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Types of Perms for Thin Hair | They’re Not for Everyone

You might think that types of perms for thin hair are a thing of the past, but they can be an excellent way to bring a natural-looking body and texture to your hair.

If you have thin hair, you may think that a perm wouldn’t work for you, but this guide will go through some of the best options for your hair for the best-looking result. 

What Is a Perm?

A perm is a hair treatment that permanently curls or waves your hair. When you think of perms, you may imagine the big curly hair of the 80s, but it is possible to make beautiful subtle modern, looking waves and soft curls with the same treatment. 

You can get a perm with a professional hairstylist. Before settling on a perm, it is always a good idea to book a consultation with a stylist to discuss what type of curls you are hoping to get.

Your hairstylist can advise you on achieving those results with your hair. On the day of your perm appointment, your hairstylist will start by shaping your hair. Once upon a time, this was done using curling rods.

Today, your stylist may opt for rollers, fabric, or finger curls to achieve the look you are going for. After shaping your curls, your stylist will apply the perm solution.

While the solution works, it will permanently change your hair texture to create your curls. After a certain amount of time, your stylist will rinse out the solution and apply a neutralizer to stop the perm from continuing to work on your hair.

Now, onto the reason you’re here: you may have heard that perms don’t work well for thin or fine hair. Perms traditionally would cause damage to the hair shaft and would cause thinning over the hair over time.

If your hair is already thin, you see how this may be a problem. Luckily, new formulations today allow for a gentle treatment that is not nearly as damaging.

As long as you follow the advice of your stylist to care for your hair after your perm, you should see minimal damage. Next, we’ll review the different types of perms, from formulation to style, to see which is best for thin hair. 

Choose a Gentle Formula

The main thing to consider when getting a perm is the chemical formula of the solution you are using for your perm. You can get an alkaline perm or an acid perm.


Alkaline formulas are the better-known type of perms of the past. They are strong, long-lasting formulas that work quickly to give you a great perm.

If you’ve ever watched Legally Blonde, you’ve probably heard of alkaline perms. The active ingredient of an alkaline perm is ammonium thioglycolate. Unlike acid perms, they don’t require heat to activate.

Being a stronger formula, an alkaline perm only takes 20 minutes to set. It’s the perfect option for those who want a quicker appointment.

They are also ideal for those with thicker, coarse hair as they can set a perm on more resistant hair. The only issue with alkaline formulas is that they are more damaging. The stronger formula can cause damage and breakage to thinner hair types. 


The other option for perms is an acid-based formula. The active ingredient in acid formulas is glyceryl monothyioglycylate. Acid perms need heat and can take more time than an alkaline perm to set.

Keep this in mind when booking your appointment as it will require more time in the salon. Acid perms are much gentler on your hair in comparison to alkaline perms. They don’t cause nearly as much damage, making them suitable for thinning or fine hair.

The downside is that acid perms will not work well on thicker hair. It may also not work well for hair resistant to treatment, such as virgin hair or hair treated with a protectant.

One additional downside to acid perms is they can occasionally cause an allergic reaction. If you are concerned that you may be allergic to the formula, you can ask your hairstylist to do a test patch before a full treatment.

Perm Types for Thin Hair

Types of perm curls illustrated for a piece on average perm costs

You can consider two main types of perms for thin hair. They are the spiral perm and the beach wave perm.

Spiral Perm

Spiral perms may be what you first think of when it comes to a perm. The hair is usually wrapped around a rod or roller and creates spiral curls. The curls themselves will vary slightly in size and shape to make them look like natural curls. 

Spiral perms add tons of volume and depth to your hair. Your hair will look thicker, fuller, and will have more shape. You can choose anything from loose curls to tight ringlets with a spiral perm.

If you’re not sure what you want, your stylist may be able to help you choose a style that best suits your face shape and hair type. The only downside to spiral perms is that you’ll lose some length to your hair. The tighter the curls, the shorter your hair will appear at the end. 

Beach Wave Perm

This option creates soft waves in your hair rather than full curls. Beach waves may still be created using rollers or rods, but how the curls are wrapped will give a more wave-like appearance. 

Beach waves are great for those who want a softer perm without all the tight curls. It’s also great for those who don’t want to lose any length in their hair while adding volume.

