Can You Straighten A Perm?

hairstylist straightens woman's permed hair at a beauty salon

Can you straighten a perm? Yes, a perm can be straightened after some time. You should just be ready for some damage control. The word perm itself may cause some folk to be immediately transported to the pomp of the 80’s, when hair that was bigger was absolutely better, and when to-die-for hairspray did some crazy damage to the o-zone. 

Glitter, glam, and burnt hair aside, perms are so much more nowadays besides the iconic, bodaciously voluminous styles that celebrities like Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton donned. Oh, and how can we forget about the entirety of Queen?

A perm is a chemical or thermal process that alters the natural texture of the hair. Usually, a perm creates curly or wavy hair with the assistance of perm rods. The style can last anywhere from 2-10 months, depending on your hair type and on the amount of upkeep you put into it.

Nowadays, perms are classified as being either “hot” or as being “cold,” with the technique dictating the exact way the perm is classified. These specific techniques also have their own degrees of damage associated with them, so it is a good idea to figure out which would be the best fit for you before dedicating yourself to a singular method. 

For example, cold perms can have a higher risk for damage, and are best suited for those with medium porosity, virgin hair. Anything that has been chemically processed with dyes or bleach in the past runs the risk of becoming more damaged as a result. Oh—and cold perms only really offer classically tight, uniformed, defined curls. That’s right: style diversity is seriously lacking with cold perms.

Now, hot perms are also affectionately known as acid perms (don’t worry, there won’t be any actual acid on your hair). As their name suggests, they need heat to be able to process and retain their hold. Outside of that, hot perms are low-maintenance and offer beautifully permed hair at a lower damage risk. 

Before moving on, it is worth adding that, compared to cold perms, they are far more versatile: you can get anything from a perfect beach wave to a Shirley Temple spiral. Versatility is crucial in this day and age, when beauty trends are changing with the wind. Whereas one day you could have a perm and love the outcome, you may suddenly realize that it isn’t for you.

Whether you miss your straight hair or are realizing that styling permed hair is far more work than you want to put into it, you may need a way to get out of your new curls—and quickly. While straightening is the obvious answer here, you may be wondering where to even begin.

Honestly, it is confusing, and is new territory for you. There is no shame in it. If you can totally relate to the above, fear not: you’ve come to the right article. Today, we’ll be going over all you need to know about straightening permed hair, the options available to safely perm your hair, what exactly reverse and straight perms are.

Can You Straighten Permed Hair?

Yes, you can definitely straighten permed hair—but hold the phone! Don’t just put a hot iron to your preciously permed hair all willy-nilly. Although you can straighten permed hair, keep in mind that there will be some degree of damage involved. And, nope, there is no way to avoid that. First off, perming is damaging itself.

Admittedly, it is not as bad as bleaching is, but the cumulative process certainly can create brittle and dry strands. If you happen to use a flat iron to straighten your perm, always use a tried-and-true heat protectant to reduce the amount of heat damage to your hair. Furthermore, there is a “cool down” period after a perm where you shouldn’t get it wet or use hot tools on it.

This remains true regardless of the type of perm you receive. For optimal results after a perming procedure, always follow the after care advice established by your cosmetologist to avoid any unnecessary damage. After all, by keeping your perm in tip-top shape, you are doing your hair a huge service.

How Long After A Perm Can You Straighten Your Hair?

A month to two months should pass before you attempt to straighten your hair following a perm. Permed hair—and other chemically processed hair—can cause high porosity and intense dryness for some individuals.

In themselves, perms can be damaging if your hair is naturally dry or if it has been chemically processed in the past. And, of course, damage can happen if your hair is somehow improperly permed. It is always better to be safe than to be sorry, especially when it comes down to your hair.

Even if it just so happens that you really don’t like your permed hair—whether it is too much upkeep or if it simply isn’t your style—hold off on trying to straighten it for at least a month at a minimum. This time frame is in place to help give your hair some time to structurally recover.

How Do I Straighten Permed Hair?

There are a handful of ways you could go about straightening permed hair. Most of the below options will result in some damage, although they will not completely destroy your hair. 

