Spiral perms use vertical perm rods to create cascading ringlets in medium to long hair. Curls last through washing and styling until the hair grows out to its natural state. Because perms use a chemical solution to make the curls permanent, use caution when treating permed hair with chemical hair dyes.
Always have your hair permed first before you color it. Don't perm your hair within two to three weeks after coloring your hair. Freshly colored hair may interfere with the permanent solution, causing your perm to fizzle or frizz. Don't chemically process (color or perm) hair that is very damaged, brittle or falling out. Do not color or perm your hair if your scalp is irritated or inflamed, since color and perm solution can cause more irritation.
If you are darkening your hair after a perm, use a demi- or semi-permanent color the same day as your perm if your hair and scalp are in good condition, since darkening your color using a semi-permanent color is unlikely to damage your hair. Even though semi-permanent hair color says it lasts a few weeks, it may last longer on freshly permed hair because it will absorb more colorant, especially if you are using a shade darker than your natural color. If you are coloring your hair at home, perform a strand test as directed on the package because freshly permed hair may need less processing time than natural hair. Condition thoroughly after you color to prevent damage.
To darken hair with a permanent or ammonia-based hair color, wait at least 10 days after perming. Check hair for damage before coloring and perform a strand test to gauge processing time if you color at home. In the 10 days while waiting to color your hair, shampoo with moisturizing shampoo and use a deep conditioner beginning 24 to 48 hours after your perm. This will help prevent breakage that can be exacerbated with a colorant that contains ammonia.
If you want to lighten or highlight your spiral curls, wait at least 10 days. Since the chemicals in perm solution can damage your hair in the same way bleach or peroxide can, you may weaken your hair to the point of splitting or breaking if you attempt to lighten it any sooner. Additionally, lightening solution may interfere with a fresh spiral perm, weakening or loosening your curls and ruining your perm investment.
Trim away damaged ends and condition hair thoroughly before and after coloring. Do not try to drastically lighten hair that has had a recent spiral perm. Start by lightening or highlighting hair only three to four shades lighter than your natural color. The harsh chemicals and long processing times required for drastic hair lightening may damage hair that has already been chemically processed.
If your hair has been damaged by the perm or is dry or brittle, ask your salon for a protein or conditioning treatment to improve its look and feel. Wait to highlight or lighten your hair until your hair's condition improves. Consider a shorter hairstyle or let your hair grow for a few months and give it a rest from chemical processes if you experience hair breakage or falling out. Only time and new growth can completely reverse damage created by too many chemical treatments. Consult a hair professional for advice on lightening damaged hair and do not attempt to lighten it yourself at home.
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Andrea Lott Haney writes articles and training materials for food industry publications. Having studied foodservice sanitation, nutrition and menu planning at Purdue University, Lott Haney has more than 10 years of experience as a catering and event planner for luxury hotels and currently tours the Midwest as a corporate customer service trainer and consultant.