A relaxer is a calcium or sodium hydroxide solution that permanently straightens hair by breaking the disulfide bonds that make hair curly. A perm is an ammonium thioglycolate solution that permanently curls hair. For the most part, only people of African descent can use relaxers and most black women relax their hair. During the 1980s, many black women wore jheri curls—the only type of perm for black hair. Transitioning from a relaxer to a Jheri curl takes patience and time.
Grow out your hair. The only way to transition from a relaxer to a perm is by growing new hair. You cannot perm hair that was previously relaxed nor can you relax hair that was previously permed since doing so will severely damage it. So you must cut off the relaxed hair, grow new hair and eventually perm the new hair.
Wear a wig or weave while transitioning. Cutting off previously relaxed hair is the first step in the transition process. However, most women do not want to have sparse or short hair. To hide the fact that you have cut your hair, wear a wig or hair weave. The lace-front wig is popular since it looks natural, is easy to wear and lasts a long time. Jheri curls require at least four inches of hair. Since hair grows at a rate of one-half inch per month, expect to wear the weave or wig for at least eight months.
Have a professional perm your hair. Do not try to self-perm hair, especially if you have never used a perm before. Applying a Jheri perm requires concentration and a simple error in the application process can permanently damage your hair. Find a stylist who is accustomed to applying Jheri perms to hair. Ask friends and family for recommendations. When you have found a stylist you like, go to her for retouches and for advice about maintaining your new look.
Moisturize your hair often. The Jheri curl requires a lot of moisture and the style cannot last unless you moisturize it on a daily basis. Furthermore, people of African descent already have naturally dry hair, which creates a greater need for moisture. Find a moisturizer that works for you and use it every day. If you experience problems with dryness, discuss it with your stylist.
Therese Rochon is a college student and freelance writer from St. Louis. She is studying English and Spanish literature at Washington University and plans to attend law school in the future. She speaks two languages and, in 2011, will au pair in Europe to learn two more languages. She has been writing online since 2005.