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How Long Does Your Hair Have to Be to Get a Perm?

A perm can create stylish curls and jaw-dropping volume, but is there a necessary length to make perms work? If you’re wondering how long your hair has to be to get a perm, read on. We’ll cover this in detail below.

How Long Does Your Hair Have to Be to Get a Perm?

Hair length doesn’t matter as much as you think it might for perms. As long as your hair is long enough to wrap around the perm rods 2 1/2 times, you can perm your hair. In general, that means styles as short as 2 inches in length will work. However, it also depends on the size of the rods being used. If you’re using rods with a larger circumference, you will naturally have to have hair that is a bit longer than if you were using small or tiny rods.

But just because you CAN doesn’t mean you should. Keep in mind that the length of your hair will dramatically affect the overall look of your perm … and you can expect your hair to appear much shorter after. So, it’s a good idea to have realistic expectations of how your perm is going to look before you begin the process. If you rock a shorter style, you might do better with certain types of perms and be well advised to stay away from others. Be sure to talk about all of these things with your stylist.

And, before you get one, it helps to know a little about the perming process. After all, perms are permanent chemical processes that are difficult, if not impossible, to undo. So, you might want to know a thing or two about them before you jump on the perming trend. Below we’ll cover the many types of perms, the perming process, and your most frequently asked questions. 

Types of Perms

As long as your hair reaches around the perming rods, permanent curls are entirely possible. But gone are the days of a one size fits all approach to perms. In today’s world, there are a number of different perm types, and each gives unique results, from beachy waves to super tight coils. 

By exchanging rods for new materials like rollers or Flexi-rods, stylists have created an endless number of unique perm types. Below, we discuss some of the more popular variations. 

1. Regular Perm

In a traditional perm, a stylist wraps hair around perm rods horizontally to the head. All of the curls are the same size and shape, creating a very uniform look. You can get a perm like this with almost any hair length, from 2 inches and up. 

2. Spiral Perms

For a spiral perm, you need hair that’s at least 8 inches long for the best effects. Some stylists will apply spiral perms to shorter lengths, but the results are mixed. If your hair is at least 8 inches long, though, a spiral perm can look quite glamorous. 

With spiral perms, the stylist places the perm rods in a vertical pattern. This results in more irregular curls. So, spiral perms create volume and bounce that look more natural than regular perms. 

3. Body Wave Perm

For a body wave perm, stylists use large rods that create waves or very soft curls. This style looks great on those with shoulder-length hair or longer.  

4. Spot Perm 

In a spot perm, stylists strategically place rods throughout the hair. It’s ideal if you have mismatching hair textures. For example, if the front of your hair is curlier than the back, a spot perm can help fix that. 

5. Ducktail Perm 

A ducktail is a vintage hairstyle that’s regaining ground amongst men and women with short hair. If you’ve ever seen a 1950’s greaser, you’ve seen this look. 

In a ducktail perm, stylists use small rods and pack the curls tight to the head. Then, the hair is combed back tightly on each side to create a v-shape in the back. The stylist will push the curls forward slightly over the forehead to complete the retro look. 

The Perming Process

Woman getting a perm with hair rollers in a salon to help answer how long does hair have to be to get a perm

Praiwan Wasanruk/Shutterstock

Whether your hair is long, short, or somewhere in between, the process of perming remains the same. A stylist will usually wrap your hair in perm rods, which vary in size. The size the stylist uses will depend on the type of curl you want and the length of your hair. 

Then, the stylist will apply perming lotion. Perming lotion breaks the bonds that create your natural hair shape, allowing the keratin proteins in your hair to reshape around the perming rod. The stylist will let your hair set a given amount of time with the rods and lotion in place. Then, they’ll rinse your hair for what seems like an excessive amount of time, but it’s necessary to remove all of the perming solution (this also cuts back on the perm smell). 

After that, they’ll apply a neutralizer to your wrapped hair, which stops the perming process. In other words, the neutralizer allows the bonds in your hair to reform, but this time your hair locks in the shape of the perm rather than your natural hair pattern. After about 5 minutes or so, your stylist will remove the perm rods and give your hair another rinse.

The results are voluminous, bouncy curls that will last a couple of months if you have longer locks. For short hair, though, perms only last about a month or so, depending on how fast your hair grows out.  

