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What is a Permanent / Wave?


Origin of a Perm
Hair is composed of protein, specifically, an insoluble, fibrous protein known as alpha-keratin. It is the principal filamentous protein found in hair and wool. The reason I mention this, well, while investigating the types of permanents and waves available to women in the world; I discovered a brief bit of history, as well.

You see the origins of the permanent came from the textile industry. The solution used to straighten wool fibers so they could be spun for clothing and other textiles was later introduced to the beauty market as a solution for curling the hair. By simply adding a cylinder shaped roller, the permanent was born.

The permanent or perm for short reconstructs the hair shaft by a chemical action. The perm solution softens the inner structure of the hair, so it can be easily molded to the shape of the roller. Second, the neutralizer re-bonds the internal structure of the hair.

Two types of Perm Solutions
There are basically two types of perm solutions used today. Both have pros and cons. The first is the Alkaline Perms and the second is the Acid-balanced perms.
  • Alkaline Perms also know as "Cold Perms" has an active ingredient called ammonium thioglyucolate, a chemical compound of ammonia and thioglycolic acid. The pH of an alkaline perm is usually between 8.2 and 9.6. Because the solution is more alkaline than acid the cuticle layers swell slightly and open, allowing the solution to penetrate more quickly. Other advantages to the alkaline perm besides quickness of processing is they have a strong curl pattern, they often last longer than acid-balanced perms, and no heat is needed.

  • Acid-balanced Perms or "Warm Waves" have an active ingredient of glyceryl monothioglycolate, which is acid-balanced. The pH for these perms is usually between 4.5 to 6.5. These types of perms usually penetrate the hair slower than the alkaline perm and they do require a heat source. Many years ago, the only type of heat source used was the conventional hood-type dryer found in salons; however, today the method of exothermic heat is used, which is basically a perm that is activated by heat created chemically within the product. Benefits of having a acid-balanced perm is that they create a softer curl pattern, gentler to the hair, and better for colored-treated hair; however, they usually relax faster than the alkaline perms.


Neutralizers, an oxidizing agent containing a small percentage of hydrogen peroxide, are used in both alkaline and acid-balanced perms. The neutralizer helps the hair to holds it's curl, if the hair is not properly neutralized, the curl will relax and straighten in one to two shampoos.

Because of the chemical drying associated with perms and waves, modern technology in perming processes has allowed an extra step to infuse moisture and protein into the hair shaft while the cuticle is still open. This step is done prior to neutralizing the hair. It is believed that this is the perfect time to moisturize the hair, then lock it in with the neutralizer.

There are varying types of results that women want when receiving a perm. Curly or Spiral perms produce tight, spiral-shaped curls and usually looks better on longer hair types. Body waves produce looser curls and add volume and fullness to the hair. The tightness of the curls or waves depends on the shape and size of the roller the hair is wrapped around. When deciding on the type of curls you want; it's best to bring in a picture. Your stylist can then look at the type of hair you have and decide which size roller is best to use, along with which type of perm is best for your hair.

Ironically, permanents aren't permanent. Therefore, to enhance your perm and improve your chances of maintaining your hair's health, not to mention, save you money, there are certain tips to follow.
  • After getting a perm, always wait at least 48 hours before shampooing and conditioning

  • Have your hair trimmed frequently, at least every 6 to 8 weeks.

  • When the hair is wet, treat it delicately; use a wide-tooth comb; the hair is at its weakest form when wet; damage and breakage can occur more frequently when wet.

  • Use a diffuser attachment on your blow dryer or allow the hair to dry naturally. This encourages curl definition

  • Use a deep conditioner once a month that promotes elasticity.

  • Use a specially formulated shampoo for permed hair or look for shampoos and conditioners that are moisturizing. Lack of moisture leads to hair breakage.

  • Avoid the sun, which can lead curls to frizz.

  • Avoid chlorine and salt water that will relax the perm.

  • Always wait at least 6 weeks between chemical treatments, like perms, coloring, relaxers, highlights, etc...
I'm sure we've all heard the nightmare stories on getting "the worst perm, ever". Often times, it takes weeks for the "look" you want from your perm to develop. Conditioning your perm will help it to relax and may aid you in developing the style or "look" you want. If all else fails, you may want to consult the stylist that did the perm. But try and keep in mind, the hair will grow; the perm is not permanent. And the result usually gets better within a few weeks.