Just about every girl has a horror story about childhood perms—usually involving some sort of evil-mother-type who thought a head of tight curls would look best on her offspring.
Rest assured, perms have come a long way from those ’80s poodle nightmares that took years to grow out, damaged your hair and were about as tough on the eyes as they were to maintain.
Traditional, or “cold perms,” never work with fine or coarse hair—more often, stylists will turn perm-seeking clients away. But now there’s a solution, if you’re looking for looser curls that can be as defined or as natural as you wish: the digital perm. Invented and perfected in Japan, it uses temperature-controlled hot rods attached to a machine with a digital display. Each rod is connected to long, wiry cords, producing a type of Medusa effect.
The result is a look that can add life to even the limpest hairstyle, accentuating all those flat layers. Digital perms are typically applied closer to the ends of hair, ensuring a poof-less result. While gals with longer styles mostly opt for digital perms, it even looks good on shoulder-lengths—think Felicity, post-chop.
The texture can even be adjusted to your preference, and the low maintenance can’t be beat—air-dry your hair, and if you want more defined ringlets, just wind your locks around your fingers. It actually works.
The best (or worst, if you’re not as finicky as, say, me) part is that the perms last only three to six months. The worst part? They’re expensive. Much pricier than the cold perm (up to $400), plus it takes much longer to set. I had a digital done a few months ago, and it took four long, squirmy hours. There are many steps, where they slap all sorts of hair goop on, including a conditioning mask, which the stylist will leave you to marinate in for a half-hour or longer.
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Digital perms have only recently made their way stateside, so if you’re looking for a wild hipster mane like Cory Kennedy’s or the Olsens’, or classy locks like Vanessa Hudgens’ (sigh) or Kate Hudson’s, the digital perm is for you.
Another new type of perm is the air-wave perm, with similar results (and price tag), but supposedly even healthier on your already-fried hair.
They’re both great solutions for people afraid of too much change, adding just enough definition to switch things up a bit. I personally like to stick to Japanese-run salons for such relatively new procedures, so check out Ability Hair Design in Costa Mesa. A warning: The stylists speak limited English, so have some patience, and be sure to bring plenty of photos.
Ability Hair Design, 688 Baker St., Costa Mesa, (714) 540-1455.