Perms Came a Long Way, Baby!

Women have come a long way from the late 1800’s, when they began wearing perms. Back then, Marcel Grateau specially designed tongs heated by gas or alcohol flame to create a wavy look.  Ironically, the method used back then is still in existence today – just greatly modified.

Hair wound ready for permanent-waving, with (o...
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With Mr. Grateau’s design,  the person perming their hair would comb the hair towards the operator, slowly moving the comb with the hand to keep tension while applying the tongs to the hair pulling down the lock to the point. The tongs produced a two dimensional wave. The process of using high temperature degraded the hair. By 1905, Charles Nessler, devised an alternate method using cow urine and water. This method was called the spiral heat method and was designed for long hair. By 1909, Mr. Nessler’s machine was used in London to produce waves on ladies’ long tresses. By 1917, Isidoro Calvete design the first permanent-wave heater. It resembled something from outer space (think colander with wires coming out of the top of the colander). In 1924, Josef Mayer designed a curler that made the ends of the curls pointy. In 1930, J. Bari-Woollss designed a reduction method. A heatless system was introduced a the Midwest Beauty Show in 1931, this system was used frequently in salons, where it was left on the client overnight and removed the next day. It was called the overnight wave. Both Mr. Mayer and Mr. Bari-Woollss designs were modified over time and this modified unit is used in salons today.

As technology and chemicals developed, the perming process improved dramatically to include the cold wave in 1938 using rods and reduction lotion and acid perms in 1970. Additional modern perms were introduced throughout the 1970’s – exothermic, digital perms, and permanent relaxer that straightens the hair.

Because of these inventions and improved technology and chemicals, today’s women may safely perm their hair.

  • Acid perms create conditioned, flexible curls; they are best for fine, sensitive, fragile, damaged, or tinted hair.
  • Alkaline perms create strong, firm curls; they are best for normal and resistant hair.
  • Exothermic perms create bouncy, strong curls.
  • Body perms are soft, loose perms that create volume with a little wave vs. curls.
  • Root perms lift and add volume the root area; they are best for short hair.
  • Pain curl perms create soft, natural waves, and curls.
  • Stack perms create curl and volume to one-length cuts; they are used on the middle and ends.
  • Spiral perms create spiral curls. Hair is rolled vertically vs. horizontally.
  • Spot perms support the area they are applied to; they are best used where a little lift is needed such as the crown, fringe, or side around face.
  • Weave perms curl sections of the hair and leave the rest straight; they are best for bangs, and the face.
Regardless of the type of perm that’s right for your hair, you don’t have to know a lot about perms, or how they came about, to walk out with a great look. Consulting your stylist is important. They should be the kind of professional that’s willing to listen, advise you and make recommendations. If you get the sense that they only have one option in their repertoire, get a second opinion. As with your health, your hair needs the services of a pro.

Anastasia is a salon hair stylist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Out of town appointments welcome.