What is a modern perm and how long does it last?

Posted by
Chloe Burcham
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites
Madonna 1980s Perm

The modern perm is making waves in 2021. Thinking of trying it out? Here’s what to know before you commit to the ‘80s inspired style.

From mullets to mohawks and mixie cuts, it’s no secret that the 80s had some serious hairstyles. The most iconic of the era? The perm, of course. If you’re new to the concept, let’s answer your most burning question first: What is a perm? 

A chemical treatment for creating permanent curls (hence the name), the perm became the hairstyle of an entire generation. Tight perms featuring ringlets and corkscrew curls were a mainstay of the 1980s with celebrities such as Dolly Parton (arguably the queen of the perm), Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna and Cher debuting the hairstyle at some point in their careers. 

Well, we’re here to tell you that the perm is back but this time it has a modern twist. 

Intrigued by the modern perm? We called up Luke Hersheson, hairstylist and CEO of Hershesons, to find out everything you need to know…

What is a perm?

Too young to remember the perm? Let us explain. Perms can be carried out to transform straight hair into permanent spirals and curls. They work by using chemicals to break and reset the hair bonds into waves or curls.

Hair is wrapped in rods to establish the desired curl pattern before a perm lotion is applied to set the curl. Once set, the solution is rinsed out and then a neutraliser is applied to halt the perming process.

You may also like

Here’s what happened when our beauty editor stopped straightening her naturally curly hair

What’s different about a modern perm?

“We’re getting loads more requests for perms in the salons and enquiries on Instagram pretty much daily, too,” says Hersheson. “If I’m honest, perm technology has not hugely moved on, but what has [moved on] is the haircut that goes with it.

“The bad connotations of perms are often down to the short bubble bobs and 70s mullet-style haircuts that went alongside the perm rather than the actual perm itself. 

“But if you imagine beautiful curly hair, like Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker or Lisa Bonet’s, you can achieve that look with a perm. It’s more the haircut that makes the perm look modern, contemporary and relevant.”

Do perms damage your hair?

“There are restrictions on who should get a perm,” explains Hersheson. “If you’ve already got heavily bleached or highlighted hair, you can’t really [get a perm] and maintain strong hair.

“Having a perm and keeping your hair in good condition is really important, so you need to bear this in mind if your hair isn’t in the best condition starting out. Perms are definitely most suitable on virgin hair.

“A perm will dry out your hair to some degree, so it will need more moisture and less heat. Embrace air drying or slow drying, rather than blasting the hair with heat.”

How long does a perm last?

“It depends on how tight you go,” says Hersheson. “If you get super tight curls [known as a tight perm], they tend to drop out slower but you might get a line where you see regrowth.

“If you do the curls much looser, you tend to get less of a regrowth line so this can look more natural when the perm is growing out.

“Usually, you’ll get around three to four months of wear from a perm.”

Can you undo a perm?

“No, not really,” says Hersheson. “You either grow it out or cut it off! It’s a commitment, for sure.”

Where can you get a modern perm?

“Perming doesn’t get taught to hairstylists like it did in the 80s, so the technique has kind of died out a bit,” says Hersheson.

“It’s really important that the person you go to understands perms. You also need someone who will tell you not to have it done if your hair isn’t in the right condition. You really need to trust your stylist.”

You may also like

The best hair masks for every type, every texture, and every concern

What should you know about after perm maintenance?

“If you’re at all familiar with Legally Blonde, then you’ll know that the first cardinal rule of perm maintenance is that you’re forbidden to wet your hair for at least 24 hours after. 

Once you’ve got curly hair, you’ll need moisturising shampoos and conditioners to keep the hair in good condition,” says Hersheson.

The best hair products for looking after your perm

You may also like

Best ingredients to nourish and hydrate afro-textured hair, according to the experts

Sign up for our essential edit of what to buy, see, read and do, and also receive our 11-page Ultimate Guide To Making Your Home Feel Bigger.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Main image: Getty