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How To Do a Body Wave Perm for Naturally Curly Hair at Home

Attractive white woman with naturally curly hair wearing her loose curls with a red sweater

The body wave perm is becoming increasingly popular in the US and abroad, and it’s easy to see why! Effortlessness is the name of the game – everyone wants easy-breezy, carefree waves. 

Are you considering a body wave perm? If so, know that there are many things to consider, like your hair’s health, how to do it, risks, pros, and cons, etc. Luckily, you don’t have to worry- this is a comprehensive guide on the body wave perm.

We’ll tell you what a body wave perm is, what the perming process entails, and even how to do a body wave perm at home. Then, we’ll wrap things up by helping you decide whether a body wave perm is right for you. 

Cute white girl with permed hair showing off her wavy texture

What Is a Body Wave Perm?

Let’s start by covering the basics of the body wave perm. Just like with traditional perms, body wave perms require you or a professional to apply curling rods and two chemical solutions to your hair to create permanent texture. Usually, perms are done to create defined curls, but that’s not the case with the body wave perm – instead of defined curls (tight or loose curls), a body wave perm permanently sets your hair into big, loose waves that lend themselves well to a ton of different styles. 

A body wave perm is excellent for people who have straight or slightly wavy hair that won’t hold a curl. It’s also ideal for those who want natural waves that don’t require much daily styling. 

You can expect your body wave perm to last up to 6 months, with the average perm lasting about half that time. While perms are considered permanent, the waves will fall over time, and when this happens, you’ll need to repeat the process. 

Beautiful female long hair rocking a root perm style with a casual fall sweater

How a Body Wave Perm Works

There are three main body wave perm components: (1) curling rods, (2) perm solution, and (3) neutralizer. We’ll cover all three of these components in this section. 

  1. The Curling Rods – The curling rods determine the shape your hair will be. If you wrap your hair in small curling rods before applying the perm solution and neutralizer, you’ll have tight curls. Contrarily, if you use larger curling rods, you can expect larger, looser curls or waves. It’s crucial to use the right curling rods for your desired result (more on that later).
  2. The Perm Solution – The perm solution is the first chemical that will come in contact with your hair. It’s made up of several ingredients, but most notably, ammonium thioglycolate. This ingredient gets into your hair cuticle and destroys your original curl pattern through the controlled breaking of hair bonds. It gets your hair ready to be reshaped into body waves.
  3. The Neutralizer – The neutralizer is different from the perm solution because it does not break hair bonds. It does the exact opposite. It rebuilds the hair bonds to set the hair in the shape of the curling rods. It also stops the perm solution from processing and brings your hair’s pH back to a healthy level. The neutralizer is the final step of the perm, so after this step, you can style your hair.

How To Do a Body Wave Perm at Home: Step-By-Step

Attractive lady with type 3 hair type following a cold perm technique

We must warn you that body wave perms require you to handle chemicals that can be harmful to your hair, skin, and eyes. For that reason, it’s best to leave them to the professionals.

But if you feel confident in the process and have done your research, you can do your perm at home. For anyone who’d rather take the DIY route, the below section will help to ensure a good result.

Pick Up Your Supplies

Before you get started, it’s always a good idea to gather the supplies you’ll need throughout the perming process. Here’s what you’ll need: 

  1. Jumbo Flexi rods
  2. Rattail comb
  3. End papers
  4. Clarifying shampoo
  5. Plastic cap
  6. Waving solution and neutralizer or a kit that includes both
  7. Cotton coils
  8. Spray bottle of water

You can also pick up these items at your local beauty supply or department store. Once you have what you need, follow the instructions below carefully. 

