Frustrated by Flat Roots? A Root Perm Could Be the Solution

Everything you need to know about the volumizing hair treatment.

<p>Xuanyu Han/Getty Images</p>

Xuanyu Han/Getty Images

Frustrated by flat, limp hair? A root perm could be the solution. Possible for both curly and straightened hair, this treatment helps you add texture and achieve voluminous, bouncy hair. If you’ve been itching for a subtle change but don’t want to commit to a drastic transformation, read on to see if a root perm might be the right move for you.

What is a root perm?

As the name indicates, root perms are only applied to the roots of your hair, specifically the first one to two inches of new hair growth. The solution penetrates the hair shaft and alters the bonds that determine the shape and texture of the hair strands.

“A permanent wave solution or ‘perms’ are great for those who have fine, thin hair as a volumizing solution,” explains Karyne Tinord, Cosmetologist and Braids Artists at Kay De Trés. “A water or solution base can be used—the solution or water is placed on the roots and allowed to saturate, which causes the bonds in the hair to break. As it dries, it dries in a curl pattern that provides a more lifted appearance.”

Root perms can also work for people with an afro or existing curls that want a more defined wave pattern. “For people who have coarser textures and tight curls, they can use the same permanent solution or water base to temporarily loosen their curl patterns and make it a little bit more flowy or less tight,” says Tinord.

What are the different types of root perms?

There are various techniques used for root perms. The best-suited for your hair will depend on your natural texture and the desired change.

The Korean root perm creates subtle volume at the root. If flat, lifeless strands need a lift and you’re tired of volumizing sprays and teasing combs, this type of root perm is best. Korean root perms are ideal for people with straight or slightly wavy hair, as well as people who have dyed or bleached hair.

Spiral root perms involve using curling rods to create thin coiled curls. It appears less natural but perfectly styled, and is ideal for longer hair lengths.

Perm touch-ups maintain the texture of a pre-existing perm. This type of root perm is ideal for people with new growth at the root that differs from their curly, straight, or wavy hair that has already been permed.

What hair types should/shouldn't get a root perm?

Most perms, including root perms, work best on virgin, healthy hair. Experts say you may want to avoid it if your scalp or hair follicles have been severely damaged by bleach, relaxers, or harsh chemicals. Similarly, anyone with medical conditions affecting their hair or skin should consult their doctor or dermatologist before getting one. Chemicals close to the scalp can be very harmful, so water-based or “soft perms'' can be a safer alternative.

What to Expect During a Root Perm

For starters, most professional stylists will want to see your hair unwashed before starting the process. They will want to ensure your hair is in the best state for treatment, so they’ll typically want to wash your hair in the salon to remove excess sebum or debris.

After washing, your stylist may apply a prepping solution and rollers to the roots. After application, the hair is left to process for about 20 minutes, depending on the type of product used. While some solutions may process with heat, some don't. Once processed, your hair will be rinsed out thoroughly to remove all traces of the prepping solution. Then, a setting solution may be added to set the hair in the desired new shape. The shaping solution will be rinsed out and the stylist will remove the perm rods before drying and styling. After the treatment, most people are advised to avoid water (including sweat) for at least 48 hours. Root perms can last anywhere from three to six months before needing a retouch.

Can You Do a Root Perm Yourself?

Here’s the thing: Permanent solutions can be harmful and smelly. The use of complex chemicals throughout the entire head surface is reason enough to go with a pro hairstylist, who can make sure the process doesn’t damage the hair or scalp. Water-based solutions would be easier to DIY but reaching the middle or back of the head can still present challenges. To decide if you can tackle this on your own, here are some factors to consider:

Hair length: The longer the hair, the more time it takes to process. Root perms are recommended for short- to medium-length hair. The longer the hair, the more risk that the solution will accidentally touch parts beyond the root.

Type of solution: There are two types of chemical root perms solutions: acidic and alkaline perms. The acidic perm solution, also known as a hot perm, is ideal for thin, damaged, and delicate hair. It produces more natural-looking curls. An alkaline one, known as a cold perm, is ideal for coarse and textured hair.

While DIY root perm kits are available, it is advisable to turn to a professional to do a root perm, mainly because the solution is applied close to the scalp. If not administered correctly, both alkaline and acidic perms can create chemical burns and adverse reactions.

Mobility and time: Root perms can take anywhere from two to six hours to complete. This entails parting the hair, applying the solution, using curling rods and other tools, and reaching every hair root on your head. Since chemical solutions have a set time to work and require uniformity across the hair, most people would tire out too quickly to successfully complete the process on their own.

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