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Why Is My Hair Resistant to Perms? Causes and Treatments

Happy young African American female with healthy hair styled with a modern perm yesterday afternoon.

Perms have been among the most popular chemical treatments in the hair industry for ages. With the help of these treatments, people can instantly change the texture of their hair on their own or with the assistance of a professional stylist.

However, when these treatments do not work as designed, they can leave you disappointed and perplexed. There are many explanations as to why a perm treatment may not work. With that being said, this article will zero in on why your hair might be resistant to perms.

Why Is My Hair Resistant to Perms?

Perms, like all chemical treatments, work best under certain conditions. Although most people achieve their desired results from a perm treatment, it may not work for everyone.

To ensure you get the best results from your perm, you’ll need to understand the conditions and situations that may cause your hair to be resistant. In the next section, we will explain why your hair may not take on a perm.

A business woman with curly permed hair on a dark hair color talking on the phone at her workplace.

Why Your Hair May Be Resistant to Perms

If you’ve recently undergone an unsuccessful perm treatment, you’re probably desperate to know why it didn’t work. Review the section below to determine why your hair might not have conformed to your desired texture.

You Have Low Porosity Hair

Photo on a black female with natural-looking long hair that got a perm recently is wearing a green shirt.

The level of your hair porosity can significantly impact the effectiveness of a perm treatment. Hair porosity is how well your hair strands absorb and release moisture.

Furthermore, the level of your hair’s porosity is determined by the state of each hair strand’s cuticle layer. The cuticle is the outer layer of each hair strand that looks similar to a set of fish scales.

The cuticle functions by opening and closing to allow moisture, nutrients, products, and chemical treatments in. Those with low hair porosity have cuticle layers that are tightly structured, almost closed, barely allowing any treatments to enter the hair shaft.

So, when a perm treatment reacts with low porosity hair, it is not as productive as it should be. As a result, the hair either rejects the perm solution, or the results are short-lived.

Confident female with naturally straight hair that's curled with perm rods after a deep conditioning treatment.

Your Hair Is Unhealthy

When hair is unhealthy, a perm cannot do its job. Unhealthy hair is often overlooked as one of the leading causes of a failed perm attempt. Several symptoms of unhealthy hair contribute to chemical treatment resistance and are found in the list below:

  • Dryness– Hair and scalp dryness are very common. Lack of moisture can make hair strands weak and affect the functioning of the cuticle layer. Hair that has been damaged by perpetual dryness tends to be more porous, meaning that the cuticle layers are more raised than normal. In effect, the hair does not retain the chemical treatment or conform to the new texture.
  • Split Ends– If you’ve ever gotten a perm and noticed that only your tips resisted the treatment, split ends may be the culprit. Split ends are notorious for being resistant to the effects of hair products, especially perms. This is because split ends are structurally damaged, causing the hair shaft’s outer and inner layers to be compromised. Consequently, the chemicals in perms just sit on split ends and have little to no effect.
  • Excessive Tangling or Knots– When hair is overly tangled or in knots, evenly distributing a perm treatment can be a challenge. These obstructions interfere with the ability of the hair strands to absorb the perm’s chemicals. Also, if these tangles or knots have been neglected for an extended time, they are likely to be dry and damaged, impeding the chemical treatment process.
  • Hair Breakage and Hair LossHair breakage and loss can make hair uneven, complicating the perming process. Some perms require the hair to be wrapped firmly around curling rods or other curling tools. When the hair is different lengths, correctly positioning hair on the curling tools can be a chore. Because of this, some sections of the hair may not take the new curl pattern. In addition, sections that have broken off may be too damaged to react to the chemical process.
Serious woman talking on mobile phone with a shoulder hair length on curls created with a curling iron.

Your Hair Is Over-Processed

Over-processed hair hampers perm results due to damage within the hair shaft (and hair follicle). Over-processed hair is characteristically dry, thin, brittle, and untidy, making a successful perm nearly impossible.

Dyeing, heat styling, and other treatments can destroy hair strands, rendering them immune to further chemical procedures.

The Perm Treatment Itself Was Ineffective

If you have healthy, unprocessed her that resisted a perm, the perm itself may have been the cause. A perm that is expired or improperly stored may not give you the results you’re looking for or expecting.

An expired perm is not as potent as it should be and won’t be able to fully break down the hair’s protein bonds to create the new texture.

Also, perm solutions that have not been appropriately stored or have been exposed to extreme heat or cold will not perform as designed. You’ll know if a perm has gone bad if it is lumpy or has a foul odor. It may also be severely irritating to the hair, scalp, eyes, or respiratory system.

African lady with previously damaged hair now has beautiful bouncy waves and curls.

Options For Perm Resistant Hair

Alkaline or cold perms are best for coarse or chemical-resistant hair. They are made with a solution called ammonium thioglycolate, which is strong enough to break down the hair shaft without heat. The cold perms listed below are among the best for resistant hair.

  • Ogilvie Salon Styles Home Perm -This cold perm kit comes with everything you’ll need to do your perm right at home. It is formulated specifically for color-treated, thin, or fragile hair. The kit even comes with instructions on achieving loose, medium, or tight curls, giving you complete control over the results.
  • Zotos Quantum Firm Options Alkaline Perm – This alkaline perm is for resistant hair with high or low porosity. It doesn’t require any heat to activate and is safe to use on chemically treated hair.
  • Ogilvie Salon Styles Precisely Right Perm – This at-home perm kit is for hair that is hard to wave. The activating perm lotion contains ammonium thioglycolate to firmly set curls for long-lasting texture. Plus, the conditioner included with the kit helps ward off dryness after the treatment process. 

When To Reach Out to a Professional

Young woman with long frizz-free coils styled with a hot oil treatment following a recent salon visit.

If you’ve been dealing with perm-resistant hair, you should consider consulting a professional stylist to avoid causing irreversible damage. Contact a trusted professional stylist if you find yourself in one of the following situations:

Recently Treated Hair with Other Chemicals

Depending on the state of your hair, it can be risky to even consider a perm. This is because you may be at a higher risk of hair damage and hair loss during the perming process if your hair has already been chemically treated.

So, if you’ve recently undergone any color, heat, or chemical hair treatments, talk to your hairstylist before proceeding with a perm.

Woman sitting in her office at work with a bad perm with a subtle smile on her face.

Hair Loss or Breakage

Hair breakage and hair loss are major red flags when considering a perm. Treating hair that is already damaged will almost certainly lead to more damage. So, if you currently have or are recovering from hair breakage or loss, you should speak with a professional before moving forward with your perm.

Related Articles

Perms are great for generating new, lasting hair textures. But they don’t always work as we hope. If you have perm-resistant hair, you can visit your local stylist or try your hand at a home perm kit. We hope this article proves to be useful for your perm-resistant hair.