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Are Perms Making a Comeback?

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02 . 19 . 17
Perms Los Angeles(via iStock)

Our favorite memory of perms includes the murder trial of Hayworth Windham, where Elle Woods snagged her first successful case not with the shrewd persuasion or strategy that lawyers typically employ, but rather her expertise in, uh, perms (permanent waves).

In case you don’t know as much about ammonium thioglycolate (perm salt) as Reese Witherspoon, or perm history at all, get this—the founding father of the perm was Karl Nessler, a German hairdresser who first used cow urine and water (what?!) to set perms via the electric permanent wave machine that he invented in 1905. For his first experiment, Nessler used his wife as a guinea pig. The result? Her hair, all of it, burned off, completely. In our book, that’s grounds for divorce, but hey, to each her own. Four years later, Nessler improved the method and the rest is perm history.

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Now hop a handful of years forward. One big prancing perm, the 80s, saw tight ringlet curls in every corner. Cher, Sarah Jessica Parker, Whitney Houston, Brooke Shields, and the list goes on. While we’d prefer the skin-tight coils stay in the decade they danced out of, we’re rooting hard for their comeback in the cool, laid-back way—aka body wave perms. Like coils that got massaged, the demure zigzags produced from a body wave perm look relaxed, but have the same volume and definition as old-school perms, just without the poodle curl density. If you’re after I woke up like this waves that don’t require a can of hairspray for hold, we predict a body wave perm in your very near future.

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Before your ‘do dives right into the wondrous world of body wave perms, some things to consider, shall we? Perm pro and co-owner of Harper Salon in LA, Nicole Hartmann says “If you have highlights or any bleach in your hair, don’t get a perm!” Blondes, bye. But hiii, bleach-less ladies (and men) who are looking to spruce their strands up in ways other than haircuts and dyes!

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For first time BWP babes, celebrity colorist Steven Tapp from Andy LeCompte Salon in LA notes, “Make sure to choose a big enough rod size, at least 1 1/16 inch in diameter. This will ensure a wave and not a curl.” The best part about body wave perms? You don’t have to get your whole head done. Yes, spot-perming is possible. “Perms don’t always have to be done all over. If you’re looking for more volume in certain areas, it’s possible to only perm those sections,” Nicole tells us.

As for maintaining those mermaid waves, Steven says not to shampoo for 48 hours after the body wave, rinse only. When it is time to scrub-a-dub-dub that scalp, Nicole says, “After shampooing and conditioning, use a T-shirt instead of a towel to dry your hair and never rub, only squeeze your hair dry.
Then comb your hair with a big comb and part it where you prefer to part it (that’s the only time you have to comb).” Next, a curling cream is key. Nicole’s favorites are R+Co’s Aircraft Pomade Mousse for a beachy look or Oribe’s Curl Gloss for a smoother style. “Make sure the hair is still really wet and use a sufficient amount of product to saturate your hair. Then squeeze out any extra moisture and product with the t-shirt. That’s it! The less you touch from here on out, the better it is.” For the most natural-looking waves, Nicole recommends letting the hair air dry rather than diffusing it.

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Follow @harperonmelrose and @andylecomptesalon to get your body wave perms on.

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