So, Why Doesn’t Anyone Get Perms Anymore?

An investigation.

It was once the look du jour, but nowadays rolling your hair up and setting it is all but a relic.

One of my earliest beauty memories is watching my nanna, Elizabeth, propped up at her dressing table and dutifully wrapping her hair in hot rollers each morning.

Always the first order of the day, she sat there and meticulously tended to her chocolate brown bob, sectioning and pinning each strand into a perfectly curled bouffant.

Regardless of where she’s going or what she’s got on, still to this day, she sets her hair (and mine too on the odd occasion).

Nanna, setting my hair in hot rollers. Image: Supplied

“Why bother if no one is going to see you, though?” I’ve queried on several occasions as I schlep around in yesterday’s clothes during my visits. “Because it’s nice to look nice, darling,” is her usual reply. Right you are then.

This daily preening is punctuated by her bi-monthly trip to the hairdressers for a perm. Every second month she sits still for three hours while a stylist covers her head in a mixture of what sure smells like poison before plonking herself under a spaceship looking apparatus, to ensure her curls are on point.

It's a lengthy process. Image: iStock

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Alas, she is one of the few people still getting perms, with the treatment all but a relic of styles past. So what gives? Did women all around the world just wake up one day and decide curls were out of vogue? For something that was once so popular, it seems strange that almost overnight salons stopped offering the service.

Well, according to stylist, Anthony Nader, it’s a twofold answer: hot barrel tongs were invented and no one could stand the strong smell of perm solution any longer (the fact that perming treatments have been dropped from the compulsory hairdressing curriculum in recent years speaks volumes too).

“It depends on who you ask of course, but times have changed basically. I’ve owned my salon for 23 years now and haven’t even had the slightest whiff of alkaline or an acid perm box in that time,” he explains.

For the uninitiated, perms were all the rage back in the 1950s. A chemical process that turns straight hair curly, it basically involves dousing your hair in chemicals (namely thioglycolic acid, which smells like rotten eggs) to break and reshape the bonds of your hair.

I mean just LOOK at that volume. Image: iStock

As you can imagine, the hours long process isn’t exactly kind to your strands, with the perming solution notoriously drying.

“They definitely had a place in the market for the person that wanted low maintenance hair, the perm won big points here. I mean you’d have all that extra body and volume that made you feel like a rock start for at least five to six months.”

Fast forward to today, however, and the hair industry has such a variety of hot tongs on offer that Nader queries why anyone would need a perm.

“When you put a bend (I don’t ever say curl) in your hair that’s generally all you need. It gives you that extra texture you’ve been after and only gets better and cooler as the day goes on.”

If you do want to enhance your natural curl though, the right haircut helps.


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“Firstly, it all begins with your haircut. Soft layers are key for performance and longevity of shaking up your hair shape and giving it that extra volume.”

From there, you can play with a hot barrel tong and wind your hair in different ways depending on the look you’re going for, before giving your new found texture some extra miles by using a dry shampoo or texture spray to maximise your strands.

“Spray it on the roots and mid lengths and massage in and you’re good to go for the day,” advises Nader.

And if you’re still hell bent on a permanent curl solution, I can always give you the number of my nanna’s stylist – just so long as you’ve got three hours to spare.

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