylist uses for perming.

methods of perming hair

Hot Perm

Hot perms use acidic chemicals. These are chemicals with pH levels like pure, unfiltered water, specifically 4.5 to 7.0. To activate the chemicals and style the curls, the hairstylist applies heat to the client’s hair.

Hot perms are the best option for those who have thinner hair. Hot perms also give looser and softer curls, so if that is the permed look you’re going for, then consider asking your stylist about their hot perms.

Some types of perms that fall under this category are straight and digital perms.

Cold Perm

The other method for perming is the cold perm. Unlike hot perms, cold perms use alkaline formulas instead. The pH levels for these chemicals range from 8.2 to 9.6.

For cold perms, the hairstylist applies the chemical to the client’s dry hair after curling it around plastic rods. The alkaline solution will break down the hair’s bonds, which alter the structure of the hair. This method results in tighter curls with more volume.

Some types of perms that fall under this category are the root and spiral perms.

Different Types of Perms

Whether you are looking for types of perms for women or men or types of perms for short or long hair, you are in the right place. This list compiles the different types of perms for everybody!

Beach Wave Perm

If you’re looking for types of perms for long hair, then one popular choice is the beach wave perm. The beach wave perm replicates curls that look like the client just finished swimming at the beach. Some people also call this perm “soft waves perm” because of how the curls look soft and loose.

To achieve this look, the hairstylist wraps the hair loosely around large rollers. A beach wave perm won’t give you as much volume as other types of perm, but it will give you a little boost.

Furthermore, a beach wave perm lasts for around four months. This can be a great option for those who don’t want to be stuck with a perm for too long.

Body Wave Perm

Some believe the beach wave perm and body wave perm are the same. However, these are two different types of perms. A body wave perm produces tighter and more defined curls. Meanwhile, a beach wave perm produces looser waves.

Similar to the beach waves perm, the body wave perm uses large rollers or rods. However, the stylist wraps the hair around the rods tighter than how they would in a beach wave perm. This is how the body wave perm produces tighter and rounder curls.

The body wave perm is great for those with thin hair. It adds a lot of volume to your hair, which can make your hair look thick and luscious. The curls from a body wave perm also require less maintenance, so this is great for those who want to lessen the time it takes for them to get ready.

Ceramic Perm

One of the most popular types of perms for guys is ceramic perm. A ceramic perm produces the perfect S-shaped curl. To achieve this, a hairstylist uses several ceramic curlers and high heat.

Unfortunately, if you have short hair, a ceramic perm is out of the choices. A ceramic perm requires around 7 to 9 inches of hair length to work with. Otherwise, the curls won’t take shape properly. Ceramic curlers can also withstand greater heat, so this perm type can be more damaging. Be sure to avail the services of a hairstylist who has some experience with this technique.

Since ceramic perms use higher temperatures, the curls also last longer than other perms. If you’re looking for a heavy look that will last on your long hair, then the ceramic perm is a great choice!

Digital Perm

Types of Perms: Digital Perm
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Next on this list is Japan’s famous technique: the digital perm. A digital perm is great for those with thin, straight hair. It gives you natural-looking curls without sacrificing volume. It also doesn’t require long hair, so a short hair perm is possible.

To achieve this, your hairstylist will use hot perm chemicals and a digital heating device. A digital perm session takes up to four hours, so you’ll want to clear up your schedule for the rest of the day.

Digital permed curls will last for at least six months. With proper care, however, digital perms can last up to a year. If you want to get the most out of your money from a single session, then perhaps a digital perm is for you!

Korean Perm

As the name suggests, a Korean perm is popular with K-pop and K-drama fans worldwide. A Korean perm imitates the popular hairstyles that Korean celebrities and idols wear on TV.

While a Korean perm is still achieved through perming, many consider it to be a hairstyle instead of an actual perm. This is because the process of a Korean perm is like a digital perm. A hairstylist will use the same chemicals and tools in a digital perm, but they will style it to imitate the hair of Korean celebrities.