White girl with wavy natural hair after using perm rods to create loose and tighter curls
  1. Get your hair clean with a clarifying shampoo, also known as a deep cleansing shampoo. If you don’t do so, the perm could take unevenly, leaving you with some straight sections and some curly sections. If you have stubborn debris, you can wash your hair twice, but only do so if absolutely necessary. 
  2. Separate your hair into about eight triangle-shaped sections. This may seem like too few sections, but since you are trying to create large body waves, the sections should be large. If you make them too small, you could end up with curls that are too tight. You should not condition your hair on the day of a perm since it can lead to an ineffective perming session. 
  3. Use a wide-toothed comb to remove any tangles. To get a smooth, kink-free result, your hair needs to be adequately detangled. Take your time with this step to minimize the likelihood of breakage. 
  4. Take one section and smooth it in an upward motion with your pointer and middle finger. The goal is to make your hair completely smooth before wrapping it around the Flexi rod. 
  5. Apply an end paper to each side of the hair at the ends. If the paper is not sticking to the hair, spray each paper with some water. Make sure that the papers are entirely flat – smooth them with your fingers if necessary. 
  6. Wrap the section around one of the Flexi rods. Position the middle of the Flexi rod at the ends of the hair and wrap the ends around the rod once. Turn the rod until it is flush with your scalp. 
  7. Secure the rod. Once all of the hair is wrapped around the rod, fold the ends of the rod toward the middle.
  8. Repeat the previous steps all over your head until all of your hair is wrapped. 
  9. Fix loose ends. Since you’re trying to wrap straight hair around a rod, you’ll inevitably end up with some loose ends that didn’t quite make it around the rod. If there are only a few loose ends, you can skip this step. But if you’ve got a ton of loose ends, you’ll need to fix them. To do so, cover the loose ends up with an end paper, spray it with your water bottle, and then smooth it around the rod with your fingers or the straight end of a rattail comb.
  10.   Protect your face and clothing. You’ll be applying the perm chemicals to your head in the following steps, so now’s the time to protect your face and clothing. To protect your face, wrap a cotton coil around your hairline and put a towel or two on your shoulders. You’ll be glad you did it in the event of a spill. 
  11. Apply the waving solution. First, read the instructions on your perming kit to find out how to prepare the waving solution. You’ll likely have to mix a thermolizer with the waving solution before applying it to your hair. Once your solution is mixed, it’s time to apply the waving solution to your hair! Choose one of the sections and squeeze the waving solution onto the hair (while it’s wrapped around the rod). Be sure to thoroughly saturate the hair with the solution.
  12. Put on a plastic cap and allow the solution to sit in your hair for 20 minutes. 
  13. After the time is up, leave the rods in your hair and rinse out the waving solution. Take a few minutes to rinse it thoroughly. You don’t want to leave any of this solution in your hair. 
  14. Apply the neutralizer to your hair the same way you applied the waving solution. Take your time to ensure even distribution of the product. 
  15. Let the neutralizer process for about 5 minutes, and then rinse it out. 
  16. Style your new body waves as desired. 

Dos and Don’ts

Lady dancing with permanent waves on medium length hair due to a multi-textured perm

One thing’s for sure, not all body wave perms turn out right. Unfortunately, there are many ways that things can go south throughout the perming process.

Your hair could turn out crinkly, too wavy, not wavy enough, or flat-out damaged. To save yourself the frustration and heartache, read through the tips below. 

  1. Don’t make your sections too small. Parting your hair into sections that are too small will result in waves that are too defined, which is not ideal for body waves. Body waves are supposed to be subtle and full of body, not overly defined. So, make them at least 2 inches wide and 3 inches tall. You should have around eight sections total. 
  2. Do call a professional if you run into issues. Even if you’re used to DIYing hair dye processes and other hair-related procedures, you should always reach out to a stylist in your area if you’re unsure of what you’re doing or need a professional opinion. Some people speak to their stylists before they get started to make sure they’ve got the process down.
  3. Do choose the right size rods. We touched a bit on this earlier, but this topic is worth diving a bit deeper into. To get Instagram-worthy body waves, you need to get 1 3/16-inch Flexi rods. They are larger than most Flexi rods and necessary to give your hair the right size wave. If you go too small with your Flexi rods, you could end up with Shirley Temple curls, and that’s not the look you’re going for.
  4. Don’t perm dirty hair. Dirty hair and perms never mix, and that’s because built-up dirt can easily render your perm ineffective or cause an uneven result. If your hair is dirty on perm day, you’ll need to use a clarifying shampoo. 
  5. Do hold the hair taut as you wrap it around the rods. The key to getting your hair wrapped smoothly around the rods is to hold it taut as you wrap. The tension you apply will help to keep the hair stretched out. If you wrap the hair loosely, the waves will look more frizzy than wavy, completely ruining your perm. 

