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

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Chloe Burcham
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Julia Roberts curly hair

The modern perm is making waves in 2021. Thinking of trying it out? Here’s everything you need to know. 

From mullets to mohawks, it’s no secret that the 80s had some serious hairstyles. The most iconic of the era? The perm.

A chemical treatment for creating permanent curls, the perm became the hairstyle of a generation – and now it’s back but with 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.

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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 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, 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’ 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 to 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.”

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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.

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