You imagined big, bouncy, easy-to-style curls that made life easier in the mornings but ended up with a perm you can’t stand. No worries! You’ll learn how to get rid of a perm safely in our step-by-step guide.
How to Get Rid of a Perm You Hate
Perms have had a bit of a resurgence in popularity recently. As the trends steer away from sleek and blunt hairstyles, we’re moving toward wild, textured, and voluminous styles with lots of body and layers. If you’re not naturally blessed with waves, curls, or coils, a perm seems like the perfect solution (see what we did there?).
But for a variety of reasons, sometimes a perm doesn’t turn out the way we pictured it would. Maybe the curls are too tight or big for your liking. Perhaps you’re not sure how to style your newly curly hair.
Maybe your perm wasn’t rolled with expertise, and you’ve ended up with wonky ends or bend marks in your curls. Whatever your reason, there’s no need to endlessly suffer from a bad perm.
It might seem like perms are impossible to reverse – they’re literally called perms, short for permanent wave – but you do have a few options. We’ll talk about how to get rid of a perm without causing irreversible damage to your hair in this guide. Let’s get started!
Are Perms Really Permanent?
The first thing that’s important to address is how permanent a perm really is. How can you get rid of a perm if it is indeed permanent? Here’s how perms work:
- Clean hair is wrapped around perm rods of a chosen size according to the type of waves or curls you want. Smaller rods create tighter curls, while larger rods can create bigger curls or waves.
- Waving lotion, or perm solution, is applied to the wrapped hair to break down the bonds inside the hair. This softening of the inner structures of the hair creates a “blank slate” that can be sealed into the newly curled structure. The waving lotion is then rinsed out.
- A neutralizing solution (also called a fixative) is applied to the hair to stop the chemical processing and seal the hair into the newly curled shape. The hair is then rinsed thoroughly and unwound from the rods.
This is an aggressive process for hair to go through – it’s being broken down and softened, then reset and “locked” into a new, curly structure. As you can imagine, this is the reason undoing or getting rid of a perm isn’t easy.
But it’s not impossible. There are a few ways you can relax, loosen, or completely undo a perm with a straightening treatment. We’ll talk about those methods next.
How to Get Rid of a Perm 3 Ways
You have a few options when you want to undo or get rid of a perm. These solutions range from somewhat effective but 100% safe for hair (loosening the perm) to extremely effective but potentially damaging to your hair (using a costly straight perm or straightening treatment).
We recommend starting with the least damaging methods and only working your way to harsher methods if the gentle options don’t work.
Below, you’ll see three ways to get rid of a perm you hate using natural ingredients, common hair care products, and stronger chemical treatments. We’ll talk about the pros and cons of each so you can make the best decision for your hair’s health.
1. Relax and Loosen the Perm
First on your list should be attempting to loosen and relax your perm a bit with easy-to-find products and ingredients you may already have. These methods will work best if you try them right away, sometime within 72 hours of your perm.
Please note that you’re unlikely to achieve complete perm reversal with these methods. But they should loosen and relax your unwanted perm considerably. That will make it much more bearable to deal with until it’s safe to re-perm or chemically straighten your hair.
Wash With Clarifying Shampoo Within 72 Hours
Take a page out of Elle Woods’ book and try shampooing your newly permed hair right away to relax and loosen it considerably. Here’s why it works.
Perm solution is very basic (the opposite of acidic). After the perm solution is rinsed out, it’s followed up with an acidic neutralizing solution that brings your hair’s pH closer to normal. The neutralizing solution is rinsed out of your hair, but it remains active and continues to neutralize the hair for about 28 hours after your perm.
If you wet, shampoo, or condition your hair within that critical time frame, you risk “ruining” your perm. But if you hate your perm and want to get rid of it, that’s exactly what you want to do!
So wash your hair immediately if your perm didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. This trick is especially useful if your curls came out too tight and you just want to loosen them up. For the most perm-reversing power, opt for a clarifying shampoo and follow up with a deeply moisturizing conditioner.
Clarifying shampoo will help strip any remaining neutralizer (plus any other product buildup) from your hair, get rid of the harsh odor of the perm solutions, and stop the neutralizing process early to make the curls less robust.
Following up with a deeply moisturizing (heavy) conditioner is also helpful. The heavier/thicker the conditioner, the more it will physically weigh the hair down and further loosen those curls.
- Shampoo with clarifying shampoo right after your perm within 72 hours. The sooner you shampoo, the more it will loosen the perm.
