Perms can transform straight or wavy strands into a mess of stunning curls. But what happens when things don’t turn out the way you want them to?
Can you unperm your hair? Whether you’ve ended up with a bad perm or are ready to try something new, we’ve got you covered!
This article will walk you through everything you’ll need to do to get rid of that perm and get your natural locks back. We’ll also tell you how to relax a perm that’s too tight so that you can get the curls of your dreams.
Table of Contents
- 1 Can You Unperm Your Hair?
- 2 Here’s How to Unperm Your Hair
- 3 What to Do if Your Perm Is Too Curly?
- 4 Are Perms Really Permanent?
- 5 How Do I Stop My Hair From Breaking After a Perm?
Can You Unperm Your Hair?
Ultimately, perms are an irreversible chemical treatment that permanently alters the chemical composition of your hair strands. That means you can’t remove a perm from hair that’s already been chemically treated.
The good news is that there are things you can do to reduce your perm’s definition. That includes loosening your curls into a more flattering shape or eliminating the curls altogether.
We get it: no one wants to be stuck with a hairstyle they hate. So, in the next section, we dive into how to unperm your hair.
Here’s How to Unperm Your Hair
Are you having some major regret over your new curls? Well, we’re happy to tell you that you aren’t stuck with them. This section will review a few ways you can undo your perm and get those straighter strands back.
Wash Your Hair With a Clarifying Shampoo
It’s no secret that perms usually take a few days to settle. So, if you wash them within the first 72 hours, you’ll end up loosening your curls. You can use regular shampoo, but clarifying shampoo is even more effective at reducing your perm.
They contain a more potent blend of cleansing ingredients that cut through the leftover perm solution. All you have to do is saturate your hair with warm water and apply a dollop of clarifying shampoo.
Use your fingers to work the shampoo into a rich lather and let it sit for three to four minutes. That way, the shampoo has enough time to work its magic.
Once a few minutes have passed, rinse your hair with warm water and apply a generous amount of conditioner. Let the conditioner sit for up to 30 minutes before rinsing your hair with cool water.
Feel free to leave a little bit of the conditioner in your hair after you rinse.
The added weight will help straighten your perm even further. Repeat the process once every three or four days until you get the desired results.
But remember, clarifying shampoos can strip away your hair’s natural defenses. Stretch out the time between your clarifying sessions if it feels like your hair is starting to dry out.
Get a Straight Perm
Although perms are best known for converting sleek strands into curls, straight perms do the opposite. When you get a straight perm, your stylist saturates your strands with a perm solution. Then, they either flat iron or comb your locks straight.
After a short processing time, your new straightened texture will be locked in place.
Straight perms are one of the most effective and reliable ways to unperm your hair. The results are predictable, so you can rest assured knowing your hair will finally look how you want it to.
Just remember, perms of any kind can be highly damaging due to the chemical process. You don’t want to attempt this method unless your hair is already in good condition.
Even if your hair is healthy, it’s better to wait for a few months before scheduling your straight perm appointment. That’ll give your hair plenty of time to recover from the previous perm before “forcing” your hair straight.
Straighten Your Hair
Using a flat iron on permed hair is usually not recommended, as it can suck the life out of your curls. But if your goal is to get rid of your curls, this is a welcomed side effect.
Like the other methods we’ve discussed, the less time that passes between the initial perm and your removal efforts, the better your results will be. First, wash and condition your hair like normal.
Apply a heat protectant to your strands, and blow dry your hair.
Once your hair is dry, separate it into four sections, and secure each with a hair clip or tie. Take down one of the sections and comb out any knots or tangles.
Turn on your flat iron and set it to around 350 degrees.
Separate a thin sliver of hair from the back of the section and clamp down on it with the flat iron. Get as close to the root as possible, and slowly drag the plates down to your ends.
One pass should usually be enough, but you can do a second one if your hair isn’t straight enough. After you finish the first section, carve out another thin sliver of hair and repeat the process until you’ve completed the rest of your hair.
