‘Perm’ may be short for ‘permanent,’ but the hairstyle’s lifespan varies more than you might think. A perm typically lasts three to six months, depending on your hair type and how well you take care of it.

The appointment is a long process, too, often lasting anywhere from one to five hours.

The main thing you need to remember is that your hair must remain dry and relatively untouched for the first 48 hours after your perm. As Elle Woods says in “Legally Blonde”: It’s “the first cardinal rule of perm maintenance.”

Several things can wreck or prolong your perm.

Although you can opt for a DIY perm, a pro hairstylist has much more curl-setting expertise and a greater knowledge of the chemicals used.

Your dedication to perm maintenance also plays a role. Avoid heat styling and products containing alcohol or silicone wherever possible to keep your perm intact.

Last but not least, think about your daily routine, especially if you’re a gym bunny or avid swimmer. Chlorinated water can have disastrous effects on perms, and sweat and humidity can result in frizz.

Two main types of perm exist: digital and ceramic. Both use a combination of chemicals — to break and reform the bonds of the hair — and rods to define how the overall perm will look.

Different-sized rods are used to create distinct curl shapes on different hair lengths. The rod placement affects the curl structure and location.

    Digital, or hot, perms use a heated approach. The method involves molding the hair using heated rods and dousing it in an acidic solution that breaks the disulfide bonds in your hair.

    The ceramic, or cold, perm uses no heat and a less damaging alkaline solution.

    Cold perms will give tight, vintage-looking curls, while hot perms tend to look more natural. Both approaches end with the application of a neutralizer to lock in the curls.

    Perm typeHow it’s doneWho gets itResultsMaintenance level
    Body wave Hot approach; hair is wrapped around larger rollers often placed in a nonuniform pattern for a natural result People who want natural-looking, defined curls; ideal for those whose hair tends to look limp Soft, loose, and natural-looking waves Little maintenance required; use low to medium heat styling on rare occasions
    Multi-textured Hot approach; two different-sized rods are used to wrap hair People who want natural bouncy curls; Best suited to those with long hair Natural-looking curls of varying tightness Low maintenance, though you should invest in moisturizing products
    Partial Hot approach where only the ends of the hair are curled Best for those with medium to long hair who want a manageable style Natural top and mid-section and voluminous ends Extremely low maintenance
    Root Cold approach: Two to four inches of the hair nearest the scalp is permed, leaving the rest natural People who want a bit of extra volume at the roots Adds body to the roots but leaves the rest of the hair completely natural Only lasts a few weeks, so little maintenance required
    Spot Hot or cold approach: Rods are placed in specific locations, depending on where curl is required People who don’t have naturally uniform curls or who want curls in a specific place (e.g., roots or ends) Only a specific section of the hair is permed; Curls can be either tight or loose, depending on personal preference Low maintenance, if hot approach used; Deep conditioning products will help
    Stacked Hot approach: Rollers of varying sizes added to middle and bottom sections of hair People who have hair cut in one single length, rather than layers; best for medium to long hair Hair is left flat on top, while curls create illusion of layers Little maintenance required; Use conditioning lotions as advised by hairstylist
    Straight Hair is doused in a straightening solution to break cystine bonds, then coated in plastic and left under a heater before being washed, dried, and straightened once again Those with naturally curly or wavy hair who want a stick-straight look Completely straight hair that’ll last for around three months Slightly more maintenance than other perms; Must resist treating or touching hair for up to 72 hours afterwards to avoid kinks; Conditioning treatments required
    Twist/Spiral Cold approach: long and thin curling rods set vertically in hair Works best on hair at least eight inches long Retro-style curls of varying sizes and lengths Medium to high maintenance with styling products required

    Other terms to know

    • Rod. The tool used to curl each individual section of hair. Rods come in various sizes, with thicker designs providing looser waves and thinner styles resulting in tighter curls.
    • Solution. This often contains the chemical ammonium thioglycolate. It can either be acidic or alkaline and softens hair structure by breaking protein bonds.
    • Neutralizer. This solution is applied toward the end of the perming process. It rebonds hair and brings its pH level back to normal, finishing the curl-setting procedure.

