Hair Care Tips: Common Problems With Home Perms

Home perms sometimes go wrong. Learn what can go wrong when you perm your hair, possible solutions and prevention for future home perms.

If, as a young child, you were the unlucky control specimen for that 1950s do-it-yourself chemistry experiment called a home perm, you've probably never given a passing thought to perming your own hair at home. In fact, you may have learned how to live without perms altogether, relying instead on countless other hair styling tools and techniques. While today's perms are not your mother's perms, exchanging horror stories about home perms is still a favorite pastime among women friends""and with good reason. One has to wonder if home perms are really the beauty industry's underground marketing tool to drive traffic to local hair salons for emergency repairs.

Fifty years later, perms can still go wrong, especially home perms. Frizzies top the list of home perm disasters, and most of the problems you may encounter fall into one of two categories:

* The perm didn't produce enough curl

* The perm worked too well - this is the category with the most problems

What to do immediately when disaster strikes

Whatever problem you experience with your home perm, take the following two steps immediately:

1. Don't panic. You're likely to make matters worse by attempting to compensate for the mistake before you've had time to cool off and think rationally about the problem.

2. Contact the manufacturer. You'll find a toll-free phone number somewhere on the home perm kit. Call the manufacturer for suggestions at the first hint of trouble, or find their Internet site and request help. They are more familiar and experienced with their products than anyone else, and they probably have a database of problems and solutions.

Common home perm problems

Along with each common problem""yes, this happens to other people too""you'll find common solutions and ways to prevent the problem from occurring in the future, where applicable.

Rash, broken skin or tender, burning, irritated scalp

The directions probably cautioned you to perform a patch test in which you apply a small amount of solution to your skin and wait a prescribed amount of time to determine if you are allergic or sensitive to the solution. Perms involve applying chemical solutions to your scalp and hair. Apply one of the many over-the-counter cortisone sprays, lotions, or creams to the affected area.

If the entire scalp is affected, or if the cortisone formulation does not bring relief, contact your doctor. He or she may prescribe a medicated shampoo to relieve the symptoms. Severe cases may cause hair loss, so don't make matters worse by neglecting an already-bad situation. In the future, perform a patch test before applying any new chemical product to your scalp.

Frizzy hair or curl too tight

You may have rolled the hair around the curler too tightly, your hair may be extremely porous, the solution may have been too strong for your hair, or you may have left the solution on too long.

When you shampoo, use a gentle, moisturizing shampoo. Apply a deep conditioner to your hair every day until you have the frizzies under control or the curl has relaxed, and avoid blow dryers and other curling aids that apply heat to the hair. If you must use a blow dryer, wait until the hair is almost dry.

If you also color your hair, wait two to three weeks after a perm to color your hair. You don't want to subject your hair to two chemical processes in rapid succession. Each chemical process causes damage to the hair. When you do apply the color, apply to the roots only, and then pull the color through to the ends after you've applied to the roots, halfway through the waiting time.

Curl not tight enough

Your curl might be too loose for any number of reasons. Your hair might not be porous enough, or it may not react to some chemicals as well as most hair. The solution may have been old and weak. You may have not have rolled the hair around the perming rod tightly enough, or you may have used rollers instead of perming rods. You may not have left the solutions on the hair long enough. Shampooing your hair immediately after a perm will significantly reduce the effectiveness of a perm. Remember the courtroom scene in Legally Blonde? If your hair is long, the neutralizer may not have saturated all of the hair on the rods. You may not have used enough rods, winding too much hair on each rod. You may have had so much chemical buildup on your hair that the neutralizer couldn't permeate the buildup and reach the hair strand.

Whatever you do, do NOT perm the hair again for a month. Get a trim before perming the next time, and rely on curling aids in the meantime. Next time, check the expiration or manufacturing date on the perm package to ensure that it's still effective. The day before you perm your hair, wash your hair twice, rinsing thoroughly after each wash. Add a little baking soda to the shampoo to remove chemical buildup. Follow the perm instruction exactly, rolling the proper amount of hair, using the proper technique. Fully saturate the hair on each strand, and leave the solution on for the full time suggested in the instructions.

Hair breaks or falls out

Your hair may have been in bad condition before you applied the perm. You may have wound the hair too tightly around the rods, or you may have left the neutralizer on for too long. Apply a good deep conditioner frequently until your hair is in better condition, get a trim, and do not use a home perm again until your hair is in superior condition. The deep conditioner will help, but it will not cure the problem. You'll have to cut the bad hair off a little at a time. Next time you perm, ensure that your hair is in top condition.

If this is your first bad home perm, you now have all the information you need to avoid a bad home perm in the future.

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