Perms – the chemical hair treatments that changed the hair game 100 years ago and haven’t left since. They make any hair texture possible regardless of what genes you were born with.
Curls, waves, volume, pin-straight hair – everything is an option with a perm. The process of perming your hair, just like any type of chemical processing, can lead to some damage and weakening of the hair shaft.
But can perms cause hair loss? A well-done professional perm should never cause hair loss or baldness. A good hair stylist knows how to ensure that their client’s hair suffers minimal damage and that the client knows how to care for the hair properly after perming to avoid any further damage.
That being said, in some rare situations, a perm can go bad. This leads to a severe weakening of the hair, leading to breakage, split ends, frizz, and in worst cases hair loss.
If you are wondering how you can prevent hair loss and damage from a perm, keep reading. We explain what a perm is, how to do it to minimize damage, and how to care for your hair afterward to prevent hair loss.
What Exactly Is A Perm?
Perms have gone through a lot of changes since their first inception in the 1900s. Today, perms are safer than they’ve ever been, leaving hair bouncy, shiny, and healthy-looking. But despite how safe they’ve become, a perm is still a chemical process, so it’s not damage-proof.
Your hair is made up of protein molecules called keratin. In fact, keratin makes up about 95% of your hair structure. These keratin molecules are permanently bound together forming the superstructure of each individual hair.
Your genetics determine how these molecules are bound together – whether they form tight curls or pin-straight locks. This is your natural hair texture, and you’ve probably fought with it before by using hot tools and hair sprays to try to alter it for a day.
Enter the perm. A perm uses chemicals to alter the bonds of your keratin molecules on a permanent basis (hence, the name).
The chemical compounds in a perm solution break the bonds allowing your keratin molecules to float around freely and arrange themselves in whatever shape you want.
For example, if your stylist wraps your hair around a roller, it will force your hair molecules to shape themselves in a new wavy pattern and form new bonds while in this position. This is how you end up with a brand new curly look.
Other types of perms can do the same thing but instead of re-arranging your hair molecules in a curly pattern, they straighten your hair instead.
Basically, a perm can be used to achieve any shape or pattern of hair. It simply enables the breakdown of hair molecule bonds and the formation of new bonds to create new textures.
When permed hair grows out, the new growth is still subject to your natural texture, so in reality, a perm isn’t actually “permanent” – it only affects the part of the hair that has gone through the chemical processing.
And even the processed hair will eventually lose its initial shape as the bonds weaken over time. Realistically, a perm lasts about 6-8 months.
Can Perms Cause Hair Damage?
Perms can cause some damage to the hair. Because the chemicals in a perm break down natural bonds between hair molecules, damage to the hair shaft is inevitable. The very breakdown of bonds is considered damaging.
However, this does not mean your hair will look broken, dull, or fragile. In fact, when done correctly, perms can leave your hair feeling and looking just as strong as it was before.
Sure, the structure of your hair becomes a little bit weakened during the process, but overall your hair should continue to behave like healthy hair.
Under normal circumstances, you should not be experiencing excessive dryness, breakage, or hair loss after a perm. When done correctly, a perm causes less damage than hair bleaching.
The amount of damage your hair incurs from a perm is often determined by the condition of the hair beforehand. If your hair is pretty healthy and has had minimal chemical processing, you will probably be just fine after a perm.
But if your hair is already very damaged, for example, over-bleached hair with breakage, we would not recommend doing a perm because it might cause even more damage that could end up detrimental to your hair.
A good hairstylist will be able to tell you whether your hair can safely withstand a perm, so always consult with a professional before taking the plunge.
What Causes Hair Loss After A Perm?
Although hair loss is not normal after a perm, sometimes it does happen. Post-perm hair loss is usually a result of a poorly-done perm job where the chemical processing is too harsh for the hair and scalp.
Damage To The Hair Shaft
If you are experiencing hair loss after a perm, it is most likely due to breakage. The perm may have been too harsh for your hair, which causes it to become brittle and snap off leaving you with uneven ends, split ends, and a lot of loose hairs all over your clothes.
It may have happened because your stylist underestimated the amount of damage in your hair prior to perming. It can also happen if the perming solution was kept in your hair for too long.
The good news is that this type of hair loss is temporary, albeit very unpleasant. Eventually, your hair will stop breaking off and new growth will replace it with healthier strands.
You can also slow down the breakage by taking extra good care of your hair after perming. Hydrating it through conditioning and keratin treatments can breathe some life back into it and prevent some breakage.
All of this is to say – don’t panic. If you are experiencing hair loss because your hair is brittle, it’s not the end of the world. We will be sharing some tips at the end of this article that you can implement to save your hair after a bad perm job.
Damage To The Scalp
A much rarer form of hair loss after a perm is caused by damage to the scalp. This is the type of hair loss that is much scarier because it can become permanent.
Damage to the scalp is caused by the perm solution being too harsh for the skin and being kept on the scalp for too long. This is usually accompanied by pretty severe feelings of burning, itching, and pain.
So if you’re feeling like your head is burning during a perm – speak up. You might save your hair from a lot of damage. If the damage is done, your scalp may develop redness, itching, flaking, hair loss, and even a permanent bald spot if it scars over.