This added styling process sets it apart from other types of perms. Furthermore, since a Korean perm refers to a specific permed look, many salons now offer a separate service for Korean perms.

Multi-Textured Perm

One of the most popular types of perms is the multi-textured perm. A multi-textured perm refers to a curly permed look with both loose curls and tight curls. The different textures of the curls create a natural-looking style.

To achieve this look, a hairstylist uses rods or rollers of different sizes. For instance, a hairstylist can use large rollers and small rollers to achieve a look with both large and small curls. Furthermore, the hairstylist can also adjust how tight the curls are by how tight they wrap the hair around the curlers.

If you’re torn between loose perms and tight, curly perms, then the multi-textured perm is for you. Keep in mind that a multi-textured perm can look messy if an inexperienced professional does it, so be sure to find a stylist who can give you the look you want!

Partial Perm

Types of Perms: Partial Perm
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For types of perms that don’t require perming the entire length, one option is the partial perm.

A partial perm focuses on the lower half of your hair. Because of this, partial perms only work on medium to long hair. To achieve a partial perm, hairstylists typically use large rollers on the ends of your hair. The resulting look will give you loose curls that frame your face and add volume to the ends of your hair.

Since a partial perm only focuses on the ends, it won’t give the rest of your hair much volume. However, it gives your straight hair some movement. This is a great option for those who already have thick hair but still want some curls.

Pin Curl Perm

Some types of perms won’t last long. The pin curl perm is one of them. This perm type goes away after one wash in the shower, making it perfect for parties, graduation ceremonies, and other events.

For a pin curl perm, you can choose what size of rollers you want. If you want a loose perm, then you can request a large roller. What makes a pin curl perm different from other perms is it uses hair gel in place of chemicals.

The hairstylist will wrap locks of hair around the rollers and leave them for around two hours. To set the curls, the hairstylist applies hair gel. You can also make the curls last longer by applying hair gel again, but it will still wash off easily in the shower.

Spiral Perm

One of the classic perm looks is the spiral perm. The spiral perm produces bouncy curls that look like springs. If you pull back a lock of hair, this curly perm will bounce back once you release them.

The spiral perm can also produce a loose, wavy perm, but most clients get this perm for the tight corkscrew look. To make the most of a spiral perm, hairstylists recommend a hair length of at least 8 inches. That way, the shape of the curls can really take form.

Spiral perm curls can last up to six months, but it requires a lot of maintenance. The curls can lose shape or turn frizzy, so styling products are a must if you want to keep your springy curls uniform and neat.

Spot Perm

Types of Perms: Spot Perm
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People often confuse spot perms with partial perms or vice versa. However, these are two very different types of perms. While spot perms can also focus on the ends of your hair, it has a different purpose.

Spot perms are often used to cover thin spots or even out a client’s existing curls. If you have natural curls on one side of your head but loose waves on the other, you can opt for a spot perm. On the other hand, a partial perm is restricted to only the lower half of your hair.

A hairstylist can use chemicals to first relax some sections of your hair and then curl it. Since a spot perm is specific to your own hair’s condition, a thorough consultation with your stylist is a must. It can also be pricier than other perms, depending on the spots that need fixing.

Stack Perm

A stack perm is a variation of the partial perm. However, this perm goes higher. This type of perm leaves your roots alone while focusing on the middle and lower sections of your hair.

The hairstylist perms the hair while leaving the roots untouched or straightening them out for sleek and smooth roots. This adds volume to the lengths, which can make the top of your head look flat. This is a popular look that mimics the hair trends from the ‘70s.

A stack perm usually lasts around four to five months, even with little maintenance. However, regular deep conditioning treatments can make your stack perm look shinier and softer.

Straight Perm

When you hear “straight perm”, you might think it’s contradictory to the whole purpose of perming. However, it is just as the name suggests. The straight perm stands out from the other types of perms as they remove curls instead of creating them.