Pros and Cons

Lady with a huge smile wearing a spiral perm on virgin hair with her arms behind her head

Knowing the pros and cons associated with perms can help you determine whether a perm would be a good idea for you. We’ll get into them in the below sections.

Pros 

Body waves perms are so popular because they have some very tangible benefits that many people just can’t get enough of. Here are the pros of perms: 

  • After a perm, your hair will look considerably fuller. The added texture will not only eliminate the need to tease or blow dry your hair upside down, but it’ll also lessen the need for volumizing products. You’ll wake up with more voluminous hair, which is a huge plus. 
  • Your hair will hold a curl. If you’re someone whose hair refuses to hold a curl, a perm is the answer to your prayers. Many find that after perming their hair, it holds a curl for much longer. Also, you’ll wake up with texture, perhaps enough to make heat-styling unnecessary. 
  • Perms last for months. The body wave perm lasts for up to 6 months! 

Cons

Some look at body wave perm before-and-after pictures and never even think that there could be negatives. Just like anything, body wave perms come with a set of cons that you should know about. Here they are: 

  • Your hair may become bone dry and weak. While the waving solution is on your hair, your hair cuticles get blasted open, and the internal structure of your hair is broken down. Even after your hair is “rebuilt” by the neutralizer, it will likely remain damaged to some degree, and the most common symptoms of hair damage from perms are dryness and weakness. If your hair snaps easily after a perm or feels like straw, your hair has been compromised. 
  • You’ll have to relearn hair care. With a new hair texture, you’ll have to start from square one, learning how to wash, condition, and style your hair. It can become very frustrating for people who aren’t prepared. 
  • Aftercare is strict. After perming your hair, you’ve got to care for it in a very specific way. For instance, you can’t let it come in contact with water for the first couple of days. You also need to stay away from heat tools for a few days. You’ll also have to skip pool parties and swimming for a week or more. All of this is necessary to prevent your new waves from falling flat. They need time to set permanently.

Some see the cons as a dealbreaker, while others take them in stride. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the pros outweigh the cons. 

Keep Your Hair Healthy After a Perm

Female with a partial perm and tousled waves with subtle highlights and a surprised look on her face

Getting your body waves seems like a great way to treat yourself to something new. But what many don’t know is that this new texture requires you to switch up your hair routine. Here are some tips to keep your hair healthy post-perm. 

  • Go sulfate-free. This tip is optional but beneficial for permed tresses. Sulfate shampoos are harsh by nature and can make your already-dry hair drier. Switching to a sulfate-free shampoo can help to preserve your hair’s moisture levels so you can enjoy less frizz, fewer split ends, and painless styling sessions. 
  • Deep condition as needed. In the weeks and months following a perm, your hair could become severely damaged to the point where it needs repair. That’s where a deep-conditioner comes in. While deep-conditioners cannot repair split ends or speed up hair growth, they can help your hair stay hydrated, which helps to reduce the incidence of split ends and breakage. Do a deep conditioning mask once a week post-perm. 
  • Don’t overwash. Even with sulfate-free shampoos, washing and restyling your hair takes a lot of manipulation. So, it’s always best to limit the number of times you wash your hair. Doing so will lead to healthier hair. 

Is a Body Wave Perm for You? 

Caucasian woman with a medium hair length wearing spiral curls, pink lipstick, and a big smile

By this point, you may have an idea of whether a body wave perm is the thing for you. But if you haven’t, we’d like to offer some assistance. 

A body wave perm is not for you if: 

  • Your hair is already damaged. Perms will only make damaged hair worse. We recommend waiting until your hair is in better condition to get a perm. 
  • Your hair is less than 6 inches long. Your hair needs to be long enough to be wrapped around a Flexi rod a few times. If it is not, you’ll have to wait until your hair is a few inches longer. Unfortunately this process doesn’t work well on short hair.
  • You recently bleached or highlighted your hair. Bleaching and highlighting treatments often leave your hair in a compromised state. Putting a perm on top of treated hair can make it much worse. 

If none of the above apply to you, you’re a good candidate for a perm. 

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Hopefully, this guide was helpful to you, providing you with the information you need to make an informed decision about whether you should get a body wave perm. Happy perming!