- Follow up with a heavy conditioner to add weight to the hair and further relax the curls.
- Rinse the conditioner out, but it’s okay to leave a little in your hair for added weight.
- Repeat the shampoo and conditioner washing process a few times over the next few days to get the best results.
Use a Deep Conditioning Treatment
Ideally, once you’ve washed your newly-permed hair with clarifying shampoo and heavy conditioner, you’ll use a deep conditioning treatment to further loosen your curls. Deeply moisturized hair is heavier. The added weight helps flatten and smooth your curls or waves.
Any deep conditioning treatment or hot oil treatment will work. The key is saturating your hair in a deeply moisturizing substance for anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight.
For the best results, we recommend artnaturals Argan Hair Mask for the most moisturizing power, SheaMoisture Intensive Hydration Masque for hair that is naturally curly, or It’s a 10 Miracle Hair Mask if you’re struggling with frizz.
You can also try making your own hair mask for damaged hair with only two ingredients: Hydrolyzed protein (available on Amazon) and your favorite conditioner.
If you’re more of a purist, you can use 100% virgin coconut oil on your hair as a mask. Coconut oil is one of the few oils that can penetrate the hair shaft instead of just sitting on top.
- For most deep conditioning treatments and hair masks, you’ll want to leave them on for an extended time for perm-reversing effects.
- Coat your hair in your chosen treatment or mask and cover it with a shower cap. Allow it to sit on the hair for at least 20 minutes, but preferably overnight.
- When you’re done, rinse the product out completely to reveal relaxed curls. You might see that your permed curls loosen into waves that you can deal with a bit better.
2. Give Yourself a Straight Perm
If you’ve waited more than 72 hours after your perm before deciding you want to get rid of it, shampooing and deep conditioning treatments will no longer be effective. You’ll have to go for the big guns in this case – another aggressive chemical treatment.
A “straight perm” can be done with the same solutions and chemicals as a regular perm, but the process is done without perm rods. So instead of locking your hair into the shape of curls, you’ll be locking it into a brushed-out, straighter shape.
But hold your horses! This option is NOT for everyone, and you shouldn’t try it unless it’s been at least two months since your perm.
We don’t recommend trying a straight perm on recently permed hair or hair that is damaged from previous bleach, permanent color, or highlights. If you do a straight perm on hair already damaged from chemical processing, it may lead to gummy, mushy hair, breakage, or noticeable hair loss.
“DO NOT use hair straightener chemicals on your hair [after a perm]. I did this once…my hair was half way down my back. I had to get a pixie cut because my hair was like gum, really stretchy.” – @Jellikelli3, Reddit user
“Applying a chemical straightener to a recent permanent is probably the worst thing you can do to your hair.” – @Myridon
Straight perms shouldn’t be confused with smoothing treatments like a keratin treatment. If your hair is frizzy, it will still be frizzy after a straight perm. It just won’t be curly anymore.
Straight perms are also different from chemical relaxers, which also straighten the hair but don’t require any heat (straight perms sometimes do). Relaxers may use the same chemical as perms – ammonium thioglycolate – or they may use sodium hydroxide (lye) as the straightening compound.
If you plan to use a straight perm to get rid of your unwanted perm, here’s what you need to know first.
- Wait at least two months after your perm to do a straight perm. This will ensure your hair is healthier and in the process of repairing damage after your initial perm.
- Opt for a gentler acid perm – one using glyceryl monothioglycolate as the main ingredient instead of traditional perms that use the much-harsher ammonium thioglycolate – when you’re ready to try a straight perm.
- If possible, talk to your stylist before attempting any harsh chemical processes like this at home. It’s safer to have a straight perm done in a salon by a professional.
How to Give Yourself a Straight Perm
If you feel confident in your abilities and want to go ahead and try an acid perm to straighten your hair at home, here are the supplies you’ll need and the steps you’ll need to follow.
- Acid perm kit, such as Zotos Quantum or One N’ Only
- Conditioner and shower cap
- Wide-tooth comb
- Vented brush
The night before you plan to do your straight perm, coat your hair in conditioner or your favorite moisturizing mask, and cover with a shower cap. Allow it to sit on the hair overnight. This will help protect your hair from the harsh chemicals in the perm.
- Rinse the conditioner out of your hair, shampoo, and towel dry. Apply the acid perm solution to your hair and use the wide-tooth comb to distribute it evenly. It helps to do this over a bathtub with your head upside down. Make sure your hair is fully saturated with the solution.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes and continually comb through your hair until it goes off. Your curls should start to appear limp, relaxed, or even straight once the timer goes off.
