Skip to Content

How Long Do Perms Take To Get Done (at Home Versus Salon)?

Beautiful young woman with beachy waves on shoulder hair length wearing a green sweater and red lipstick.

If you’re new to perms, there’s a whole lot that you need to know. But the question many are asking about them is, “how long does a perm take?”

Knowing this information can prepare you whether you plan on doing your own perm at home or having it done at a salon. This article will tell you how long perms take and deliver helpful insight into the perming process. 

Cute white girl with green eyes and pink lips wearing wavy hair permed using a professional hairstylist.

How Long Do Perms Take?

On average, a perm takes anywhere from 1 to 3 hours or more to complete. This time estimation encompasses all of the perming steps from start to finish. The exact time that it’ll take for you will depend on several factors, and we’ll take a look at each of those factors in the following list: 

  • Who does your perm: If you’ll be doing your perm yourself, it will most likely take more than 3 hours to complete. Reaching the back of your head will be a challenge, and so will ensuring that you’ve adequately applied each of the chemicals throughout your head. In addition, DIY perms rarely go off without a hitch. On the other hand, getting a perm in a professional salon could go a bit quicker. Since the stylist can see your entire hand and draw upon their professional training, chances are they will be able to work faster than you can. 
  • What size you want your curls to be: With perms, you have a wide variety of curl sizes to choose from. Perms intended to create larger curls tend to be quicker since it doesn’t take very long to wrap large sections of hair. On the contrary, if you want tighter curls, the rod wrapping process could take over an hour in itself. 
  • How long your hair is: The time required for the perm rod wrapping process will also depend on the length of your hair. It will take significantly less time to wrap short hair than long hair. Though, perms generally turn out better on long hair.
  • Whether you’ve already chosen a curl size: If you’ll be DIYing your perm, you will need to do some research and shop around for the right rod size. If you don’t already know what size rods you want, your stylist will help you figure it out. This step can take quite a bit of time and require looking at hairstyles online, considering various rod sizes, and more. It’s a critical step because if you don’t choose the right rod size, you won’t be satisfied with your results. 

In addition, when you go to the salon for your perm, your stylist will also walk you through the different perm solutions available to you. A good stylist will take some time to assess the health of your hair and scalp to ensure that they are healthy enough for a perm. 

Lady with naturally straight hair wearing straight roots while looking down towards the floor.

Background on Perms

The perm is one of the most misunderstood treatments of all. Some confuse it with a relaxer, and many have no idea how they are done. In this section, we’ll give you a quick rundown on the chemical process so that there won’t be any confusion as you read the rest of this article. 

What Is a Perm?

A perm is a chemical treatment that creates permanent waves or curls in the hair. It involves applying rollers, a perming solution, and a neutralizer to your hair to break down and reshape your hair strands in the shape of the rollers. 

Perms are known to be damaging, given that they involve practically destroying your hair’s structure and rebuilding it. Once your hair’s protein bonds are destroyed by the perming solution, they will never go back to their previous state of health. 

The Steps Involved in Perming Hair

Before we get into how long perms take, you need to know the steps involved in the typical perm. That’s what we’ll address in this section: 

  1. Hair Prep. The first step is to prepare your hair for the perming process. This step involves washing your hair to remove debris and excess oil – perming solution won’t adhere well to dirty hair. You’ll then need to divide your hair into sections to make your hair easier to work with. Plan for this step to take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Apply the rollers. This step is tedious, but it’s crucial to get the best results from your perm. You’ll need to wrap all of your hair in rollers. If you want loose curls, wrap large sections in large rollers. If you want tighter curls, wrap tiny sections of hair in small rollers. If you want ultra-smooth results, you’ll need to apply end papers to your ends before wrapping. This step takes at least an hour or two. 
  3. Apply the perm solution. Take about 5 minutes to apply the perming solution your hair. Then wait around 15 minutes for the solution to do its work. 
  4. Rinse out the perm solution. Take your time to ensure that all of it is gone. Leaving the perm solution in your hair could lead to extensive hair damage. You will leave the rollers in while you rinse, and this can make it relatively difficult to do. 
  5. Apply the neutralization solution. The neutralizer reforms the hair’s bonds in the shape of the rods. Allow the neutralization solution to process for about 5 minutes
  6. Remove the rods, rinse thoroughly, and style. This step should take no longer than 30 minutes.

