The "New Wave" Is The Secret To Getting Straight Hair To Hold A Curl

Photo: Courtesy of Striiike Salon.
Remember in Legally Blonde when Elle Woods cracked her firm’s exceptionally challenging murder case by simply understanding the chemical composition and aftercare rules of an everyday perm? That clip might never get old, but the perm’s come a long way since Reese Witherspoon casually dropped a line about ammonium thioglycolate in court.
Chances are, you’ve heard about the new perm trend coming out of L.A. — even celebs like Olivia Munn and Emma Stone have tried it — but despite a head full of flexi rods being some of the best Instagram fodder we've ever seen, what happens next has remained strangely mysterious. Does it stink like a '90s hair salon? How does it look a week later? Does it damage your hair?
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To find out, we tapped Christina Han, the Vogue editor turned beauty marketing wiz behind Type Navy and one of the first adopters of Striiike salon's "new wave," a gentler, softer perm that's gaining popularity in L.A. Her uncensored thoughts, plus all the extra details you want to know from the stylist doling out the look, below.
Photo: Courtesy of Christina Han.
This Isn't Your Childhood Perm
"The last time I had a perm I was 5 years old, and I looked like a little Korean grandma," Han jokes. "For this reason, I thought I had sworn off perms forever. But I just happened to be in the mood for a change from my ultra-straight bob when [celeb stylist] Ashley Streicher first suggested the 'new wave' to me. As a planner who needs life mapped out with serious consideration, I’m surprisingly easy breezy with my hair, mainly because it grows so damn fast. I figured: If I end up hating it, it’ll grow out soon enough."
Han's hesitation is to be expected — curly perms have a bad reputation — but the Striiike stylist behind the new wave, Briana Dunning, assures us that this isn't your elementary school perm.
What Is The "New Wave"?
Like all good hair trends hoping to survive in 2018, this one has a clever name, but it's also quite different from the traditional perm that was so popular in the '90s. The Legally Blonde-famous chemical, ammonium thioglycolate, has been replaced with one Dunning says is more gentle, cystamine, and instead of tiny rods, Dunning uses squishy rollers. She wet styles the hair so each wave falls in the ideal place and direction. "The process of wrapping is totally different [than the traditional perm]," she says. "We wrap it so it's very relaxed and effortless — not springy or uniform. When I teach other stylists how to do it, I have them think about how they would do a curling iron set." To accomplish this, she uses three different roller sizes and times the processing so it results in a wave, not a curl. "I customize it to your head shape and the exact result you want," she says.
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Photo: Courtesy of Christina Han.
Photo: Courtesy of Christina Han.
Does It Stink?
"The smell wasn’t as bad as I remember [from childhood], but it’s still stinky," Han notes. "Especially when you’re trying to fall asleep and your face is basically in your hair. You’re not supposed to get it wet for a full 48 hours after treatment, so definitely plan ahead to have a stinky scalp for a few days." But you're not out of the woods yet: "Your hair will still retain that 'new wave' smell for a few shampoos," she adds.
Is There A Break-In Period?
Yes, but it's very short. "Warning: Right after the treatment is finished, you will look like Weird Al Yankovic," Han says, noting she was pretty alarmed and kinda stinky. "I was able to drive with my windows down, so by the time I arrived home, my hair had evolved from its Weird Al vibes to more of that surfer girl, easy California look that I never knew I wanted and needed in my life." Dunning notes that you really shouldn't touch your hair for the full two days, so no ponytails or sweating at the gym. Just let it chill so it can set in place without any issue.
Photo: Courtesy of Striiike Salon.
The secret's in the scrunch.
Photo: Courtesy of Striiike Salon.
Stylist Ashley Streicher shows Christina how to self-style when wet.
Who Is It Good For?
Dunning notes that the new wave is best for virgin hair (sorry, bleached, chemically-straightened, and colored hair isn't recommended unless you're willing to risk extra damage.) She also notes it takes best on stick-straight, thick hair like Han's, but those with curls and fine hair can get great results, too. Dunning always does a consultation, so she knows about any and all processing and can manage your expectations.
Photo: Courtesy of Christina Han.
Christina after air-drying her new perm.
What Should I Expect After?
Han first tried the treatment in May, then did it again in August because her roots were growing in too straight for her liking. She suggests having it touched up every four months, depending on your hair's growth. Dunning notes the waves will settle within a few days after being done and stay consistent, then the texture should start softening up after three months. You can also expect you hair to hold styles better since it's slightly processed. "Your hair has more memory after," Dunning says, noting that both a blowout and curls will last longer. Hydrating products and twice-weekly washing is the only real aftercare instructions once you pass the 48-hour, no-water rule. And one more thing: It's not cheap, so plan on shelling out $450, which is the new wave price at Striiike. Even with the cost, Han recommends it. "Especially if you’re a wash-and-go girl like me," she says, noting that all she does is scrunch and air-dry for good hair days, every day.
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