Perms have come a long way since the 80s when I sported the very fake-y, "crimped" perm. These days, perms can be fine-tuned to give you exactly the kind of wave you want. You can get perms that just add body to fine, limp hair; you can get loose, sexy waves or you can go for the corkscrew curls that many straight-haired girls covet (and some curly-all-their-lives girls are sick of).
But who's the best candidate for perms? How long do they last and; most importantly, how do you avoid getting the perm YOU DON'T WANT? The following are 10 rules to live by when it comes to perms in this day and age:
Are You a Good Candidate for a Perm?Perms work best on hair that has not been colored or highlighted. The chemicals are too harsh for double-processed or heavily highlighted hair. According to Kendra Aarhus, the hairstyles guide for About.com, perming hair that's already damaged from highlights or color can result in major frizz.
If you have dry hair or loads of short layers, you aren't the best candidate for a perm. Perms will dry hair out even more and a perm on short, layered hair could end up poodle-like.
Not sure if your hair is a good candidate for a perm? Ask your stylist. You'll want to tell him or her every chemical process your hair has been through in the last couple years. One way you can find out if your hair is damaged and can't withstand more chemical processing is to do the old float trick. Take a few strands of hair and put them in a glass of water, if they sink, this means your hair is damaged and is soaking up moisture. If the strands float, this means your hair is healthy. You may want to keep it that way and avoid the perm.
Black hair and Asian hair can also be difficult, but not impossible, to perm. You'll want someone who specializes in your type of hair texture.
Oh and one other tip: The thicker your hair, the better the perm will take.
For more information, see Aarhus's So, You Think You Want a Perm? The Red Flags to Consider.
How Long Does a Perm Take?Perms take one to two hours, depending on how long your hair is and how fast your stylist is. Your stylist will apply a single chemical solution to break the structural bonds in your hair, and another called a "neutralizer." Also keep in mind, a perm takes 28 hours to relax. Give it some time before you get too worried about the end result.
How Long Does a Perm Last?Most perms generally last about 2-6 months.
Prep Your Hair for the PermTo prepare your hair for a perm, you'll want to use a moisturizing conditioner after you shampoo. Avoid deep-conditioning your hair for at least 24 hours before the perm, otherwise the perm may not take.
The Size of the Rod MattersThe tightness of the curl depends on the size of the rod and the length of time the solution stays in. If you're worried you'll end up with too-tight curls, ask your stylist to show you the types of rods she is using.
How to Find a Great StylistNot all stylists these days do perms and you don't want one who doesn't do them on a semi-regular basis. I suggest calling salons and asking if they have someone who specializes in perms. You may have to call around a bit to find a specialist. Even in New York City, most salons I've consulted don't have a perm specialist.
What to Bring to Your AppointmentYou need to take a picture or pictures with you of the type of wave you want. Just telling your stylist what kind of curl leaves you in jeopardy of getting super-duper tight ringlets. Stylists can control the amount of wave they give you as well as the the part of the hair they want to perm. Yours will need to choose the right-sized rods.
See photos of curly hair for inspiration.