What Is an Air-Wave Perm?

Traditional perms, called "cold perms," use unheated plastic rollers.

Photo: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

Air-wave perms, also called "air perms" or "digital perms," are a special kind of permanent wave for your hair. Originally developed in Japan, these perms use a different kind of perm solution, plus heat, to curl or wave the hair. A slightly different version of the process can be used to straighten hair, too. The big benefit of an air-wave perm is that it works on different kinds of hair than a traditional perm and does a little less damage.


An air-wave, or hot, perm produces a wave that stands out most when the hair is dry, unlike a traditional perm, which looks curliest when wet. The stylist applies perm solution to the hair, just as in the regular process, then puts heated rollers in the hair. The result is looser and more natural-looking than a standard perm and won't end up straightening itself during blow-drying.


The digital perm works well for people who want a curly, natural look, even when the hair is dry. It also works on a wider range of hair types and lengths. Where the curls often pull out of long, traditionally permed hair, they stay put using an air-wave method. This type of perm produces less damage than a traditional perm, resulting in fewer split ends, less breakage and reduced frizziness. Ladies who have hair that's already damaged or weak due to coloring may suffer from fewer problems and less color loss when using an air-wave perm.


This technique was imported to the U.S. only recently and still carries a hefty price tag. According to OC Weekly.com, air-wave perms cost up to $400 at the time of publication. They take much longer and don't last as long as a traditional perm, providing crisp curls for only about three to six months. Also, because you can't blow-dry them out, air-wave perms don't work well for divas who like to wear their hair curly some days and straight on others.


An air-wave perm produces curls with less damage than a traditional permanent wave, but that doesn't mean it won't hurt your hair. Any perm technique involves chemically unraveling the structure of your hair, then setting it again in a different shape. This, plus the heat, can leave hair in a more delicate state than the one it started in. If you get an air-wave perm, treat your hair gently. Avoid tugging on tangles, exposing it to very dry conditions or directing high heat on it. Condition well and comb carefully for the best results.

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