This hair technique originates from Japan, where they use chemicals different from those used in rebonding or relaxing methods. The hairstylist uses strong alkaline chemicals to break the bonds in your hair. This restructures the curly hair into a straight style. Because of this, some people call the straight perm the “reverse perm”.

Unfortunately, a straight perm is short-lived. It will only last up to four to six weeks, and that is with proper hair maintenance. Styling your hair with heat using hair straighteners can make its longevity even shorter.

Root Perm

Types of Perms: Root Perm
Image from Hairfinder

In contrast to the stack perm, the root perm focuses on the roots of your hair. This might sound underwhelming, but most hairstylists believe that a root perm is the best method to achieve more hair volume.

Root perms are also great for those who want to retouch their existing perms and add more volume. Since it only focuses on your roots, root perms will help match flattened roots to the lengths of your hair.

Root perms require very little maintenance. However, they live shorter than most types of perms, usually around one month.

Volumizing Perm

If you’re looking for the cheaper types of perms, then the volumizing perm is one that many hairstylists recommend. A volumizing perm gives your hair great volume by combining loose curls and waves.

To achieve this, the hairstylist uses curling rods of different sizes. Before applying the neutralizer, the hairstylist removes the rods. Doing so creates more volume, and the curls come out looser and more relaxed.

Volumizing perms are great for all hair lengths. They are also great for those with fine or flat hair. However, volumizing perms won’t look great on naturally curly hair. Another disadvantage of volumizing perms is its short longevity. While it is usually cheap, it requires a lot of touch-ups as it only lasts for around six weeks.

Pros and Cons of Getting a Perm

Now that you know the different types of perms available in the market, to make sure you’re making the right choice, it’s always a good idea to list down the pros and cons of getting a perm.

The Pros of Getting a Perm

A perm is a great way to try something new. There are only so many haircuts you can try before you end up looking for another way to style your hair. Getting a perm can certainly give you a fresh look that even you will take some time getting used to!

Getting a perm can give you a big confidence boost! Looking good is one way to feel good. Having the same beach waves and red carpet hairstyles that your favorite celebrities have is sure to add that extra spring to your step.

Hair Styling Products
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A perm can help you save on time and energy in the mornings. Instead of waking up early in the mornings, you can use that extra hour to sleep in if you have permed hair. You don’t have to dry, curl, and style your hair every morning because your permed hair already gives you that curled look!

Permed hair can attract more people’s attention. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be noticed more, and permed hair can easily help you with that. Curls give your hair more volume, and more volume means bigger hair. The bigger the hair, the easier it is to spot!

The Cons of Getting a Perm

Perms aren’t permanent. Even if the word, “perm”, comes from “permanent”, the curls don’t actually last forever. Most types of perms only hang on for three to six months. Your perm’s longevity will depend on various factors, such as your hair’s health, thickness, and length. The hair products you use can also affect how long your curls stay intact.

Permed hair can be high maintenance at first. Freshly permed hair comes with a lot of rules. For instance, you cannot wash your hair for at least two days. Since perms use chemicals, newly permed hair will often have a strong, foul smell. This smell can also stick to your pillowcases, towels, and hats, so prepare yourself for this when you get a perm.

Hair Salon
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Some salons offer expensive services. Aside from the products, salons will charge you for the hairstylist’s knowledge and labor. There are DIY kits that you can purchase online, but these can burn off your hair and scalp if you lack experience. Because of the risks, it is much better to save up for a professional’s service. While it might be pricier than DIY or at-home perming kits, it’s also a lot safer.

Perms can damage your hair. Last, even if a professional does your perm, this doesn’t mean your hair is completely safe from damage. Since the perming process uses harsh chemicals, it is only natural for permed hair to be damaged. A hairstylist, however, can both minimize the risks and lessen the damage.