Wait long enough and everything comes back in style is an age-old truism. That day has arrived for perms.
Hair salons across metro Detroit are seeing a blast from the past with the return of the permanent wave, a chemical process that turns straight hair curly. A popular trend during the ’80s, perms were the definition of big, bad, frizzy hair.
Nowadays, the curly perm has a more natural look, and a diverse crowd of people are heading to the salon, especially boys and young men.
Paula Zygila, hair stylist at Anthony’s Hair Inc. for about 30 years, said perms are no longer what they used to be due to increased technology and healthier products.
“They are not how they were in the ’80s with the big, giant hair. Now it’s all about texture and something easy in the morning that looks styled but with little effort,” said Zygila. “I think with the boys it’s something different but not something drastic as far as color and stuff. In the ’80s it was more about the giant hair but now it’s more about a natural look.”
Young men are getting perms
At the salon, there has been an increase in all types of people getting perms, but it’s especially common amongst younger men, said Nikki Elias-Porter, former owner of Salon Nikki in Allen Park and current employee at Anthony’s.
“Anthony’s Inc. does male perms per week more than women’s but there has been a huge increase in all sexes and ages getting perms, mostly for the first time,” she said. They also often encourage friends and family to try a perm as well.
Elias-Porter said the trend is making a reappearance due to social media, k-pop, and healthier products.
“I think the popularity of perms is twofold. Retro, everything comes back around,” she said. “And, fortunately, this time we have better products and skill levels.”
Along with the healthier techniques, perms have become extremely popular across various social media platforms, especially TikTok. On the app, users showcase a more modern version of the perm with a natural look and take pictures or videos before, during, and after the process. The returning trend has gotten millions of views on the platform.
Owen Terechenok, 21, of Canton, along with his younger brother, Jacob Terechenok, 16, of Canton, both had perms done by Elias-Porter on Tuesday.
Owen said he has had a perm before, which he liked because of its long-lasting effect and ability to easily style it.
“It was my sophomore year of college so about three years ago already,” Owen said. “I liked it. I liked having curly hair because I’ve always had super straight, super flat hair. It was super easy.”
Elias-Porter said his perm lasted through three or four haircuts, creating a different look with each one.
On the other hand, the perm experience was a first for Owen’s younger brother, Jacob, who was nervous and excited about the process.
“It’ll be different because I’ve kept my hair straight my whole life. I’ve seen my hair wavy sometimes but having it over a long period of time will be different,” said Jacob. “It’s just a new experience.”
“I’m doing his like a Korean rock band, just that wavy texture,” said Elias-Porter. “There are no curls or anything so he’s going to have a very stylish, really cute look to him.”
The evolution of the perm
The perm boom, taking place in the ’80s, inspired Elias-Porter to travel outside of the United States to learn the proper skills and techniques.
“I started my career during the perm boom and immediately saved up to travel to London. I took cutting classes at the Sassoon Academy,” said Elias-Porter. “The perms that were popular during that era were so different. Everyone you spoke to had a nightmare story about their perm experience.”
Perms, short for “permanent wave,” were first introduced in the 1920s but didn’t become insanely popular until the ’80s. While becoming popular again, they aren’t nearly as in style as they used to be. According to CNN, the perm category is currently valued at $60 million, which has been a 35% decline between 2017 and 2022.
In the past, perms required various treatments to alter the natural texture of one’s hair. The most common perm techniques included a cold or heat wave, said Elias-Porter.
Cold perms require the stylist to place rods and rollers in the hair before placing a chemical solution to alter the hair. Similarly, heat perms require the hair to be placed in rollers and rods. Rather than a chemical solution, the stylist warms the rods to activate the curl and restructure the hair follicles.
Zygila said cold waves are more commonly used today, especially at their specific salon, and she hasn’t seen heat waves in a long time.
Elias-Porter often styles perms using a cold wave with a thio-free alkaline acidic solution. The solution used had a pH level of 8.4, which varies depending on the state of the hair.
“I use a new solution, it doesn’t have the smell like the older ones,” said Elias-Porter. “I like to call it a beachy or volumizing treatment. The shampoo and conditioner as well as styling products have become so much better that the dried-out frizz of the past is long gone.”
Despite perms being short for “permanent”, they typically only last for three to six months depending on one’s hair. Naturally wavy or curly hair holds perms longer than straight hair. Furthermore, the length of time for a perm also fluctuates depending on how well one cares for their hair.
While the chemicals of the perm can’t be reversed, the hair eventually grows out and returns to its previous state.
There are numerous perm types including spiral perms, beach wave perms, pin curl perms, body wave perms, and more.
A natural look
Emilie Nieves, 19, of Allen Park, was another customer getting a perm done on Tuesday. The bioengineering student from the University of Michigan Dearborn was excited about a new look.
“Normally, as you see now, my hair is kind of straight and flat but I’m hoping that a perm will bring it to life, and I feel like it’ll be a cute little summer look,” said Nieves.
Perms are a growing trend and create a natural look while using products healthier for one’s hair. They can also be done a lot more quickly and at a more affordable price compared with previously.
“Now with advanced technology, skill, and experience, perms are the safest and easiest way to look effortlessly awesome,” said Elias-Porter. “I do believe it’s a positive trend, a sign of freedom and differences, low maintenance. With skilled professional advice, you can look great without much effort.”
Anthony Seguna, 76, is the current owner of Anthony’s Hair Inc. The location was opened in 1977 and it is celebrating its 46th anniversary in August. Seguna said the building has expanded over the years and there are currently 18 stylists, many of whom can do perms.
Now that perms are back, can the mullet be far behind?