When You Shouldn’t Get a Perm

Woman with frizzy, damaged hair holding her ends for a piece on when not to get a perm


Perms work with almost any hair length and with any hair texture, but they’re not right for everyone. You might want to reconsider a perm if any of the following applies to you: 

You Have Highlighted Or Lightened Hair 

Modern perm solutions exist for color-treated hair, but lightened or bleached hair is still tricky to work with. The chemicals in the perm solution don’t play nicely with bleach or lighteners. So, if you have a lot of highlights in your hair, you may want to rethink a perm. 

Your Hair Is Already Damaged

Today’s perm solutions are less damaging than their predecessors, but they can still cause damage to your hair’s structure. And many stylists won’t perform perms on people with over-processed locks. 

Most perming solutions are alkaline, and hair, believe it or not, is naturally acidic. That’s part of why perming solutions cause so much damage. 

That said, there are acidic perms available today that cause significantly less damage to your hair’s inner structure. So, they may work for you if you have dry or damaged hair. However, acid perms are more likely to cause an allergic reaction on your scalp. So, if you have sensitive skin, an acid perm isn’t a great option. 

You Have Short Layers

Short layers aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker, and a few confident stylists might be able to make them work with curls. But, more often than not, short layers with a perm look strikingly close to a well-groomed poodle’s coat. 

It’s not a look most people are going for, so it’s safer to grow your layers out before you give a perm a go. 

Things to Consider

Woman using a Dyson Supersonic with diffuser attachment to illustrate how long hair has to be to get a perm


Before you decide to get a perm, there are a few dos and don’ts to consider. 

 Things to Do

  • Do invest in a hydrating shampoo and conditioner. Perm solutions leave your hair dehydrated, so you’ll need hydrating products afterward.
  • Do use a wide-toothed comb while your hair is still wet, preferably with a dollop of leave-in conditioner. Combing through your curls will help provide definition as they dry.
  • Do air dry your perm. It will help you keep your perm looking good longer.
  • Do add a weekly or monthly hair mask to your routine. Adding a deep conditioning session to your hair maintenance schedule is vital after a perm.
  • Do wear a swim cap when swimming. This is especially true if you’re swimming in chlorine which can dry out your permed hair significantly.

Things Not to Do

  • Don’t wash your hair for at least 48 hours after receiving your perm. It takes a long time before your perm finishes setting, and washing your hair too early could ruin it.
  • Don’t work up a heavy sweat in the first two days after a perm, either. The sweat can hurt the setting process as well.
  • Don’t purchase shampoo or conditioner that contains humectants or emollients. Both can further dry hair out.
  • Don’t towel dry your curls. Instead, use a cotton t-shirt to wrap the curls on top of your head. It will absorb the excess moisture without creating frizz.
  • Don’t use a brush on your curls unless you want to look like you stuck a fork in an electrical socket. Brushes will create frizz and are your enemy post perm.
  • Don’t use heat styling tools if you can help it. If you must use them, use them at under 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Any hotter than that, and you risk frying your perm.
  • Don’t use rubber bands to pull back your curls. The bands can cause frizz and damage. Switch to silk-covered bands or scrunchies instead.


Frequently Asked Questions

Short haired woman getting a perm from foam rollers on really short hair


No matter the length or texture of your hair, perms come with a lot of questions. Here are a few we see most often. 

How Long Does It Take to Perm Short Hair?

Even with very short hair, you can expect to spend at least two and half hours in the salon for a perm. That’s because regardless of hair length, the perming solution takes time to work! 

How Much Length Do You Lose With a Perm?

On average, perms will cost you 25-30% of your length. For example, if your hair was at your shoulders before, a perm could bring it up to your jaw. Of course, the amount of length a perm takes depends on the type of perm you choose. The tighter the curls, the more length you’ll lose. 

Can You Undo a Perm? 

Technically perms are permanent, hence the name, but there are things you can do to loosen and soften your curls. Or, if you really hate them, you may be able to reverse the process using a chemical relaxer. 

If you just got your perm done and decide you don’t like it, wash it right away. That way, your perm won’t set completely, and your hair will end up more relaxed. If it’s been a little longer than that, you can try a warm deep conditioning treatment, which also should relax and loosen tight curls. 

If that doesn’t work, or if it’s been too long since you got your perm, your next option is to talk to your hair care professional. Ask them about a chemical relaxer for your hair. They’ll evaluate your hair for damage and then let you know if you’re a good candidate. 

So, How Long Does Your Hair Need To Be To Get A Perm? 

As long as your hair can wrap around the perm rods, you can get a perm, which means your hair needs to be at least 2 inches long. But before you run out and get one, you should consider the type of perm you want.

You should also consider how much damage your hair has and whether or not you can maintain your new look. 

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