Types of Perms for Shoulder-Length Hair

Soft spirals add bounce and body.

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A perm can completely alter your look. If you’re struggling with what to do with your shoulder-length hair to make it pop, a perm might be just what you’re looking for -- particularly if you’d rather avoid the shock value of cutting your hair super-short in an attempt to update your style. If the word “perm” makes you wrinkle your nose in disgust while images of show poodles and scary clowns cloud your vision, don’t despair. There’s more than one type of perm, so if you choose carefully you won’t step out of the salon thinking you should run away with the circus.

Types

There are a few different general types of perms, and some are more suited to shoulder-length hair than others. When you think of a perm, your first vision is probably a spiral perm, which involves tighter coils and bouncy perms. Spiral perms are generally better for longer hair, but if your hair is particularly thin and you want to fill it out with precise curls, this is the type you’ll want to ask your stylist about. Body perms or body waves are usually better for medium-haired mavens because they add volume and loose curls or light waves instead of tightly wound curls. If you’re seriously volume-challenged, ask about a stacked perm. This type stacks curl rods on top of each other for some serious lift, but beware -- stacked perms might come out a little poofy on shoulder-length hair, so ask for your stylist’s advice.

Size

When it comes to perms, size does matter. If your hair is shoulder-length, steer clear of smaller rods. The thinner the rod the tighter the curl, and you could wind up with a head full of poof instead of the soft, romantic curls of your dreams. If your hair is particularly thick, discuss using different sizes of rods with your stylist. Using thinner rods around your face can give a wispy effect to frame your face, while thicker rods on the sides and in the back will produce a soft, bouncy curl that won’t take too much length off your hair.

Considerations

Almost as important as the style of perm you choose is how it’s done and the chemicals involved. Back when your mother was rocking the curls, perms were harsh and smelly, and they wreaked havoc on hair. Today’s perms are a bit gentler and come in two main types -- alkaline, or cold, perms and acid-based, or warm, ones. Cold perms process quicker and generally last longer, while acid-based perms create a chemical heat and take a little longer. Gals with medium-length hair should usually go for an acid-based perm because they create softer curls as opposed to tight ones. Talk to your stylist about whether your hair is healthy enough for a perm. Even the gentler perms can be harmful if your hair is too dry or damaged.

Care

No matter what type of perm you choose, taking care of your hair properly will keep your mane healthy and your style sharp. Different types of perms require slightly different products and styling techniques, but one thing they all have in common is that they can zap moisture from your tresses. Choose a shampoo and conditioner formulated for color-treated or permed hair to keep your hair shiny. The tighter the curl, the more likely it is that you’ll have to deal with a case of the frizzies, so use a smoothing serum. Allowing your hair to dry naturally, or using a diffuser on your hairdryer, also helps keep curls sleek. Use products that have strong hold sparingly on tighter spiral curls to prevent your hair from looking crunchy.

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