These methods include the following:

  • Blow Drying
  • Straightening Flat Iron
  • Reverse Perm

Consider that a perm will last as long as the solution is active, which will be between 3-6 months after the day of application. Once your hair is wet after straightening, it will absolutely curl up (or wave, depending on the style of perm you received), regardless of how long you had kept your hair straight after straightening.

Lastly, there is a risk of ruining your perm if you straighten your hair more than three times a week with it. Even if you’re only straightening your hair once a week, it’s possible to ruin your perm if you’re not careful. If you’re not sure how often you should be straightening your hair, ask a professional hairstylist for advice.

Is There Such A Thing As A Reverse Perm?

Technically, yes, there is such a thing as a reverse perm. Sort of. Reverse perms do the opposite of your usual perm treatment: it takes curls out of hair. That’s where the reverse comes in. A reverse perm is performed when the perm’s waving lotion (which contains ammonium thioglycolate) is combed throughout the hair continuously, rendering it straight.

A neutralizer would be followed through after the lotion is applied. Unfortunately, reverse perms aren’t the strongest of ways to remove curls from the hair. They’re greatly effective for individuals with looser curls or more defined waves that are looking to straighten their tresses, but may not be as effective for those who have tighter curls.

The process is time consuming itself, but it can be done from home – you’ll just need a bit of patience. If you are still exploring your options, it would be best to consult a professional cosmetologist that has extensive experience dealing with perming or straightening treatments. They should be able to offer you some insight into what treatments would work best for your hair type.

Is There Such A Thing As A Straight Perm?

Yes, a straight perm is totally a thing. Straight perms are, more or less, the chemical process of permanently—or semi-permanently—straightening the hair. In hair, permanently means that your desired effect will last a number of months. Comparatively, an effect that is semi-permanent will guarantee that it will last a duration of at least 3 weeks. 

A “straight perm” treatment encompasses permanent and semi-permanent treatments that straighten the hair. This can include hair relaxing, thermal restructuring, or a Brazilian Blowout. Below is a bit more information about each of the above in-depth.

While reviewing each, it is important to note that each method has their own risks and rewards. Whereas one may have worked marvelously on your best friend, the same method may ruin your own hair. We advise looking into each option and to consult an experienced professional before making any big changes to your mane.

Hair Relaxing

Relaxing targets frizzy strands and loosens tight curls. A hair relaxer is usually used by individuals with very curly hair looking to loosen their curls, making it easier to straighten their hair while effectively eliminating any present frizz. 

Unlike a curled perm, relaxers only last in the hair about 8 weeks at maximum. They are considered semi-permanent in nature and can be purchased in-store for at-home treatments if you aren’t looking to drop anywhere from $50 – $250 at the salon.

Thermal Restructuring

Also known as thermal reconditioning or as thermal straightening, this process involves the use of heat to restructure bonds within the hair in unison with chemical solutions. It was developed in Japan during the 1990’s to give the client perfectly sleek hair for up to 6 months after treatment.

Akin to the perms we are familiar with, the solution used during thermal restructuring also includes ammonium thioglycolate as an active ingredient: here, it is involved in the process as a thio relaxer, which has a pH of around 10 (compared to hydrogen relaxers that level with a pH of about 13).

Thermal restructuring treatment is usually carried out by a professional in a salon, because the process needs to be monitored closely and timed perfectly. If you’re looking to get a thermal restructuring, professional in-salon prices on average range anywhere from $450 – $850 nationwide.

Brazilian Blowouts (And Other Keratin Treatments)

The Brazilian Blowout took the world by storm when it began to grace the heads of American A-List celebs like Halle Berry and Jennifer Aniston in the early 2000’s, after its development in Brazil in 2005. This treatment offers clients pin-straight, silky hair (though it can be performed without stripping the hair of natural curl), with the process primarily targeting frizziness.

Despite being initially labeled as being “formaldehyde-free,” later investigations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered that Brazilian Blowout was one of a handful of other straightening treatment brands that emitted formaldehyde when heated with a blow dryer and straightener.

There has been a warning issued to the company explaining the emissions of formaldehyde, and the FDA acknowledges that Brazilian Blowout has taken steps to remedy the previous concerns by removing the “formaldehyde-free” label. Considering most Brazilian Blowouts at the salon are upwards of $300, that’s a lot of money for such a risk.