Read Next: The 7 Best Flat Irons for Beach Waves in 2024

Other Options

While those are the two main perm options, there are other techniques for perms depending on your needs. These include:

  • Multi-textured perms use different sizes of rollers to create curls of multiple sizes. This technique creates the most natural-looking curls.
  • Partial perms are done only to the hair ends. They work best on medium or long hair. You get the texture of waves or curls without having to treat all your hair. The overall style tends to be easier to manage as well.
  • Root perms are applied only to the roots of your hair. Ask for a root perm if you want a little more lift and volume, but you don’t want to change your natural hair texture.
  • Spot perms work to create single curls around the hair. Ask your stylist for a spot perm to add a little subtle texture or to give the illusion of layers in hair that is otherwise all the same length. 
  • Stacked perms, like spot perms, help create the illusion of layers. They work best on medium and long hair.
  • Straight perms are a way to make naturally wavy or curled hair straight. For thin hair, they are not the best perm type as they will make already thin hair seem even thinner.

Perm Aftercare

So once you have your perm, now what? Proper maintenance will make or break your perm. Your stylist should give you a full rundown of how to maintain your perm, but we’ll cover the basics to make your perm last as long as possible.

The first step is to not touch your hair for the first 48 hours after your perm. You will want to keep your hair dry during this time and try to fuss with it as little as possible. The reason for this is your perm is still technically setting for those first 48 hours.

By getting it wet, you risk deactivating the active ingredient in your perm, thus making your perm fail. After you get your perm, your hair will show some damage.

When you do eventually wash your hair for the first time, you will want to use products that will return your hair to health. For this, look for a deep conditioner to add moisture to your hair. You will want to use it at least twice a week. 

Next, you will want to consider shampooing less often than you were previously. Shampoo can strip oils from your hair, drying it out. Once your hair is permed, try to avoid heat stylings, such as using curling irons, straighteners, or even a hair dryer.

Let your hair air dry when you can, and use a heat protectant spray when you need to use heat. Lastly, after your perm, get your hair trimmed on a regular schedule. This will keep split ends away, meaning your hair will look and feel healthier. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Photo of a woman using a diffuser on her thin permed hair


If you’re still wondering about the best perm for thin hair, read on!

How long is a perm appointment? 

The best answer is that it depends. The length of your appointment depends largely on how much hair you have, how curly you are trying to make your hair, and what formula you are using.  As the best answer, a perm appointment can last anywhere from one to five hours.

A one-hour appointment may include loose waves on medium-length hair with an alkaline-based formula. A five-hour appointment, on the other hand, can result in tighter curls on waist-length hair using an acid-based formula. 

How long does a perm last?

The life of your perm depends mostly on what your hair texture was to start. If you started with already wavy hair and just made your waves a little more curled, then it may last longer than if you started with pin-straight hair and went for ringlets.

On average, your perm should last anywhere from three to six months. Another factor affecting the life of your perm is how you maintain it. Be sure to follow your stylist’s instructions on how to care for your hair after your perm to enjoy it for as long as possible.

Can I get a perm on damaged hair?

A perm can be a very damaging process. This is especially true for thin hair, which is even more prone to damage. For this reason, you want your hair to be as healthy as possible before a perm.

Can I perm my hair at home? 

Technically, yes. We recommend, however, that for your first perm, you visit a professional. A professional stylist will know the best way to roll your hair to achieve the texture you want and what formula to use to reduce the risk of damage. 

After you have a little experience under your belt, a home perm kit can be a good option to refresh your perm. Ensure you do your research before you attempt a perm on yourself to use the right type of formula for your hair.

So, What Is the Best Type of Perm for Thin Hair? 

People with thin hair are better off going with an acid-based perm formula. The formula will take longer, but it will be overall more gentle to thin and fine hair, reducing the chance of damage. As for the actual hair type, this depends mostly on your personal preference.

If you are going for maximum volume and don’t mind losing a bit of length, then perhaps a spiral perm is best for you. If you want some more gentle volume while keeping all of your hair lengths, then waves are the way to go.

In any case, we always highly recommend visiting a professional hair stylist to give you a perm. They’ll inspect your hair, determine its condition and type, and pick the right perm for you (if you’re a candidate for one at all, that it). Happy stying!