When it comes to fashion and beauty, everything is cyclical. Those cargo pants, platform Steve Madden sandals, and claw clips that are everywhere right now were just as cool 20-ish years ago. To go with these nostalgic trends, hairstyles like mullets and shags have been trending, and now perms are making a comeback too.

If you were around to have a perm or see others with the hairstyle the first time they were cool, you may be hesitant about turning back the clock and reliving the style, but today’s more modern versions make the case to give it another go. The perm has also taken TikTok by storm, garnering more than 2 billion views on the app. There’s even a perm challenge that’s over 36 billion views and shows users during the styling process and after.

We spoke to hairstylist and founder of hair care brand Iles Formula, Wendy Iles, who credits the comeback to “the late ’80s nostalgia we’ve seen on the recent runway shows.” Iles gives her expert take on all things perms including how to best care for permed hair.

What is a perm?

As the name implies, perm is short for “permanent wave,” a hair-curling treatment that arose shortly before the 1920s. Though the technology has evolved over the last century, it’s a treatment that uses rods paired with a chemical formula to set curls in a long-lasting way.

How long does a perm last?

In most cases, a perm will last three to six months, so it’s can be a time saver for people who don’t want to style their hair everyday. For people with fine, flat, or straight hair, it’s a good way to add some movement and texture, often giving the look of more hair.

What are the different types of perms?

“The perms of the past were all about creating an abundance of curls,” says Iles, but the modern perm “has a more natural movement to it and more closely resembles the natural curl one is born with.” She recommends always showing your stylist some inspo pics to make sure that you get what you want.

The cool thing about today’s perms is that you can get loose beach waves versus the tight finger coils that perms were known for. It all depends on the size of the rods that are used. The bigger rod, the looser your waves; the smaller the rod, the tighter your curls.

Who are perms best for?

“Virgin hair is best,” says Iles, because “hair that hasn’t been chemically treated by color or keratin has greater elasticity of the curl.”  You’ll have bouncier, more natural-looking curls if your hair is starting out untouched.

Iles says that there are more men than ever requesting perms because “the added texture makes their hair manageable without having to use so much styling product.” This can be seen on TikTok, too, where most of the videos feature young men who are trying out the treatment on hair that’s longer on top but more closely cropped on the sides.

Can I get a perm if I color my hair?

Of course, you can still perm your hair if it has been colored. Iles just warns that it “needs to be done by a skilled technician who really knows the art of perming and how colored hair reacts when permed.”

How do I keep my perm curly?

As with any chemical hair treatment, the hair is being manipulated through chemicals, so proper hair care afterwards is essential. Iles recommends using a pH balanced, sulfate-free shampoo followed by a nourishing conditioner like her own, Iles Formula Conditioner, that will close the cuticle, preventing further damage. It’s helpful to use a reparative treatment that’ll reverse damage, too, like K18’s Hair Mask.

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