These are the main steps involved in the perming process. The steps could vary slightly depending on the type of perm you decide to go with. 

If you go to a professional stylist, they may offer you Olaplex as part of the process. Olaplex helps preserve your hair’s bonds as the perm solution and neutralizer do their job. It’s beneficial for anyone with chemically-treated or otherwise damaged hair. 

Young adolescent female with 2C natural hair structure wearing a curly permanent hairstyle.

Prepare for a DIY Perm

If you’ll be doing your perm at home yourself, prepare to spend a good portion of the day getting ready for the perming process and then doing the perm.

You’ll need to purchase your perm kit, rollers, end papers, and sulfate-free shampoo, if you don’t already have them. It could take quite a bit of time to find the right products for you, so we advise you to plan for that. 

Choose Your Perm Type

There are several types of modern perms available, and you’ll need to choose the one that best fits your hair’s current state. Here are a few of your choices: 

  • Alkaline Perm – Alkaline perms are known as cold perms. These don’t require heat styling tools for activation of the chemicals. The main ingredient in perms of this type is ammonium thioglycolate, which is effective on all hair types. However, it can be a little harsh on hair that’s been previously colored or chemically processed. 
  • Acid Perm – Unlike alkaline perms, acid perms require heat for activation. Glyceryl monothioglycolate is the principal component of acid perms. Though heat is required for this perm type, it is still preferred for people with compromised hair. This is because they are gentler than those of alkaline perms. But the one tradeoff to consider when using an acid perm is that the resulting curls may not be as tight as you expect. 
  • Exothermic Perm – This perm type contains ingredients that heat up and activate on their own. It may be acidic or alkaline and is very effective at producing tight ringlets and defined waves. People with perm-resistant hair will find that exothermic perms give them better results than other perm types. But be careful with these types of perms, as they can be much more damaging than other perm types. 
  • Perms for sensitive scalps – Manufacturers have recognized that people with sensitive scalps want to get a perm without ending up with an irritated scalp. In response to the demand for a more skin-friendly perming option, companies have formulated gentler perms for a more comfortable overall experience.
Beautiful lady with color-treated hair after getting a deep conditioner and digital perm from her local salon.

Choose Your Perm Rods

Selecting the perm rods you’ll need is also quite an ordeal. There are so many sizes to choose from, and you need to select the size that’ll give you the curls you’ve been dreaming of. Here are a few types of perm rods to choose from: 

  • Tiny rods – These will give you tight coils. Look for rods between ⅛ and ⅜ of an inch to get small curls. Though anyone can get a perm with tiny rods, they are ideal for people with short hair. 
  • Medium rods – Medium rods will give you defined waves and curls that are not necessarily tight or loose. Look for rods that are 9/16 inch. Medium rods are best for people with medium-length hair but can be used for other hair lengths as well. 
  • Large rods – Large rods can be used to create large curls and waves and are best suited for long hair. You’ll find large rods in 11/16 inch. 
  • Jumbo rods – For barely-there waves that add body to lifeless hair, you need jumbo rods. These rods range from ¾ inch to 1 ½ inch and are super easy to find either in-store or online. 

You may already have an idea of what size rods you should buy, but if you want to be safe, you should reach out to a stylist in your area for advice. 

Prepare for a Professional Perm

A professional perm is much easier to prepare for. You won’t need to bother selecting perm rods or which perm you’ll need – your stylist will help with that.

But you will still need to block out at least half a day for your perm appointment. Things get busy quickly in a salon, and it’s become customary for stylists to work on multiple clients at a time. 

Cute Caucasian female with virgin hair wearing a blue winter outfit with a pink winter hat.

