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Home Perms

Updated on May 18, 2012
A concerned home permer? Nah...Harpo Marrx
A concerned home permer? Nah...Harpo Marrx

The Return of the Curl

Ever been wiped out by a permanent wave...? When it comes to do-it-yourself, home perms are notoriously dodgy. Yet they have...apparently, come a long way from the burnt-out frizz producing chemical catastrophes of our mothers and grandmothers era and thank heavens for that.

Since the style pundits have declared the straight look tired and are predicting the return of the curl, perms might be back on the fashion agenda. However, I suspect the home perm may still be a territory only the brave will be willing to venture into.

The Benefits

According to the experts at perms are a "fantastic way to add everything from body to true curls to straight hair. A perm also gives you truly “wash and wear hair style, freeing you from the hassles of setting, blow-drying, and curling irons.'

Many women opt for a perm for the variety..the shift from straight to curly can create a whole new image. The main and probably only advantage of a home perm is that they are a fraction of the cost of a salon perm. You can also use them for curling specific areas of hair, such as the ends of long hair or for adding body to a fringe.

The promise of the modern perm. Images from
The promise of the modern perm. Images from

Tips For a Home Perm

  • Have everything prepared before you begin -towel, scissors, gloves, comb, timer etc.
  • Use a spray mist bottle for applying solution (less messy)
  • If you have long hair, best to involve a friend
  • Make sure you have plenty of rods...don't leave yourself short (no rods/no curl)
  • Rolling is the most important part of the process. Don't try to stuff too much hair on one roller. The hair should be rolled evenly, without lumps and bunches and if you mess it up, unroll and start again.
  • The rule is large rods for body, small for tighter curls, medium for in-between
  • Make sure the end papers covers the tips of your hair
  • Timing is essential...ensure you don't over-process by leaving the solution in for too long. Better to under process than the reverse.
  • Whatever you do, don't forget to neutralise!

Things that can go Wrong With a Home Perm

Winding up with a frizz fright is the main complaint against home perms and this is usually caused by one of three things

  • leaving the solution on too long
  • winding the hair too tightly onto the rod
  • attempting to perm hair that is overly-porous or in bad condition

After perming you should wait two or three weeks before colouring and if your hair is already coloured make sure you select a perm specifically for colour-treated hair. Bleached hair does not respond well to perming, since it is already highly chemically processed.

Unfortunately if the home perm does turn out to be a disaster, cutting the hair is the only solution.

No, these aren't stills from a Fritz Lang film. They are early methods for perming....a machine made in 1923 by Icall (above) and a root winding method using tubular heaters, 1934. Images from Wikipedia
No, these aren't stills from a Fritz Lang film. They are early methods for perming....a machine made in 1923 by Icall (above) and a root winding method using tubular heaters, 1934. Images from Wikipedia

The Allure of the Wave

For centuries women have tried various methods to coax their hair into luxurious curls, including using tree sap as a setting lotion, clay, hot irons, rags, sugar and water and thermal tongs, among otherthings..but it wasn't until the invention of a chemical wave system around the turn of the 20th century, that it became possible to curl hair; lasting for a few months.

Karl Nessler is the man credited with developing the first permanet wave technique by combining an alkai chemical with brass heated rollers and a cumbersome machine.

The cold wave technique was developed in 1938 by Arnold F. Willatt. The system, which featured the use of ammonium thioglycolatere, revolutionized permanent waving and became the basis for the modern system, only ammonium thioglycolatere was now replaced by sodium thioglycolatere.

Acid perms were added to the mix in the 1970s and these used glycerol monothioglycolate and contained no ammonia. They were slower but gentler to the hair .

Digital Perm

A 21st century addition is the development of the digital perm, by Japanese company, PAIMORE Co., Ltd, which sounds very high-tech. It combines chemicals with heat regulated by a machine which has a digital display...thus the name. This system is primarily designed for course hair and is not so effective with finer hair.

The Perms

Vintage Ad for Toni Home Perms
Vintage Ad for Toni Home Perms

Toni and Twink

The first popular home perm was manufactured by Toni, followed by Twink in Britain. Perms were consistantly popular from the 1930s onwards, but after a peak in the 1980s, during which they suffered from an over-the-top over-exposure, they fell into a state of passe redundancy.

If curls do return, so too will the perm, as naturally curly hair is far less common than straight. They are still a reasonable option for hair that is limp, oily and flat.

Nostalgic Perms

1930's -Marion Davies
1930's -Marion Davies
1940's-Rita hayworth
1940's-Rita hayworth
1950's-Gloria Graham
1950's-Gloria Graham
1960's-Jimi Hendrix...ok prob'ly not a perm but I couldn't find one from that era
1960's-Jimi Hendrix...ok prob'ly not a perm but I couldn't find one from that era
1970's-10CC's Graham Gould...definitely a man-perm
1970's-10CC's Graham Gould...definitely a man-perm
More 1970's-Barbara Streisand
More 1970's-Barbara Streisand
1980's-Kylie Minogue
1980's-Kylie Minogue


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    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore make "hair technician" sound ominous. I'm sure you made a very cute Orphan Annie Austinstar,

      Thanks for reading.

    • Austinstar profile image


      8 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

      Oh wow, when I was young my mom was a "hair technician" and she experimented on my hair so many times. Perms were her favorite way to make me look like Little Orphan Annie!

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore


    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      Well this curled my hair. Great funny hub! I wish I had Harpo's hair!

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Dolores, it's good to hear a positive account of home perming...and thanks for providing my one and only comment on this hub!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I used to love home perms. My mother used to give me the greatest perms, but I've gone back to straight. Love the picture of Harpo Marx!


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