Wear your straight hair for a few days before your next wash. Then, once your hair has been shampooed and conditioned, you can assess your new curl pattern.
Cut Your Hair
While there are ways to loosen and eliminate your new curl pattern, there’s only one way to get rid of a perm for good. Cutting your hair removes all of the permed hair once and for all, so your hair is no longer considered chemically processed.
You can either get the perm cut out slowly through a series of trims or make a more drastic change, referred to as a big chop. If you aren’t in a rush, we recommend growing your hair out for a few months.
That way, you’ll be less shocked when you get the permed portion cut.
What to Do if Your Perm Is Too Curly?
Like other chemical services, perms can be a little unpredictable. Sometimes they leave you with soft gorgeous curls, and other times you may end up looking a little too much like a poodle. We’ll review a few different ways you can loosen up a perm that’s too tight below.
Apply a Deep Conditioning Treatment
One of the most gentle ways to relax a tight curl pattern is to apply a heavy deep conditioner to your strands. Like shampoo, conditioner interferes with the perm solutions’ ability to reshape your strands.
It also weighs your hair down and stretches your curls, so they fall the way you want them to. But unlike shampoo, deep conditioners add moisture and strength back into your strands.
If you want to try this method, saturate your hair with warm water until it’s dripping wet. Then, apply a generous amount of deep conditioner to your strands.
Put on a shower cap and wait for 15 to 30 minutes.
Once your time is up, rinse the deep conditioner from your hair with cool water. After your hair dries, all that’s left to do is enjoy your new, looser curl pattern.
This method is very gentle, so it may take a few applications to see your desired results. Luckily, there’s no significant downside to deep conditioning your hair.
In fact, chemically treated strands will probably benefit from the increased moisture. So, repeat the process once every three or four days until you’re finally happy with your hair.
Wait for Your Curls to Drop
Did you just get your perm a day or two ago? While your initial curls may look tight and coily, this might be temporary. As time progresses, your curls will probably fall and loosen on their own.
Don’t forget; your hair is still malleable in the first few days after a perm.
Gravity will weigh down and flatten your hair even if you never touch your curls. In addition to your perm wearing off, new growth can help weigh your curls down. In total, it can take up to a few weeks for you to see your final results.
Wash Your Hair
As you now know, washing your hair can effectively unperm your hair. But if your goal is to loosen your curls rather than eliminate them, there’s a slightly different process.
Instead of a strong clarifying shampoo, you should use a gentle, hydrating shampoo that won’t strip your curls of moisture. Simply wet your hair and massage the shampoo into your hair.
Then, rinse and follow up with your favorite conditioner.
Wash your hair once or twice a week until you’re satisfied with your new curl pattern. Then, reduce the frequency to about once a week to keep your strands healthy.
Do a Hot Oil Treatment
Another way to gently loosen permed curls is to apply a nourishing hot oil treatment. Oil molecules bind to the perm chemicals and make them less effective. Additionally, the weight from the oil will stretch your curls out and cause them to take on a wavier shape.
Want to know the best part? Hot oil treatments are incredibly easy to do!
To start, heat half a cup of coconut or olive oil in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove the oil, and let it drop down to a safe temperature.
Next, apply the oil to your hair and gently massage it into your hair. Put a shower cap over your head and set a timer for 30 to 45 minutes.
Rinse your hair with warm water until you’re confident that you’ve removed all the oil.
This method is extremely gentle, so you’ll probably have to do about three or four hot oil treatments before your curls loosen.
Fortunately, hot oil treatments are highly beneficial. So, you can do them as frequently as once a week until your curls have been sufficiently loosened.
Are Perms Really Permanent?
Although perm is short for permanent, there’s some confusion about the longevity of perms. After all, you must get them regularly touched up, and your curls can loosen or fall.
This is because the effect of perms are only temporary, and they wear off over time. Despite this, perms are still considered to be a permanent treatment. This is because once your hair has been permed, it will always be chemically processed.
Perms involve caustic chemicals that break down and reform the chemical bonds holding your strands together. Once those bonds have been broken, they’ll never return to their virgin state.