4 Things to Consider Before Getting a Perm

Now that you know how much time you’ll need to set aside to get a perm, it’s time to get into what you need to know before taking the plunge. You never know; you may find out that a perm isn’t all you thought it’d be. In this section, we’ll get into 4 things to keep in mind before getting a perm. 

Your Hair’s Health

If your hair is unhealthy before a perm, it will likely end up in worse condition following a perm. As briefly mentioned earlier, the perming process does quite a number on your hair.

Some mistakenly think that just because the neutralizer rebuilds the hair’s protein bonds at the end of the process, the hair goes back to normal. That’s not the case. Perms always do some degree of permanent damage to the hair. 

Your hair will act differently following a perm, and you’ll need to be prepared to switch up your hair care routine as needed to keep it healthy. Your new waves or curls may need extra moisture or protein soon after the perm and intense ongoing care afterward. 

Cute white woman with permanent curls wearing a red and white shirt with subtle blonde highlights.

Your Hair’s Length

The length of your hair will have a lot to do with how your final result will turn out. Perms usually turn out much better on longer hair than short hair. If your hair is short and you go for a super curly perm, you may end up with a puffy, shapeless result.

In addition, large curls on short hair may not even be very noticeable. So, to avoid wasting your time or ending up with an odd result, it’s essential to wait until your hair has grown out to at least mid-length. 

Your Level of Expertise With the Perm Process

If you’ll be doing your own perm, you’ll want to take an honest look at your level of expertise and reach out for help if you’re not experienced enough.

Stylists are knowledgeable and available to offer advice or a consultation to set your perm experience on the right track.

So, if you’ve never done your own perm before, it’s wise to at least ask a stylist some questions about the procedure. You can do so as part of an in-person or phone consultation. 

Some questions you should be sure to ask include: 

  1. Do you think my hair is healthy enough for a perm? 
  2. What type of perm is best for my hair? 
  3. What size rollers should I get? 
  4. How long should I leave the perm solution in? 
  5. How long should I leave the neutralizer in? 
  6. When should I wash my hair following a perm? 
  7. Can I color/bleach my hair after getting a perm? 

*This is not an exhaustive list of questions to ask the stylist. 

Young woman with tight curls 2C textured hair wearing a green casual sweater and lipstick.

The stylist should be able to answer all of your questions after taking a look at your hair, feeling your natural texture, and speaking to you about it.

You’ll then be better equipped to get the results you want from the perming process. You might even find out that you’re not a good candidate for a perm at all. 

Perm Aftercare

Once your perm is done and has taken to the shape of the rollers, you can expect it to last up to 12 weeks with proper care.

But if you don’t take good care of your newly permed hair, you can’t expect it to last. That’s why it’s imperative to know the ins and outs of perm aftercare. Here are some things you should know: 

  • Leave your hair alone post-perm. For the first 48 to 72 hours, ensure that your hair doesn’t get wet. Moisture (even damp hair) can cause your new curls to fall prematurely and result in an uneven overall look. You should also avoid brushing and combing your hair with tools. Instead, run your fingers through your hair to detangle and style. Putting your hair in a ponytail is also a no-no. All of these things can leave you with stretched out curls or obvious kinks where they don’t belong. 
  • Prioritize hair moisture. After a perm, your hair will be more porous than usual. That means that it may have a hard time holding onto moisture. Unfortunately, every time you wash your hair, it has the potential to dry out. So, if you used to wash your hair every day, you’ll need to reduce that to a couple of times per week after a perm. And never skip the conditioning step after washing. 
  • Avoid ingredients that can harm your new curls. Curls are fragile, even those that were chemically created. If you don’t treat your new curls with care, they will get dry, brittle, and eventually break off. To avoid brittle hair, stay away from products with sulfates, salt, or other ingredients that dry the hair out. And if you use a product and realize that it’s drying out your hair, stop using it immediately and try another. 
Attractive female with perm dyed hair wearing a blue sweater and baseball cap.

Related Articles

Perms require a significant time commitment, but to many who try it, that time is well worth it. After reading this article, you now have a better idea of what to expect throughout the perming process. We wish you the best with your hair!