- If it still looks pretty curly after the 10-minute timer goes off, you can leave the solution for another 5 minutes. Don’t stop combing through your hair – combing continually is what helps create the straight shape you want your hair to adhere to.
- Rinse the acid perm solution out of your hair with warm water. Rinse for at least 3 minutes to ensure you get all of the perm solution out in preparation for the next step.
- Towel dry your hair gently (no rubbing) and apply the second solution, neutralizer (usually sodium bromate in acid perms), and set a timer for 5 minutes. Continue to comb through your hair until the timer goes off.
- Rinse the neutralizer out for 3-5 minutes with warm water. This ensures you don’t leave any behind. Follow up with a cool rinse to help encourage the outermost cuticle layer of your hair to close.
- Apply a little conditioner to make it easier to detangle and comb through in the next step.
- Towel dry your hair gently (no rubbing) and use a hairdryer on the low setting with a vented brush to blow dry your hair straight.
After you’ve finished blow-drying your hair straight, you should avoid washing it or wetting it for the next 48-72 hours. This will ensure your hair can fully neutralize after the straight perm and keep its shape.
Your results should be straight or slightly wavy (depending on how tightly curled the initial perm made your hair). Since a straight perm isn’t a smoothing treatment, you may still have considerable frizz after trying this method. Use a frizz-reducing hair serum to help minimize the problem.
Read Next: How to Get Rid of Frizzy Hair
3. Visit a Professional
It’s the one solution you didn’t want to hear, but deep down, you know that going to a professional when you want to get rid of a perm is the smartest thing to do. A professional stylist has access to more effective chemicals than you do as an unlicensed consumer.
They also have years of experience and training that can help them choose an option to reverse your perm without resulting in hair breakage and loss. If trying a straight perm on yourself sounds scary, or if shampooing right after your bad perm wasn’t enough to undo the results, you’re going to need to march yourself to a good salon.
There are a variety of methods a professional stylist might use to get rid of your perm. Keratin smoothing treatments (which last 3-6 months), Japanese straightening treatments (last about six months), or chemical relaxers (permanent) may be used to straighten an unwanted perm.
The important thing to note about visiting a salon to get rid of a perm is that a good stylist won’t chemically process your hair again unless it’s been a couple of months since your initial perm.
The perm leaves your hair so damaged and fragile that applying any harsh bond-breaking chemicals to it sooner than two months later is a certain recipe for damage and disaster. So don’t expect to waltz into a salon two weeks after your perm and get a straightening treatment or relaxer.
Any trustworthy, knowledgeable stylist will send you home with instructions to work on repairing your damaged hair and come back when it’s been two months since your perm.
And if you happen to find a stylist that agrees to chemically straighten or relax your hair soon after you got your perm, RUN. Trained and educated stylists won’t touch recently permed hair with another chemical process because they know it will absolutely ruin your hair.
How to Get Rid of a Perm Without Damaging Your Hair
The only way to get rid of a perm without causing any damage to your hair is by letting it grow out and cutting the permed portions off in a few months. Hair grows about half an inch each month, so in 6 months, you should have about 3 inches of new growth at the roots.
While you’re probably not going to cut your hair to the very short length of 3 inches, you can always cut it to a length you like and flat iron or curl your hair to get a more homogenous texture. As your un-permed roots continue to grow out, you can keep cutting off the permed parts to slowly bring your hair back to its natural texture and shape.
It’s worth noting that your permed curls will relax considerably on their own over six months. So you may end up not hating – dare we say, even liking – your perm in just a few short months. It’s worth waiting it out if it means saving your hair from irreversible damage.
You came here wondering how to get rid of a perm you hate. Now you know that perms really are permanent – meaning they permanently change the texture, shape, and structure of your hair. But that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with curls you don’t like forever.
The Short Answer
You can loosen your perm by shampooing and deep conditioning it right away. Keep it up for the first 72 hours to relax the perm as much as you can. You can “reverse” it by doing a straight perm about two months after your initial perm. But we recommend visiting a professional in a salon for any chemical services to avoid damaging your hair beyond repair.
In the meantime, if you’ve got to wait another few months before trying a chemical service to undo your perm, keep your chin up. You can always flat iron your hair (use a heat protectant first!), try protective styles (braids, twists, etc.), or opt for updos to deal with your curls.
After all, dealing with a perm you hate is a lot better than shaving your head when a second chemical treatment turns your locks to mush.