So, the effects of a perm are temporary, but the damage they do is irreversible. Even though your hair might look like it has reverted to its natural texture, the changes the perm made to its structure are still there.
How Long Does It Take for a Perm to Go Away?
Now that you know that perms are semi-permanent, you’re probably wondering how long they last. The lifespan of a perm varies, depending on your hair type and what type of perm you received.
On average, they last for about three to six months.
After that, your perm will wear off, and your hair will start to take on a looser, frizzier texture. You’ll have to get regular touch-ups on your perm to keep your curls intact. This is both to blend in the new growth and keep your permed curls perfectly defined.
Does Water Deactivate a Perm?
As you may have noticed, most loosening and perm reversal techniques involve saturating your hair with water. That is because water can deactivate a perm.
When you wet freshly permed hair, the water breaks apart the physical bonds that give your strands their new curl. The bonds then become reliant on the water molecules to maintain their shape.
Once your hair dries, the strands are stuck in their new wavy or straight state.
This process is why the timing of your perm reversal is so crucial. Your hair is malleable in the first 48 to 72 hours after your perm, though it may still be a bit malleable after that point.
After that, the chemical changes made to your hair are immutable.
And when you wet your hair after the initial period, the water has the opposite effect. It essentially reactivates your perm and encourages your hair to curl.
How Do I Stop My Hair From Breaking After a Perm?
No matter how careful you are, perming your hair always comes with risks. They can leave your hair dry and fragile or lead to breakage and hair loss.
Additionally, some of the perm reversal methods we’ve gone over can worsen perm-related damage. So, in this section, we’ll dive into ways to stop your hair from breaking off after a perm.
- Do monthly protein treatments – Human hair is made up of over 80% keratin, which is a type of protein. When you use protein-rich hair products, the protein molecules adhere to your strands. They fill in the weak spots along your hair’s surface and create a stronger strand. They also improve your hair’s ability to hold onto water, making it less like to dry out and become brittle. Just be careful not to overdo things. Too much protein can dry your hair out and exacerbate your perm-related breakage.
- Embrace bond-repairing technology – Like protein treatments, bond-repairing products improve the structural integrity of your hair. They seek out and repair broken bonds, leaving you with stronger, more resilient hair. Additionally, you don’t have to worry about developing protein overload.
- Wash your hair less often – If you have naturally straight hair, you’re probably used to washing your hair daily or every other day. However, curly hair has significantly different needs. Curly hair is prone to drying out, so avoid washing it more than once or twice a week. Need a touch-up in between wash days? Try sprinkling a little dry shampoo into your roots. That will reduce the excess oil and give you an extra day or two between cleansing sessions.
- Get regular trims – Trims are an essential part of permed hair care. Both curly and chemically treated hair is prone to drying out. And when your hair is consistently dry, it starts to fray and split at the ends. When you get a trim, the damaged portion of your hair is removed. In addition to making your hair look and feel better, this prevents the damage from traveling upwards and destroying the rest of your hair.
- Keep your hair hydrated – The more moisturized your hair is, the more elastic and damage-resistant it becomes. Luckily, there are a ton of different products that hydrate your hair and help it retain moisture. You can choose from any number of nourishing products, including masks, creams, sprays, and oils.
To sum things up, there are a few different methods you can do to loosen or remove a bad perm. But regardless of which technique you choose, you need to be careful not to wait too long.
Your hair is still malleable for the first few days after your perm, which makes it easier to transform them into the shape you want. And if you do choose to switch things up, we hope that the information we’ve gone over today helps make things simple and easy.
Kenneth Byrd, with a BS in Accounting and Management Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has over 15 years of experience and is a recognized authority in hair care. Co-founder of Curl Centric® and Natural Hair Box, Kenneth has dedicated himself to promoting ethical and scientifically-backed hair care practices. Rigorous editorial guidelines, industry recognitions, and features in numerous media outlets evidence his expertise. Kenneth’s commitment to transparency, quality, and empowerment has positioned him as a trusted voice in the field, empowering readers to confidently embrace their natural beauty.