Is The Perm Making A Comeback?

Photo: C. Flanigan/Getty Images.
The word “perm” conjures up terrifying visuals from the ‘80s of triangular hair and poodle-esque tendrils in a constant state of frizz. Despite the negative connotation, the “permanent,” sits steadfastly on plenty of salon menus, causing patrons to wonder quietly to themselves, Do people really still get perms?

The answer, at first glance, is a resounding no. Nobody is getting the kind of perm that was popular 20 or 30 years ago. But people are still getting them — including Julianne Hough. They’re just a different kind of perm. The permanent beach waves Hough recently debuted on Instagram don’t resemble anything you'd see on a faded glamour shot.

The process remains basically the same — using heat and chemicals to break and rebuild hair bonds to create permanent texture — but the rod sizes and placement are different to better reflect current trends. Salons also tend to give these treatments updated names to bring clients’ minds out of the past. For example, Snip Snip Salon in Miami calls its perm a “Permanent Texture Change Curls” and La Vie Salon in Brooklyn has dubbed it the “Modern Wave Perm.”

Hough has wanted to get a perm for over six years, she posts, but never did it because she has dyed hair and feared it would cause too much damage. But she finally had the treatment done. So, what changed? We reached out to her glam squad to see how it all went down and if this is indicative of a larger trend to come.

The Process
“When Jules wanted a perm, I knew the only person I could trust is Dean, the owner of Olaplex, because perming on blonde hair — which is literally rule number one in beauty school to never do —is the exact reason why he invented Olaplex,” says Riawna Capri, Hough’s hairstylist. Olaplex is a bond-strengthening product that’s used as a “reset button” for hair. It rebuilds the hair from the inside out, making it possible to color or add a chemical to the hair without further destroying it.

“I knew Dean would know who could help us create these air-dried, beachy waves Jules has been wanting for years, and that person is the king of perms, Joe Santy,” continues Capri. Santy, who runs the Attitudes Hair Studio in Langhorne, PA, has been in the hair business for over 35 years. His specialty is the perm — he’s even penned two books on the subject. So, Capri flew Santy out to Hollywood to not only do Hough’s hair, but to teach the entire staff at her salon, Nine Zero One, how to create the gorgeous, permanent beach waves on chemically treated hair. The perm is now available for clients.

We asked Santy to explain the Olaplex perm process to us, too. To begin, you should know that the inherent problem with perms is you have to break down bonds in the hair in order to create permanent waves. Dyeing hair also requires a breakdown of bonds. This double process results in seriously fried, dried, and broken hair. Naturally, this freaks stylists out and is one reason why perms haven’t been as commonly performed.

“[Olaplex] goes in and it literally reconnects broken bonds in the hair,” explains Santy. “For hair like Julianne’s, which is chemically lightened, I create a custom mix of proteins mixed with equal parts Olaplex and apply it throughout wet hair before perming.” Then, he lets the hair dry underneath a dryer, which essentially “bakes” the mixture into the hair strands. Santy also uses Olaplex in the perm lotion and applies it directly on top of the neutralizer. “If it wasn't for the Olaplex, Julianne’s hair would be melted,” he tells us.

According to Santy, “This is actually something that any hairstylist can do, permitting he or she is conscientious and pays attention to what they’re doing.” It’s a nuanced process, but the takeaway is that you can have this done to your own hair without having to fly someone across the country. Stylists should be versed in perming, just make sure he or she knows the Olaplex, as well (any good salon should have someone on staff who understands it). Then, you’re good to go.

The Upkeep
As you can see from Hough’s hair, the Olaplex beach-waves perm results in very natural looking, loose waves. Depending on the size and placement of the rods your hairstylist uses, your perm may come out a little differently, but will have a similar look and feel. As for longevity, you can expect the perm to last about two to three months if it’s done well.

“A few ways to prolong longevity would be to keep intense heat off the hair, allow hair to naturally dry whenever possible and use Olaplex No. 3 once a week to maintain that great hair condition,” says Capri. She also advises people to not not touch the hair when the beachy waves are drying — fingering it too much will produce a frizzy halo on any type of hair. “Once the hair is dry, lightly apply a good curl cream and/or a hair texturizer to define the waves,” says Capri.
The Trend
Since Hough's big reveal, Santy’s been getting calls from people seeing if they can fly him out for their own private perming session. And though we all can't book him a flight, we're sure this method will trickle down to salons. Even before Hough’s IG post, Santy thinks thinks the perm trend has been a long time coming. “People have been killing their hair with flat irons for years,” says Santy. “I think perming, in general, is going to become more popular, and that the perm techniques allow for true versatility of style."

That's not to say a perm is not damaging at all, but it takes away the daily use of heat tools and all those arm-numbing, time-consuming blowouts. Those aren't going away any time soon, but people are starting to embrace more texture in their hair — and now you can, whether it's natural or not.
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