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Return of the perm? See why the '80s trend is making a comeback

Stylists say perms — yes, perms — are coming back, but they're not the harsh, over-processed treatments you remember from the '80s.
/ Source: TODAY

Ever get a blowout and wish those loose, soft curls would last forever?

You're not alone. Now some women are turning to perms — yes, perms — to get beachy waves that rival Gisele Bündchen’s, and some salon owners report that more clients are requesting the service.

"I actually had two of my team members come to me this week and say they wanted to add perms to the service menu," Lorean Cairns, co-founder of Fox and Jane salon, told TODAY Style. "And we've never had perms on the menu before."

Perm services on the rise at hair salons
More women are opting for perms to get wavy hair, salon owners said. Alamy stock

The company, which has locations in New York, California and Colorado, now offers the service in their Brooklyn salon.

Cairns said the recent interest reflects a desire for voluminous, textured hair — not the tight, overprocessed curls many people think of when they recall perms from the '80s and '90s.

"Texture is the word of the era," she said. "Everyone wants texture, movement, body, and not all of us were born that way. The modern wave that we're coveting is more about the movement in the hair and less about tight curls."

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Today’s perm solutions are gentler and use less ammonia, which damages and dries the hair, or even none at all. (To achieve waves instead of curls, stylists simply use larger rods.) As Damian Santiago, co-owner of Mizu Hair Salon in New York City, explains, perming the hair is inherently unhealthy. But it’s how you treat the hair before and after that matters most.

“Any time you use a chemical on hair, you’re going to compromise the hair,” he told TODAY Style. “But it’s what happens around that, the conditioning and proper cleansing and the TLC, that’s going to minimize adverse effects so that at the end of (the treatment), when a woman touches her hair, it doesn’t feel like she just had a chemical process. It feels soft. It feels like real hair.”

Santiago, known for his perm expertise, has also seen an uptick in women requesting perms to achieve waves, not curls, but said he performs the service for many looks.

“I perm hair every day,” he said. “I get all kinds of requests, from the ever-popular beachy waves all the way up to Afros and super curly hair — rock ’n’ roll perms, I call them.”

Given their bad rap, perms are undergoing a bit of rebranding by some salons. New York’s Arrojo salon, for example, offers an ammonia-free technique called the American Wave, and many other salons have “body wave” or “modern wave” on their menus.

Adam Broderick, owner of the Adam Broderick Salon and Spa, which has two locations in Connecticut, points out that the bouncy hair women are after — think Blake Lively — has been popular for years and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, hence an increased interest in a more permanent solution.

“It’s the modern beach wave look we’ve seen in Hollywood and fashion for three or four years, done mostly manually with a wide-barrel curling iron or certain brush and blow-dry techniques,” he told TODAY Style. “And as it’s gained popularity, women have identified it as a look they’d like to wear more than once.”

Blake Lively
Blake Lively has the wavy, tousled hair many clients request, salon owners said. Ian Gavan / Getty Images file

Yet not everyone believes the perm trend will take off.

"The problem with perms is that you're committed to that hair indefinitely," Angelo David, owner of New York City's Angelo David Salon, told TODAY Style. "It may get softer over time, but you're changing the structure of the hair."

Instead, he looks for healthier ways for clients to add volume and curl, including shampoo tips — lather up twice! — curling wands and blow-dry techniques.

But, he admits, it can be hard to predict which hair trends will stick.

"Who would have ever thought grown-out roots would be a trend?" David said. "Ombre, we would never wear that years ago. Now it's a staple on everybody's menu."

This story was originally published on Nov. 18, 2016 on TODAY.