Ultimate guide to different types of perms

Posted by Ana Eliza Montilla on

Types of perms

Perms have come a long way since their heyday in the 80s, with cultural icons such as Emma Stone and Julianne Hough leading to a resurgence in the hairstyle’s popularity.

Modern hairstyling practices and tools have put us long past the days where your hair type determined if you could get a perm or not. In fact, there are a lot more options and different types of perms than there ever have been before such as the: spiral perm, beach wave perm, body wave perm and so many more.

To help you catch up with this hot trend, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about perms including info on what a perm is, how do perms work, and how long does a perm last among other common questions. Plus, we’ve included the most popular types of perm to help you determine if you should get a perm and what style is right for you.

What is a perm?

A perm (short for “permanent hairstyle”) is a process that uses chemicals to change the texture of your hair to a permanent wave or curl. Perms work by altering the structure of your hair by using heat and chemicals to break the bonds that determine your natural hair texture such as straight or wavy. The perm styling process itself takes about two to three hours, so schedule an appointment before heading to the salon.

Although perms have been around since 1872, it seems like a new type of perm pops up every couple of years and modern iterations of the once dated style have made it trendy again. In fact, stylists have improved on older styles and new techniques have led to the creation of modern perms which give people several options to choose from depending on the desired shape and definition of the curls and waves.

How is a perm done?

The perm process will depend on the type of perm you choose. For example, a spiral perm will use small rods and heat to create tight curls, while a beach wave perm will use large, spongey rollers to create looser waves. Additionally, the chemical solutions will vary by perm style and some perms require heat to achieve. 

Hot vs. cold perms

Before we discuss specific perm styles, it’s important to distinguish between hot perms and cold perms. The terms “hot” and “cold” refer to different processes used to achieve the perm. 

The cold perm is the traditional process used for most perms which applies an alkaline solution to dry hair curled around plastic rods to break down the bonds within the hair and make it curl. On the other hand, a hot perm uses a similar process, but with an acidic solution and the addition of heat. A cold perm results in tight, defined curls while a hot perm results in looser, softer curls. 

In general, there are far more cold perm styles than hot perm styles. In fact, almost all perms use the cold process, but a few notable hot perms include the digital and straight perms.

Different types of perms

When you say perm, most people immediately jump to the classic 70s and 80s-era perms that were thick and voluminous. Times have changed, and there are now several different types of perms to choose from, which is part of the reason the style is making a comeback. Regardless of whether you have long, short, curly or straight hair, there’s a perm style for your hair type.

The most popular and trending types of perms include:

  • Spiral perm
  • Body wave perm
  • Beach wave perm
  • Digital perm
  • Pin curl perm
  • Spot or partial perm
  • Root perm
  • Stack perm
  • Multi-textured perm
  • Volumizing perm
  • Straight perm

Spiral perm

A spiral perm is a popular choice for hair that’s shoulder-length or longer. The process involves rolling the hair onto a perm vertically to establish a spiral shape. Results will vary based on the type of rod and chemicals used during the process, but spiral curls are generally very tight, twisted and bouncy. This can be a great way to add volume to your hair and you can expect a spiral perm to last about six months before the curls start to loosen.

Body wave perm

Body wave perms are a popular choice for people who want to add volume and a natural wave to their hair. Essentially, the body wave perm creates a relaxed look with larger, looser waves using large rollers. This is a great option for people with straight hair that doesn’t typically curl, and a body wave curl usually lasts between three to five months.

Beach wave perm

A beach wave perm is exactly what it sounds like — it creates waves that resemble the “just came back from the beach” look without the hassle of saltwater and sand. A lot of people go for this look because the loose waves are the perfect embodiment of minimal and slightly messy in a good way hair. To do this, your stylist will use soft, spongey rollers instead of traditional perm rods. When it comes to how long it lasts, a beach wave perm will typically last about four months.

Digital perm

The digital perm is Japan’s hottest hair trend and its popularity has gone international. The “digital” comes from the use of infrared heat through temperature-controlled rods to create loose waves and natural volume on top of tight hair ringlets. In addition to the tech used in this treatment, gentle chemicals are used to recondition and repair the hair molecules in places where heat is applied.

Pin curl perm

The pin curl perm is a great curly perm for shorter hair lengths. It uses a combination of pins and curlers to create tight, bouncy curls that add movement to your hair. The looseness or tightness of the curls you create will vary based on the size of the curlers you use. Additionally, this type of perm doesn’t use harsh chemicals — although this also reduces the style’s life which is usually around three to six months.

Spot or partial perm

A spot perm may also be known as a partial perm because it involves perming a specific section of hair rather than the entire head. Spot perms can be used to add volume in a specific area, cover thin spots, or create a uniform look if you have a curl on only one side of your head. Chemicals are used to relax the hair, which is then wrapped around a perm rod that varies based on the desired result. A stylist will help you determine which areas to perm and which to leave alone so that the result seamlessly blends into your natural hair. The lifespan of a spot perm will vary significantly, so ask your stylist when you need to come back for a touch-up.

