The Best Curly Perm for African-American Hair

Trim any split ends before you perm — the chemical process could worsen them.

Photo: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Ever since ancient Egypt, women have been striving for long-term curls. They would wrap their tresses around wooden sticks, cover it in mud and bake it under the sun. Lucky for you, today's solution is easier: Get a perm. The right curly perm can give you the bouncy waves that you crave, but it requires some thought. It's easy to expect playful ringlets and end up with a poodle 'do. African-American hair requires stronger chemicals to break down and mold the follicle, so it's not easily reversible — choose wisely before you commit.

At-home or Professional?

Don't take any chances when it comes to chemicals and your locks. If your hair has been relaxed or bleached, go to a professional. More harsh damage to your tresses could make them fall out, but a stylist can apply a preperm protective treatment to your hair and scalp. On the other hand, if your hair is healthy and you're on a budget, it's OK to go for a drugstore pick. Don't expect custom results, but they work well for all-over curls.

Spot Perms

Don't perm your whole head for just a small problem. If your hair has its own natural waves but some areas fall flat — likely the longer, weighed down areas — a hairdresser can do what's called a spot perm. It will be less damaging to your hair and will blend in with your natural curl. It should be done at the salon, though, because a home perm could leave you with sections that have tighter or looser curls than others.

Stacked Perm

If you like the sleek look but find yourself getting bored of your straight tresses, try a stacked perm. Stacking means that you'll be perming only the bottom half of your tresses, keeping the top straight and smooth — you're less likely to regret going halfway there than going the whole nine yards. To do it yourself, separate the hair at the crown of your head — about an inch or two thick — and keep it pinned up while you perm the bottom.

Curly Versus Kinky

For an all-over perm, make sure you're not confusing curls and kinks. For tight, tiny curls — that lift off your head if you've got a shorter cut — try a kinky perm. If you're using an at-home kit, buy two packages to properly saturate your strands — you don't want uneven kinks. If you're dreaming of cascading curls, opt for a spiral perm. Choose a gentle curl wave perm for loose, beachy waves.

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