To avoid this, make sure your stylist knows what they are doing. Make sure your hair and scalp are prepped for perming and not just done on a whim.
You can also apply topical creams and scalp treatments if you feel that your scalp may have gotten irritated during the perming process.
Not all damage to the scalp will automatically lead to hair loss – you are much more likely to get some temporary redness and flaking than you are to develop a bald spot. But it’s always better to avoid damaging your scalp at all.
Prepping Your Hair For A Perm To Avoid Hair Loss
Hair loss caused by damage to the hair and scalp during the perming process is entirely preventable. Follow these tips to ensure that your hair is thoroughly prepped for a perm and will not suffer too much damage.
Make Sure Hair Isn’t Already Damaged
The first step is to determine whether your hair can handle a perm to begin with. If you have a lot of damage to your hair from a previous perm or from a bleach job, you may want to hold off on getting a perm right now.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have virgin hair or has it been dyed before?
- Do you have any lightened or bleached areas in your hair?
- Are you experiencing a lot of split ends or breakage already?
- Does your hair feel like it’s thinning around the hairline?
- Have you had another perm in the last 12 months?
- Do you experience excessive tangling?
If you have answered yes to a few of these, your hair might be too damaged already to survive a perm job.
Consider growing your hair out for a while and maybe get a few protein treatments. Get your hair to the point where it is strong and healthy before you perm it. The best way to prevent hair loss after a perm is to make sure your hair is healthy before the perm.
Have A Consultation With A Professional
Don’t just schedule an appointment for a perm and get one done. We strongly urge you to have a consultation first.
A consultation is a meeting with your stylist where he or she gets to assess your hair condition, discuss the perming process, and together you can decide whether you should go forward with the perm.
This is your opportunity to share pictures of your desired results, discuss any previous chemical processing you’ve done on your hair, and ask questions. This is also your chance to assess the stylist and their operation. Are they someone you trust with your hair?
Here are some things you can ask your stylist to determine if they have the expertise to perform a safe perm job:
- Have you done a perm on my hair type before?
- Can I see some results of previous perm jobs?
- Can I see some reviews for you/your salon?
- What types of perm solutions do you use?
- What type of aftercare treatments do you recommend?
You can also do additional research about your stylist to determine if they have the skills to work with your hair – check out their Instagram account, read some Yelp reviews, and reach out to your network to see if they have any feedback about this stylist.
Make sure you are entrusting your hair health to a professional. Avoid the temptation to go with someone less experienced (or a boxed perm) for the sake of saving money – this is one of those times where it’s not worth it, trust us.
Prep For Perm Day
If you’ve decided to move forward with the perm, take some steps to prepare for the big day!
First of all, make sure you have 4-6 hours of free time to dedicate to this, as some perms can take that long. You don’t want to rush the process because you didn’t plan well. The last thing you want is for your stylist to feel the pressure to use a stronger chemical mix to speed up the perming – that’s a recipe for disaster.
Secondly, make sure not to wash your hair for a few days before you go in. This is will ensure there is some natural oil build-up that will protect your scalp and sensitive new growth from the effects of the chemicals.
Make sure there are no products in your hair when you come in, especially hair sprays or other chemicals that can interact with the perm solution.
Your stylist may have some other suggestions (aren’t you glad you had that consultation?), so make sure you follow them for best results as well.
Perm Aftercare To Avoid Hair Loss
So, you got your perm – congrats! You’re probably excited to have your beautiful new hair. If you’ve followed the preparation tips above, you probably have awesome results – healthy, shiny hair with zero damage.
But your work isn’t done. Now it’s time to make sure you’re practicing proper aftercare to ensure your hair continues to maintain its health and shine after the perming process.
Do Not Wash Your Hair
You need to let your hair set for the first few days after the perm, so do not wash or get it wet for at least 2-3 days. Your stylist should give you specific instructions depending on the type of chemical he or she used. If you get your hair wet too soon, you might lose all of the progress created by the perming process.
Although you took all the necessary steps to prepare your hair for the perm, it is still a chemical process that has a tendency to dry out your locks.
Once you are able to wash your hair again, make sure to use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner (we love this fantastic duo from Pure Nature), and leave-in treatment (check out this awesome leave-in conditioner from Shea Moisture). Your hair might feel a little drier than usual, so hydrating products are instrumental.
Avoid Heat Styling
To keep your hair as healthy as possible after a perm, avoid using heat products like curlers and straighteners. After all, you just got a permanent new style, so rock it!
We also recommend allowing it to air-dry instead of blow-drying it whenever possible. With the right leave-in products, your permed hair should air-dry beautifully into your new style.
Getting a regular trim is always important in maintaining hair health, but even more so after a perm. If you don’t trim your hair, it can develop split ends that will continue to split the hair shaft up the whole length of the hair, resulting in brittleness and breakage.
To avoid that, make sure to get a trim every time you notice new split ends developing.
Hair loss is not a normal by-product of hair perming, and you can take steps to ensure your hair is healthy enough to get a perm with minimal damage. We hope this guide helps you maintain your beautiful style without hair loss.
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