Root perm

Root perms are a type of spot perm that is done specifically at the roots, usually within the two to four inches from the scalp. Perming hair at the roots helps add lift and volume, plus doing so at the base avoids damaging the rest of your hair if you’ve already permed it. Root perms are very low maintenance, but they also only last about a month meaning you’ll have to head back to the salon for regular touch-ups.

Stack perm

Yet another variation of a partial perm, the stack perm leaves the roots alone and instead focuses on the middle and lower sections of hair. It’s ideal for adding volume and creating the illusion of layers. This is accomplished by using rods of various sizes on the middle and lower sections of hair to seamlessly blend your natural hair with the new curls and waves. Similar to the other types of partial perms, this requires very little maintenance, although it typically lasts between four to five months.

Multi-textured perm

The multi-textured perm is a great way to create natural-looking curls that vary in texture. To achieve this, your stylist will use different-sized rods and rolls to create a combination of tight and loose curls. This results in a layered look that closely resembles natural curls which vary in tightness. This style is best-suited for hair that’s medium-length or longer, and it should last for a few months depending on the variations you choose.

Volumizing perm

A volumizing perm uses a combination of loose curls and waves to create volume in hair. This type of perm great for all hair lengths and textures, and is recommended for those with fine or flat hair. The volumizing perm is achieved by using several sizes of rods, then removing them and applying a neutralizer which results in looser curls or relaxed waves. Volumizing perms tend to be one of the cheapest styles, though they only last for around six weeks so you’ll need touch-ups regularly.

Straight perm

This last style is for someone who already has curly hair naturally or through a perm and wants to reverse the process. The straight perm (also known as a reverse perm) is a Japanese style of hot perm which applies heat (often through a flat iron) and chemicals to straighten hair. The results of a straight perm are long-lasting which is why some people go for this option as opposed to other hair straightening techniques. Straight perms are low maintenance on a day-to-day basis but you’ll need to get it done about every six to seven months and the treatment itself usually takes between six to eight hours so plan accordingly. This treatment can be very damaging, so make sure to properly care for your hair after getting it.

What type of perm should you get?

The primary factors to consider when choosing a perm are your hair length and texture. Some perms are best suited for long hair, while others are intended for short hair. Your hair’s natural texture also comes into play, as you may want to choose a style that accentuates it or changes it completely (like using a volumizing perm on fine or flat hair). Using hair length and texture can help you choose a style of perm that will work well for you, but looking at pictures and talking with a stylist will help with your decision.

How long does a perm last?

Most perms last between three to six months, but this can vary based on several factors such as the type of perm you get and the length of your hair. Long hair can be more difficult to perm and curls will lose definition with hair growth, so consider getting regular haircuts every couple months to help maintain the look. 

Additionally, how you care for your hair also plays a role — so make sure you’re using products designed specifically for your hair type. Our Curl Collection is a great choice, as these products are formulated to cleanse, nourish, defrizz and define waves, curls, and coils of all kinds.

How much does a perm cost?

On average, the cost of a perm ranges between $60 to $250, but it will vary depending on where you get the service done and the type of perm you choose.

Some perms involve more complex and time-consuming processes to achieve the look which raises the price. Furthermore, you’ll also want to consider the cost of maintaining the look. A spiral perm will last about six months, while a root perm will need touch-ups every month. For an accurate estimate on how much a perm will cost, you should contact your local stylist or salon.

Can you perm colored hair or dye it after?

You can perm colored hair or perm it after, but it’s not recommended to do these processes in succession because they both tend to dry out strands. Instead, consider doing one process and then waiting a month or so for your hair to recover before starting the next. 

If you dye first, make sure your hair gets enough moisture by using our Hydrate Shampoo and Hydrate Conditioner before perming. On the other hand, if you perm first — use our Curl Shampoo and Curl Conditioner or our Curl Leave-In Conditioner to give your curls, waves and coils exactly what it needs before dyeing.

Post-perm care tips

First and foremost, stay away from the shower in the first 24 hours following a perm. Washing your hair too early may cause the tightness of the curls to change which can have a major effect on your look. In fact, this is so important that Elle Woods from Legally Blonde won her first court case by pointing out the witness must have been lying after she claimed to have taken a shower directly after getting a perm. Needless to say, hold off on a shower after getting a perm.

Hydration is key because the perm process removes moisture, so consider using a deep-conditioning treatment such as our Hydrating Mask following a treatment. For long-term use, we recommend our Curl Shampoo and Curl Conditioner which are formulated to preserve moisture, minimize frizz, and help define curls. For added memory, consider using our Curl Cream to add light hold to your curls, waves, or coils. To prevent buildup over time, try our Ghost Exfoliating Scalp Nectar.

Have more questions about after perm care? DM us on Instagram @verbproducts and we’ll answer all your hair care concerns.

If you want more product recs for your unique hair type, texture, concerns, and goals — check out our hair quiz for personalized recommendations.

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