A Guide to Perming and Avoiding 12 Common Symptoms of Hair Damage
Permanent hair waving aka perming is a chemical/mechanical treatment that modifies hair protein to give a curly shape that can be retained for about 3 to 6 months.
During the perm waving process, the hair is wound on rods then treated with a reducing agent, typically thioglycolate, followed by an oxidising agent, hydrogen peroxide.
The first reduction step reduces the cysteine inside the hair by breaking the S-S bridge of the cysteine molecule. This weakens the hair fiber, helping it conform to its new shape. The oxidation step then locks the new conformation of the hair proteins by rejoining the S-S bridge.
Steps in Permanent Waving
Step 1: Decide the hairstyle you want to go by.
A permanent wave means you cannot change your style for at least next 3 to 4 months. Decide if you want curly head or gentle waves.
If you are planning to get the perming done in a salon, tell your hairdresser exactly what you want.
Step 2: Assess your hair type and quality.
After deciding the desired hairstyle, examining your hair quality is important to determine the perm type and prevent adverse effects. The amount of processing needed and active ingredients in the perm-waving solution varies with hair types.
- Hair thickness
- Scalp health
- Split ends
- Tinted hair
If the hair feels rough, is of a lighter colour or has split ends, it may have porous structure resulting from previous bleaching, colouring, or perming. The increased porosity allows the perming solution to react faster. So, you know that a short processing time is needed. Similarly, for damaged hair, bigger curlers and lower perm strength is required.
For sensitive scalp skin heat from drying hood should not be used, as it accelerates the chemical reaction and might increase the risk of skin irritation.
Step 3: Use a mild shampoo to wash fat and residual cosmetics off of your hair.
Water swells the hair and softens it.
Step 4: Apply an aqueous or oily conditioning pre-product.
This equalizes the hair structure from root to tip and lowers chemical reactivity of hair tips.
Step 5: Divide hair into sections.
Use a comb to get flat hair tresses. Do not irritate the scalp while combing.
Step 6: Using end papers, wrap around the hair tip and roll the hair down to the scalp in the direction of hair growth, winding the hair tightly on curlers.
End papers align tip end hair fiber, protect the hair, and delay an instant reaction. Usually, a rigid rod is used for moistened hair as bending the hair can produce tension on hair.
Step 7: Use a protective barrier cream on the hairline and ears. Apply cotton plugs along the hairline. Use a towel to clean the drips.
Hands that are softened due to frequent exposures to surfactants react to monothioglycolate esters found in acid waves causing skin reactions.
Step 8: Apply the perm waving lotion and avoid dripping.
The lotion penetrates into the hair, reduces the cysteine, and softens hair. This prepares the hair to take the new shape.
Step 9: Apply heat using hairdryer/heat processor.
Heat accelerates the process of penetration, reduction, and mobility of hair proteins.
Step 10: Perm processing.
Reductive cleavage of hair and cysteine network proceeds, hair swells up and becomes almost double in diameter. Then the hair contracts generating internal stress which relaxes by flowing of proteins. The hair substances transfers to “plastic” from being elastic and takes the shape of the curler.
Step 11: Performing a test curl.
A test curl is unwound from the curler after 5-8 minutes to see the degree of curl achieved and decide whether to process for some more time.
Step 12: Rinse off the perm waving solution thoroughly using water up to 3 minutes.
Chemicals get diluted and removed from hair. No more chemical reaction takes place but the swelling and shrinking of hair onto the curler continues by osmotic forces.
Step 13: Apply a neutralization solution.
This is an important step in perming. The neutralizer is processed for up to 10 minutes followed by rinsing and unwinding the hair.
Re-oxidation of cysteine to cystine by an oxidising agent (hydrogen peroxide) fixes cystine cross-links and restores hair protein again. Cystine oxidises to cysteic acid causing deswelling and hardening of hair. Unwinding the hair relaxes curls.
3 to 10 minutes are usually recommended to obtain a lasting perm, for re-oxidation and neutralization step. Thorough neutralization is important for hair to gain their physical strength.
Step 14: Apply an acid conditioning product as after treatment.
Applying an acid conditioning lotion as an after treatment, neutralizes hair by restoring the internal pH of hair, removes residual peroxide, stabilizes hold of the curls and protects the curl from future damage.
Step 15: Dry and style the hair as you like.
Curl relaxation starts when the hair is wet, brushing and combing can diminish curl retention. So, it is best to use air drying.
Using perming products is a little complex. A good experience and care is needed during and after the application to ensure the perming gives you desirable results and as well for the personal safety.
Going to salon for getting the perms done is good for you if you have never done it before or are not sure about your hair type and the instructions are not clear to you.
But, if you are like been there, done that or are very sure about these styling things go by it. Here, is a little idea for you to identify what might have gone wrong previously or what to avoid doing to make sure you do it right.
The cosmetic products are very safe. This can be confirmed by the statistics of adverse reactions from cosmetic products sold between 1976 and 2004, which revealed only 1.1 undesired effects per million product packages sold.
However, even though a perm product has been approved as safe by legal authorities, rare hair or skin damages can occur from improper use of the products or incorrect application. For example, by applying a home wave without reading or understanding instructions, or using new and probably untrained and unskillful hairdressers at the salons.
Symptoms of Hair/Skin Damage During Perm Treatment and Their Possible Causes
1. Lack or excess of curliness.
- Wrong choice of product.
- Excessive development time and temperature.
- Incomplete rinsing of active perm solution or shampoo.
2. Hair breakage near root.
- Perm choice too strong for fine or pre-damaged (may be due to previous bleaching or tinting) hair.
- Tight winding or rubber bands can produce stress on the hair root.
- Winding against the direction of hair growth.
3. Breakage in hair length.
- Winding on curlers with fish hooks.
- Incomplete neutralization.
4. Damage near tip ends.
- Pre-treatment with an equalizer (conditioner) was not done.
- Wrap end papers were not used during processing.
- Excess perm solution was stored in the hair tips.
5. Unwanted kinky curls.
- Waving power of the perm product was too high.
- Curler thickness too thin.
- Processing time with heat too long.
6. Curls without springiness.
- Loose winding.
- Impaired protein creep.
- Time set incorrectly.
- Application levels too low.
7. Wet hair feels plastified, spongy and extensible.
- Over processing due to extended application.
- Neutralization too short.
- Loss of keratin elasticity.
- Increased hydrophilicity.
8. After drying hair feels rough, ready to break.
- Rinsing before applying neutralizer very short.
- Loss of hair lipids and proteins.
- Increased hair surface friction by shrunken cuticle cells.
9. Highlighted natural colour or tint.
- Dissolution of natural pigment.
- Excess perm conditions.
- Too much heat heat rollers/hood defect.
- Skin swelling during extensive pre-wash.
12. Irritant skin
- Soaked cotton pads for face protection not removed.
- Applying beach immediately after perming may chip off the cuticle as a whole.
- Trying to repair the unexpected result by repeating the perming process is not encouraged as multiple treatments, as well as combination of perming and bleaching or colouring in the same session leads to heavily damaged hair.
Disclaimer: This article is purely informative and educational. It is not a substitute for medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with a certified medical/healthcare practitioner.
- Draelos ZD, editor. Cosmetic Dermatology: Products and Procedures. Oxford: John Wiley and Sons; 2010. pp. 126–127.
© 2018 Sherry Haynes