Everything you need to know before you try it yourself
For those of us who didn’t live through the 80s, the enduring image of the perm is, of course, Legally Blonde’s Chutney, sat in the courtroom, her tight curls perfectly complementing her bone structure as Elle Woods grills her on why her perm is still intact. “Isn’t it the first cardinal rule of perm maintenance that you are forbidden to wet your hair for at least 24 hours after getting a perm at the risk of deactivating the ammonium thioglycolate?” Woods says.
But now, the perm is back thanks to TikTok where the style has become particularly popular with men. Scroll through TikTok's hashtag #perm and you’ll find endless videos, posted overwhelmingly by men, who have taken to the social platform to document their hair transformations. It’s become so popular that the videos have now been watched collectively over 340 million times. But these are not the old-school 80s perms that you see in the year books of your parents. No, these perms are much cooler, looser, beachy waves. Think Timothée Chalamet or your favourite K-pop star. To find out more about we spoke to perm expert Kentaro Kondo from London salon My Snug Room.
Hair perms work by using chemicals to curl the hair, Kondo tells us. In a standard “cold” perm, hair is put into curlers and – as we know thanks to Reese Witherspoon – the reducing agent ammonium thioglycolate is added. “The disulfide bonds break and keratin molecules are now free to move around and adjust to the shape of the curl,” Kondo explains. “Then a “neutraliser,” such as hydrogen peroxide, is added to reverse the effect of the reducing agent. New disulfide bonds form so the keratin molecules are locked into the shape of the curls.”
The process usually takes between one to two hours depending on the length of your hair and generally the results last around four to six months, based on your hair condition and how curly you decide to go with your perm.
After you leave the salon you have to wait until your perm has set in for at least a day before you can wash your hair. It’s also important to keep your hair in good condition using treatments and masks. When not done properly, a perm can damage your hair but Kondo says the Japanese perm lotion they use at My Snug Room creates as little damage as possible. Even still, those whose hair has been damaged by bleach shouldn’t be advised to get a perm. All other hair types are fine, although Kondo says you should always have a consultation prior to your perm appointment.
While perms of the past have involved tightly-set ringlets, these days Kondo says perms are quite different to the 80s super curly looks. “Now it’s easy to control how curly the client wants their hair. Most clients prefer to have big curls that are easy to style,” he says. And it’s because of this he thinks that the style is making its comeback. “Men having hair perms has been very common in Asia for a long time. But now it’s also getting very popular in London,” he says.
“People are starting to know that hair perms are not only the 80s tight curl style and that they are actually easy to style.”