On the same hand, there are alternatives, like other keratin treatments. It should be noted that some keratin treatments also have formaldehyde, but not all of them. Those that do not instead contain glyoxylic acid, which is admittedly less-effective but doesn’t cause scalp irritation.

A standard keratin hair treatment costs anywhere from $300 – $800, with cheaper, at-home alternatives available. Note that some salons do not offer keratin treatments or Brazilian Blowouts for risk of formaldehyde, therefore if you are interested in either option, phone in beforehand for some clarification. 

Is It Safe To Use A Perm Solution To Straighten Hair?

Perm solution can be used to straighten hair. It would be classified as a chemical straightener and outside of some damage (dryness) it is completely safe. The primary active ingredient in many perm solutions of today is ammonium thioglycolate.

The ammonia in this chemical concoction (also referred to as perm salt) would cause the hair cuticle to swell: this swelling makes the hair vulnerable. By swelling and opening the hair cuticle, depositing various things becomes easy (which is why ammonia is so commonly used in hair dyes).

Meanwhile, the thioglycolic acid within the solution disrupts the hair’s disulfide bonds. These bonds enforce the texture of the hair as determined by the follicle; in short, they provide structure to the individual strands.

When these bonds are disrupted, think of it as wiping the slate clean: anything is possible now. While using a perm solution to straighten hair can be done, this approach has fallen out of popularity thanks to the development and accessibility of hair straighteners.

Is It Safe To Use A Straightening Iron On Permed Hair?

We wouldn’t recommend the use of a straightening iron on permed hair until two weeks to a month have passed since the procedure. Remember that your hair is pretty overloaded at this point so that it can maintain your perm, and was put in a vulnerable place in order to even get permed in the first place.

Saying that, make sure you use a light, reliable heat protectant prior to using the straightening iron. Heat protectants are an effective measure to reduce the potential damage caused by heat styling tools. Most of the heat protectants you will find on the market today are silicone-based, or have silicone-based ingredients.

As cosmetic chemist and educator Michelle Wong of Lab Muffin Beauty Science explains, silicone acts as a barrier that seals the hair cuticle to retain moisture. Further, it has low thermal conductivity, meaning that it transfers the heat slowly across your hair. Both effects help curb heat damage caused by the use of curlers, hot irons, and other hot tools.

On that note, straightening your hair every now and again won’t necessarily ruin your perm. Problems only start to arise after frequent straightening. The repeated use of heat styling tools can ruin your perm and cause some extensive damage to your hair—with or without a heat protectant.

Hair that is permed has been chemically processed, meaning it has a high porosity level and is prone to dryness. Although heat protectants will absolutely diminish some damage, they do not 100% guard the hair, so take care when straightening.

What Is The Safest Method For Straightening A Perm?

There will always be some damage that occurs when straightening a perm. That being said, there is a safe way to go about it. To avoid further chemical damage, the safest method for straightening would be a straightening iron. I know: bummer.

Unfortunately, you still have to wait the appropriate amount of time after a perm before applying any sort of hot tools to your hair. If you want to avoid some serious, irreversible damage, don’t even think of meddling with your newfound curls.

After the wait, a straightener can be used alongside heat protectant to straighten out your hair for a time. The heat protectant will evenly distribute the heat throughout your hair and help your hair retain some amount of moisture. A good way to go about straightening a perm is by gently blow-drying it after a shower, and going through with an iron once it is dry. 

Limiting the amount of chemical processes your hair goes through in close succession is preferable. While there certainly are other methods of straightening a perm, using a quality hair straightener with a heat protectant is optimal for circumventing further damage.

Keep in mind that a straightener is not a permanent fix for your perm. Your hair will not remain straight once it gets wet again, or once you wash it. The curls or waves achieved from your perm will bounce right back. This will stay the case for 3-6 months, until the perm eventually wears off. 

How Do I Prepare Permed Hair For Straightening?

Hold on—drop that iron! A deep-conditioner and heat protectant are crucial to preparing your permed hair for straightening. First things first, since a perm can be drying for most hair types, the retention of moisture is crucial.

