Perming hair isn’t as common a salon service as it once was, but it’s still a tried and true process to add support and texture to a hairstyle. You might want to remove a perm for various reasons, including to tame a too-tight curl or straightening hair that no longer matches the regrowth.
Although you can remove a perm the same day, for the sake of your scalp it’s not recommended. “The neutralizing solution applied during a perm process works for the next 24 hours, reconnecting the hair's sulphur bonds into their new wavy texture. So it’s best to wait at least that long to see if it’s still too curly,” says veteran stylist Jarrod Harms, owner of Detour Salon in San Diego, California. Because the hair bonds are still in a “softened” state immediately after a perm, you can loosen the curl a bit simply by wetting the hair and blow drying smooth, physically pulling the hair straighter with a round or flat brush.
What to Expect at the Salon
If you decide to visit a salon to help you remove or loosen your perm, look for a stylist who has experience with chemical straightening and knowledge about what types of chemicals are compatible. You should expect a thorough consultation and be prepared to answer these questions about the perm and your ideal hair texture:
When was the perm applied?
What type or brand of perm did you use?
How long has it been since your hair was processed with any other type of perm, straightener, smoother, bleach, color or highlight?
How much curl do you want removed?
Do you want the texture of the curl softened or completely straightened?
Before chemically treating your hair, the stylist should also do a thorough analysis of the condition of your hair and scalp. She’ll confirm the strength of the strands and double-check to ensure you don’t have any sores, scrapes or abrasions evident on your scalp.
Once your stylist determines the best chemical, she’ll apply a perm solution or a cream- or gel-based straightener. Depending on the process used, your salon pro will use additional chemicals, flat ironing or a combination of both to achieve your desired outcome.
DIY Tips for Removing a Perm at Home
You can undo your perm at home, but you'll have to be careful to apply the chemicals evenly. The easiest way: Apply a perming solution and comb it through. The chemicals in this method break the bonds in your hair and should be used with caution. Expect the hair to feel swollen, thicker and pretty rough. You’ll definitely want to have a deep conditioner on hand.
Start in the curliest area first, combing downward to reduce your risk of breakage. Combing straight back pushes hair against its natural growth.
Follow the manufacturer’s directions for timing exactly. “If the package says 12-minute maximum processing, then by all means process only 12 minutes. This isn’t a case of more is better,” cautions Harms.
Once the perm solution has processed to the required time, follow the product directions to neutralize the chemical and maintain your hair’s newly straightened texture. Be forewarned: Applying a neutralizer to the hair without thoroughly removing the perm chemicals is a recipe for stressed and damaged hair. Rinse the straightener out for several minutes, using water as hot as you can tolerate. Set a timer to make sure you’ve rinsed long enough.