    Most perms don’t come cheap. Expect to pay between $30 and $150, depending on the type of perm you want. Some stylists may charge more. You should also factor a minimum 20 percent tip for your stylist into your overall cost.

    Preparing to have a perm means taking the time to prepare your hairstylist, too. Visit your chosen salon with photos of your ideal style. Your hairstylist can then ensure your hair type will work with the perm you want and leave you satisfied with your new curly appearance.

    Your stylist will give you more detailed information, but general guidelines suggest:

    • In the month leading up to your appointment, refrain from dying or highlighting your hair.
    • Two days before, apply a deep conditioning treatment such as Miss Jessie’s Leave-In Condish.
    • Don’t touch your hair at all 24 hours prior.

    If your hair becomes too dry and frizzy, your perm may suffer irreversible damage that can only be fixed by the passage of time.

    Here’s a few ways to keep those curls locked in for months.

    • Get your hair cut regularly. Curls become less pronounced with hair growth. Remember to book a haircut every three to four months to keep your perm in tip-top condition.
    • Wash your hair less, condition it more. Washing your hair too often can strip away natural oils. Research published in the International Journal of Trichology states that these oils are needed to keep hair healthy. To banish unwanted dryness, cut down your weekly shampoo count and increase your conditioning time.
    • Invest in protein treatments. Perming chemicals break your hair’s protein bonds. They’re rebonded before you leave the salon, but will still welcome nourishing products. Olaplex’s Hair Perfector claims to relink broken disulfide bonds and is designed for all hair types. Alternatively, you can make your own protein hair masks. Try a combination of egg and yogurt or avocado and coconut milk.
    • Get into deep conditioning. Applying your usual conditioner will only help so much. A product like Shea Moisture’s Superfruit Complex 10-In-1 Renewal System Hair Masque contains raw shea butter for extra nourishment and the super moisturizing marula oil and biotin. Apply once or twice a week for maximum impact.
    • Change your brush. Brushing your perm with any old brush will ruin it in the blink of an eye. Use a wooden wide-tooth comb to gently comb damp hair. When it’s dry, use a soft paddle brush to remove any hardy knots.
    • Get acquainted with some new products. Look out for sulfate-free shampoos and products that focus on making the most of curls. TIGI Catwalk’s Curls Rock Amplifier aims to hold your waves in place and protect from humid temperatures.
    • Change your sleeping habits. Perms can often look unkempt first thing in the morning. Either wrap your hair in a silk scarf or rest your head on a silky pillowcase to keep hair tangle- and frizz-free.
    • Avoid chemical treatments. Wait at least a month after your perm before applying any further chemicals to your hair.

    Does getting a perm hurt your hair?

    A perm isn’t as detrimental to your hair health as bleaching. But the process may weaken and dry strands, according to a PeerJ study. If you already have damaged hair, you may be more prone to a brittle feel or even breakage.

    Does your hair type or texture matter?

    Perms will work on most hair types and textures. Those with thicker and slightly wavy hair may find the process easier. Thin and stick-straight hair will often require expert help.

    Does your hair length matter?

    The more hair you have, the more difficult a perm can be. An even application of both chemicals and rods is needed to create a uniform look, so it’s best not to go down the DIY route if your hair is long. Layers can also be tricky to deal with, particularly if they’re on the shorter side.

    Can you get a perm if you have dyed hair?

    You can, but be aware that a perm can lighten hair color. Perming fully dyed hair is often better than perming highlighted hair, which could go frizzy pretty quickly.

    Can you dye your hair after you get a perm?

    You should wait around a month before doing anything drastic to your hair. It’s possible to dye permed hair but, as with everything else, ask your hairstylist before committing to anything.

    Can you use heat tools after you get a perm?

    If you’re set on using any kind of heat styling, protect your perm first. Use a product like Kenra Platinum Blow-Dry Spray and invest in a diffuser for your hair dryer. This will ensure the air isn’t concentrated in one place, keeping your curls where they should be.

    When should your next appointment be?

    A hairstylist will give you a rough indicator of how long it will take for your perm to grow out. Some people can go six months, others only three. Unfortunately, you might have to deal with a few weeks of straight roots but it’s worth it to keep your hair in a healthy state.

    With the right care, your new curls can last for months on end. And if you have a burning question that you just can’t find the answer to, always ask a professional.