Conditioning treatments and oil massages are completely safe on permed hair, and are recommended in the instance of your hair becoming particularly dry following a perm.

There is no harm in giving your hair a bit of extra moisture, thus be sure to incorporate moisturizing routines into your beauty regime. Generally, if your hair is particularly thirsty, you should try to deep-condition at least once a week.

This would be best for high porosity hair, or hair that has issues retaining moisture. Otherwise, feel free to limit deep-conditioning to 2-4 times a month. Professional conditioning treatments are also available, so if a spa day is calling to you, check out what specific treatments your favorite salon offers.

Next, whether a spray, cream, or a shampoo/conditioner combo, using a heat protectant is the best way to prepare your permed hair immediately before straightening. The product could cut damage up to 50%—which, honestly, can make or break some hair.

Creams and thermal protection shampoos/conditioners offer the most even coating of the three, while sprays can be a bit more finicky when it comes down to coverage. With their powers combined, deep-conditioners and heat protectants offer fantastic preparation when you are planning on using hot tools to straighten your hair. 

How Do I Keep Permed Hair Healthy After Straightening?

Deep-conditioners are the best way to keep permed hair healthy after straightening. Hair that is chemically processed—bleached, dyed, or otherwise—is more prone to being dry. Signs of damaged hair after perming include weak, brittle strands and split ends.

Side note: keratin treatments do not aid in hair growth, contrary to popular belief, though they are superb at temporarily bonding split ends. Continuing on, deep-conditioning treatments are available both in-salon and at-home. They are meant to improve elasticity and reduce the risk of breakage.

Also: there are two primary types of deep-conditioners available on the market. There is a protein deep-conditioner and a moisturizing deep-conditioner. Protein deep-conditioners are used to treat brittle hair with hydrolyzed proteins.

By infusing hydrolyzed proteins into brittle hair, this particular type of deep-conditioning mask makes an effort to level hair back to medium porosity. Additionally, it may soften the hair, canceling frizziness for a time.

Other uses of a protein deep-conditioning mask could increase the overall volume of the hair. On the other hand, a moisturizing deep-conditioner will attract moisture to your hair and soften brittle strands. You may also notice your hair having a higher shine to it once it is dried and styled. With this in mind, both options are appropriate for use on a perm after straightening.

Avoid excessive use of deep-conditioning treatments, as they can weigh-down a perm and loosen the curl. Similarly, excessive conditioning can lead to hygral fatigue, which pretty much means that your hair has been totally overloaded with moisture—yes, that’s a thing! Too much of a good thing can absolutely make it bad. More than anything, listen to your hair and watch for signs that could indicate a problem.

Final Thoughts: Can You Straighten A Perm?

In all, keep in mind that damage is unavoidable when you are trying to straighten permed hair. This remains the case no matter the type of perm you received in the beginning: chemicals are drying, and where there is dryness, there is damage. This especially rings true if chemicals are continuously added or if high levels of heat are applied.

The above being said, using a flat iron with a heat protectant of your choice is by far the safest option to straighten your permed hair. This straightening method gives you the control while granting you the ability to reduce some of the unavoidable damage. And, please, wait a month minimum before using any kind of hot tools on your permed hair.

Once your hair is straightened, it will eventually go back to being curly once you get it wet again until the perm itself wears off. At that point in time, you may notice that your hair is feeling on the drier side of things. It isn’t anything a deep-conditioner can’t fix, so don’t stress out too much about it. The biggest takeaways from this article should be that you should listen to your hair.

There are signs that, while they may seem insignificant, can indicate larger stresses (as seen with hygral fatigue). Don’t ignore any changes to your hair or scalp, and definitely don’t try to repair damages with more damage. Sometimes, the best thing to do is a little TLC, and if that TLC is regular moisturizing and to hold off on getting a stellar straight perm until your curled perm runs its course, then so be it.

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By Cierra Tolentino

Cierra Tolentino is qualified beautician and beauty editor at Kintegra Research. She loves keeping people up-to-date with the latest beauty trends in skincare, hair care, and makeup. Finding answers to tough questions is her thing. When she has free time you can find her chasing down a clumsy toddler and obsessively drinking tea.