Permanent Changes

The word perm may send shivers up and down your spine, but perms are easier to do and sexier than ever—and they're even getting a cooler name. "We're definitely seeing a comeback of what we now call texture," says Kathy Kafka, Midwest regional sales and education manager for Zotos International.

Making waves at Temperley London
Making waves at Temperley London

Kafka discourages stylists in her classes from calling the revamped style a perm at all because it tends to scare both clients and stylists, bringing flashbacks of tight '80s spiral curls and hours spent rolling and unrolling rods. "Fashion at the time was big and bulky, and hair was the ultimate accessory," Kafka says. "Even the boys from The Brady Bunch had perms." However, trends changed in the '90s, when silhouettes became more streamlined and hair needed to be sleek. Haircolor also gained in popularity, and technology didn't exist at that time to do perms on high-porosity hair. Clients chose color over curl, and perms seemed destined to be a thing of the past.

With designers sending models down the runway in wavy hair, texture is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, and clients are once again craving curls. What they don't want is to spend hours on their hair each day, which is why a crop of new and improved perms are the perfect solution.


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"Waves are making a comeback in two ways," says Tom de Vries, education development manager for Joico. "There is an overall increase in the number of clients who are seeking easy hairstyles that offer that sexy, been-to-the-beach look with loose or even medium waves. The way texture services are used continues to evolve, so we are seeing even more activity."

New formulas allow people with color-treated hair to safely perm their hair. "New chemicals are intelligent in the sense that they know exactly which bonds to break in the hair," Kafka explains. The ammonia in today's formulas doesn't take the hair out of its normal state, according to Kafka. "Some people's hair is stronger after their perm than it was before," she says.

Another plus: Today's perms require about 15 rods instead of 250 rods. "To create the soft body that clients are after, we are not using traditional perm rods," Kafka says. Instead stylists are using benders—large, soft rods—aluminum foil and bridal tulle, which is cost effective.

Joico recently released its K-PAK Waves line of perm products. Stylists can choose from six formulas, each tailored to specific hair types. The Reconstructive Acid Wave produces true-to-rod-size curls on normal, multiporosity, tinted and highlighted hair. The Reconstructive Extra Body Acid Wave offers true-to-rod-size curls with extra resilience on normal, fine, limp and gray hair. For single-process tinted or highlighted hair, the line has Reconstructive Alkaline Wave for all types of color-treated hair. There is also a Reconstructive Alkaline Wave for normal or resistant hair that provides a firm curl with extra volume and style support. The Reconstructive Non-Thio Wave comes in two formulas, one for normal and resistant hair and the other for all types of color-treated hair. This gentle formula produces natural waves and luscious curls, which are in style right now. The formulas also contain Quadramine Complex, which protects the cuticle. The result is a head of frizz-free, long-lasting curls.

Zotos has a new line of perm products, as well. The company's Texture EFX has two formulas, one for normal and resistant hair and one for all types of color-treated or previously permed hair. Both formulas produce almost immediate results, processing at room temperature with a plastic cap. Texture EFX is a thio-free and dryer-free system that easily and gently penetrates the hair shaft, leaving the cuticle damage-free.

Getting young hairdressers to conquer their fear factor and suggest the service to clients is a whole other issue. Zotos makes DVDs that show proper and modern wrapping techniques, and a large portion of the company's Web site is devoted to perm tutorials. The packaging for Zotos' perm products has a curl meter, developed to assist stylists in selecting the appropriate perm for their needs. The icons clarify the tightness of the curl achieved by each perm and provide the client and stylist with a picture of the end result.

Meanwhile, ISO, whose perms have been longtime favorites with hairdressers, has just repackaged its Options line. Out this month, the products also feature a new, fresh scent. Perms with no unpleasant odor? Now that's revolutionary. —ALISSA PICCIONE